There are sacks. There are tackles for losses. There are tackles for no gain.
But rarely are there all three, at least with the consistency – and equality – that Cortez Kennedy produced them during the 1992 season with the Seahawks. If there was one season that defined his Hall of Fame career, it was ’92. That’s when Kennedy was voted the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, as a tackle and on a 2-14 team.
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Cortez Kennedy produced sacks by the bagful during his Hall of Fame career with the Seahawks, especially for a defensive tackle. Here’s a look at which quarterbacks (39 of them) – and teams (24 of them) – contributed to his 58 career sacks:
One each: Troy Aikman, Steve Beuerlein, Drew Bledsoe, Steve Bono, Todd Collins, Trent Dilfer, Boomer Esiason, Gus Frerotte, Elvis Grbac, Matt Hasselbeck, Bobby Hebert, Donald Hollas, Jim Kelly, Tommy Maddox, Don Majkowski, Dan Marino, Todd Marinovich, Shane Matthews, Rodney Peete, Kordell Stewart, Craig Whelihan
One-half each: Charlie Batch, Mark Brunell, David Klingler, Dave Krieg
Two each: Jets, Steelers, Oilers, Bills
One-and-a-half each: Bengals, Chiefs, Lions
One each: Saints, 49ers, Cowboys, Jets, Cardinals, Redskins, Buccaneers, Bears
If there was a statistic that stood out for Kennedy during that do-it-all season, it was his 14 sacks. But scratch a little deeper and there also were 14 other tackles for losses – giving him a franchise-record 28 when coupled with the sacks – as well as 13 other tackles for no gain.
So on 41 of his career-high 93 tackles – or 44 percent of those plays – the ball carrier never cracked the line of scrimmage.
How stunning is that? To truly appreciate it, you had to see the look on Todd Wash’s face when informed of those stats.
“Those are very impressive numbers,” said Wash, the Seahawks’ second-year defensive line coach. “I wouldn’t say tackles for losses are better than sacks, but they’re as good. They both get the offense chasing the sticks, because from first down they’re all of sudden second-and-13. So it changes the mentality of the coordinator and it also changes the mentality of the other D-linemen who are playing with a guy who can get that kind of penetration.”
Kennedy was, without question, a game-changer – on both sides of the line.
“Those tackles for losses are an indication that he’s consistently in the backfield,” Wash said. “And when you have that many tackles for losses, it’s also a sign of how many other plays he is disrupting when he’s in the backfield.
“Penetration kills zone (blocking) teams, so with those types of stats you know he was in the backfield a lot. With those numbers, it shows they aren’t moving him and he’s creating disruption in the backfield to give the offense problems.”
With Kennedy, it wasn’t just that he stopped running backs behind the line in ‘92, it was who he stopped: Emmitt Smith, Marcus Allen, Eric Dickerson and Hershel Walker, among others.
And then it wasn’t just who he stopped, but when he stopped them: Allen for a 2-yard loss on third-and-1; Steve Smith for a 3-yard loss on third-and-5; and Nick Bell for a 1-yard loss on third-and-1. All three plays game in the same game against the Raiders.
But Kennedy’s get-’em-before-they-get-going efforts were not limited that one game. Only once that entire season did Kennedy go an entire game without a sack, a tackle for loss or a tackle for no gain. It was in Week 12 against the Kansas City Chiefs. And he had seven tackles in that game.
Is it any wonder that Kennedy was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame last Saturday?
It takes a special player to make that many special plays in one season, and Kennedy was just that – and for more than just one season. He also produced double-digit totals in tackles for losses a half dozen other times in his 11-year career, including six in a row (1991-96). And, as in ’92, in each of those other seasons his “other” tackles for losses nearly matched his sack total.
“Cortez was peaking in that 1992 season, like he started figuring things out,” said Seahawks director of pro personnel Tag Ribary, who was the team’s assistant director of pro personnel during Kennedy’s career.
“He was in great shape and playing at a high level, and the scheme was fitting him. So I don’t think it was one thing that made a big difference in ’92, it was a combination of a lot of things.”
But one thing remained the same through Kennedy’s career: That explosive quickness that made it difficult for opposing blockers to get their hands on him.
“Cortez was the most dominant interior lineman that we ever faced and certainly the very best against the run,” said Steve Wisniewski, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection as an offensive guard for the Raiders from 1989-2001.
“Cortez had the ability to stop the run, to play with leverage and have the quickness to hit the edge of an offensive guard and split the seams to put pressure on the quarterback. Hands down, he was a much better player against the run than a John Randle, much better than a Warren Sapp.”
And, Kennedy had those boggling behind-the-line stats to support that assessment.