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Pass-Rush Profile: John Abraham

The second pass rusher to come under the Pro Football Focus microscope is Atlanta Falcons defensive end John Abraham. Khaled Elsayed breaks down where Abraham was getting his pressure from and who he was getting it against, with the findings making for some interesting reading after Abraham finished with a disappointing sack count for 2009. As always, there's more to it than numbers ...

After a 2008 season in which he had 17 sacks, it was inevitable that John Abraham was in for some criticism after registering just 6 in 2009. The obvious conclusion that many came to was that Abraham was "past it" and on the downside of his career. Though he may not be the force he was during Mike Smith's first year as coach, it's a little wide of the mark to look solely at Abraham's sack numbers and make a judgment on his skills as a pass rusher. Indeed, a little look at our Pass Rushing Productivity ratings show that Abraham is still among the top seven in the league when it comes to generating pressure on a per-snap basis, even if where he got this pressure may inflate these numbers a tad.

On Abrahams' 421 pass rushes he generated a healthy 57 total pressures, which was tied for 10th most in the league. Now that's not in the same class as the 73 he managed in the '08 season, but it's still good enough to rank him above guys like Julius Peppers, Mario Williams and NFC South rival Will Smith (and what's more he did it on fewer pass-rushing attempts). So although it's disappointing he didn't leave '09 with double-digit sacks, he deserves credit for creating a high (if inconsistent) amount of pressure -- especially in relation to fellow pass rushers -- even if it doesn't compare favorably to the high standards and expectations he created for himself with such an explosive 2008.

That's the first interesting conclusion you draw from Abraham's '09 season, but the more surprising findings come when examining where he is generating his pressure. Generally considered a speed rusher who works on the outside, Abraham achieved a higher percentage (54.39) of his pressure making a move inside than any other defensive player who totalled at least 25 combined sacks, hits and pressures. While that is a surprisingly high number, his pressure off the edge is surprisingly low: just 15 total pressures. Of the 46 pass rushers who achieved more than 30 total pressures, only eight had less outside pressure and none had a lower percentage of his pressure come from outside. There are a number of explanations for the big variation in where Abraham is getting his pressure; further study is needed to see the impact of tight ends and backs, and if his reputation of wreaking havoc around the edge in '08 caused teams to encourage him inside. It's worth noting that Abraham didn't get the "free pressures" that many of his peers received. On average, a pass rusher gets 14.94 percent of his pressure unblocked, whereas Abraham was only gifted 8.77 percent of his pressure.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Abraham's season was his production on third down. It's where you'd like to see your pass rushers making their biggest plays to get the opposition off the field, something that proved a big issue for the Falcons. Abraham, rather worryingly, only had 17 total pressures on third down. Putting that into perspective, he ranked 27th overall in terms of raw numbers, lower than Falcons teammate Kroy Biermann. What may be more worrying is that Abraham recorded a single sack on third down (three less than Biermann) and maybe this, combined with his disappointing outside pressure numbers, adds weight to the argument that Abraham may have lost a little explosiveness when coming off the edge.

Further concerns come when you see where his production as a pass rusher comes from over the season. An alarming 21.5 percent of his pressure came in the two games against Tampa Bay -- a team whose tackles struggled to protect a rookie quarterback who had a penchant for holding on to the ball. Furthermore, the other big games of Abraham's season came against Jermon Bushrod of the Saints (who, contrary to popular belief, was actually a marked liability as a pass protector) and then when the Redskins (and their patchwork offensive line) visited the Georgia Dome. Those four big-pressure games accounted for about half (49.01 percent) of Abraham's total pressure, which speaks a great deal about his consistency (or lack thereof). The amount of relatively quiet games Abraham had against so-so pass protectors such as Flozell Adams, David Diehl and Jordan Gross raise plenty of questions as you would expect Abraham to do a lot more damage than the sackless, two-pressure games he produced against each.

In terms of numbers, things don't look too bad for Abraham. He finished in the top ten in total number of pressures and per-snap productivity, and to some degree you can say that the criticism aimed at him for his low sack count is unfair. But when you look at where his pressure is coming from -- and perhaps more importantly where it isn't coming from (off the edge) -- you start to open your eyes to the possibility that Abraham has lost something. When you break down who his pressure came against, it becomes all the more apparent that despite his slightly inflated snap count Abraham wasn't quite the player we saw in '08. He remains effective and productive, and his play against the run seems to get better as he gets older, but right now Abraham has fallen behind the top pass rushers in the league. Perhaps 2010 will see him return to past glories, or perhaps '09 was the start of a downhill trend. Only time will tell.

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I love the info.

It would be nice to see where his pressure has come from throughout his career and not just last year.

I think he has more in the tank than most people realize. You still have to account for his presence and that should help out the rest of the D-line.

I'd put the over/under for Abe's sack count this season at 12.

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I wish they would compare the number of times the DE's are being doubled or tripled on passing downs. This would be the most telling of all. How coaches deal with a player will tell you a lot more about that player than his overall numbers. One guy might get doubled on every passing down while another guy is being handled man up. Of course the one that's going man up is more likely to get more sacks, but the guy that's getting doubled is the bigger impact player.

This past season I didn't notice him get triple teamed, but he got plenty of attention with the double teams all year. If the offense puts a TE over the LT, he's not going to get any pressure around the edge. The only way he'll get pressure is by turning it up inside.

Abraham didn't have the luxury some other DE's like Freeney had with Mathis on the other side. Or two monsters in the middle like Allen was playing next to. If you were an OC gameplanning against the Falcons last season, Abraham was the only pass rusher your gameplanning revolved around. I know Biermann looked pretty good and I think he'll be a stud this season, but let's be honest, OC's were only concerned with taking Abraham out of the pass rush equation. If your offensive strategy is focused on eliminating the impact of one defensive player, that player's impact is going to be dramatically reduced, which is why we need somebody else to step up and make offenses pay for doubling Abraham

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Just wait fellas. We have plenty stored up for 2010. If we can recover from a few injuries and show up with another year of experience under our belts, our younger players will demand some attention and abe will be free to roam the dome... I can still picture when Abe pancaked that Miami OT on his way to dumping their QB... someone please grab the link...ohmy.gif

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I know the Head Coach and GM had stated this, and I'm pretty sure somebody else here may have spotted this but take a look at JA55 sack totals in his career

JA55's stats

2009 Atlanta Falcons 5.5

2008 Atlanta Falcons 16.5

2007 Atlanta Falcons 10.0

2006 Atlanta Falcons 4.0

2005 New York Jets 10.5

2004 New York Jets 9.5

2003 New York Jets 6.0

2002 New York Jets 10.0

2001 New York Jets 13.0

2000 New York Jets 4.5

If you look at his numbers and you disregard his rookie numbers you notice the trend. Every 3rd year is when he has had his down year. This past year was the 3rd time that this cycle has stayed true, so by scientific deduction I conclude that JA55 will have a big year

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I know the Head Coach and GM had stated this, and I'm pretty sure somebody else here may have spotted this but take a look at JA55 sack totals in his career

JA55's stats

2009 Atlanta Falcons 5.5

2008 Atlanta Falcons 16.5

2007 Atlanta Falcons 10.0

2006 Atlanta Falcons 4.0

2005 New York Jets 10.5

2004 New York Jets 9.5

2003 New York Jets 6.0

2002 New York Jets 10.0

2001 New York Jets 13.0

2000 New York Jets 4.5

If you look at his numbers and you disregard his rookie numbers you notice the trend. Every 3rd year is when he has had his down year. This past year was the 3rd time that this cycle has stayed true, so by scientific deduction I conclude that JA55 will have a big year

But those numbers also show that unlike a lot of sack specialist he is inconsistent. Which is what some sports writes have said is the knock on him. I hope he proves them and Khaled Elsayed the writer of the Article wrong. time will tell.

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But those numbers also show that unlike a lot of sack specialist he is inconsistent. Which is what some sports writes have said is the knock on him. I hope he proves them and Khaled Elsayed the writer of the Article wrong. time will tell.

But as you know just the # of sacks is a lil bit overrated. How many times have we seen a QB get sacked for a huge lost but makes a big play later in the drive. As you know sometimes coaches would rather a player take the sack than throw under pressure. Honestly I rather JA55 just get pressure on the QB and force an errant throw giving us a chance at getting the int.

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I wish they would compare the number of times the DE's are being doubled or tripled on passing downs. This would be the most telling of all. How coaches deal with a player will tell you a lot more about that player than his overall numbers. One guy might get doubled on every passing down while another guy is being handled man up. Of course the one that's going man up is more likely to get more sacks, but the guy that's getting doubled is the bigger impact player.

This past season I didn't notice him get triple teamed, but he got plenty of attention with the double teams all year. If the offense puts a TE over the LT, he's not going to get any pressure around the edge. The only way he'll get pressure is by turning it up inside.

Abraham didn't have the luxury some other DE's like Freeney had with Mathis on the other side. Or two monsters in the middle like Allen was playing next to. If you were an OC gameplanning against the Falcons last season, Abraham was the only pass rusher your gameplanning revolved around. I know Biermann looked pretty good and I think he'll be a stud this season, but let's be honest, OC's were only concerned with taking Abraham out of the pass rush equation. If your offensive strategy is focused on eliminating the impact of one defensive player, that player's impact is going to be dramatically reduced, which is why we need somebody else to step up and make offenses pay for doubling Abraham

Well said.

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As was previously alluded, I think the analysis is incomplete without data showing how often teams doubled him with a tight end on the edge. Particularly, in comparison to other pass rushers in the league. It might even be a possibility that in key passing situations, that everyone's game plan this past season was to force him to pressure from the inside where (1) his inside move slows his path to the QB (2) breaks up containment on his side by forcing him inside and allowing the QB to step around him to buy more time

This was very possible theory due to a general lack of concern league-wide over our ability to create inside pressure. If you think about it, Abe was a dominating force from the outside in 2008 in very many key situations. Any defensive coordinator worth his salt would realize that the way to neutralize the Falcons pass rush would be to eliminate Abe. Double teaming is one thing, but when you have a defense that can't generate any pressure up the middle and no real pass rushing threat from the other side, it makes perfect sense to re-route the best pass rusher inside where it forces him to make extra moves towards the QB, therefore slowing him down, while breaking down containment which allowed QB's to move around him in a variety of directions to buy the extra second they needed to pick our weak secondary apart. This explains the high number of pressures without the resulting sacks. It also explains why coach Smith and TD feel that the lack of an inside pass rush might have hurt us so much. If we'd had more of an inside presence, teams would have been more reluctant to direct Abe inside as it might cause (for lack of a better term) a jail break up the middle that would be very difficult to block and would be extremely disruptive to any offense.

I'd love to get my hands on that information and see if it supports my theory. Aside from that, we truly need PJ to come back healthy and strong. We need Babs to miss as few games as possible. We need Peters to contribute well. We need the BEERMAN to take the next step. It's a lot of if's, but if these things, or at least most of them can come together, it will force defenses to change the way that they game plan against our defensive line and possibly free Abe up to do some damage.

Hopefully that came out in a somewhat coherent manner.

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