One of the issues I've recently seen debated amongst the fine people at Roll Bama Roll is the Crimson Tide's pass rush (or statistical lack thereof). In simple terms, sacks get a lot of attention. They're easily recognized and often provide iconic images of some unsuspecting quarterback being contorted painfully by the shoulder of an edge rusher.
But sacks, like interceptions--or strikeouts in baseball--are not always a great indication of great defense. The primary purpose of a pass rush--as some of you have indicated--isn't to get sacks. The purpose of the blitz isn't to get sacks. It is, as Saban has articulated, to affect the quarterback adversely. Don't misunderstand, sacks are great and we all enjoy seeing a quarterback not in an Alabama uniform getting knocked on his back, but the real reason defenses want to get pressure is to hurry the throw. And by hurry the throw, that literally means all of this:
1. Make the quarterback throw before the receivers have finished their routes
2. Make the quarterback throw before he's set his feet (when he's off balance, affecting his accuracy)
3. Force the quarterback to step away from his protection
4. Force the quarterback to throw into the teeth of your coverage, thus raising the chance for a turnover or stop
5. Force the offensive coordinator to call predictable plays, limit his receivers, and use hard to execute two and three step drops. This is usually the way teams have to play us, which means their line will be cutting the defenders and the ball will be coming out of the quarterback's hand quickly. Against calls like this--which we've seen a lot of recently--a front seven of Howie Long, Deacon Jones, Lawrence Taylor, Rickey Jackson, and Jared Allen isn't going to get any sacks.
Two and three step drops might seem safe, but against good press coverage they're not going to yield much of a gain consistently. At some point, an offense will have to use a longer drop and beat the coverage vertically. When they do this, they will have to protect AND execute a good throw. Saban, like many defensive minds, knows this, and he knows that the deeper routes are harder to throw and he knows they have a lower chance of success.
That's why he insists his players cover the middle of the field and jump the flat. Simply stated, if you're going to beat Saban's Alabama, you're going to have to go down field which means you're going to have to drop back, protect your quarterback, and execute a precise pass down field. You can use Play Action to buy time, but that means you have to have had some success (or threat) of running the ball. You can also hope for a breakdown in coverage, but again, that's hoping for too much and it forces you to protect your quarterback. You can convince yourself you can throw quick slants with continuous success, but against a Saban defense, that's highly unlikely, and at some point he'll anticipate it and force the quarterback to throw a slant into some variation of cover two, thus eating it up.
Remember, a defense wants an offense to run a lot of plays to score. By doing this, a defense increases the offense's chances of making penalties, turning the ball over, and failing to execute by their own account (overthrows, drops, et cetera...make an offense put together long disciplined drives because truthfully, most can't do it consistently).
Again, the more a defense can force an offense do to be successful, the better. So I wouldn't worry so much about the low sack numbers until it's time to worry. We're still keeping teams out of the end zone. We're still forcing them to execute at a high rate to beat us (with a few exceptions). If Ryan Mallet can drop back, set his feet, and fire without defenders affecting his feet and balance, we'll have problems. But I'll tell you right now he's not built to throw the quick stuff continuously without misfiring (especially when it's 100 miles per hour). He's certainly not renowned for his footwork.
So we don't need to sack him. We need to affect him because he has yet to show he can move in the pocket and throw against a disciplined defense. If he has protection and can drop back unencumbered, he'll beat us downfield the same way Florida and Utah beat us down field in 2008. We need to rush him in every sense of the word.