With training camp opening in a few days, it's time to revisit Advanced Stat of the Week.
All this week, I'll be looking for a key number to monitor in order to assess how each team in the AFC South is progressing.
For the Jacksonville Jaguars, the number I'm keeping my eye on is Adjusted Sack Rate.
There are lots of ways to measure a quarterback, but most tend to ignore sacks. Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers has always had an incredible Yards Per Attempt mark, but much of that is offset by the high number of sacks he takes.
Last year, one of the biggest red flags about Blaine Gabbert was the 40 sacks he took. Fans often blame the offensive line for sacks, and that's a mistake. While a lineman may be responsible for any given sack, over time, the quarterback, not the linemen, has the biggest share of the responsibility for sacks.
One of the best ways to measure sacks is not strictly by volume, but by Adjusted Sack Rate. Obviously, the more a team throws, the more a quarterback will be exposed to pressure. Taking 10 sacks in 500 dropbacks is great. Taking nine sacks in 200 dropbacks isn't.
Adjusted Sack Rate takes into account a variety of factors to create a normalized baseline for sack rate. It gives an excellent look at how often sacks are occurring in the context of the offense.
In 2011, the Jags were 26th overall in Adjusted Sack Rate, giving up a sack on roughly nine percent of drop backs. Their Adjusted Sack Rate of 8.9 percent was a slightly worse than their actual sack rate of 8.6 percent. That means that in context, the Jaguars were a little worse than the raw numbers indicated.
Complicating things is the fact that Luke McCown played briefly last year, and he posted slightly better sack numbers than Blaine Gabbert did. The net result of this is that when Gabbert played, the Jaguars were near the bottom of the league in sacks.
While there are many things everyone in Jacksonville wants to see Gabbert improve in, I'm convinced his sack rate will be the most telling. He needs to make strides with his accuracy and YPA, but if his sack rate improves first, fans will have hope.
Quarterbacks take sacks when they are surprised or confused. There are obviously factors like blown blocking assignments, but one of the things good quarterbacks rarely do is go down on a coverage sack.
NFL rules have evolved to give the passer unprecedented protection. All the quarterback has to do to avoid the sack is know how to get rid of the ball.
For Gabbert, decisiveness and comfort will be key. Even if his other stats are slow to rebound, his sack rate will indicate if he's processing the offense correctly. One of the few things a quarterback can actually control is when he releases the ball. Once it's out of his hand, the wideout has to be in the right place and has to make the catch.
Gabbert can't control the development of his receivers. He can control his ability to read coverage and make a quick, correct read.
On the flip side, even if some of Gabbert's other numbers improve, a high sack rate will be a bad omen. Obviously, quarterbacks who get hit more tend to get injured, and while Gabbert is a big man, he's not the tank that Roethlisberger is.
He won't have an elite career if he's going down 40 times a season.
The Jaguars added a lot of talent around Gabbert, so it's fair to expect some improvement in his stats as a consequence. The real question isn't whether you can give him so many weapons he becomes adequate as much as if you've found a quality starter capable of making everyone else better.
All year, we'll look at Adjusted Sack Rate to answer the question of whether the Jaguars have improved or whether Gabbert has.