The NFL didn’t recognize the quarterback sack as a statistic until the 1982 season. It wasn’t until the following year that it really started to gain its foothold as one of the truly exciting plays in football.
In 1984, New York Jets defensive end Mark Gastineau set a mark that would stand for 17 seasons. He was able to stymie his offensive counterpart and get to the opposing quarterback before the football left his hand an astounding 22 times.
Then in 2001, New York Giants pass-rusher Michael Strahan ever-so-gently laid upon Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre to surpass Gastineau’s record. Though obviously gift-wrapped, it was indeed a sack by definition and 22.5 is now the benchmark.
While others have approached the current record—as recently as last season with Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen falling short with 22—no player has yet outdone Strahan’s total.
As athletes continue to become bigger, faster and stronger in the wake of scientific advances and the unwavering drive to one-up the competition, the sack record could eventually start to creep into the mid-20s or possibly even the 30s in this lifetime.
San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith burst on to the NFL scene in 2011 with 14 sacks, falling just shy of Jevon Kearse’s rookie-record of 14.5 set back in 1999 with the Tennessee Titans.
What is most impressive about Smith’s total is that he played sparingly last year, primarily seeing the field in sub packages and on obvious passing downs.
While the 49ers certainly weren’t flawed in their approach, Smith’s expanded role in 2012 is paying major dividends on the stat sheet and for the league’s best defense.
Smith sits with 17.5 sacks just 12 games into this season—a mark already good enough for 22nd all-time. While he is on pace for just over 23 on the season—which would set a new record—a closer look indicates that an even higher total could be in store for the second-year pass-rusher.
Here is a snapshot of the 49ers’ remaining opponents and their sacks totals so far in 2012.
While Smith draws three of the league’s better teams at protecting their own quarterback, the elite pass-rushers always find a way to get to the ball. Closing the season against the Arizona Cardinals will negate any lack of production he incurs leading up to that game.
However, momentum plays a huge role in the NFL. Smith has at least one sack in each of his last six games and has tallied a total of 13 in that span alone, including 5.5 during Week 11’s 32-7 throttling of the Chicago Bears—a single-game total surpassed only four other times in league history.
Smith’s assault on the NFL record book is incredible, assuming that the 23-year-old still has a lot of learning to do on the football field. His 31.5 career sacks are already the record for a player’s first two seasons in the league—and that number is climbing.
As his understanding of the game continues to evolve, it will translate into Smith better keeping up with the adjustments the league will make against him—a daunting reality for opposing offensive linemen and quarterbacks to deal with.
Smith and the 49ers should take things one game at a time, however.
The countdown to 23 begins Sunday against Ryan Tannehill and the Miami Dolphins.
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