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Number Mill: Return of the SAQ. How do Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack’s SAQs stack up against the pack?

Last off-season I introduced the pass-rushing production metric that shocked the analytics community: the Sack Attack Quotient. Today it returns.

Minnesota Vikings v Chicago Bears
I’m hoping it’s been long enough since I used this photo that I’m allowed to use it again.

Previously on Number Mill: Cam Meredith | Markus Wheaton / DVOA | Dontrelle Inman | Chiefs Offense | FA Receivers 1 | FA Receivers 2 | FA Edge Rushers / SAQ | Trubisky’s rookie performance / Odds Ratios | Heatvantage

There are many ways of measuring a pass rusher’s production, from total sacks, to total pressures, to combined units such as Pro Football Focus’ PRP (Pass rush productivity). There are many ways, but none are as truly transcendent or narrowly-revered as the Sack Attack Quotient (SAQ), developed by myself last off-season in an effort to sort through the dregs of free agent past rushers.

For those that missed it, the SAQ is a combined unit which weighs a player’s sacks, hurries, and hits based on their relative value on affecting a football game. The SAQ is reported as sack equivalents per 100 pass rush attempts, treating a hit as .25 sack equivalents and a hurry as .1 sack equivalents. Unfortunately, I must keep secret the number of sack equivalents a sack is worth to protect my proprietary formula.

Having arguably the best pass rusher in football on the Bears, I’ve been eager to take a look at how Khalil Mack performs according to my precious SAQ metric. The difficulty in calculating the sack is that it requires knowing how many of a player’s snaps are actual pass rush attempts—data which is not readily available. I’ve recently gotten my paws on pass rush attempt numbers during Khalil Mack’s career courtesy of PFF, so let’s dig in!

2018 SAQ Leaders (data through week 12)

Top 100 SAQ leaders for 2018 weeks 1 through 12. Minimum 100 pass rush attempts.

Ok. What in the cheese-mold depths of the nine yellow and gold hells happened here? Clearly, in sample sizes under 150 pass rush attempts, this metric is vulnerable to spurious results. I need a do-over.

2018 SAQ Leaders (with at least 150 pass rush attempts)

Top SAQ leaders 2018 weeks 1 through 12. Minimum 150 pass rush attempts.

Ok. At least this is not painful to look at. It’s also not as pleasing as I’d hoped. Khalil Mack sits all the way down at 18th in terms of SAQ this year. And remember, this is a per rush attempt metric, so missing games doesn’t hurt him. Playing hurt, however, certainly did hurt him.

SAQ is a measure of production and not talent. Most importantly, it doesn’t account for the way teams game-plan against Mack. It doesn’t account for double teams, triple teams, fast-pass play-calling, or quarterbacks rolling away from Mack’s direction every drop back out of subconscious primal fear.

What is encouraging is seeing five Bears in the top 100 (4 once I dropped out the low sample size Bilal Nichols). On average, each team should have three on this list, and the high amount of Navy and Orange representation confirms what we already know: the Bears pass rush is good.

I still am not happy with Khalil Mack being 18th on my list. Not so much because it makes him look bad, but because I’m afraid it makes my metric look bad. In an attempt to salvage the SAQs reputation, I went back for the past 4 years and collected cumulative stats for all players with top 100 SAQ ratings in each of those 4 years. I set those criteria because consistency and availability are both highly valuable traits that our big beautiful Bear specializes in.

Perhaps the most concerning thing on this table is staring at us right at the top. This Sunday night, rookie James Daniel and replacement Bryan Witzmann are scheduled to face Aaron Donald, the man with the most productive pass-rushing season this year. I’ve known Donald was having a good season, and I’ve seen a few Rams games, but seeing these numbers confirms that Donald is having the best pass-rushing season by an interior lineman of all time. Donald is getting as much attention from offensive coordinators as Mack and still producing at a record-breaking level.

Dammit. I want that man in a Bear costume. And a navy uniform.

4-year SAQ rating for all players with a top 100 SAQ finish in each of the last 4 years

All players who ranked in the top 100 SAQ every year 2015-2018. Minimum 100 pass rush attempts yearly.

Aside from Mario Addison poking his underrated nose in and making me look bad, this table reads closer to what I expected to see. Von Miller is allowed to be ahead of Mack because he’s aging out anyway and he’s benefited from elite talent across from him in Demarcus Ware and Bradley Chubb. And Aaron Donald is allowed to be ahead of Mack because I’m coming to believe he’s the best player in the NFL.

Also, haayyyyy Akiem. I see you staying all consistent and available down there too.

SAQ is a measure of production. Production doesn’t always accurately represent talent. Perhaps the fact that Khalil Mack doesn’t have top production is actually a sign that he’s better than everyone—it reflects just how far opponents go out of their way to limit his production.

Either way, Khalil Mack is one of the most consistently productive pass rushers in the league, and Aaron Donald is terrifying.