There's something about this lack of a pass-rush that has gotten me thinking a lot. We are not a great pass-rushing team, obviously, yet here we stand, #1 scoring defense in the league...where's the correlation? A poor-pass rushing team does not lead the league in the categories it does unless it is by some sort of design..
Here's a few ideas I've come up with our reasons for a lack of pass-rush, right or wrong.
- Bend but don't break philosophy: Besides turnovers, big plays are one of the most likely contributor to a win or loss and I'm willing to guess that our defense is near the top in the league in minimizing big plays. Part of the reason why is that our style of play of keeping the offense in front of the defense and force them to eke out every yard, and every first down. Of course heavy blitzing would create more pressure, but it allows for more big plays to be giving up, too.
- Stop the run first: i don't know the stat now, but a few weeks back, we lead the league in longest-yards-to-go on 3rd down. A big part of that is Red and Alan Branch. So, adding this fact to our Bend But Don't Break philosophy, it means opposing team's QBs have to make a long 3rd down play multiple times in the same drive, which is pretty tough to do. Those two guys don't provide much pass-rush, if at all, but they stop the run which is goal #1.
- Lack of pass-rush by our 3rd down defense: Jason Jones is out (and has been somewhat of a disappointment), Irvin has hit a wall, and Scruggs and McDonald have not provided much of anything else..just recently Pete commented on areas of concern and it wasn't our base D he mentioned, it was the 3rd down D, and its been that group of we guys who need to step it up. Not the Base Defense.
- Limited Blitz: We don't blitz a lot, so considering that, it's no surprise we are actually quite successful at it when we do. We catch teams off-guard with it. So, if we increase our blitz package, do we see an equal increase in success or would we lose the element of surprise, opening ourselves to big plays. That's one I have no idea on.
Now, don't get me wrong, there's a lot of room for improvement. We need to create more pressure on the quarterback, especially 3rd downs, but I'm not on board with what seems to be a call for dramatic change with the defense, as if it's either 'Blitz more or get a traditional defensive end besides Red' or 'Do whatever it take to get a new 3-tech'. So far, the defense is mostly doing what is asked of them, and so far it's working damn well.
I'm a believer that the "eye-test" can tell us more than stats do, but our lack of pass-rush issue feels like our eyes are failing to see something that the stats are telling us to be true, and that is that we are a top defense because in our scheme, we don't need an elite pass-rush. This may sound crazy, because of the state of the NFL right now, but we may be overvaluing the importance of sacks and pressure instead of focusing on what has gotten this defense into the position they are in now, which is their bend not break defense, run-stuffing d-line, a limited successful blitz package, and overall, a defense that works by playing unconventional.