The DC Times

A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

Running the Numbers: Predicting 2012 Sack Totals

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Jonathan Bales

I just posted an article on 2012 sack projections over at DallasCowboys.com. To obtain the projections, I simply took last year’s team pressure totals and multiplied them by the average sack rate of 25.7%. Certainly some players and teams bring down the quarterback at a higher rate than others (even in regards to their pressure totals), but over the long run, NFL teams have generally brought down the quarterback about one in every four snaps that they pressure him.

The numbers work out in the Cowboys favor. Ninth in total sacks in 2011, the ‘Boys are due to finish fifth this season. Obviously there is a lot more that goes into sack totals than pressures and sack rate. Nonetheless, I did similar calculations for the past five seasons, and using pressures/sack rate to predict future sacks was far more accurate than using the prior season’s sack totals.

One of the reasons the Cowboys are likely to improve this season is the probable improvement of Anthony Spencer. Even if Spencer garners the same number of pressures this season as last, he’ll acquire three extra sacks even at a league average sack rate.

Other good news for the ‘Boys. . .the Giants will almost certainly see a steep decline in sacks in 2012. They were one of the luckiest teams in the NFL last year, sacking the quarterback on 29.4% of pressures. At a league average sack rate, they’ll drop from fourth in sacks to the bottom half of the league.

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4 Responses to Running the Numbers: Predicting 2012 Sack Totals

  1. Tim Truemper says:

    To paraphrase Niels Bohr, “It is hard to make predictions, especially about the future.”

    Should be interesting to see. Seems like a regression to the mean phenomenon. So they may regress to the league mean, but what is the Giant’s general tendency in terms of the ratio of sacks to pressures. Not asking you to derive this, just saying.

  2. I love a good Niels Bohr quote in the morning. Yeah, I think we could get even more accurate predictions by determining the mean season for each team, then regressing their sack totals to those figures rather than the league mean. I always want to do so many more things with articles, but then I’m four hrs in to collecting stats and figure “Gee, I might have to write this thing sometime.”

  3. Tim Truemper says:

    Thanks for the humorous reply. I have become a big fan of your site and of course others like Smart Football and Pro Football Focus. I know running the numbers is time consuming (I do some data analysis for my job as a psychologist) and it can be tedious, time consuming, etc. Above comment was not meant to be too snarky and any analysis that is data based is welcome. A book recommended by Chris at Smart Football is Kahneman’s “Think Fast, Think Slow.” Its behavioral economics and supports how careful reasoning often undoes intuitive reasoning for more complex phenomena.

  4. Tim–That’s awesome..I double majored in Philosophy and Psych Stats…glad the readers here appreciate the time that goes into it. Even a simple sentence like “When the Cowboys pass the ball over 57% of the time in a game, they have a .276 winning percentage over the last four seasons.” took about four hours of data collection. Not at all bragging because it is really just sad that I do that.

    Funny you mention that book..my girlfriend bought me “Think Fast, Think Slow” for Christmas and I’m looking at it right now. Not sure if you read it but it’s a good read..and Chris over at SF is a friend of mine..not sure if you saw his book “The Essential Smart Football,” but you might like it http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1470125595/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=chrisbrownsfo-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1470125595

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