In the NFL today, pressuring the quarterback is one of the most important things a defense can do. Getting a sack, deflecting a ball, forcing an early pass can all lead to a change of possession or swing the momentum in your favor.
Getting to the quarterback is a job that requires perfect execution. Using the right move or sending the blitz through a specific gap can give the defense the advantage.
Because timing is crucial to a sack, defensive backs will rarely get the opportunity. So the pressuring is left to the defensive line and linebackers. While each are vital to the play, which position is more likely to be successful and, therefore, more dangerous?
Defensive Line —The line is where the most physical part of the game is. Therefore, linemen are usually bigger and stronger than the rest of the team. While strength is valuable, the offensive line has it too, and the loss of speed can hurt.
Almost all sacks by the defensive line are from the Ends. They are typically smaller and faster than the DTs and can use their quickness to outmaneuver a big offensive tackles.
The average weight of a defensive end is around 270-280 pounds, so the force with which they hit their opponent would be staggering. However, they start each play very close to an offensive lineman, so they do not have much room to work with and get free. Despite that, they are in the game to do nothing but rush the passer and so have a wide range of skills to work with.
Linebackers —Because a linebacker can be in many different positions and may or may not be rushing the pocket, they are much more versatile than a lineman. They have the ability to exploit weaknesses and keep the offense guessing as to who is coming and from where
The linebacker's smaller size compared to a lineman, coupled with the fact that their job requires them to run significantly more, means that linebackers are reasonably faster than a lineman. This can allow them get through a collapsing hole or around a blocker easier than an DE or DT.
However, their smaller size and less frequent use as a rusher means they may lack the necessary strength or moves to disengage from a powerful offensive lineman. This drawback can render them almost useless if they engage with a skilled blocker.
One crucial asset that helps linebackers be efficient pass rushers is that they are the extra man coming and so are often left to the small and ill-prepared RB, whose only line of defense is often the chop block. Engaging poor protectors such as a back or less-skilled tight end puts the advantage with the linebacker.
Conclusion —The league's sack leader for the regular season this year was OLB Elvis Dumervil of the Broncos with 17.0. Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley also cracks the top five list, coming in fourth. Viking end Jared Allen comes in second overall and leads defensive linemen with 14.5 sacks.
Due to the unpredictability and versatility of the LB, I believe they are the more dangerous players on the defense. While the D-line is very good and possibly better at pure rushing skills, the offense knows they are coming and where from. The linebacker's ability to disguise his point of attack and his speed helps to make him a harder player to stop.
As the NFL continues to improve, emphasis is shifting more heavily on speed and finesse skills rather than brute strength. While DEs are adapting to this new necessity, the linebacker already meets those standards.
Regardless of opinion, a sack depends on the work of both positions, regardless of who actually gets it. A linebacker relies on the linemen's ability to draw blockers to them, while the linemen rely on the linebacker's ability to cause confusion and open weak spots. The skills of both positions combine to work together to make for a more dangerous threat than any one player, regardless of how good he might be.