The ultimate goal of every NFL pass rusher is to sack the quarterback. Sacks are huge plays for defenses, and players who rack up a lot of them tend to be among the league’s highest-paid.
But a player’s sack total doesn’t always paint an accurate picture of his pass-rush production.
Take New England Patriots defensive end Adrian Clayborn, for example. Clayborn has yet to record a sack through six games this season, but he leads all Patriots defenders with 20 total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus, three more than star teammate Trey Flowers.
Clayborn has been especially disruptive over New England’s last two games. He tallied six total pressures (all hurries) in a Thursday night win over the Indianapolis Colts and four (two hurries, two QB hits) in Sunday night’s barnburner against the Kansas City Chiefs, which the Patriots won 43-40 at Gillette Stadium.
Three of Clayborn’s pressures against Kansas City helped produce third-down incompletions by quarterback Patrick Mahomes, leading to two field goals and the game’s only punt. Against the Colts, he got in Andrew Luck’s face to force an errant throw that safety Patrick Chung intercepted.
Brian Flores, the Patriots’ linebackers coach and de facto defensive coordinator, offered unprompted praise for the veteran pass rusher during a conference call with reporters Tuesday.
“Getting pressures on the quarterback is, I would say, definitely something that we strive to do,” Flores said. “I think we’ve gotten that. I think Adrian Clayborn is a guy who doesn’t have a sack this season, but he’s put a lot of pressure on the quarterback that’s led to some mistakes. He put some pressure on Mahomes that led to some mistakes from him this weekend.
“So I think the pressure definitely helps us. It’s created some turnovers for us, and hopefully we can continue doing that going forward.”
Per PFF, the Patriots pressured Luck 23 times and Mahomes 17 times and have shown improvement since their dreadful pass rush performance last month in Detroit (eight total pressures in a 26-10 loss to the Lions). They’re tied for last in the NFL with just seven sacks but ranked second in pressure percentage entering Sunday’s game, according to ESPN.
“I think any time you can sack the quarterback, that’s great,” Flores said. “With that (said), when you’re sacking him, you’re pressuring him, and no quarterback likes having pressure on the edge or up the middle. So, yeah, I value pressures a lot, and I think that goes a long way to marrying the rush and the coverage and playing really good defense.”
For more grades, advanced statistics and more at Pro Football Focus, go to ProFootballFocus.com.