The New England Patriots are sacking quarterbacks at a low rate this season, but that doesn’t mean they’ve struggled to rush the passer. Quite the contrary, actually.
The Patriots rank seventh in the NFL this season in pressure percentage, according to Pro Football Focus. That’s total pressures (sacks, QB hits and hurries) per pass defense snaps. They’re 31st in sacks per game and sack percentage.
Sacks are more valuable than quarterback hits and hurries in the short term, but the latter can actually lead to bigger plays. The Patriots rank third in passes intercepted because of the amount of pressure they’ve generated. Pressures lead to incompletions, mistakes and ultimately turnovers.
Don’t believe me?
“I think if you look at the overall passing game, the statistic that stands out the most in terms of correlation is pressure,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said on WEEI last week. “So pressure on the quarterback leads to more bad plays than sacks do, in terms of turnovers unless you have strip sacks, obviously. That’s the No. 1. After that, pressures cause bad throws and potentially turnovers.”
The Patriots don’t have a ton of speed in their front seven, which might explain why they’re not finishing with sacks. They’re also unwilling to frequently completely sell out to rush the passer, caring more about containing the quarterback in the pocket.
Among NFL defenders with over 100 pass-rush snaps, linebacker Dont’a Hightower and defensive ends Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn all rank in the top 25 in pressure percentage.
Hightower is eighth with five QB hits and 16 hurries in 135 pass-rush snaps, Clayborn is 11th with three total sacks, six QB hits and 26 hurries in 233 pass-rush snaps, and Flowers is 21st with six total sacks, seven QB hits and 35 hurries in 338 pass-rush snaps.
Here’s how all Patriots pass rushers with over 100 snaps rank:
Admit it: You’re a little surprised, right?
The Patriots’ defense as a whole could be better and more consistent this season, but they currently rank 10th, allowing 21.6 points per game. We’ll see over the final four weeks of the season if the Patriots can start finishing with more sacks, but for now, Belichick seems pretty content.
For more grades, advanced statistics and more at Pro Football Focus, go to ProFootballFocus.com.