I just read a comment in another post which ended:
"No pass rusher. . . we’re dead in 2009."
I was thrown by the pessimism. I started to respond in that thread, and decided I wanted to go into a little more depth.
We had 30 sacks last year, tied for 16th in the league. That's not "no pass rush." That's the definition of a league-average pass-rush. But did you know if we got 5 more sacks last year, we would have been a top-10 team in sacks?
All this talk about how terrible our pass-rush is, well, it's just not accurate. I know, I know sacks aren't a perfect measure of a pass-rush. But the mind-set summarized by the above quote, the pathos over letting Everette Brown get away, appears to be not justified.
Our pass defense? 12th in the league in YPA. Again - not spectacular ... but better than average. Our rush defense was 8th in the league (for all the talk of our defensive line being a disaster, it doesn't look like that from the stats).
Our "horrible" third down defense? We allowed the first down 38% of the time. 12th in the league.
These aren't spectacular numbers, but they pretty consistently one thing: league average, or maybe a little bit better.
There's one area were our defense was below average (and, in turns out, below average by a lot): turnovers. We only managed 12 picks, and we only forced 12 fumbles. Those numbers put us solidly in the bottom of the league.
Remember, with all this talk, that we're really talking about a league-average, or slightly better, defense ... with the caveat that we're really not a big-play defense. (This harkens back to my draft comments, too: adding league-average players isn't going to help us much, if at all. We need big-play guys if we want to upgrade this defense.)
I think we can all remember some key drives last season when it seemed like our defense just couldn't get off the field. A quick look at the relevant statistics, however, shows that our defense wasn't really the problem.
If you want to know why we were 7-9 last year, the answer is really on the other side of the ball: While our QB's yards-per-attempt was decent, they led the league in sacks. For half the season we were starting J.T. O'Sullivan, who put the ball on the ground or threw a pick once for every ten times he dropped back to pass. We led the league in fumbles, and were tied for 26th in interceptions thrown.
Not counting on any improvement from running the 3-4 consistently (and we clearly looked better once we dropped the whole hybrid thing), and not counting of much larger production from Manny Lawson or Ahmed Brooks, not counting on Balmer turning into a quality player, or any improvement from the free safety position, what should we expect from our defense?
Something a little better than league-average.
Our offense, on the other hand, should improve just from cutting out the negative plays: we led the league in sacks allowed last year, and I've already mentioned our INT numbers. Both of those should improve with the removal of Martz's offense and JTO. (And it's worth repeating, JTO fumbled or threw an interception approximately once for every ten times he dropped back to pass). Rachal looked like an improvement once he got onto the field, and Marvel should be an upgrade over the different guys we ran out there last year (if he can stay healthy, but if he can't, we're no worse at that position).
I don't know what to expect when it comes into translating this into wins. A league-average team can get six wins or it can get 10 wins with a couple of good or bad bounces of the football. I do know that nobody should be writing this team off as non-competitive because of our defense. Such an opinion is simply not justified by our performance last year.