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Seahawks’ Cliff Avril seeks sacks, but other factors count

Jayson Jenks Seattle Times

RENTON, Wash. – Seattle Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril knows better, but he can’t help himself.

After games, Avril hops online and scours the stats of other defensive ends. Really, he is searching for one thing, the Holy Grail and tell-all for people in his line of work: sacks.

“I try not to,” Avril said, “but as soon as the game’s over, I go look at the NFL stats and look at, ‘Such and such got a sack today.’ That might have been their only pressure of the game, but they got it.

“To be honest, nobody pays attention to the guys who aren’t getting sacks, even if they’re getting pressure. I’ve been in the league seven years, and that’s how I’ve paid attention to guys.”

Avril’s internal tug-of-war highlights the most interesting question surrounding sacks: How good of a measuring stick are they for judging pass rushers? Are they the RBI of football – a result-based number that ignores the complicated roots beneath it?

Avril is a good case study. By traditional methods, Avril is having a down year. He has two sacks, tied for 103rd in the league.

But by nearly every other measure, Avril is having as good a season as last year, when he had eight sacks. He’s ninth among his position in quarterback hits. He’s 27th in quarterback hurries. In the Giants game, he had five quarterback hits – but no sacks. In the San Diego game, he had five hurries – but no sacks. The analytic site has rated Avril among the league’s 10 best players at his position for most of the season.

“I feel like hurries and hits are almosts,” Avril said. “I’ve got a lot of quarterback hurries and hits, but I don’t know, man. It’s frustrating more so than anything because I’m getting there, but I’m not getting the numbers. From a grade standpoint, I still probably give myself a B-minus or C-plus because almost doesn’t cut it. It’s not like they’re going to be like, ‘Well, you almost got sacks so we’re almost going to pay you a lot of money.’ ”

Yet there is a compelling argument that too much value is placed on sacks. Seattle’s coaches, for example, grade their pass-rushers in part on their ability to force a quarterback to move off his spot – to make his life unstable in the pocket. The perfect illustration is the Super Bowl. The Seahawks sacked Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning once, but it was impossible to watch that game and not see the influence of the pass rush.

Steve Palazzolo, a former minor league pitcher who works for ProFootballFocus, said statistically the difference between a quarterback under pressure and one who operates comfortably is the difference between Drew Brees and Akili Smith.

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