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Zen and the Art of Using Bad Team's Castoffs to Fix a Good Team's Pass Rush

(God, I hated that book.)

One thing most football fans need to realize is: Don't overvalue the run game. I think much of this comes from fantasy football, where running backs are king. In real football, when a quarterback throws a touchdown, it's not worth 4 points. Nor are his yardage numbers divided in half. The other component of this commonly held misconception is the high correlation between winning and a team's rusher eclipsing 100 yards. Many have incorrectly translated this to mean that a team must rush to win, but in reality an even stronger correlation exists between the number of rushing attempts a team has and winning, because, simply, teams run the ball when they're ahead. It's an effective way to kill the clock.

The truth is, over the past thirty years, the passing game has far surpassed the running game in importance. Recently, thanks in no small part to rule changes that have nearly all benefitted quarterback's and receivers, it has become even more important. Using DPAR, the most accurate tool we have to measure the value of an individual players contributions, let's briefly look at some comparisons between the value of running backs and quarterbacks. Peyton Manning's Defense-adjusted Points Above Replacement for 2006: 175.0. Ladainian Tomlinson's DPAR just for his contributions rushing: 52.9.  That would place him between the 8th and 9th ranked QBs: Chad Pennington, 52.2, and Damon Huard (on just 244 pass attempts) 53.4. Now, this argument could certainly get tricky. One could certainly argue that it would be easier to replace a player of Damon Huard's caliber than LT's, but whatever your opinion of that, my point remains: Judging by total contribution to a team's offensive production, the passing game is king. Conventional stats back that up, too. Isolating the Hawks for a second, a team conveniently enough right around the middle of the pack on runs as percentage of all plays, Seattle gained 1446 more yards on the pass than the run and 18 more touchdowns.

My point? While many in the ranks of Seattle fandom we're a-panic about losing Marcus Tubbs and his importance to the Hawks' rush defense, Tim Ruskell was out improving Seattle's pass defense. And rightly so. Throughout the preseason one very alarming thing stood out about Seattle's defense, they were not getting good pass rush without blitzing. In Jon Marshall's defense, that's death. Add in a very inexperienced starting right corner, potentially a rookie nickel back and a zone heavy secondary scheme and, well, ugh, hopefully this weekend's additions will spare us from experiencing what that recipe would have tasted like.

Of the two (I'll cover Alvin Pearman in a separate post) Jason Babin is the rock star. The former first rounder, misfit linebacker in his prime that has every chance to truly breakout now that he's back at defensive end, and away from a shambolic, discombobulated and just flat out poorly thought out, poorly planned and poorly executed defense in Houston. When Babin's not targeting impala w/ a hunting bow, he's a high-motor pass rusher whose fast first step gets him into the backfield in a hurry. Babin was a terror at Western Michigan, equally adept at stifling the run (75 Tackles for a loss) as felling the quarterback (38 sacks), but his middling agility has seen his run stuffing skills not carry over to the pros. Babin is the type that gives plodding offensive tackles fits, but gets brushed off by quicker tackles. He, therefore, can be a liability in run support in the wrong situation. His skills give the Hawks a sort of different poison for different matchups,  different game situations. Houston badly overpaid for Babin, moving four draft picks just to move up for his services and though a possibility of double digit sack totals still exists for the 27 y/o, he probably never deserved to be a first rounder. As a functioning part, acquired for functionally nothing, he has a chance to be a real crowd pleaser in Seattle.

Ellis Wyms by comparison is the homely bass player who writes all the music. Wyms is not and has never been, even back into his college days, a starter. He's a defensive line utility player that like Babin doesn't offer much in run support. Teams that don't like to blitz, Tampa-2 teams, the Seahawks, for instance, stockpile talent like Wyms because whatever spot he lines up at, he'll get penetration. With his closing burst, he'll convert sacks, too. With Wyms, though, you take the bad with the good. Wyms like Babin contributes very little in run support. He's the type that streaks toward the quarterback and gets sucked up against the draw. He's a situational player, if the team creates a big lead forcing the opposition to pass, he's a useful finisher.

Babin, Wyms are actually quite similar. Babin has an outside shot of competing for a starting spot, but for now, both are components, situational pass-rushers. Much like 2005, when Seattle had 6 players who recorded between 2 and 6 sacks, the Hawks are creating a defensive unit with few stars, but a lot of speed, a lot of depth and collectively, the potential for a grip of sacks.