Moore: Cardinals' Chandler Jones was so dominant we should re-evaluate NFL statistics

Greg Moore
Arizona Republic

Chandler Jones is on pace to finish this season with more sacks than Arizona native Mark Gastineau had in his career.

Gastineau, of course, was the long-time single-season sack king, having set the record for the Jets in 1984 and holding the crown until Michael Strahan (with an assist from Brett Favre) took the record at the end of the 2001 season.

But the wildest thing is that we don’t know the half of how dominant Jones was in Week 1.

Jones’ performance highlights a massive — but easily correctable — problem with NFL stats. There aren’t enough numbers available to evaluate guys who don’t regularly touch the ball.

If the league could help create more numbers for defensive players, it could help fix an imbalance in Hall of Fame selections that tilts away from defenders and blockers and toward passers and ballcarriers.

(A revamp of defensive stats would also help Round Valley High’s Gastineau. You’ll see how toward the end of this column.)

“That’s an interesting idea … I don’t know. I certainly would be all for statistics that help increase the value of players on the interior. I’d always love to see that improve,” Cardinals defensive tackle Corey Peters said on Tuesday.

“But I’m content with where things are. I feel like real fans of the game, people that really watch the tape, have appreciation for everybody that’s out there, no matter how big or small the role is.”

A case for more numbers

My favorite NFL statistical resource is pro-football-reference.com.

Their stat line for Jones shows 5 sacks, 4 tackles for loss and 6 quarterback hits. 

That’s 15 plays of Tennessee’s 64 total offensive snaps that Jones wreaked raw, filthy havoc on the Titans offensive line. Assuming there’s no overlap, that’s darn near 1 out of every 4 plays that Jones was out there doing somebody dirtier than a postgame laundry bin.

It was so bad that Titans’ tackle and former Scottsdale Chaparral star Taylor Lewan said on Twitter, “Got my a-- kicked today, no way around that. I let the team and the fans down. Thank you @chanjones55 for exposing me. It will only force me to get better.”

(And, really, how classy was that? That’s the kind of thing you clip out of a newspaper and show to a kid who had a bad day. Hats off to Lewan and the family that raised him. They are really doing the Valley proud.)

Jones is on pace for 85 sacks this season, which is a statistical anomaly that simply demands exploration.

The record for sacks in a season is 22.5, set by Strahan when Favre sat down in front of him on the first play of Green Bay’s last drive of the 2001-02 regular season.

There have only been 12 seasons in NFL history where a player officially recorded 20 or more sacks. (Two of those belong to Jones’ teammate J.J. Watt, who also would benefit from the expansion of readily available NFL stats being proposed here.)

If Jones puts up five sacks a game to finish with 85 on the season (remember there are 17 regular season games this year), it would be a nearly 280 percent increase over the original record.

It’s not likely, but it’s possible, and it helps show, broadly speaking, how effective Jones was.

But can we get more specific?

Numbers we could use

How many times was he double-teamed by linemen?

How many times did a running back stay in help chip him? 

How many times did the quarterback roll away from him?

How many sacks did he funnel to his teammates elsewhere on the line?  

If we had access to these sorts of advanced numbers, we could get a truer sense of which defensive players are most disruptive.

For interior linemen, we should know how many times a nose guard or defensive tackle blew a center straight into the backfield. Call it “push rate” maybe, but the goal would be to quantify just how well a guy like Peters clogs up a run lane.

Furthermore, tackle assists could be given to defensive linemen who occupy their guy well enough that a linebacker makes a tackle in the hole for a gain of less than 3.3 yards (because anything more than that ensures a first down on three carries.)

Interior defensive linemen also would benefit from a thorough accounting of how many times they’re being double-teamed or forcing quarterbacks into pistol and shotgun offensive formations.

(There could also be some sort of “gamebreaker” stat for when a guy like Peters damn near scores a touchdown, sending his teammates and fans into hysterics.)

We also could use some sort of effective third-down metric for when guys make sacks or bat down passes in situations that can help their teams get off the field.

This sort of thinking can be applied to all positions that are hard to quantify.

Defensive backs? We can measure how many times quarterbacks threw the ball to other players. Call it “look-away rate.”

Fullbacks? How many times did they spring a touchdown run or throw? Call them “touchdown blocks.”

Offensive linemen? How many times do they stone a pass rusher? Put a percentage to it and call it a “safety rate.”

Players know who’s who.

“Some of the guys I have the most respect for are (so-called) ‘small-role’ guys, blocking tight ends, people that really do their job at a high level regardless of hype that they get,” Peters said.

A final point, and a final final point

But fans need help, and if the NFL can figure out a way to disseminate more numbers people can use for fantasy football or gambling or just winning a good barbershop debate, then they can find new ways to introduce fans to more players.

Until then, we won’t ever know how dominant guys like Chandler Jones are, even if he’s on pace to finish with more sacks this season (85) than a former sack king has in his career (74) … which raises one last point.

Why are sacks still divided into “official” and “unofficial numbers”?

Yes, we know that sacks weren’t official stats until 1982, which is why Gastineau has 74 and not 107.5, but what’s stopping anyone from combing film, verifying the older numbers and changing the designation to “official”?

One final final point: The lack of stats for defensive players makes it horribly difficult to assess Hall of Fame worthiness for scores of Black players.

There are interior defensive linemen, corners and safeties who don’t have a realistic shot at a bust in Canton.

If the NFL can figure out a way to create free access to useful stats that a lot of teams already generate internally, it would create new engagement points for millions of fans.

It could help fix something that’s not fair.

And it could help us understand just how dominant Jones was in Week 1.

Reach Moore at gmoore@azcentral.com or 602-444-2236. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @SayingMoore.

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