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Single-Season Sack Record Be-Ware
A few weeks ago, I posted an article projecting team sacks in 2012. In that analysis, I noted that sacks are actually a very fluky statistic, and using past sacks to predict future sacks is a rather fruitless endeavor. A superior predictor of how often a team will bring down the quarterback is actually how frequently they pressure him. Team pressure rates tend to remain pretty stable from year to year, so they can be utilized to shed some light on potential future sacks.
Today, I want to apply the same sort of numbers to predict the 2012 sack total of an individual player – DeMarcus Ware. Specifically, I'm going to try to determine how likely Ware might be to break Michael Strahan's all-time single-season sack record of 22.5.
The closest Ware came to accomplishing the feat was in 2008 when he posted 20 sacks. He nearly reached that total again last season, registering just one-half sack less. Throughout his seven-year career in Dallas, Ware has averaged 14.2 sacks per season.
To project Ware's sack total for 2012, let's take a look at his pressures. In the past three seasons, Ware has pressured the quarterback out of the pocket 56, 56, and 47 times, respectively. Over that same period of time, his sacks have added up to 28.9 percent of his pressures, which falls near the overall league sack rate of 25.7 percent.
If Ware matches his current sack rate of 28.9 percent this season, he'll need to garner 80 pressures to sack the quarterback a league-record 23 times. Ware is an absolute monster at outside linebacker and there's a small possibility he can generate that many pressures, but it's highly, highly unlikely. As a comparison, a player has acquired 54 or more pressures only six times over the past four seasons, per Pro Football Focus. One-third of them were from Ware.
So it appears that for Ware to break the sack record, he'll need to post a higher sack rate than his 28.9 percent mark from the past three years. In effect, even a player as dominant as Ware needs to get a little bit lucky in order to break an all-time single-season record.
A more appropriate way to determine Ware's chances of surpassing 22.5 sacks is to project his pressures, then figure out the sack rate he would need to break the record.
Taking Ware's pass-rush history and the team's 2012 schedule into account, I think 54 pressures is a solid projection for Ware. That's seven more than he generated last season, but two less than in 2009 and 2010. Remember, only a handful of pass-rushers have forced that sort of pressure over the past few years, so the fact that Ware is <i />likely</i> to be in that range is astounding.
With 54 pressures, Ware's 2012 sacks would need to add up to 42.6 percent of his pressures. At a career mark of 28.9 percent, that's quite a ways off. But just how unlikely is it? Ware actually put up a 41.5 percent sack rate last season, so it isn't inconceivable.
Using a standard deviation of Ware's past sack rates, we can actually determine how likely it is for someone with a 28.9 percent sack rate to make the jump to 42.6 percent. For Ware, it turns out it's about 16 percent. Remember, though, that Ware isn't guaranteed to acquire 54 pressures this year. If that's the number an "average" Ware would produce, the odds he reaches or eclipses it are around 50 percent.
Thus, with a 50 percent chance of generating 54 pressures and a 16 percent chance of reaching the coveted 42.6 percent sack rate, the odds that Ware will reach 23 sacks in 2012 and break the all-time sack record are, more or less, eight percent.
Eight percent might sound like a low number, but that's actually remarkably high. Remember, this is just one man, not the entire league. No one has been able to eclipse Strahan's record in a decade of attempts. If Ware truly has an eight percent chance of doing it this season, that's really incredible.
Ultimately, the fall of the single-season sack record is inevitable. NFL offenses are airing the ball out more than ever, so it's really a wonder Strahan's record has stood this long. The question is, will DeMarcus Ware, the man with two of the top nine single-season sack totals in NFL history, be the one to do the job?