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Thursday, February 3, 2011
Revisiting Cam Wake and the DPOY debate


A couple days ago, I asked whether or not Miami Dolphins outside linebacker Cameron Wake was slighted because he didn't receive any votes for the Associated Press 2010 Defensive Player of the Year Award.

In the comments section underneath, the discussion was entertaining and the opinions passionate on both sides. I thought it would be worthwhile to revisit the issue and share some of the thoughts that were hashed out.

As I posted there, one of my chief concerns about debating Wake's season was that readers were quoting all sorts of inaccurately inflated stats. Some claimed Wake led the league in combined sacks and tackles for losses and insisted he notched double digits in both categories.

That's difficult to declare. While sacks are an official NFL stat, tackles are not. They are open to interpretation and charted by each coaching staff while reviewing game film. Teams apply different criteria to TFLs. Must they be solo tackles only? Are assists counted? Is a half-sack worth a full TFL?

For the record, the Dolphins credited Wake with 21 tackles for losses. That includes his 14 sacks. But the Dolphins also count a half-sack as one TFL, and Wake had two half-sacks in his total.

That means Wake had six TFLs not related to sacks. The math: 13 full sacks plus two half-sacks equal 15 TFLs directly from sacks. Subtract that from his 21 TFLs.

Now for the assertion Wake led the league in combined sacks and TFLs ... Wake finished third in sacks behind Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware and Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Tamba Hali.

The Cowboys credited Ware with nine TFLs. The Chiefs pegged Hali with 6.5 TFLs, showing they don't subscribe to the Dolphins' policy of counting a half-sack as a full TFL. Either way, both finished with a higher combo of tackles behind the line of scrimmage than Wake.

And neither Ware nor Hali received any defensive player of the year votes either.

Now that we've cleared that up, what about the general idea that Ware deserved to finish among the seven who received a vote? A reminder:
Most criticism from Wake supporters focused not on Polamalu, but on Matthews. Some readers contended Wake was more dominant than Matthews.

Wake did have a half-sack more than Matthews, who played one fewer game and battled hamstring and shin injuries for a portion of the season. We can't say for sure how many TFLs Matthews recorded because the Packers don't believe in them. But he did have an interception return for a touchdown and two forced fumbles. Wake had no interceptions and three forced fumbles.

So it's an interesting discussion, I suppose. Wake is an elite pass-rusher. He dominated backfields at times. But I think the Associated Press panel simply valued defenders who were more forceful all over the field.

Plus, Wake steadily compiled sacks throughout the season and didn't hold his brief NFL lead until the Dolphins were out of the playoff hunt. By then, nobody was paying attention to the Dolphins anymore, including their fans based on all those empty Sun Life Stadium seats in November and December.

Matthews, meanwhile, generated a lot of buzz with his torrid start.

Longtime AFC East blog follower Lori Chase (aka LCHASE2249), maybe the most astute reader-analyst out there, also pointed out the following about sacks leaders:
Fourteen sacks -- which ties [Wake] for 96th on the all-time single-season list -- and Finfans are miffed that none of the AP voters thought their guy was the greatest defensive player in the league in 2010? Take off those aqua-and-orange-colored glasses, folks. Even if he had led the league (which he didn't), do you know how many times the NFL sacks leader has won that season's DPOY award? Five. Five times in the 29 years since the sack became an official statistic in 1982.

The five were Lawrence Taylor with 20.5 sacks in 1986, Reggie White with 21 in 1987, Pat Swilling with 17 in 1991, Bryce Paup with 17.5 in 1995 and Michael Strahan with 22.5 in 2001.

Chase pointed out all were first-team All-Pros (Wake wasn't). Three played on division champions, with the two exceptions White and Strahan. White registered his 21 sacks in 12 games. Strahan broke the single-season sacks record.

In summary, Wake had a brilliant season. He established himself as a pass-rushing fiend, one of the NFL's best and certainly worthy of his Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro selections.

All in all, I found the discussion in the comments section to be insightful and a great example of why I like to exchange ideas with readers there as much as possible.

Be sure to check the comments sections under my blogs and feel free to get involved. I try to visit as often as I can, and now that all four AFC East teams are done playing, you can expect to see me there quite a bit.