Comparing Merriman To The NFL's Best Pass Rushers

Shawne Merriman is pretty good. He might be the best linebacker in the league. But beyond position, he is clearly the game’s best pass rusher. But that’s easy for me to say, because I’m a Chargers fan, right? I guess so. But there are some interesting numbers that back up my claims.

Sacks are an easy statistic to look up. So I could have easily gone ahead and added up all of Shawne’s sacks since 2005 (Merriman’s rookie year) and compared it to his league counterparts'. His 39.5 sacks since 2005 already puts him at the top of the list. But there are a number of guys who have similar sack totals, so there is not enough information in that statistic to make for an interesting argument.

Let’s take Jason Taylor; Taylor has 36 sacks since 2005. That’s a very impressive number. Diminishing it’s impressiveness, however, is the fact that Jason Taylor only recently started playing a DE/LB hybrid role. The same is true of Derrick Burgess. Burgess has 35 sacks since 05. But again, he only recently started playing with his hand off the ground. Defensive Ends are allowed to rush the quarterback every down, so their opportunities for sacks are greater. Merriman, on the other hand, is often asked to drop into coverage. Sure he blitzes a lot, but his opportunities to rush the quarterback are lower than those of a defensive lineman. But since I don’t have Shawne Merriman’s blitz totals on hand, I unfortunately can’t compare his opportunities to any other player.

But what I can do is compare Merriman’s number of games started versus guys like Taylor and Burgess. This will at least allow me to see the difference between starting sixteen games and having 11 sacks and starting ten games and having 11. Now, all of the sudden we arrive at an interesting statistic; something I call Sacks per Game (SPG)

Lets compare Shawne Merriman’s SPG with some of the best pass rushers in the NFL (numbers reflective of 2005-07 regular seasons):

Shawne Merriman
37 starts, 38.5 sacks = 1.04 SPG

Derrick Burgess, DE/LB
42 starts, 35 sacks = 0.83 SPG

Osi Umenyiora, DE
43 starts, 33.5 sacks = 0.77 SPG

Jason Taylor, DE/LB
48 starts, 36 sacks = 0.76 SPG

Jared Allen, DE
45 starts, 34 sacks 0.75

Aaron Kampman, DE
47 starts, 34 sacks = 0.72 SPG

Shaun Phillips, LB
32 starts, 23 sacks = 0.71 SPG

Demarcus Ware, LB
48 starts, 33.5 sacks = 0.69 SPG

Merriman is the only guy in the league who averages 1 sack per game since 2005. Nobody else can claim that, although Derrick Burgess comes close. The scary thing is, Merriman only started 10 games his rookie year and also missed some time with a suspension and an injury. Imagine Shawne’s sack totals with 48 games under his belt, instead of just 37! And did you guys notice Shaun Phillips numbers compared to Demarcus Ware’s? I guess that’s a discussion for another day…

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July 3, 2008

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Ryan said... Jul 3, 2008, 4:32:00 PM

I love the Sacks Per Game metric, and looking at the number of pass rush opportunities would be cool (as you mentioned)... then taking it a stpe further you could also normalize against quality of competition (defined as combination of W-L record and number of sacks allowed over the 3-year period) and the effect of having other quality pass rushers on your team (does Merriman and Phillips on same team mean more sacks for everyone or less sacks to go around)?

Rob Zepeda said... Jul 3, 2008, 5:31:00 PM

Ryan, what do you think this is? Football Outsiders? LOL! I'd love to crunch the numbers, but I just don't have access to some of those stats.

I wonder how much it costs for Stats Inc data?

DaMonster said... Jul 4, 2008, 12:57:00 PM

Its going to come down to either Merriman or Cromartie for defensive player of the year. Not a bad problem to have if you are a Chargers fan!

Anonymous said... Jul 4, 2008, 8:09:00 PM

Merriman stats came when he was juiced, Don't count. How has he done since the NFL took away his little friends. Its like Bonds 756 homerun, who cares.

USAPRESIDENT said... Jul 4, 2008, 8:22:00 PM

How many tackles did each player have, and interceptions? Demarcus Ware is better than Shaun Phillips, but Ware and Merriman are close.

Phillip said... Jul 6, 2008, 10:55:00 PM

As another poster already noted, the writer failed to mention that Merriman tested positive for 'roids. But don't let that little tidbit cloud a "good" story.

Anonymous said... Jul 7, 2008, 2:31:00 PM

Problem is Merriman is surrounded by talent and the defense still sucks for whole stretches. To be called the best you need to make a group of very talented players one of the best teams. The chargers D has not come close to living up to that.

SJT said... Jul 8, 2008, 4:29:00 AM

@usapresident: Using the same per game style metrics, Merriman averages 4.8 tackles per game, while Ware averages 4.43. Both have one interception, but Merriman has 15 passes defensed while Ware has only 10.

@anon: The Chargers D sucks? They had a few bad games last year, but so does every D. According to Football Outsiders DVOA stats, the Chargers were the best defensive team in football at the end of the year and into the playoffs.

Anonymous said... Jul 15, 2008, 1:23:00 PM

By saying that the Chargers D sucks just shows your lack of general football knowledge...

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