Rocky Bernard: In 2005, Seattle employed a three man pass rush the fifth most times in the NFL. Among teams running a 4-3, they were second only to the Carolina Panthers. Rushing three lacks the showy aggressiveness and presumed chutzpah of calling a blitz, but it can be just as effective. No player is as essential to making Marshall's favorite third down tactic work as Rocky Bernard, and when he got hurt, the whole defense badly suffered. Witness:
The Bernard Effect
|Period||Sacks||Sacks vs. Average|
|Weeks 1-4, 6, 7, 9, 10||33||146%|
|Weeks 8, 11-17||8||49%|
Sacks vs. Average equals the number of sacks Seattle recorded versus the number the team allowed on average. For instance, the Giants allowed only 1.56 sacks a game, while the Raiders allowed 4.5 sacks a game. In week 3, Seattle recorded roughly 64% of the sacks expected against the Giants, while in week 9, Seattle recorded precisely 200% of the sacks expected against Oakland.
In weeks 1-4. 6, 7, 9 and 10, Bernard was healthy. During those weeks he was only featured on the injury report once, in week 9 against Oakland. That injury was presumably not very severe, because Bernard recorded two sacks in the game and was off the injury report by next week. In week 8, he first injured his foot, and presumably missed most of the game as he didn't record a single defensive play. In weeks 11-17 Bernard was listed as either questionable, 4 times, or probable, 3 times. The Seahawks' only strong pass rush performance in those weeks was against Denver in Jay Cutlers' pro debut. To put that into perspective, Cutler also managed two unforced fumbles on botched snaps.
Bernard is Seattle's best pass rusher on the defensive line. His loss has a cascade effect. When Bernard draws double teams, every other pass rusher benefits. Bernard excels at the bull rush, but it's almost impossible to plant and drive on a hurt foot. His injury coincides almost perfectly with Seattle's collapse rushing the passer and his return to health had a lot to do with the Hawks surprisingly strong performance in the playoffs.
Marcus Tubbs availability in 2007 is still questionable. The coming months Hawk fanatics will track his every health report with baited breath, but it's Bernard that will have the bigger impact on how the Hawks defense performs. That's because for all Tubbs contributions against the rush, pass defense is a much better indicator of a team's success than rush defense. I couldn't find a more specific description of Bernard's injury than "sore right foot", but if it's plantar fasciitis--that could be very bad news. In 2005 Will Carrol wrote "There's nothing more debilitating than sore feet." with regards to 49ers TE Eric Johnson's plantar fasciitis. Luckily, the condition is highly treatable as long as Bernard works with the Hawks medical staff to diagnose it. Whatever the cause, Bernard's health is essential to the Hawks return to defensive prominence in 2007. Tomorrow, I'll examine Marcus Tubbs potential, impact and health.
Update [2007-2-16 16:43:29 by John Morgan]: Still working on the Tubbs retro, it'll be up Sunday-Monday.