Sacks allowed tells tale of offense in high-scoring NFL

By Jeff Fogle  ( 

October 24, 2018 08:59 PM
Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson escapes a sack by Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue.
© USA Today Sports Images

What do coaches and quarterbacks on struggling offenses have in common? They’re both likely to get sacked!

If you see a quarterback being helped to the sideline, his head coach may be trudging toward the unemployment line in short order. 

This may be more true than ever with recent NFL rules changes that have helped offenses move the ball through the air. Teams that can’t keep up have little chance to compete. Handicappers who study “sacks allowed” will get a very quick read on which offenses have out-of-date designs or inexperienced players…and which quarterbacks are most likely to take dangerous hits. 

No better time to talk about this topic than in advance of a national Thursday night telecast featuring the Houston Texans. Houston hosts Miami (FOX, 8:20 p.m.), laying -7.5 points with a very banged up DeShaun Watson at quarterback. He couldn’t even fly to his last game in Jacksonville because of what is assumed to be a partially collapsed lung. Houston won a 20-7 defensive struggle, with a passing line of only 12-24-0-131. 

A quick way to evaluate any team in its ability to protect the quarterback (and, by proxy, its ability to run an efficient offense) is to look at the percentage of time its QBs are sacked on pass plays. Easy math. Go to the league’s website to look at team passing. Grab the number of sacks. Grab the number of pass attempts. The formula is sacks divided by the sum of sacks plus passes. 

Using “raw” sack totals by themselves isn’t enough because some teams pass a lot more than others. For example, both Philadelphia and Tennessee have suffered 22 sacks this season. But Tennessee’s done that in an offense that’s thrown only 197 passes, compared to 278 for the Eagles. Tennessee’s skill set of protecting its quarterback is clearly worse than Philadelphia’s on a percentage basis. 

Worst NFL Sacks Allowed Percentages

1…Buffalo 11.5%

2…San Francisco 10.5%

3…Cleveland 10.26%

4…Seattle 10.27%

5…Tennessee 10.05%

6…Dallas 10.04%

7…Houston 9.7%

8…Arizona 8.3%

9…NY Giants 8.2%

10…Green Bay 7.4%

Houston had been in the bottom five before last week’s super-safe “hope the defense bails you out” approach. That current “bottom 10” list includes mostly rookie quarterbacks for Buffalo, Cleveland, and Arizona, banged up quarterbacks for Tennessee, Houston, and Green Bay, a backup quarterback for San Francisco, and soap operas in New York and Dallas. 

(If you’re wondering…the Jets rank #13 at 6.8%, tonight’s other TV team Miami is #15 at 6.7%, while the best five in the NFL are Kansas City at .309%, Indianapolis at .311%, Pittsburgh at 3.3%, New England at 3.5%, and New Orleans at 3.9%). 

VSiN encourages you to study sacks suffered by offenses to gain a deeper sense of what is and isn’t working across the league. It is likely to be a GREAT indicator stat for evaluating offenses, and monitoring the development of first and second-year starters. 

Thursday’s big question for bettors: Can Watson, or ANY quarterback be trusted to cover point spreads of a touchdown or more while running an inefficient offense? 

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