Pressure on the quarterback is one key to having a good defense. However, the difference between a good pass rushing team and an average one is surprisingly minimal. For instance, Detroit was 3rd in QB hits with 75 and 4th in QB hurries with 193 in 2014. The league average for hits was 55.8 and the league average for hurries was 173. Detroit was +20 in both the hits and hurries category compared to the average. Detroit was 8th in sacks at 42 which marked 4.5 sacks over the league average of 37.5. Adding all those numbers together puts Detroit at 44.5 pressures over the league average. 44.5 pressures divided by 16 games is 2.7 a game. In other words, the difference between a good pass rush and the average pass rush is less than 3 pressures per game in total (sacks, hits and hurries combined).
New England had 40 sacks, 55 hits and 177 hurries and won a Super Bowl. Patriots’ sacks and hurries were very close to the league average and hits were right at the league average. Seattle was right at the league average in sacks and QB hits and had only 13 more hurries than the league average (less than one a game). Baltimore with Ngata (and Suggs, Jernigan, McPhee and Dumervil) had 49 sacks, 83 hits and 186 hurries which was more pressure than Detroit in 2014. Baltimore, New England and Seattle were all top 10 in run defense.
A good defense is more than just pressure. You have to be able to cover and force turnovers when there is no pressure and also stop the run well. Detroit forced 13 of their 20 interceptions without pressure. This matched Seattle’s total interceptions on the year (13).
How many turnovers are forced? If you can strip the ball and get picks even without pressure you give your team a chance to win. The turnover differential is huge and the biggest reason Detroit won 11 in 2014 compared to 2012 (4) and 2013 (7). Detroit had a -16 and -12 turnover differential in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Detroit was +7 in 2014 which was important. Detroit forced 5 more turnovers in 2014 compared to 2013 and had 14 fewer turnovers allowed in 2014. If Detroit can keep the turnover margin positive they can win a lot of games in 2015.
A good defense stops the run. If you stop the run, you create a longer down and distance for the opposing QB on 2nd or 3rd down. The rate of success drops significantly the longer the QB has to go to make a first down. These long distances can help create pressure situations. Detroit having a strong run defense will aid them to create pressure in 2015.
Playing with No Pressure
All teams allow a higher completion percentage, more TDs and more first downs without pressure. The majority of snaps a defense defends are against non-pressure. For instance, Detroit produced pressure on 35% of opposing QB drop backs in 2014. That means 65% of the time they were facing a QB with time.
The question is how much more is completion % and TDS allowed without pressure compared to other teams in the league. Really it is a game by game basis as each game is different. You may have an awful game getting carved up by a Brady or Rodgers if you don’t pressure them enough but be good enough several other games. If you are good enough 10-12 times in the regular season, then 10-12 wins may be on the table (run defense, special teams and offense dependent). Playoffs you need your “A” game every week on defense or be prepared to outscore your opponents in a shootout.
Yards per Catch/YAC
Is the defense allowing YAC and extra yardage for first downs (missed tackles) with no pressure or are they keeping things in front of them? Levy and Whitehead had low yards per completion with low missed tackles and Tulloch was 2nd best in 2013 in lowest YPC. Mathis was good and Slay was average in YPC allowed (Houston was one of the worst in 2013 and Slay was much worse in 2013). Quin allows a low completion % and low targets and Ihedigbo keeps things in front of him (Delmas worst in league in YPC in 2013). Detroit’s LBS and secondary can tackle well and play intelligently in the scheme to limit completions from bigger gains.
Comparison to Detroit 2013
The 2013 secondary allowed too many big plays. The 2013 secondary is much different than the 2014/2015 secondary. Slay improved tremendously from his rookie year and Quin stayed healthier. Mathis actually improved with age (and more removed from his Achilles injury) and Ihedigbo was an upgrade over a gimpy Louis Delmas (notorious for bad angles). Ihedigbo might allow the completion but wouldn’t allow the big play. Now Detroit adds nickel helps with Josh Wilson and Quandre Diggs while waiting for Nevin Lawson to recover from his foot injury. Detroit has a secondary built to succeed without pressure. Health is a key as the Slay, Mathis and Quin staying healthy was a big reason for Detroit’s 2014 success. 2012 and 2013 were filled with injuries to Detroit’s top secondary players. It’s not surprise they gave up more big plays and higher completions percentage during those years.
Ways of Creating Pressure
There are many ways to create pressure. Defensive end, defensive tackle and blitzing are different kinds of pressure. Detroit blitzed 25% of the time. The highest teams in the league blitzed over 40% of the time. Detroit could blitz more in 2015 if the DT pressure isn’t the same. However, Detroit has good firepower still for DT pressure. Detroit has plenty of firepower for DE pressure and OLB/safety blitzing.
How much do the back-ups rotating in contribute? Detroit has talented backup DTS and DES that can keep the pressure strong even when the starter is out. Larry Webster, Daryl Tapp, Devin Taylor, Corey Wootton, Gabe Wright and Carraun Reid have talent to pressure the QB facing single blocking and will be a key to helping Detroit maintain or improve in the pressure department in 2015.
Offense Still Matters
Finally, is the offense scoring enough to allow the points if the defense gives up a big play or two? Detroit’s offense didn’t get enough consistent production due to injuries, regression of left guard/center and a new system in 2014. There were games they were good and games they were solid enough but 20 PPG won’t cut it in 2015 if the pressure becomes average, the coverage regresses or the injury bug hits the top secondary players, Ngata or Ansah.
The offense should improve in 2015 considering the talent Detroit has on offense, the health they should get compared to 2014 (Calvin, RB, RT,RG TEs) and the 2nd year in the system. Upgrades were made along the offensive line and running back and third WR in Detroit. Detroit could have a top 10 offense in 2015. More points will make life easier for a good defense. Prater should make some field goals too (13 missed by Detroit in 2014 for the 32nd ranked FG made percentage).
It is way too simplistic to say losing Suh and Fairley will destroy the Lions pass rush which will hurt their defense and coverage.
- Should have a good run defense (which helps pressure and coverage)
- Should have improvement on offense (top 15, possibly top 10 in PPG)
- Must maintain their turnover differential as positive
- Detroit becomes average in pressure
- Average in pressure is a big jump from good pressure (less than 3 per game as noted)
- Detroit can’t cover without pressure (they proved they can in 2014 as run defense and good tackling/scheme knowledge is important to limit big plays and first downs)
A good defense is more than just pressure. The Lions can still bring good pressure and the Lions still have other good defensive pieces to deal with life with less pressure.