Football coaches call it “getting home.”
As in, “We’re close, but we aren’t getting home.”
It sounds innocuous enough until you define the term. “Home” is the intersection of violence and the quarterback. Because there is a great truth in football: You can’t be successful unless you can rush the quarterback.
Which is also a euphemism.
You don’t really want to “rush” the quarterback. You want to hurt him. Not injure him necessarily, although that would be fine. You just want to hit him hard enough that his arm goes numb for a bit. Or the air is flattened out of his lungs.
Because in 40 seconds he’s going to have to run another play. And if he is still taking inventory of body parts, his success rate decreases.
To which most football fans would say “duh,”, but just for the record, we have numbers. According to Pro Football Focus, the analytics-based web site, hitting the quarterback is literally a game changer.
PFF’s numbers (albeit from a few years ago) show “a quarterback’s completion percentage drops to 37.8 percent when they are hit compared to 63 percent when they are not.” The percentage of passes intercepted goes from 2.7 percent per attempt to 4.8.
There’s more — completion percentages drop in direct proportion to the number of hits/sacks in a game — but you get the point. You have to hit the quarterback.
This presents a problem for the local squads since neither the 49ers nor the Raiders can.
Not that they don’t recognize the priority.
“I think everyone’s looking for that position,” said 49ers GM John Lynch before the draft. “I think the most simplistic philosophy on how you really improve a team . . . if you can find a quarterback and then find guys to knock them down, you’re doing pretty well.”
Last week Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who is so thoroughly tired of pass rush questions that he began to chuckle as soon as one was begun, mentioned what a rare and exotic breed pass rushers are.
“It’s hard to find a great one,” he said.
This has caused great hilarity in the Bay Area since the Raiders had one in Khalil Mack and traded him.
But seriously, are we going to ask Gruden about Mack at every press conference? Asked and answered. Gruden and the Raiders made a choice. They were not going to pay Mack a record $141 million with $90 million guaranteed.
You may disagree. Fine. It may turn out to be a mistake. We will see. But asking Gruden, “How about now? Are you sorry you traded him now?” over and over is not advancing any narrative.
As he often does, Gruden made an interesting point others might not have considered. There’s a reason colleges aren’t producing quarterback sackers.
“College football now, they’re not really dropping back to pass and throwing footballs anymore,” he said. “They’re throwing laterals and they’re throwing bubble screens. They’re running read options. So you have to train these guys. It takes a little bit of time to learn how to rush the passer. We have some guys that are in that process right now.”