Who's the Best Pass Rusher in the NFC East?

Answering a question like "Who is the best pass rusher in the NFC East?" seems to require a wealth of coaches tape and scouting grades. But what if we could simplify such a discussion with a single statistic: Negative Plays per Rush.

I first used this measurement back on my old blog to look just at Eagles players, but let's expand it to get a sense of the rest of the Eagles' top rivals.

Negative Plays per Rush uses the statistics charted by Pro Football Focus, who break down tape into four negative plays caused by pass rushers: sacks, blocked passes, QB hits and QB pressures. I think adding the four up into a single "Negative Play" stat is more useful than just looking at, for example, sacks. A statistic like that is so volatile and contingent on random other factors. But the total number of negative plays washes out some of that luck.

Once we have the total negative plays for each player, we can divide by the number of rushes (also as charted by Pro Football Focus) each player has over the course of the season. Making it a per play stat washes out the advantage of a player who got 50 more opportunities than another.

Finally, I limited the list to defensive lineman and linebackers who rushed the passer at least 250 times in 2009. The less rushes a player has distorts their final numbers and also indicates that they are more of a situational player. Here's the result:

Negative Plays per Rush — NFC East

Let's put any debate to rest. For 2009, Cowboys star DeMarcus Ware was by far the most effective pass rusher. Although he actually had the most pass rushes of any player, he also tallied almost thirty more negative plays than the next highest.

And who is second best? Ware's teammate, Anthony Spencer, who made up for a relatively low sack total with high scores in other areas. The Eagles received new quarterback Kevin Kolb from their draft trade with the Cowboys in 2007, but Spencer wasn't just a consolation prize for Dallas. He's the second half of the NFC East's most fearsome pass rushing tandem.

Eagles defensive end Trent Cole and two Redskins players, rookie Brian Orakpo and veteran Andre Carter, essentially tied for third place. Cole may be even more effective in 2010 with rookie first-round pick Brandon Graham on the opposite side. Juqua Parker had the worst score (though it wasn't bad) of any team's second-best pass rusher. The Redskins players could see the opposite effect -- Carter wasn't as effective in the past as an outside linebacker in the 3-4.

Next we see the Giants' three headed monster of Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, and Mathias Kiwanuka. In reduced minutes none of them had huge sack numbers, but they were all quite effective rushers. Tuck lead all players with eight batted passes.

After about seven or eight percent, you aren't really looking at dominant pass rushers any more. Thus, the stat suggests that Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff isn't as fantastic a rusher as conventional wisdom indicates. He's only the seventh-best on his own team, and barely better than lane clogger Broderick Bunkley of the Eagles.

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