Nevius: Rushing the passer not strong suit of local NFL teams

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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.”

Well they better hurry. We may only be three games into the season but both the 1-1 49ers and the 0-2 Raiders are already in crunch mode. The Niners have a very tough Sunday coming up at red-hot Kansas City.

Team Gruden, meanwhile, has a winnable faceoff in Miami. A victory there, and a good game against hapless Cleveland in Oakland, and the Raiders could be back in business.

But both teams need find someone who can harass the quarterback.

It’s not from lack of trying. The Raiders drafted two defensive linemen this year, Arden Key (third round) and Maurice Hurst (fifth round).

And besides the veteran candidates they have been bringing in, the 49ers used the third pick of the 2017 draft for Solomon Thomas. Yet, in preseason, GM Lynch was still speculating about bringing back 34-year-old Elvis Dumervil, who led the team in sacks last year with 6.5.

It isn’t just the local teams. A stat from SB Nation shows that defensive ends represent 13 percent of first-round draft choices, which is tied with wide receivers for the highest percentage per position.

All of which reinforces the idea that a legitimate, NFL edge rusher is a true unicorn. Both Thomas and Key have the classic look — well over 6 feet tall, powerful, speedy. But they haven’t done it.

Why not? Here’s an old story. Many years ago the 49ers were working out free-agent linemen. They were in “shells,” meaning helmet, T-shirt and shorts. They’d line up, a coach would go “Hut. Hut,” the defensive guy would make a move and the offensive guy would counter it. Pretty standard.

But unexpectedly, five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Charles Haley showed up for a little work. The coach put Haley in and pointed to the tryout tackle. “No problem,” the kid said.

The ball was snapped and Haley was gone. The kid completely whiffed. Haley was two feet away. All the kid had to do was lift his arm to make contact. And he never touched him.

Want a pass rusher? Get someone like that.

You can laugh at Gruden, but he’s right.

They’re hard to find.

Contact C.W. Nevius at Twitter: @cwnevius

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