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Inside the numbers: Week 3

The Twitter-sphere erupted at the end of Seattle's controversial 14-12 "win" over the Green Bay Packers Monday night -- largely with fans expressing their displeasure with the way the NFL has turned officiating into a national joke.

But before that story overwhelmed the inter-webs, the Cold, Hard Football Facts and fans coast to coast were caught in a first-half Twitter tempest and a sack-full of statistical controversy.

We know the NFL can no longer officiate games properly. Turns out the league can't even get its facts straight these days either.

Here's what happened:

The aggressive Seattle defense overwhelmed Green Bay's offensive line, sacking Rodgers eight times, all of them in the first half. Defensive end Chris Clemons led the charge with four of those sacks.

It was a powerful display of defensive football.

The eight sacks in one half are more than 23 teams have through three games this year. Even the Seahawks themselves entered the game with just two sacks to their credit.

As the sacks mounted one after the other, fans and pigskin pundits turned Twitter to see if history was unfolding before our very eyes.

"What's the single-game sack record?" asked NFL reporter Sam Farmer of the L.A. Times.

The 2012 NFL Record & Fact Book offers a clear answer. But maybe not the right answer.

NFL statistics were poorly kept historically, and sack stats in particular. NFL teams, and apparently not all of them, kept their own sack numbers in the early days of the league.

By the early 1960s, team-wide sacks were being tracked, but not individual sacks. Sacks did not become an "official" stat until 1982.

The story of the sack-record chase took on such a life Monday night that NFL public relations executive Greg Aiello was forced to turn to Twitter to respond:

Aiello got his answer from the NFL Record & Fact book, which tracks "official" NFL stats and data. Page 579 of the 2012 NFL Record & Fact book shows -- as Aiello tweeted -- that the sack record is 12, shared by five teams, most recently by the Giants over the Eagles in 2007.

But if only it were so cut and dry.

The NFL Record & Fact Book is the "official" word on such matters, but not the only word.

We posted on Twitter a box score from ProFootballReference.com which reports that the known record is actually held by the Eagles. Philadelphia chalked up 14 sacks in a game against the Giants in 1952.

But that record sack total may have been higher than 14, at least according to Eagles blogger Bryn Swartz and the Eagles Encyclopedia.

The Norm Willey 17-sack game against the Giants in 1952 has taken on something of a life of its own, a legend buoyed by no less an authority than NFL Films -- apparently disputing "official" NFL records.

Former Sports Illustrated NFL reporter Paul "Dr. Z" Zimmerman wrote about the Willey legend in 2000. He disputed Willey's 17-sack claim.

But Zimmerman, famous for tracking games in great detail, supports the ProFootballReference box score result which tells us that the "official" NFL sack record is wrong.

"I happened to be at the game," wrote Zimmerman. "It was frightening to watch. My chart has New York quarterbacks Charlie Conerly and Freddie (Needle) Benners going down 14 times, with Willey collecting eight of the sacks."

So the "official" record for sacks is 12.

But as the sports world learned later Monday night, "official" in the NFL these days does not mean accurate.

Ancient NFL history may be hard to sort out.

But the Defensive Hog Index we use at Cold, Hard Football Facts.com makes contemporary football easy to interpret: if you rush the passer the way the Seahawks did Monday night, you win NFL games and you win Super Bowls.

One of the key components of the Defensive Hog Index is what we call Negative Pass Play percentage -- the percentage of drop backs by an opponent that end in a sack or interception.

It's a critical measure of Super Bowl potential, as we reported here a couple weeks ago. To quickly rehash, we created the Defensive Hog Index in 2007. Since then, the Super Bowl champs have consistently been among the best in the NFL at forcing Negative Pass Plays.

2007 Giants -- No. 2 (11.65 percent of dropbacks ended in sack or INT)2008 Steelers -- No. 1 (12.16)2009 Saints -- No. 6 (10.16)2010 Packers -- No. 1 (12.22)2011 Giants -- No. 3 (10.68)

Interesting to note that every Super Bowl champion since 2007 has forced a Negative Pass Play on more than 10 percent of dropbacks.

Most of the Super Bowls in those five seasons turned on Negative Pass Plays: the 2008 Steelers, 2009 Saints and 2010 Packers all returned interceptions for touchdowns in their Super Bowl victory.

The 2007 Giants -- the second best pass rushing team in football that year -- famously overwhelmed New England's offensive line and beat up Tom Brady in their great upset victory. The 2011 Giants had similar success, again against the Patriots.

So who does the Defensive Hog Index, and the ability to pressure the passer, favor here in the early weeks of the 2012 season?

Ironically, the Green Bay Packers are still the best in the NFL at pressuring the passer, with 12 sacks and 4 INTs in 86 opponent drop backs.

Here is the Top 5 in Negative Pass Play percentage, heading into Week 4:

Green Bay -- 18.60 percentChicago -- 15.75N.Y. Giants -- 12.50Atlanta -- 12.17Philadelphia -- 11.11

The Seahawks, believe it or not, are a mere No. 12 right now at forcing Negative Pass Plays (9.6 percent), even with their explosive eight-sack, first-half effort.

They have a total of 10 sacks all season and have picked off just two passes -- so that's 12 Negative Pass Plays in 125 drop backs.

Russell Wilson was in the middle of the Packers-Seahawks controversy, as the quarterback who threw what proved to be the game-winning Hail Mary touchdown pass to Golden Tate.

It was a rare attempt for Wilson, who has thrown just 75 passes in three games this year, fewer than any quarterback who has started since Week 1.

But Wilson, to his credit, has been fairly efficient, with an 86.2 passer rating.

Washington's Robert Griffin III, however, easily leads the rookie field, and by a wide margin. He is No. 1 among the five in completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating. In fact, his rating of 103.5 is good enough for No. 6 league-wide right now.

Thanks to the Monday night mess-up, Wilson is the only rookie right now with a winning record. His Seahawks are 2-1. Griffin's Redskins, Luck's Colts and Tannehill's Dolphins are each 1-2. Weeden and the Browns are 0-3.

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