The Cincinnati Bengals’ pass rush has been nearly non-existent this year, and the only player responsible for it not being worse is Carl Lawson.
In his first contract season, Lawson has carried the Bengals’ defensive line in terms of generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The fourth-year edge defender has just 3.5 sacks through eight games this year, but ESPN Sports Analytics writer Seth Walder knows Lawson’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.
ESPN began tracking a new stat called sacks created. Per Walder, it credits a sack to whichever defensive player wins as a pass-rusher first on a play that ends in a sack. Through the first nine weeks of the season, Lawson happens to be fifth on the list with 6.5 sacks created.
Sacks created is a stat where we credit a sack to the player who earned the first win on a player, rather than the player who finishes the sack (can be the same player).— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) November 9, 2020
Here's the top 10. Familiar names, but some reshuffling of order. pic.twitter.com/M99MqHvcOO
Lawson is high up on the list along with stars like Aaron Donald, Myles Garrett, Khalil Mack, and T.J. Watt. All four of those players have more actual sacks than Lawson, but as Walder further mentions, Lawson is tied for second in sacks created minus sacks. That means Lawson is among the best in the league at helping teammates record sacks relative to his own ability at finishing sacks.
Justin Houston (3.5), Carl Lawson (3.0) and Robert Quinn (3.0) lead the league in sacks created minus sacks, indicating they've helped teammates get sacks more than they've been helped.— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) November 9, 2020
Pernell McPhee, Cameron Jordan, Shelby Harris and DeMarcus Lawrence next with 2.5 each.
Such a metric is perfect for characterizing Lawson’s impact on the field. Outside of his rookie season, when he recorded 8.5 sacks, Lawson has been more of a disrupter than a finisher. But disruption has enough value to warrant its own recognition. The growth of analytics in football has given value to pass-rushers who cause more pressure than the box scores indicate, and Lawson has finally seemed to hit his stride while maintaining his health.
“I’ve always expected, and have been able to win the one-on-one and been able to put pressure on the quarterback but now I’m able to be on the field a little bit more,” Lawson said in an interview with Elise Jesse of AllBengals.com. “My expectation for myself is to always be the best, but it does feel good I guess by some metric to get some recognition that way.”
As an impending free agent, Lawson needs all the recognition he can get. We’re not 100% sure which three sacks he helped create outside of the 3.5 he finished, but these three seem to pass the eye test.