The Truth About The Patriots Pass Rush

If you're a Patriots fan you're probably sick of hearing about their biggest problem being their inability to generate pressure on the quarterback. Many seem to think that all the Patriots need to do is add a Demarcus Ware-type and they'll be back amongst the elite defenses in the NFL.

After some significant research I've found that is actually the opposite of the truth. My findings after the jump...

How many times in the dynastic 00's did a Patriot register more sacks than Tully Banta-Cain had in 2009 (10)? The answer is just once, and that was Mike Vrabel with 12.5 in 2007. Given that teams were often throwing a lot more against the Pats in 2007, trying to dig themselves out of a hole, it's safe to say that Vrabel's total could be called an outlier.

In fact, the Patriots dynasty defenses commonly had sack leaders around 7.5 to 9.5. Here are the total sacks for each Patriots team in past decade, with the leader and his total:

  • 2001 - 41 (Super Bowl Champs) Hamilton - 7
  • 2002 - 34 (missed playoffs due to tie breaker) Seymour/McGinest - 5.5
  • 2003 - 41 (Super Bowl Champs) Vrabel - 9.5
  • 2004 - 45 (Super Bowl Champs) McGinest - 9.5
  • 2005 - 33  (Lost AFCDG) Colvin - 7.5
  • 2006 - 44 (Lost AFCCG) Warren - 7.5
  • 2007 - 47 (Lost Super Bowl) Vrabel - 12.5
  • 2008 - 31 (Missed playoffs due to tie breaker) Seymour - 8
  • 2009 - 31 (Lost AFCWCG) Banta-Cain - 10
Though these numbers do not include quarterback hurries or pressures, it seems like 40 sacks is about the number you need to break to be considered a good pressure defense. Or at least one that can get close to the Super Bowl.

Clearly, with back to back seasons of 31 sacks the Patriots do have pass rush issues, but the answer is not simply adding a single outside linebacker who can get after the quarterback.

For comparison's sake, I looked at the '03 and '04 seasons as the two ideals and the '08 and '09 seasons as the two imperfects. 
 
In 2004 the top three of the individual sack totals looked like this: 9.5, 5.5, 5. In 2009 the top three looked like this: 10, 5, 5. Notice they're exactly the same total.

That's a Super Bowl winner compared to a team who's pass rush issues have been the top problem storyline all off-season. Strange, eh?

2008 was the only season where their high end sacks totals were not up to snuff (8, 5, 4). This is to be expected considering this was year one of the Belichick Patriots Defense: Version 2.0.

However, it is when we look at the players at the low end of the sack total spectrum where we start to see  the difference between the current defense and the defenses of the glory years.

The 2003 defense provides an attainable blueprint for the 2010 Pats. In that year they had eleven players with three or fewer sacks, for a total of 18 sacks. 

By comparison the 2009 Pats had just seven players with three or fewer, for a total of 11. It is this difference of 7 sacks that separates this current Patriots defense from where they want to be. 

Adding one outside linebacker is really not the end-all answer to the Patriots pass rush struggles. The answer is getting 1-3 sacks from more of their situational pass rushers, as well as the defensive lineman. If players like Ron Brace, Myron Pryor and hopefully Jermaine Cunningham are able to put up just a couple sacks the Patriots pass rush should be significantly improved, and quickly approach the magic number of 40 sacks.

And it will help if Darius Butler and Devin McCourty can cover a little bit, too.
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