Two weeks ago Dwight Freeney was asked if he would be ready to go if he had a game this week.
“Ya, absolutely, absolutely, I could definitely play.” Words from the veteran pass rusher entering his 13th season in the NFL rang loudly as the Chargers wrapped up OTAs last month. Entering training camp, Freeney could be the biggest difference maker on the defensive side of the ball.
When he signed with the Chargers last offseason, excitement was present throughout Chargers nation, but expectations were, no doubt, tempered. Coming from Indianapolis, where he tallied over 100 career sacks and won a Super Bowl, Freeney appeared to be on the back end of an illustrious career. After seven seasons of 10 sacks or more, Freeney only registered five sacks for a bad Colts team in 2012. On the surface, Freeney’s first season in San Diego seemed lackluster. The Syracuse product tallied 0.5 sacks in four games before missing the rest of the season due to a quad injury. However, when you dig a little deeper, Freeney’s numbers don’t reflect his on-field effect.
Sack statistics can be a little bit misleading. These numbers don’t take into account double teams, triple teams, and opening up lanes for other pass rushers. Freeney’s comprehensive pass rushing statistics in 2013 were actually fairly impressive.
In four games, Dwight Freeney collected 15 quarterback hurries. This metric can be preferable to evaluate a pass rusher as hurries often disrupt route timing and force incompletions. His 15 hurries were good enough for fourth best on the Chargers, having played only a quarter of the season. Corey Liuget led the Bolts in hurries with 23. Extrapolating Freeney’s numbers would result in 60 hurries over a full 16 game season. This number would have more than doubled the next closest Charger, and led the entire NFL at the 3-4 outside linebacker position. Tamba Hali led the league with 58.
Additionally, Freeney hit the quarterback three times in his four games. That was good enough to tie him for third best on the Chargers. Pro Football Focus graded the veteran as the second best Charger defender and pass rusher, and the 12th best pass rusher in the NFL at the 3-4 OLB.
These numbers speak to two things: Freeney still has a lot to offer this defense and the Chargers defense has to get better at pressuring the quarterback. The Chargers 157 hurries as a team ranked 29th in the NFL. For some perspective, the two Super Bowl teams dominated this category. The Denver Broncos ranked first with 269 hurries and the Seahawks ranked third with 216. Freeney’s return will help the Chargers immensely at disrupting opponent’s timing. Add to the mix Melvin Ingram and Jeremiah Attaochu, and the Bolts pass rushing unit could be one of the real surprises in 2014.
The only question now, is, can Dwight remain healthy?