In the days following the death of Rams Hall of Famer Deacon Jones, the tributes came in from around the football world heralding the life and career of one of the NFL’s true game-changers. The final paragraph of my blog “If Sacks Were Stats Then” less than three weeks ago about Jones and his unmatched unofficial sack stats included the suggestion that an award named after Deacon Jones would be fitting for the league’s leader in sacks. Our colleague D’Marco Farr who not only wore the same No. 75 as Jones, but also wreaked his share of havoc sacking opposing quarterbacks, amplified the idea of an award in his blog “Let Deacon Jones’ Influence Shine with Hardware.” Well, we got our wish as the NFL did indeed announce at Jones’ memorial service on Saturday that the Deacon Jones Award will indeed be presented next February to the sack champion at the NFL Awards ceremony prior to Super Bowl XLVIII.
This will be the first NFL award named after a defensive player. Three coaches—Vince Lombardi, George Halas, and Don Shula—have their names on the Super Bowl trophy, the NFC Championship trophy, and the NFL high school coach of the year award, respectively. The AFC Championship trophy is named after founding Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt. Then, there is the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award given by the league and the Byron “Whizzer” White Man of the Year Award presented by the NFLPA.
Yet, there are seven college football awards named for defensive players and all seven players are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Dick Butkus Award given to the nation’s best collegiate linebacker might be the best known of the bunch. However, both Bronko Nagurski and Chuck Bednarik have defensive player awards named for them. The Jim Thorpe and Ted Hendricks Awards go to the top defensive back and defensive end. The defensive impact player of the year receives the Ronnie Lott IMPACT trophy and the defensive player of the year among the FCS schools is presented the Buck Buchanan Award.
There might be those who think the award for most sacks should be named for someone else, but it seems only right that the person who came up with the name “sack” should have his name on the award. Yes, sacks did not become an official stat until 1982. However, the play of Deacon Jones brought the sack into prominence even in an era of a 14-game schedule when the passing game was less prevalent than it became in succeeding years. I previously pointed out that Jones’ unofficial numbers are still unmatched by those who have official sack counts. His 0.91 sacks per career game would put him first among those who have recorded at least 100 sacks. Jones averaged 1.06 sacks per game with the Rams and Reggie White is the only other player to have 100 sacks and average more than one per game with the same team (1.02 with Philadelphia).
Here are some stats that really help show how remarkable Deacon Jones was rushing the passer. In his 14-year career, Jones was on the field for just under 6,000 pass plays and had one sack for roughly every 30 pass plays. He accounted for over 35 percent of the Rams’ sacks in his 11 years in Los Angeles and over 32 percent of the sacks when he played for the Rams, Chargers, and Redskins. The opposition passed the ball 49 percent of the time when he was playing defensive end and his teams collected a sack every 11 pass plays.
Now, let’s compare those numbers to those of Bruce Smith, the reigning official career sack leader with 200. Smith played in 279 games compared to Jones’ 191 games and was on the field for 10,430 pass plays averaging a sack every 50.2 pass plays. At Buffalo from 1985-1999, Smith tallied just over 29 percent of the Bills’ sacks and not quite 28 percent of the sacks while with Buffalo and the Redskins. During his playing days, the opponents passed the ball nearly 54 percent of the time and his defenses created a sack every 14.5 pass plays. Smith was on the field for nearly 77 percent more passing plays than Jones and unofficially had only 16 percent (26.5 sacks) more sacks than Jones.
What about Reggie White, you might ask? His 198 sacks in 232 games (0.85 sacks per game) are outstanding, to be sure, but he was on the field for 8,872 pass plays—50 percent more than Jones– averaging a sack every 45 pass plays. He came up with 28.5 percent of the sacks for the Eagles, Packers, and Panthers and those teams had one sack for every 12.7 pass plays. The opposition threw the ball almost 59 percent of the time when White was playing.
How important is the sack today? For the Rams last season, the sack was extremely important. In their seven wins and a tie, the Rams were outsacked by their opponents just once (Redskins by a 2-1 margin). Only twice in their eight losses (Jets and Seahawks) did the Rams have more sacks. Rams quarterbacks were sacked 35 times in 2012 and only seven times did the team make a first down after a sack. The Rams had only one touchdown and six field goals on drives that had a sack with the only touchdown coming on a fake field goal pass from Johnny Hekker to Danny Amendola at home against Seattle.
In the NFL, only four times in the last five years has a team that finished in the bottom 25 percent of the league in sacks made it to the playoffs. Out of those 40 teams, only the 2012 Falcons, 2011 Packers, 2010 Colts, and the 2009 Patriots advanced to postseason play. In last year’s playoffs, only two of the 11 winning teams allowed more sacks than their opponents (Seattle vs. Washington and Baltimore vs. New England). There were six turnovers by teams with a sack during a drive and they were all made by losing teams. Even in the Super Bowl, Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers was sacked twice on third down plays in the red zone that forced San Francisco to settle for field goals when a touchdown might have changed the game considerably.
Commissioner Goodell and the NFL called the right audible on this one and it will be great to see the first presentation of the Deacon Jones Award the night before the Super Bowl. To the league and certainly to Deacon Jones, we should say “Well played.” There might be disagreements about a variety of issues in pro football, but on this issue the response was “ex-sack-ly” right.
Blog contributed to TonySoftli.com by Richard Winer, M.D.