The damage done

The quarterback is not always as valuable as the man rushing after him

Originally Published: December 26, 2012
By Peter Keating | ESPN The Magazine
Numbers IlloDOGO for ESPNTeams should focus more on taking down the quarterback than getting their own signal caller.

I LOVE MESSING AROUND with all-encompassing uberstatistics as much as any geek, but you often learn more simply by counting stuff nobody has counted before. Take the sack. As NFL passing yards keep rising and offensive schemes keep expanding, sacks are becoming more valuable. The problem is that teams and fans don't know how valuable. Traditional stats can't answer that. But by consulting the play-by-play database kept by ESPN Stats & Info and counting the effects of sacks -- where they happen, when and how they influence games -- we can create a whole new metric (more on that in a minute) and understand the game in a different light. For instance, not all sacks are created equal: Quarterback takedowns vary widely in their effect on games. And in sacks' cumulative impact, the best pass rushers are at least as valuable as garden-variety QBs. NFL GMs, take heed.

Peter Keating is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, where he covers investigative and statistical subjects. He started writing "The Biz," a column looking at sports business from the fan's point of view, in 1999. He also coordinates the Magazine's annual "Ultimate Standings" project, which ranks all pro franchises according to how much they give back to fans. His work on concussions in football has earned awards from the Deadline Club, the New York Press Club and the Center for the Study of Sport in Society.