Defenses around the league aim to combat high-powered passing attacks by pressuring the quarterback, which starts with a productive interior pass rush.
"It's important to have an interior rush," says NFL Network analyst and former NFL linebacker WILLIE MC GINEST. "It collapses the pocket and it doesn't allow the quarterbacks to step into their throws, which makes them inaccurate. As an outside rusher, when you're coming around the edge you want the quarterback to stay in that pocket. If there is no interior rush, it allows the quarterback to escape, to step into his throw or step up to avoid the outside pressure."
Houston defensive end J.J. Watt knows from experience how inside pressure from the defensive front can wreak havoc in the passing game. Watt is tied for an NFL-best with 24 sacks since 2012.
"You can disrupt the quarterback just by causing pressure up the middle," says Watt. "Whereas on the outside you really have to get to the quarterback to disrupt him."
The 6-0 Kansas City Chiefs have placed a high emphasis on getting to the passer. The Chiefs defensive unit ranks first in the NFL with 31 sacks this season, tied for the fifth-most sacks in the first six games of a season since 1963 when team sacks became an official NFL statistic (individual sacks became an official statistic in 1982).
Chiefs' second-year nose tackle DONTARI POE has been the catalyst for Kansas City's defense collapsing the pocket. The former Memphis product has already registered a career-best 4.5 sacks in 2013.
"He's the classic guy to push the pocket, but Poe can beat you individually," says Chiefs defensive coordinator BOB SUTTON. "Dontari can go by you just like one of the edge rushers can get past you, so he provides both things to our defense. That whole combination can be really good for us."
Added Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston, who is tied for an NFL-best with 9.5 sacks this season, "He's played a major role. Any time you can get a big guy up there to push the center back into the quarterback's face and not allow the quarterback to step up, it's a whole lot easier to bring pressure off the edge. Without him, I wouldn't have gotten at least a couple of those sacks."
Teams with the most sacks in the first six games of a season since team sacks became official in the NFL in 1963:
|Team||Year||Most Sacks in
First Six Games
|Los Angeles Rams||1988||36|
|Kansas City Chiefs||2013||31|
Cincinnati Pro Bowl defensive tackle GENO ATKINS, who leads NFL defensive tackles with 24 sacks since 2011, has been an integral part of the Bengals' pass rush. Since 2012, the Bengals have registered 69 sacks, tied for the most in the NFL during that span (DENVER, 69).
"This guy has some power rushes where he just takes linemen back and it just looks like they're on roller skates," says Patriots head coach BILL BELICHICK. "He just walks them, literally, right back into the quarterback. He's very quick. He can get the edge. Then when they try to take those quick moves away from him, he can turn those into power moves and collapse the pocket. He can ruin a game, there's no question the guy can ruin a game by himself. He's a factor in the running game, he's a factor in the passing game."