|Osi Umenyiora and the Giants pass-rushed their way to another title. (Getty Images)|
It is the offseason, the draft is over and it's a good time for teams to dig deep into last season to find improvement for 2012. My first stop in mining for answers is one of the most critical situations for any defense -- third-down situations.
Most acknowledge the NFL is a passing league, and if you can't stop a passing game, you are in trouble. No greater time to stop a passing attack than on third down, or as some players like to refer to it, "the money down."
Sacks are important in any passing situation, but a sack on third down ends a drive and forces a team to punt or settle for a field goal. Granted some teams went for it on fourth down (430 times to be exact in 2011) and converted 186 times, but when you compare that to 5,303 third-down passing plays and 1,292 run plays for a third-down total of 6.595 third-down plays, there's only a six percent chance a team will go for it on fourth down rather than punt or attempt a field goal.
It is clear that teams only run the ball 19.5 percent of the time on third down and they pass it 81.5 percent of the time, so sacking the QB in this situation is critical. I recognize that an incomplete pass in this situation is also a good thing, but my experience years ago against Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, Steve Young, Warren Moon and others was if we don't get them to the ground on third downs, they beat us most of the time.
Here's a look at all 32 teams sacks to pass attempts on third down last year from the best in the league Baltimore down to Tennessee. The NFL average for sacking a QB in third down situations last year was one sack every 12 attempts. If the Ravens don't drop a pass in the end zone, they were heading to the Super Bowl, and it's no surprise the top two defenses to get a sack on third downs were the Giants and Ravens.
|Team sacks vs. pass attempts on 3rd down|
|Baltimore||179||24||1:7||No Terrell Suggs hurts|
|NY Giants||176||21||1:8||Umenyiora led the team with 5 sacks|
|Miami||171||20||1:9||The defense is not that far off|
|Philadelphia||171||19||1:9||They are loaded with rushers|
|Cincinnati||169||18||1:9||Geno Atkins led with 7 sacks|
|San Francisco||182||18||1:10||Aldon Smith & Justin Smith wow!|
|Oakland||173||17||1:10||Loss of Wimbley (4 sacks) hurts|
|Houston||175||17||1:10||Amazing with no Mario Williams|
|Denver||159||15||1:11||Von Miller & Dumervil 6 sacks|
|New England||157||14||1:11||Pats got sacks when it counted|
|St. Louis||163||15||1:11||Long had 4, bring back Hall 3 sacks|
|Chicago||185||16||1:12||Peppers had 5 and was double teamed|
|Arizona||167||14||1:12||Got 5 ½ from Dockett & Campbell|
|Cleveland||166||14||1:12||Jabaal Sheard tied for No. 2 in NFL w/6.5|
|Detroit||163||14||1:12||Avril 4, Suh 2, KVB 0, Fairley 0|
|Jacksonville||170||14||1:12||Mincey had 5; no wonder they paid him|
|Indianapolis||154||13||1:12||Freeney & Mathis had 9, 4 for the rest|
|Kansas City||152||13||1:12||Hali & Houston had 8; good young players|
|Buffalo||143||12||1:12||With Mario & Anderson they go way up|
|NY Jets||180||14||1:13||Maybin delivered (5), now Coples has to|
|Seattle||169||12||1:14||Clemons had 4 but expect Irvin to help|
|Carolina||151||11||1:14||C. Johnson had 3.5 but needs help|
|Tampa Bay||138||10||1:14||Lowest number of third downs and too young|
|San Diego||143||9||1:16||Antwan Barnes had 6 sacks, the rest had 3|
I love to hear the trade rumors about Osi Umenyiora. In 123 games Osi has 36.5 sacks in third-down situations for his career. That's a third down sack 1:3.3 games. Julius Peppers has 34.5 in 164 games or 1:4.7 games. The great Reggie White had 47.5 sacks on third downs in 251 games or 1:5.2 games. The Giants aren't giving Umenyiora away and probably shouldn't trade him at all. Reggie White played until he was 39, and Osi is just 31.
Finally, there must be something about the fourth-round and guys who can sack quarterbacks on the money down. Jared Allen was a fourth-round pick, and he has 41.5 sacks on third down or 1:3 games. This past season a young 2010 fourth-round player tied for the lead the NFL in third down sacks when Geno Atkins had 7. Antwan Barnes of the Chargers was a fourth in 2007 and he led the team with 6. Also keep an eye on Jabaal Sheard, a fifth-rounder in 2011 for the Browns. Sheard wound up with 6.5 and 4 forced fumbles on the money down.