For those who believe the guys who throw the football decide all NFL games, keep an eye on the guys who try to get those passers on the ground.

Quarterbacks sure need to be aware of the sackmasters, especially after a season-high 87 sacks were made last week.

As the weather gets dicey and the pressure ratchets up in the stretch drive, the one job that comes into sharper focus is knocking down passers.

Although the guys doing the sacking won't reach the NFL seasonal record of 1,313 set in 1984, there's an excellent chance the total, now at 967 according to STATS, will surpass anything since the 2000 season.

Why? In great part because some of the best pass rushers in the league are heating up.

Last weekend, Baltimore's Elvis Dumervil had 3 1/2 sacks, the Jets' Sheldon Richardson had three, and Houston's J.J. Watt, the most feared defender in the game, also had three, plus five quarterback hits.

Look at the leaderboard for sacks and it reads like a who's who for NFL 2014: Dumervil and Kansas City's Justin Houston tied at the top with 16; Watt at 14 1-2 despite having more attention paid to him than any lineman in the sport; Denver's Von Miller (13) and DeMarcus Ware (10); Buffalo's Mario Williams (12); and last season's NFC leader, the Rams' Robert Quinn (10 1-2 after having none in his first five games).

Throw in a few newer names such as Philadelphia's Connor Barwin (13 1-2), Minnesota Everson Griffen (12) and Washington's Ryan Kerrigan (11 1-2), and the operative words for quarterbacks — particularly immobile QBs — could be "Watch Out!"

Dumervil, who has said he is in the best shape of his life at age 30, broke the team single-season record of 15 set by Peter Boulware in 2001, and is one short of his career high with Denver.

"It's like the stars are aligning, but the most special thing that could happen is we get into the playoffs," Dumervil said, certainly knowing that continued performances such as last week against Miami could get the Ravens (8-5) the AFC North title. "The record's been broken. I haven't really dwelled on it too much or soaked it in. We've still got three critical games left.

"More than anything, to have that record at the end of the year and make a deep run in the playoffs, that's the goal."

Until Week 14, the most sacks occurred in Week 6 with 82. Surpassing the 87 of last week could be aided in any of the next three weeks by slippery fields, injuries to teams' offensive lines, and a slew of mediocre quarterbacks without the athletic skills or acumen to avoid being trapped.

Also bear in mind that a number of teams are on an upward spiral defensively, particularly the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks, the Broncos, Rams, Vikings, Lions, Patriots and the Bills, who lead the NFL with 48 sacks.

"The Bills' defense is playing very well," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "Definitely got talent all the way through. It definitely starts up front with their defensive line and their ability to stop the run and get after it with the pass rush. We're very impressed with what they've done."

One key to sacks success is having support for the main threat. What makes Watt's numbers so impressive is that Houston's next-highest total is Whitney Mercilus with four. That means despite double- and even triple-team blocking, Watt gets where he wants to go.

With many other teams whose pass rush can make a difference in winning and losing, there is a lot more help than the Texans provide for their star.

Denver has Ware and Miller. Baltimore has Dumervil and Terrell Suggs. Buffalo has Williams, Marcell Dareus and Jerry Hughes. Philly has Barwin and Vinny Curry.

"You can't pinpoint one guy and say 'stop him' because we have so many guys," Eagles linebacker Brandon Graham said. He has 5 1-2 sacks, fourth on the team; veteran Trent Cole has 6 1-2. "We all want to get there and get the sack, but as long as somebody does, that's what counts."

Anyone who questions the value and importance of a strong pass rush late in a season need only recall the 2011 and, to an even greater extent, 2007 Giants. The one equalizer they had in facing the powerful Patriots' offense in two Super Bowls was the sack.

Tom Brady at times looked like a rag doll as the likes of Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul bothered him and New England's blockers. Without the time to find his targets — and remember, Brady had quite a collection of receivers in Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez — Brady became rather pedestrian.

That's just what the sackmasters hope to do over the next three weeks to any and all passers.

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