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09 Dec 2011

Under Pressure: Standard Sack Deviation

by J.J. Cooper

If you read Under Pressure each week, you know that for three years it’s been an interest (or you could say an obsession) of mine to log the time of each and every sack in the NFL. However, in those three years, I’d never asked maybe the most significant question: How much does a quarterback’s tendency to hold the ball play a part in his sack rate?

Anecdotally, it would seem to play a significant part. Ben Roethlisberger tries to buy time by holding the ball until receivers get open, and his sack rate is consistently among the league’s worst. Jay Cutler plays in an offense that has often asked him to wait for a receiver to get open downfield, and arguably no one has been more battered because of it.

On the other end of the spectrum, Drew Brees gets the ball out as quick as anyone not named Peyton Manning and he usually has one of the lowest sack rates in the game.

It simply makes sense that if a quarterback takes longer to get rid of the ball, defenders are more likely to be spiking him into the turf. But to try to dig a little deeper, I compiled the stats over the past three years for the 17 quarterbacks who qualified for the NFL passer rankings in all three years (plus Tony Romo, who narrowly missed qualifying in 2010).

Over a one-year span, the correlation between median sack time and sack rate is .270. The correlation between average sack time and sack rate is .273 -- a pretty insignificant result. But if you examine the same correlations over a three-year span, they jump to .487 (median sack time) and .492 (average sack time).

Looking at the standard deviation also yields less than overwhelming results.

Name Std Dev
of Sack Rate
StdDev
of Avg Time
Matt Cassel 1.21% 0.416
Mark Sanchez 0.81% 0.404
Eli Manning 1.36% 0.379
Josh Freeman 1.23% 0.321
Drew Brees 0.08% 0.265
Jay Cutler 2.65% 0.265
Matt Schaub 0.60% 0.265
Philip Rivers 0.84% 0.252
Joe Flacco 1.51% 0.208
Alex Smith 1.40% 0.200
Ben Roethlisberger 0.37% 0.200
Tony Romo 1.33% 0.173
Matt Hasselbeck 1.52% 0.173
Tom Brady 1.09% 0.153
Matt Ryan 0.62% 0.153
Ryan Fitzpatrick 2.52% 0.153
Carson Palmer 1.37% 0.153
Aaron Rodgers 1.25% 0.100
Grand Total 1.64% 0.277

Again, this will always be limited by the sample size. Even over a three-year span, we’re talking about 1,418 sacks -- less than the number of pass attempts you would see from three teams over the course of a season. As we continue to add data, we’re getting a better and better look at how much a quarterback can be blamed for a high sack rate, and how much he’s just a victim of the offense he plays in.

Here’s the data for all 18 quarterbacks, divided by year and ranked in order of sack rate. The 2011 sack stats are updated through Week 12. Thanks to fellow Outsider Danny Tuccitto for help with the stats.

Year Player Team Att Sacks Total Attempts Sack Rate Median Avg Time
2009 Ryan Fitzpatrick BUF 227 21 248 8.47% 2.60 2.8
2009 Aaron Rodgers GB 541 50 591 8.46% 2.80 3.1
2009 Ben Roethlisberger PIT 586 50 636 7.86% 2.95 3.3
2009 Matt Cassel KC 493 42 535 7.85% 2.70 2.9
2009 Joe Flacco BAL 499 36 535 6.73% 2.85 3.2
2009 Mark Sanchez NYJ 364 26 390 6.67% 2.90 2.9
2009 Josh Freeman TB 290 20 310 6.45% 3.05 3.6
2009 Matt Hasselbeck SEA 488 32 520 6.15% 2.35 2.5
2009 Jay Cutler CHI 555 35 590 5.93% 3.00 3.2
2009 Tony Romo DAL 550 34 584 5.82% 2.75 2.9
2009 Alex Smith SF 372 22 394 5.58% 2.55 2.7
2009 Eli Manning NYG 509 30 539 5.57% 2.85 3.3
2009 Carson Palmer CIN 466 26 492 5.28% 2.55 2.8
2009 Philip Rivers SD 486 25 511 4.89% 2.70 2.8
2009 Matt Schaub HOU 583 25 608 4.11% 3.10 3.3
2009 Matt Ryan ATL 451 19 470 4.04% 2.90 3.1
2009 Drew Brees NO 514 20 534 3.75% 2.50 2.6
2009 Tom Brady NE 565 16 581 2.75% 3.00 3.1
Year Player Team Att Sacks Total Attempts Sack Rate Median Avg Time
2010 Jay Cutler CHI 432 52 484 10.74% 2.80 3.1
2010 Ben Roethlisberger PIT 389 32 421 7.60% 3.15 3.5
2010 Joe Flacco BAL 489 41 529 7.56% 3.10 3.5
2010 Alex Smith SF 342 25 367 6.81% 2.80 3.1
2010 Philip Rivers SD 541 38 579 6.56% 2.80 3.1
2010 Aaron Rodgers GB 475 32 506 6.13% 2.80 3.2
2010 Matt Hasselbeck SEA 444 29 473 6.13% 2.60 2.8
2010 Josh Freeman TB 474 28 502 5.58% 2.70 3.0
2010 Matt Cassel KC 450 25 476 5.46% 3.20 3.5
2010 Matt Schaub HOU 574 32 606 5.28% 2.60 2.8
2010 Ryan Fitzpatrick BUF 441 24 465 5.16% 2.90 3.0
2010 Mark Sanchez NYJ 507 27 534 5.06% 3.10 3.6
2010 Tom Brady NE 492 25 517 4.84% 2.60 2.9
2010 Carson Palmer CIN 586 26 612 4.25% 2.55 2.6
2010 Matt Ryan ATL 571 23 594 3.87% 2.80 3.0
2010 Drew Brees NO 658 25 683 3.66% 2.60 3.1
2010 Tony Romo DAL 213 7 220 3.18% 2.40 2.9
2010 Eli Manning NYG 539 16 555 2.88% 2.50 2.6
Year Player Team Att Sacks Total Attempts Sack Rate Median Avg Time
2011 Alex Smith SF 298 30 328 8.38% 2.70 2.9
2011 Ben Roethlisberger PIT 385 32 417 7.13% 2.70 3.1
2011 Matt Cassel KC 269 22 291 7.03% 3.10 3.7
2011 Carson Palmer OAK 136 11 147 6.96% 2.80 2.9
2011 Aaron Rodgers GB 362 27 389 6.49% 2.70 3.0
2011 Jay Cutler CHI 314 23 337 6.39% 2.70 2.7
2011 Mark Sanchez NYJ 373 25 398 5.91% 2.70 2.9
2011 Philip Rivers SD 419 28 447 5.89% 2.85 3.3
2011 Matt Ryan ATL 394 22 416 5.02% 2.55 2.8
2011 Matt Schaub HOU 292 16 308 4.94% 2.85 3.2
2011 Tony Romo DAL 380 20 400 4.76% 2.90 3.2
2011 Joe Flacco BAL 411 21 432 4.64% 2.90 3.1
2011 Eli Manning NYG 402 20 422 4.52% 2.70 2.7
2011 Tom Brady NE 421 20 441 4.34% 2.80 3.2
2011 Josh Freeman TB 411 18 429 4.03% 2.75 3.1
2011 Drew Brees NO 460 19 479 3.82% 2.60 2.7
2011 Ryan Fitzpatrick BUF 369 14 383 3.53% 2.75 3.1
2011 Matt Hasselbeck TEN 371 14 385 3.51% 2.55 2.8
Year Player Team Att Sacks Total Attempts Sack Rate Median Avg Time
OVERALL Jay Cutler CHI 1301 110 1411 7.80% 2.80 3.1
OVERALL Ben Roethlisberger PIT 1383 114 1499 7.74% 3.00 3.3
OVERALL Alex Smith SF 1035 77 1116 7.26% 2.70 2.9
OVERALL Aaron Rodgers GB 1424 109 1534 7.17% 2.80 3.1
OVERALL Matt Cassel KC 1212 89 1302 6.91% 2.90 3.3
OVERALL Joe Flacco BAL 1422 98 1520 6.45% 3.05 3.3
OVERALL Philip Rivers SD 1474 91 1565 5.81% 2.80 3.1
OVERALL Mark Sanchez NYJ 1276 78 1354 5.76% 2.95 3.1
OVERALL Matt Hasselbeck TEN 1328 75 1404 5.41% 2.50 2.7
OVERALL Josh Freeman TB 1175 66 1241 5.32% 2.80 3.2
OVERALL Tony Romo DAL 1185 61 1251 5.28% 2.80 3.0
OVERALL Ryan Fitzpatrick BUF 1083 59 1143 5.25% 2.80 2.9
OVERALL Carson Palmer OAK 1229 63 1294 5.02% 2.60 2.7
OVERALL Matt Schaub HOU 1449 73 1522 4.80% 2.90 3.1
OVERALL Eli Manning NYG 1490 66 1557 4.54% 2.70 2.7
OVERALL Matt Ryan ATL 1463 64 1527 4.19% 2.75 3.0
OVERALL Tom Brady NE 1516 61 1578 3.93% 2.70 3.1
OVERALL Drew Brees NO 1668 64 1734 3.81% 2.55 2.8
Overall 1418 25552 5.55% 2.80 3.0

Posted by: J.J. Cooper on 09 Dec 2011

13 comments, Last at 28 Oct 2012, 9:16pm by DDs Nuts

Comments

1
by Mr. X (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2011 - 2:00pm

This should not be looked at without looking at INTs. Rodgers was bad in 2009 in this area, but he is taking more sacks now because a sack is better than an interception. Add a column into the table for INT and and then examine it. In 2011, Palmer and Fitzpatrick are lower down on the sack rate but in the top five in the NFL in 2011 for INTs.

2
by Arkaein :: Fri, 12/09/2011 - 2:53pm

Rodgers threw 7 INTs in 2009. Maybe you are thinking of 2008 (first year starting) or last year?

In any case, Rodgers has never had a high INT rate. I would be interested in the study you suggest though, it could draw some interesting categorizations. With Rodgers the contrast with his predecessor is stark. Favre was always low on the sack totals because of his decisiveness and quick release, but a lot of his quick throws ended up in defenders hands.

3
by PackersRS (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2011 - 4:26pm

The most interesting thing would be to look if the sack was the QB's fault. Rodgers does take sacks in order to avoid dangerous throws, but nevertheless Rodgers holds the ball too long at times, longer than Brady and Brees.

Sometimes it's the best decision to take a sack, but how many times was it the right decision and how many times he simply missed his checkdown receiver or flat out held the ball too long waiting for something to happen?

Of course, one would also have to look at "broken sacks", when a QB is able to avoid the sack with his agility, and it does happen often with Rodgers.

Sacks per pass play and average time per sack can be a result of many other factors outside the QB's control, like scheme and OL play, and quality of defenses he has faced (Cooper says so himself in the article that the sample size is relatively small).

4
by Steve in WI :: Fri, 12/09/2011 - 6:07pm

As a Bears fan, I'm fascinated but not surprised by the fact that Cutler's sack rate was a full 3+ percentage points higher than any other QB in 2010. Between the awfulness of the Bears' offensive line and Martz's playcalling, I'm kind of surprised it wasn't even higher.

I'm not surprised that his average sack time is about average among the other QBs listed, both in 2010 and overall. While it's sometimes true that the Bears receivers don't get open and Jay has nowhere to throw, there have also been plenty of sacks where the offensive line just failed miserably at protecting him.

I would also argue that Cutler's improved sack rate this year before he got hurt had very little to do with any offensive line improvement (in fact, I would argue after watching the Bears the last two weeks that the line is just as awful as it's ever been in recent years), but rather a combination of decision-making and some really great scrambling.

7
by tuluse :: Fri, 12/09/2011 - 9:53pm

Cutler has become very good at avoiding pressure.

That said, this line is way better than last year. Assuming you mean the beginning of last year. It's about the same as the end of last year. Which was bad, but not horrific. However, that is after changing 3 starters on the line due to injuries. So the Bears actually NFL quality depth on the line now, which is an improvement and I think their 5 best guys are actually NFL starters now, which is also an improvement. Losing Gabe Carimi has really hurt the Bears, but Cutler and Forte had been able to mask it. Now, they're both out too.

12
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 12/12/2011 - 10:17am

I'm not sure the line got better so much as Cutler got much better at avoiding pressure. He was like Houdini in the SD and 1st Detroit games, despite his sieve-like line.

5
by takeitdown :: Fri, 12/09/2011 - 7:41pm

This obviously works far better if you're able to look across all plays, not just sack plays. Time to pressure on average seems a better measure, at least of what the QB is facing. For instance, if a QB normally gets rid of the ball in 2.1 seconds, but the few times he holds it for 3 seconds, he gets sacked, that's a horrible line, but his time to sack numbers don't look that bad, at 3 seconds. Whereas, another QB may be able to hold the ball 4 seconds normally, but on the occasional lapses of his OL, he gets sacked, because he thought he had an extra second...this QB would also have a sack time of 3 seconds. One QB has an OL who normally gives him 2.2 seconds, and one has an OL who normally gives him 4 seconds, but they both clock in with 3 second avg sack times.

So it's really percentage of time 3 seconds leads to a sack that is important. Or median time to pressure. All interesting info, though.

6
by Intropy :: Fri, 12/09/2011 - 9:45pm

Maybe QBs who feel they have more time tend to hold the ball longer. There's a risk-reward for holding the ball, and it makes some sense to me that QBs at the NFL level would make similar tradeoffs in terms of long-play-related passing attempts vs. long-play-related sacks.

8
by Dr. Mooch :: Fri, 12/09/2011 - 9:59pm

So Ryan Fitzpatrick, 2209 ranks the worst. In 2011 he holds the ball considerably longer, but ranks near the top. This, basically with no new OL personnel and continued injuries. Interesting.

Really, though, these numbers are incomplete without a Time To Release for all the passes that actually get thrown. You need to know if the sack downs differ from the pass downs. Too labor intensive to do, maybe even for just one QB, but that's the info you really need.

9
by >implying implications (not verified) :: Sat, 12/10/2011 - 4:13am

Michael Vick?

10
by jborfield :: Sat, 12/10/2011 - 2:23pm

Since offensive drives rarely end in touchdowns when a sack is yielded (5.3% in 2009), how much of the responsibility lies with the QB? A QB's propensity to hold the ball longer would certainly seem to increase the chances of a sack.

Might QBs who are more likely to run (hold the ball longer and) take more sacks?
I looked at these 18 QBs over the same 3-year period and found the correlation between their rush rates (pass attempts / rush attempt) an their adjusted sack rates (pass attempts / sack) is 0.64.

Might QBs who are more successful rushing attempt more runs?
Looking at the same QBs over the same time period, the correlation between the rush rates and average yards / rush attempt is 0.61.

I'd like to know how these figures change when rush attempts are adjusted to account for scrambles only, but I don't have that data. If someone knows where to get it, please let me know (jborfield@gmail.com).

11
by JohnM (not verified) :: Sat, 12/10/2011 - 6:57pm

As you get more data I would expect the correlation to remain low because there are too many team variables that affect how long the QB holds the ball.

Taking my Chiefs as an example. Cassel had the 6th shortest median release time in 2009 but the longest median release time in 2010 and 2011. The median release time went from 2.55 in 2009 to 3.2 in 2010. There are a number of obvious reasons for the improvement; better O-line, better defense, easier schedule and a great running game. In other words Cassel was often running for his life in '09 and the other team had to honor the play action in '10.

I would expect that there will always be some QBs like Big Ben were you may see a significant correlation but most of the time the offensive scheme, the quality of the team and the quality of the opposition will vary too much from team to team and season to season to for the stats to show any significant correlation.

13
by DDs Nuts (not verified) :: Sun, 10/28/2012 - 9:16pm

How long does it take a D lineman on average to get to qb with no blitz