NFC West improved, but work to be done

SFfan_inNY has a couple of sack-related questions I'm all too happy to address before sacking the subject for a while.

"How many of NFC West teams' total sacks were just against each other?" he writes. "Our teams were first (Rams), second (Cardinals), fourth (Seahawks) and seventh (49ers) in most sacks allowed. Four of the top five sacking teams played our division (Eagles, Giants, Ravens, Bengals)."

2011 Sacks by Opponent

Mike Sando: The NFC West is making progress as a division, but this question opens the division to criticism.

NFC West teams averaged 3.0 sacks per game against each other and 2.1 sacks per game against everyone else. The Eagles, Giants, Ravens and Bengals averaged 4.2 sacks per game against the NFC West and 2.6 per game against everyone else.

From this standpoint, then, defenses did fatten up on the division's offenses in 2011. Some of those defenses belonged to NFC West teams. The bottom line: Every NFC West team needs to improve its pass protection significantly, especially with the division's defenses on the rise.

The first chart lists NFC West defenses in the first column. It shows how many sacks they collected against each NFC West opponent, followed by a total. For example, San Francisco collected 20 sacks against its NFC West opponents, including nine against Seattle. The Seahawks allowed a division-high 23 sacks to NFC West opponents. The 49ers allowed a division-low 14 sacks inside the NFC West.

Arizona and San Francisco were the most prolific sacking defenses in the division. Each had 42 sacks for the season. Each also allowed fewer sacks to division opponents partly because each team did not have to face its own sack-happy defense.

The second chart shows sacks per game for NFC West defenses outside the division, inside the division and overall. We can see St. Louis enjoying a 58.3 percent increase in sacks per game against its division opponents.

The Cardinals' Calais Campbell had 5.5 of his eight sacks against the NFC West, including 2.5 against Seattle.

The Rams' Chris Long, the 49ers' Aldon Smith and the Seahawks' Chris Clemons each had five sacks against NFC West opponents. Clemons had four sacks against the Rams, the most by any NFL player against a single NFC West opponent last season. The Cardinals' Sam Acho had three sacks against the Rams and four against NFC West opponents overall.

2011 NFC West Defenses: Sacks Per Game