Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

07 Oct 2011

Under Pressure: Our First 2011 Data

by J.J. Cooper

At the end of the first quarter of the NFL season, some teams are seemingly already out of it. Colts and Dolphins fans are already waiting for their chance at Andrew Luck. Others have proven pleasant surprises: Say hi, Bills fans!

Much like that opening quarter gives us a good indication of what this season will be like for our favorite teams, a four-game stretch is also enough time to start analyzing the 2011 sacks. What we find is much what you would expect: Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco still like to hold onto the ball, while Alex Smith is hit way too often as he’s just getting set up in the pocket.

But the worst team in the league in allowing long sacks (sacks of three or more seconds) is somewhat surprising. Last year, Sam Bradford was better than the league average when it came to being pulled down for long sacks. This year, the Rams' offensive line has placed him squarely in last place.

The Rams’ 10 long sacks are four more than any other team in the league. They’ve given up long sacks on 5.71 percent of their pass plays this year, a full percentage point worse than any other team.

The Rams’ lack of NFL-caliber receivers would appear to be a factor in the large number of long sacks, but Bradford wasn't exactly throwing to Jerry Rice and John Taylor last year. On the other end of the spectrum, the Bills’ zero long sacks and their two overall sacks are a stunning development. Just two years ago, the Bills were dead last in adjusted sack rate. Now, Ryan Fitzpatrick is getting time to throw and making good use of it.

Percentage of Long Sacks Allowed, 2011 season
Team Long Sacks Pass Attempts + Sacks Percentage Team Long Sacks Pass Attempts + Sacks Percentage Team Long Sacks Pass Attempts + Sacks Percentage
DET 0 167 0.00% NYG 2 136 1.47% NYJ 5 158 3.16%
IND 0 149 0.00% SF 2 121 1.65% MIN 4 121 3.31%
BUF 0 148 0.00% HOU 2 119 1.68% CLE 6 179 3.35%
TEN 0 137 0.00% DAL 3 169 1.78% BAL 5 149 3.36%
OAK 0 123 0.00% SEA 3 149 2.01% CHI 5 146 3.42%
NO 1 183 0.55% NFL 3.3 150 2.21% CIN 5 145 3.45%
NE 2 167 1.20% ATL 4 177 2.26% CAR 6 171 3.51%
TB 2 154 1.30% JAC 3 121 2.48% PIT 6 153 3.92%
PHI 2 152 1.32% MIA 4 152 2.63% KC 5 120 4.17%
WAS 2 151 1.32% DEN 4 151 2.65% ARI 6 142 4.23%
GB 2 149 1.34% SD 5 165 3.03% STL 10 175 5.71%

When it comes to short sacks (sacks of 2.5 seconds or less), three moribund offenses are among the league’s worst. Of the bottom five teams in quick sacks allowed, only the Dolphins have an offense ranked in the top half of the league by DVOA. Maybe the Rams’ offensive line isn’t as bad as it would appear -- they’ve allowed 19 sacks overall and 10 long sacks, but only two of their sacks allowed are short sacks.

Percentage of Short Sacks Allowed, 2011 season
Team Short Sacks Pass Attempts + Sacks Percentage Team Short Sacks Pass Attempts + Sacks Percentage Team Short Sacks Pass Attempts + Sacks Percentage
BAL 0 149 0.00% SD 2 165 1.21% NYJ 5 158 3.16%
CLE 1 179 0.56% PHI 2 152 1.32% JAC 4 121 3.31%
CAR 1 171 0.58% GB 2 149 1.34% HOU 4 119 3.36%
NE 1 167 0.60% ARI 2 142 1.41% CHI 5 146 3.42%
TB 1 154 0.65% MIN 2 121 1.65% NYG 5 136 3.68%
WAS 1 151 0.66% DEN 3 151 1.99% PIT 6 153 3.92%
BUF 1 148 0.68% NO 4 183 2.19% ATL 7 177 3.95%
OAK 1 123 0.81% NFL 3.4 150 2.25% SEA 6 149 4.03%
KC 1 120 0.83% CIN 4 145 2.76% MIA 8 152 5.26%
STL 2 175 1.14% TEN 4 137 2.92% IND 8 149 5.37%
DAL 2 169 1.18% DET 5 167 2.99% SF 8 121 6.61%

And now, a look at some of the notable sacks of the week.

WORST SACK OF THE WEEK

The Cowboys did manage to keep Tony Romo upright more than you would expect against the Lions’ stout front four. Romo was sacked only once, but that one sack was one that rookie right tackle Tyron Smith won’t live down for a while.

Defensive end Willie Young didn’t try anything fancy as Dallas tried for a last-second comeback. He simply ran straight at Smith, gave him a punch with his right arm and managed to knock Smith onto his butt. The impact was violent enough that Smith almost ran into Romo. Smith did avoid that embarrassment, but it didn't add much more work for Young, who stepped over the cockroached Smith for the sack.

ASKING TOO MUCH

Yes, the Rams may have allowed only two short sacks this year, but the Rams had all kind of protection problems against the Redskins, which is a pretty damning indictment for an offensive line that has two recent high-round picks (Roger Saffold and Jason Smith) and also added a pair of big-money free-agent signings (Harvey Dahl and Jason Brown) in the last few years.

But on a sack that led to a lost fumble on Sunday, you have to blame the scheme more than the players. On a third-and-22 (set up by a hands to the face penalty called against Smith) the Rams faced a straightforward four-man rush. Despite the basic pass rush, the Rams somehow ended up with rookie wide receiver Austin Pettis matched up one-on-one in pass protection against Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan.

Pettis did about as much as you can ask a wide receiver to do against a top-notch pass rusher. He did briefly slow Kerrigan down, much like a traffic cone placed in the middle of a freeway. With Brian Orakpo driving Saffold back into quarterback Sam Bradford, Kerrigan was left free to blindside Bradford and force a fumble. Three plays later the Redskins had a touchdown and a 14-0 lead.

In that Redskins-Rams game, Orakpo and the rest of the Redskins pass rush humiliated the Rams offensive line. It’s not just the seven sacks the Rams allowed, it was the pressure and penalties the Rams’ front five gave up when they weren’t giving up sacks. Smith, the right tackle, was flagged for the aforementioned hands to the face and tacked on an illegal formation procedure for 20 yards in penalties. Saffold, the left tackle, picked up 25 yards in penalties himself with two holds and a false start. Center Brown added another false start.

Saffold has generally been a solid left tackle since the Rams drafted him in 2010, but Orakpo quickly found out that Saffold had trouble handling a straight-ahead bull rush. Play after play, he simply drove the 315-pounder into the backfield.

NO EXPLANATION

When we looked a couple of weeks ago at which pass rushers pick up quick sacks Jason Babin was fifth-best in the NFL. Sacks like the one he got against San Francisco this week show why. Babin was lined up as a wide nine defensive end, well outside of 49ers right tackle Anthony Davis, with defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins lined up to his inside (as a seven technique end). As you would expect at the snap, Jenkins fired off to the inside, trying to hit the B gap between Davis and guard Adam Snyder. Babin went wide, trying to beat Davis to the outside.

It ended up being a lot easier than Babin expected. There was nothing complicated about what the Eagles did -- no linebackers or defensive backs rushed, and none of the four defensive linemen ran twists or loops. But even with all that, Babin came through completely unblocked.

Davis blocked down, helping out Snyder. With no tight end on that side and no back staying in to block, Babin had one of the easiest sacks he’ll ever get. He poked the ball out of Alex Smith’s hands just 1.9 seconds after the snap, leading to a turnover.

Posted by: J.J. Cooper on 07 Oct 2011

18 comments, Last at 10 Oct 2011, 4:14pm by Dean

Comments

1
by jebmak :: Fri, 10/07/2011 - 12:33pm

I figured that long sacks were more on the receivers (and QB) than the line (and QB). Is it more on the line than I thought?

2
by MulXEdge :: Fri, 10/07/2011 - 12:55pm

long sacks are usually put on the QB and receivers not getting open - more specifically the QB because he can be pin-pointed and critiqued for not throwing the ball away

short sacks are almost entirely on either the line and/or the blocking scheme

3
by Led :: Fri, 10/07/2011 - 1:03pm

I agree that long sacks are the responsibility of the QB either not finding an open man or throwing it away. It's not so clear to me that QBs don't influence the number of short sacks. The faster you recognize coverages and/or pressures, the more likely you are to get rid of the ball quickly (even less than 2.5 seconds) or to adjust protections to prevent free runners.

4
by KK Probs (not verified) :: Fri, 10/07/2011 - 1:50pm

Good, interesting data, as usual.

One of the many issues that's emerging as this data comes to light is the different textures of sacks. I think the first one to pin down is the distribution curve of length of sacks. I'd like to see a list or a graph showing the time of every sacks, and the statistical properties of the distribution. That way, we would assign more meaningful definitions to "short" and "long," or perhaps even discover that there should be more categories. After getting that more exact definition of the nature of times of sacks, then things like quality of WRs, quality of OLs, formation data, defensive expectation of a pass (down-distance-score), and QB-specific abilities (such as being able to scramble) will become easier to sort through.

Knowing what percentile the total number of sacks at each time level is, though, and assigning categories accordingly seems like it's going to be an important step to build on this information.

5
by J.J. Cooper :: Fri, 10/07/2011 - 2:00pm

Good idea K.K. I'll get to work on this, hopefully for next week's post.

6
by alien1rock :: Fri, 10/07/2011 - 2:04pm

Skins have allowed 8 sacks on the year, but only 3 are reflected in this table. Does that mean they allowed 5 sacks between 2.5 and 3 seconds that aren't included? Trying to wrap my head around that many sacks being excluded (60%), and what that does to the remaining percentages....

7
by J.J. Cooper :: Fri, 10/07/2011 - 2:05pm

Yes. All sacks logged as 2.6 to 2.9 seconds are not included here. What that means is Rex and the improved 'Skins offensive line have largely given up "normal" sacks as far time from snap to sack.

8
by mbroshi :: Fri, 10/07/2011 - 2:20pm

The team NFL is right in the middle of the pack. Their record is 2-2. Figures.

9
by opticallog :: Fri, 10/07/2011 - 2:24pm

I was *just* talking about this with a fellow Niners fan friend of mine, where we were discussing how quickly Alex Smith is getting hit. He's actually a fairly athletic guy, but just to the eyes it feels like he's basically being "met" at the depth of his dropback by defensive lineman over and over again.

10
by Josh Bennett (not verified) :: Fri, 10/07/2011 - 2:34pm

It would be nice to see a 2x2 chart of long and short sack % to visually display which teams had (roughly) poor lines, poor QBs, both, or neither.

11
by Hurt Bones :: Fri, 10/07/2011 - 2:53pm

I'd be interested in defensive numbers as well. Which defenses have more quick sacks? More long sacks? Which teams create their sacks through their coverage? A defensive adjustment for QB numbers?

For example are above average secondaries contributing to Sam Bradford's numbers?

12
by bravehoptoad :: Fri, 10/07/2011 - 4:42pm

Talk about a disappointing line...the 49ers have 3 first-rounders, a high 2nd rounder, and an expensive free agent, and it looks like they're the single worst pass-blocking line in the league.

Poor Alex.

13
by jimbohead :: Fri, 10/07/2011 - 5:08pm

I'm continually saddened by Anthony Davis, and how coach Singletary traded UP to get him. By my eye, the left side looks manageable, but the right..... ugh.

15
by bravehoptoad :: Fri, 10/07/2011 - 7:12pm

Sadly, that was more Baalke than Singletary. (Sadly, because Baalke is still the GM). Iron Mike would have taken Oher the year before (instead of Crabtree) if he'd had his druthers.

14
by Tommy (not verified) :: Fri, 10/07/2011 - 6:57pm

For anyone who watched the Redskins game, it seemed like Orakpo was being held on nearly EVERY down that I saw him in. I dont think I am one to say things like this (i hear football fans say this sort of thing all the time)

They got called for it a lot, but it seemed like the refs didnt call it more than half the time, just because it happened SO often. Seemed to me that the biggest problem for the rams that game was that the right side of their offense simply COULD NOT contain Orakpo, and were lucky to have as few penalties as they did.

16
by Joseph :: Sat, 10/08/2011 - 2:07pm

Interesting tidbit to me: Despite PM being in the press box, the Colts STILL haven't given up a "long" sack. Is the Colts revamped O-line that much better, or is this on the coaching staff? ["Kerry, Curtis, we have great WR's & Clark--get the ball out, or throw it away. We have enough offensive problems without taking dumb sacks."]

17
by ColtsAuthority :: Sun, 10/09/2011 - 10:54pm

Both. The OL has looked much better, in pass protection and run blocking (esp. pass). But the Colts are definitely trying to get rid of the ball quicker as well. Collins and Painter don't have near the amount of freedom Manning had in terms of improvising. Collins and Painter's laughably low completion percentage should attest to that.

18
by Dean :: Mon, 10/10/2011 - 4:14pm

Lets see... STL's OL is maybe not as bad as thought? That doesn't pass the eyeball test.

On the other hand, if it's true, it implies that Bradford is holding onto the ball too long - which does pass the eyeball test. It also implies that the receivers are even worse than last year and simply can't get open - and you don't need any detailed statistical analysis to confirm that!

This was a team that couldn't yet withstand injuries, and it has them. Even if they ever get healthy, there's nothing they can do about losing their top 3 CBs.