With 12 sacks through just seven games, DeMarcus Ware is on pace for over 27 on the season. Of course, “on pace” is a loaded term and we are likely to see some sort of regression to the mean here. Ware will cool down. Still, I wanted to attempt an analysis of Ware’s chances of recording 23 sacks to break Michael Strahan’s record of 22.5 set in 2001.
Ware is averaging 1.71 sacks per game—well above his career mark of 0.83. A major key in deciphering Ware’s chances of breaking the sack record is determining his “true” sack rate. I have argued for awhile that sacks are actually a poor indicator of the effectiveness of a pass-rusher, as they tend to come in bunches and are a bit of a “luck” stat.
If the chance of recording a sack after reaching the quarterback is 20 percent, we would expect regular fluctuations in individuals’ sack totals of up to 50 percent each season. Sacks are likely not as strongly correlated to a pass-rushers worth as pressures.
Thus, to determine Ware’s “true” sack rate, it is best to record the frequency with which he gets to the passer, and the rate at which he brings down the quarterback upon reaching him. With the help of Pro Football Focus, you can see those numbers over the past four seasons below.
Sack percentage = Sacks/(Sacks+Pressures+Hits)
Observe the inherent instability of Ware’s sack numbers. In 2009, for example, he tallied 4.5 less sacks than the subsequent year despite reaching the passer 4.5 more times. Ware’s 2008 season was even more incredible.
Most would describe it as his best due to his 20 sacks, but he actually reached the quarterback only 3.31 times per game—compared to 5.25 the following season, 4.97 in 2010, and 5.43 during the current campaign. While sacks are certainly more valuable to a defense than pressures or hits, Ware’s total worth in 2008 was likely comparable to the two seasons that followed it, despite a dip in sacks of up to 45 percent in 2009.
So how do these numbers relate to Ware’s 2011 record chase? Well, if we combine Ware’s current pressure rate with his career mark, we should be able to account for future regression. Then, we can integrate those results with the pass protection ability of the teams left on Dallas’ schedule to get a solid estimate of the probability of Ware keeping it up long enough to reach the golden number of 23 sacks.
Since 2008, Ware has gotten to the quarterback–via a sack, pressure or hit—4.64 times per game. Meanwhile, he has converted 24.6 percent of those opportunities into sacks. Due to the sample size of games (55), we can conclude those numbers have come against competition that is average overall.
Extrapolating over the final nine games of this season, an “average” Ware would reach the quarterback 42 times, bringing him down on 10 of those plays. As it stands right now, an “average” Ware would end the 2011 season with 22 sacks (against average competition.)
A lot has been made about the Cowboys’ weak schedule, however, so I decided to compare the pass protection ability of these teams against the league norm. According to PFF, the offensive lines which the Cowboys will face in the final nine games are horrendous, with only the Bills’ having played better than average.
The pass protection results from Miami, Arizona and Seattle have all been in the bottom five, and Tampa, Washington, New York and Philadelphia have all been below average as well.
Ultimately, these teams are surrendering about 1.5 times as many pressures as the league average. So does this mean Ware is actually on pace to record 15 sacks, not 10, over the final nine contests?
Not necessarily, but it might be closer to the former total than the latter. On top of that, despite being 3-4 at the moment, the Cowboys figure to be ahead in many of their remaining games, forcing opposing offenses to air it out (although you could argue the results from these teams’ struggles are already reflected in their current pass protection statistics).
In the end, I really think Ware has above a 50 percent chance of breaking Strahan’s record. Even when we account for future regression, we see Ware is “on pace” for 22 sacks against average competition. After factoring in the weakness of Dallas’ future opponents, I’d put the over/under on Ware’s final 2011 sack total at around 25.