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The Productivity of the Texans’ 2011 Pass Rush

Last year the Houston Texans had their best defensive season in team history. Much of that success was due to Wade Phillips’ new 3-4 scheme and their relentless pass rush off of the edge, and the Texans set a team record with 44 sacks. A closer look into the numbers explains which pass rushers had the greatest impact on the Texans success. The website Pro Football Focus (PFF) uses a stat called Pass Rushing Productivity (PRP) that measures how much heat a player puts on the quarterback per snap. It takes into account sacks and the numbers of hits and hurries and divides that by the number of snaps the player rushes the passer.

The complete formula from Pro Football is:

Sacks + 0.75 (Hits + Hurries)/ Number of Snaps Rushing The Passer * 100.

From this formula, we see that sacks are worth more than hits or hurries on the quarterback, but that hits and hurries are still very significant. The pass rushers who put the greatest overall pressure on the QB have the highest ratings. Aldon Smith, the rookie DE/OLB from the San Francisco 49ers had the highest rating with 64 QB disruptions in 337 pass rushing attempts for a rating of 15.36. He went 7th overall in the 2011 draft, 4 picks before the Texans took J.J. Watt. Rumor has it that the Texans were targeting Smith going into the 2011 draft. This should make Texans fans feel good because it shows that their talent evaluators are doing a good job of identifying top talent.

Here is a look at each of the Texans’ main pass rushers from last season and what the advanced defensive stats from PFF tell us.

Going into the season, Mario Williams was supposed to be the Texans’ big time pass rusher, and up until he got hurt, he lived up to this billing. While he didn’t even play half of the season, he recorded the NFL’s second best pass rushing performance through Week 12 according to PFF. He had 2 sacks, one hit, and 8 hurries on only 27 rushes against the Colts in Week 1. Overall, Mario was on pace to finish in the top three in PRP if he had kept up his pace from the first five games of the season.

The Texans’ leading sack man in 2011 was Connor Barwin with 11.5 sacks. When he was drafted, he was generally regarded as a better prospect in a 3-4 defense rather than in a 4-3, and he proved the draftniks right with a breakout season this past year. His four sack game against Jacksonville in Week 12 was PFF’s sixth best pass rushing performance through Week 12. Along with the four sacks, he had 2 hits and 5 hurries on 36 rushes. While Barwin had great numbers, his 59 sacks, hits, and hurries did not place him in the top 20 in the NFL in PRP. This most likely comes from the fact that he rushed the pass so much, over 85% of passing snaps. This means that since he rushed so many times, he had more unsuccessful rushes that the top pass rushers.

Antonio Smith

When Mario went down, rookie 2nd round pick Brooks Reed stepped in and performed admirably, giving fans hope for the future without Mario. While Reed battled the whole season, PFF shows that he wasn’t exactly as effective as generally thought. His 35 QB disruptions in 382 rushes give him a rating of 7.26, putting him in the bottom 20 in the NFL among edge rushers who rushed the passer at least 200 times.

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Antonio Smith and J.J. Watt were the 3-4 DEs that rushed the most for the Texans. In PFF’s overall pass rushing grades, the graded out as number one and two among AFC 3-4 defensive ends. This fact is not surprising as we saw them wrecking havoc in the backfield all season.

So what do all of these stats tell us?

-First off, they show that Mario Williams was the Texans’ most effective pass rusher last season, and the defense would have been even better than it already was if he was still playing.

-Secondly, it shows that while Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed both had great seasons, their stats may come more from the high number of times they got to rush the passer than their overall effectiveness, especially in Reed’s case. They have good sack numbers, but when they are not getting sacks, they are not affecting the QB as much as some of the top pass rushers in the NFL. If they can take advantage of all of these pass rush chances and get to the passer even more, the Texans defense will be that much better. I believe that this will come from experience, and it shows that both Barwin and Reed have more growth potential. They can become more consistent and it will lead to bigger numbers and a bigger impact.

- It also gives validation to the drafting of Whitney Mercilus. Both Barwin and Reed were not as highly ranked in PRP as their sack numbers would suggest because they had too many unsuccessful rushes. One of the main causes of these unsuccessful rushes is fatigue. Adding Mercilus to the mix allows for the three OLBs to rotate, keeping them fresh and allowing them to give each pass rush everything they have. This will result in more successful rushes.

-The last and maybe most important thing these stats show is the value of Antonio Smith and J.J. Watt, and that they were very effective and their pressure helped Barwin and Reed to get the numbers they did. With them drawing double teams and collapsing the pocket from DE and DT in passing situations, they give the other pass rushers easy picking in taking down the QB.

Overall, these numbers show us that the pass rushing future is bright for the Texans. If Mercilus can provide some of the pass rush that Mario would have provided, the Texans pass rush and therefore defense have a chance to improve on last year’s breakout season.

Here are the links to some of the articles that I gathered this information from.

Dominant Pass Rush Displays

Pass Rush Productivity (Edge Rushers)