Steelers News

PFF Rains On T.J. Watt’s Sack Parade, Predicts Regression To Mean

T.J. Watt recorded a pair of strip sacks on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, reaching 10 on the season in 10 games and in doing so becoming not only the first outside linebacker on the team since 2010 to reach double-digit sacks in a season, but also the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks through their first two seasons.

Pro Football Focus? Not impressed. In fact, they predict a precipitous decline coming in his future. And frankly, they make a pretty good argument that many of us have already proposed. Basically, his pressure-to-sack ratio is not sustainable.

In an article published yesterday titled “Steelers’ T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree aren’t having the career years you think they’re having”, author Austin Gayle goes into the numbers to explain that neither of the team’s edge defenders are winning at high levels, and that their sack numbers are not reflective of their actual productivity, which predicts a regression to the mean in the future.

The site charts every pass rush of every player and catalogues the result as either a win or a loss. According to their numbers, Watt ranks just 26th at his position in win rate, and Bud Dupree ranks 40th. That’s certainly not terrible, but it’s not top five either.

“Of the 47 NFL edge defenders with 20-plus pressures this season, Dupree and Watt have the fifth and sixth-highest percentage of pressures charted as either unblocked or clean-up/pursuit pressures – free pressures – at 45.7% and 45.5%, respectively”, Gayle writes. “Now, free pressures don’t drag an edge defender’s grade down, but they don’t boost the figure either, nor do they count as wins”.

‘Quality sacks’ is a concept that gets talked about a decent amount here. Dave Bryan, for example, often takes a look at the past season’s sacks for individual players during the offseason and breaks them down, determining whether or not, frankly, they were at all impressive.

According to the site, Watt has 15 so-called free pressures already so far this year—an average of one and a half per game—and six of his 10 sacks have come on unblocked opportunities as well. That is a pretty significant contextual point about his numbers.

The article brings up the comparison to Vic Beasley of the Atlanta Falcons, who in his second season in 2016 led the league with 15 and a half sacks. He has only recorded eight more in the 24 games that he has played since then.

Beasley had a sack percentage of 27 in 2016, meaning that 27 percent of his pressures were converted into sacks, while the league average is nearly half that. This season, Watt’s sack rate is a stunning 30.3 percent, which will obviously be very difficult to maintain over more than a full season.

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