How did New England find the right combination of offensive linemen this season, and where are Seattle's biggest weaknesses in pass protection?
21 Oct 2011
by J.J. Cooper
Some sacks are more worthy of praise than others.
Like any stat, sacks are sometimes a great barometer of who is getting to the quarterback and at other times just a sign of who is great at finishing off the havoc someone else created.
As impressive as Cowboys’ outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware’s seven sacks are, the fact that five of them are "quick sacks" may be more impressive. Ware has one garbage sack where he took advantage of the pressure generated by Anthony Spencer (and Tom Brady’s decision to hold the ball for 3.8 seconds). But five of his other six came when he was wrapping up the quarterback before he had gotten much of a chance to get rid of the ball.
Ware has a very quick first step, but more than that, he also has the veteran ability to time the snap count. Three of his quick sacks (defined as sacks of under 2.5 seconds) came when he timed the snap well enough that he picked up a significant advantage on the lineman asked to block him. It doesn’t hurt to have a little luck as well, as one of Ware’s quick sacks came when the 49ers were unwise enough to run a play action bootleg his way. Ware wasn’t fooled and quickly took down Alex Smith.
When Under Pressure looked at quick sack leaders over the 2009-2010 seasons, it was notable that every one on the list would generally be considered among the better pass rushers in the league.
|Quick Sack Leaders, 2011|
In looking at the quick sack leaders for the first six weeks of the 2011 season, there are a few names you would expect: Ware and Jared Allen. Jason Babin was among the quick sack leaders in ‘09-’10, so it’s not that shocking to see him second in the league with four. Babin can thank 49ers right tackle Anthony Davis in part, as the slow-footed tackle was responsible for two of those four quick sacks. Among the new quick sackers, Broncos rookie Von Miller’s name stands out as offering some confirmation to what many are already figuring out -- he’s a pretty special pass rusher.
If quick sacks is a sign of a pass rusher who is getting there quite quickly, it’s also worth looking to see which pass rushers’ sack stats are built up on long sacks (defined as sacks that take 3.0 seconds or longer).
|Long Sack Leaders, 2011|
Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has had a breakout season, but it’s notable that four of his sacks have taken longer than four seconds (and a fifth took 3.1 seconds). It’s proof that Pierre-Paul doesn’t give up on plays, but it also means that he’s not necessarily a player who teams have to gameplan around. Yet.
Julius Peppers’ five sacks don’t seem as impressive when you consider that four of them have taken longer than 3.5 seconds (three of them have taken 4.2 seconds or longer). Of Peppers’ five sacks, two came on bootlegs to his side where he ran down a quarterback. Another came when Matt Ryan left the ball on the ground without being touched. A fourth came when Aaron Rodgers held the ball for 3.5 seconds.
Now here’s a look at the notes for this week’s sacks.
Every defensive coordinator’s dream is to call plays where a rusher comes unblocked, but 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio couldn’t have expected to get that result with a relatively straightforward four-man rush.
Defending a third-and-2 early in the second quarter against the Lions, the 49ers went to their nickel package for a 2-4-5 formation. At the snap, both defensive linemen rushed, as did left outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks and inside linebacker Navorro Bowman. Bowman made sure to attack right tackle Gosder Cherilus’ outside shoulder, which meant Cherilus picked him up, the two guards and center all ended up blocking Ray McDonald, left tackle Jeff Backus picked up Justin Smith, and Brooks came off a short edge completely unblocked.
Jahvid Best did flare out of the backfield as quarterback Matthew Stafford’s safety valve, but Stafford never had a chance to throw it to him, as Brooks wrapped him up only 1.7 seconds after the snap.
Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore didn’t do his offensive line any favors on Monday night. When a screen play blew up, Moore just kept rolling out toward the sideline and held the ball for 5.5 seconds until Calvin Pace eventually ran him down on a sack that took the Dolphins out of field goal range.
Moore also had the third longest sack of the week, and none of his four sacks came in any sooner than 3.5 seconds.
It’s hard to say which is more surprising: Ryan Fitzpatrick’s excellent start to 2011, or the fact that the Bills have developed a very competent offensive line (the Bills are first in the league in adjusted sack rate). But Fitzpatrick’s desire to make a big play proved quite costly on Sunday.
Facing a third-and-16 at the Giants 28 midway through the second quarter, Fitzpatrick held the ball for 4.7 seconds against a three-man rush. Eventually Jason Pierre-Paul got free and wrapped him up for a six-yard sack, knocking the Bills out of field goal range. Considering the Bills ended up losing 27-24, that "long sack" proved to be crucial.
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