Yesterday, I used Tyron Smith as an example of why we can’t trust sack numbers. Smith allowed only three sacks in 2012—a really good number for a left tackle—but he yielded pressure on 6.0 percent of his snaps. Based on his play, the most likely outcome for Smith was to allow nine sacks, so he got really lucky.
Well, left guard Nate Livings was basically the “anti-Smith” in 2012; he was quite underrated in pass protection, but people felt that he played poorly because he gave up five sacks—a high mark for an interior lineman. However, Livings allowed pressure on just 1.9 percent of his snaps in pass protection. Based on that, Livings’ most likely total for sacks allowed was 3.5. This is the perfect example of why we should be using pressure stats to predict future sacks. By looking at pressures, we know that Smith is likely to allow more than three sacks in 2013, while Livings will probably check in under five.
Livings was in pass protection on 736 snaps in 2012. That number will probably drop in 2013 because the Cowboys figure to be more balanced, so we should see around 650 snaps from Livings. We might expect his pressure rate to jump just a bit simply because he’s 31 years old, but Livings will also have more experience playing in the Cowboys’ system. I think those two effects will cancel out, meaning we can project Livings at the same 1.9 percent pressure rate he posted last year. At 650 snaps, a 1.9 percent pressure rate would lead to 12 pressures. Based on historic sack-to-pressure ratios, that’s a number that would typically result in three sacks allowed over the long haul.
In the running game, the ‘Boys averaged 3.92 yards per rush with Livings at the point of attack last year. That’s below-average, even for an interior lineman, although Livings was much better than Mackenzy Bernadeau at the point (3.18 YPC). Still, the Cowboys ran behind Livings just 86 times, compared to 151 behind Bernadeau. With Livings playing next to the team’s best run blocker in Smith, Dallas should probably head left more often in 2013. Either way, Livings is a good bet to crack the 4.0 YPC on runs his way simply due to regression toward the mean and Bill Callahan’s emphasis on calling runs in more pass-oriented situations.
Final 2013 Projection: 12 pressures allowed, three sacks allowed, 4.0 YPC at the point
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.