Don’t Get Caught Up In Jared Allen’s Sack Numbers

jaredallen

The news that the Bears had signed Jared Allen didn’t come as that much of a surprise to me this morning. When the Bears announced that they had restructured Jay Cutler’s deal, moving $5 million into the signing bonus to free up about another $4 million in cap space this season, I knew something was up.

They already had enough cap room to sign all their draft picks, and if they just wanted to give themselves flexibility during the season, why would they do it in March?

No, they had to be trying to sign somebody, and Allen was the only player left on the market that would command that kind of room.

What I did not expect was a four-year deal. Honestly, I’m not a big fan of that, though this is the NFL, and with only $15.5 million guaranteed, I highly doubt Allen sees the fourth year of this contract. The third year is a likely longshot.

Anyway, as for the deal, on the surface it’s easy to like. Allen is a pass-rusher, pure and simple. In his career, Allen has had only two seasons in which he finished with less than 10 sacks, and the last one came in 2006. It’s just, when you look a little deeper, you see those sack numbers are a bit empty. Well, as empty as a sack can be.

When you look at Allen’s numbers over at Pro Football Focus, he actually had a negative grade last season despite piling up 11.5 sacks. PFF graded Allen at a -4.0 overall (which would have been the best number on the Bears), and his pass rush grade was actually worse than his run defense, grading at a -4.1. Even Pro Football Reference gave Allen an AV of six. That’s because even though sacks are awesome and we all love them, they aren’t the only thing a defensive end is supposed to do.

Which is why I loved this tweet so much on Monday morning.

Well, at least Jerry Angelo realizes that baseball and football are different sports. Where he’s wrong, however, is that PFF isn’t really using analytics in the same exact way as a baseball statistic like WAR. PFF is plain grading the players on each individual play, just like a coach does when he watches film on Monday.

Here’s how PFF itself explains the process.

The grading takes into account many things and effectively brings “intelligence” to raw statistics.

For example, a raw stat might tell you a tackle conceded a sack. However, how long did he protect the QB for before he gave it up? Additionally, when did he give it up? If it was within the last two minutes on a potentially game-tying drive, it may be rather more important than when his team is running out the clock in a 30-point blowout.

The average grade, or what we would typically expect of the average player, is therefore defined as zero. In reality, the vast majority of grades on each individual play are zero and what we are grading are the exceptions to this.

A seal block on the backside of a play, for example, is something that it is reasonable to expect to be completed successfully. Consequently, it receives a zero grade, whereas the differentiation between a good and poor block is a heavy downgrade for a failed seal block to the backside of a running play.

So it’s not just comparing every player in the NFL to one another like WAR is. It’s simply grading the player’s performance. And guess what? Jared Allen wasn’t great last season. Yes, he had 11.5 sacks, but he also saw 1,083 snaps last year. There are 1,071 other plays he was graded on by PFF, and there was more bad than good.

Now, to be clear, a -4.0 grade isn’t terrible. It would be a horrible game, but over the course of 16 games it’s not something to be scared about. I mean, he’s not Shea McClellin here. McClellin finished the 2013 season with a grade of -28.4 and had a -4.4 grade in one game against Cleveland.

So to be clear, Jared Allen is an upgrade, and he’s going to make the Bears defense better next season. But don’t get caught up in the sack numbers, he’s not going to come in and singlehandedly transform a bad Bears defense into a fearsome unit. Also, there’s a chance Allen could bounce back from a bad season, though considering he’s turning 32 in a few weeks, I wouldn’t put a lot of money on that outcome.

The Bears are paying Allen more for what he’s already accomplished than what he’s likely to contribute in Chicago, but it doesn’t mean he won’t help. He will. Just don’t expect the Monsters of the Midway to return.

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One thought on “Don’t Get Caught Up In Jared Allen’s Sack Numbers

  1. Peppers was a negative 4.6 I believe according to PFF. So, I mean it is all about right situation, right time. Clearly he lost some motivation in Minnesota last year, and who wouldn’t. We needed a pure pass rusher and got exactly that. Houston and Young are solid against the run, expect a solid rotation. This was a solid move here by Emery.

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