Coverage in the backend is a crucial part of producing sacks, as demonstrated by the film.
Previous sack breakdowns:
- Why sacks are a misleading stat for evaluating individual defenders
- Film: Sacks created by the pressure of someone other than the finisher
The quality of a defense’s coverage in the backend is an integral factor in determining how many sacks they produce. In a league where the ball is coming out faster than ever, it’s nearly impossible for the defensive front to get the time they need to reach the quarterback without the defensive backfield forcing the quarterback to hold the ball longer than he would like.
Sacks that happen due to a lack of options for the quarterback have come to be known as “coverage sacks.” Most of the time, the players responsible for creating these sacks get zero credit since their efforts cannot be seen on the broadcast view shown on TV. All of the love gets thrown at the finisher, whereas the real heroes were doing their work off-screen.
Let’s dig through some examples of these unheralded plays.
Coverage sacks are typically a team effort, but the league’s stingiest defensive backs are able to play a hand in producing quite a few sacks by sticking tightly in man-to-man coverage when their man is the first read.
No Jet was stingier in coverage this past season than Brian Poole. In addition to thriving when the ball was thrown at him, allowing only 4.6 yards per target out of the slot (best among CB), Poole largely prevented the ball from being thrown his way in the first place. He was targeted once every 8.8 coverage snaps, eighth-best among all cornerbacks.
Plays like this one are where a defender’s ability to limit targets creates value. Man-to-man in the slot against Jarvis Landry, Poole remains balanced and avoids falling for either Landry’s stutter-step or his outside sell, allowing him to stick with Landry step-for-step over the middle and shut down the route. Baker Mayfield badly wanted to hit Landry, readying his cannon twice, but Poole’s coverage prompted Mayfield to pull the ball down and take a sack (shared by Blake Cashman and Bronson Kaufusi).
Here, Poole’s off-the-TV-screen coverage is the driving force behind another big play. Daniel Jones looks to quickly get the ball out to Golden Tate on an out route, but Poole is all over it, cutting outside before Tate does. Based on his pre-snap movement, Poole probably knew exactly what was coming. Jones is forced to hold the ball for too long and Jamal Adams gets home for a strip-sack. All of the glory and attention goes to Adams, but Poole, who gets no praise for this play whatsoever, was just as much a part of making it happen.