"Last team with the ball wins" is a cliche, but sometimes cliches are the best way to get across the central narrative of an important game. If you like great quarterback play, you have to watch the NFC Championship Game.
23 Dec 2011
by J.J. Cooper
If you have a rookie quarterback, it pays to have a pair of reliable tackles. They can give the quarterback a little extra time to work through his progressions, and they can help him learn how to be comfortable in an NFL pocket -- something that many rookie quarterbacks (here’s looking at you, Christian Ponder) don’t always seem to understand when they begin their careers.
What you don’t want to do is put a rookie quarterback behind a line that features Guy Whimper.
Understandably, there are a lot of fingers being pointed at Blaine Gabbert for what has been a very disappointing rookie year. Gabbert’s poor play does come with a caveat -- he has Whimper lined up at right tackle in front of him.
By Under Pressure’s count, Whimper leads the league with 12.5 sacks allowed. Eight of those sacks have come when Whimper’s man wrapped up Gabbert less than three seconds after the snap.
A fourth-round pick of the Giants in 2006, Whimper has spent most of his career as an unheralded backup. He didn’t make any starts in his three seasons with the Giants. After being picked up off waivers by the Jaguars last year, he made one start in six appearances.
This year a back injury has sidelined Jags’ starting right tackle Eben Britton for almost the entire season (he was limited when he did play), giving Whimper a chance to prove he can start. It hasn’t gone so well, as the Jaguars are in a death spiral of sack problems now because Whimper can’t protect Gabbert well enough for Gabbert to get comfortable. Gabbert is antsy in the pocket -- he appears to be indecisive with his decisions -- and that sometimes leads to sacks where he holds the ball too long.
To Whimper’s credit, in watching the Jaguars’ line play, he usually knows who to block. Only half of a sack can be credited to him on a play where he seemed confused as to who to block. However, he just doesn’t appear to have the feet to handle speed rushers on the edge. Seven of his 12.5 sacks have come when he was beaten around the edge by a simple speed move, and another two have come when a defender fakes a speed move, then cuts back inside Whimper because he overextends in attempting to handle the speed rush.
Whimper didn’t give up a sack until Week 3, but after that, he gave up at least one sack for nine straight weeks. It's a DiMaggio-esque streak that will be hard to beat. He rallied to go two weeks without a sack allowed, but that streak ended against Atlanta last Thursday night as John Abraham and Kroy Biermann consistently abused him.
Whimper isn’t the only lineman struggling to keep his quarterback clean, and he’s also not the only reminder this season that, when it comes to the offensive line, the dropoff from a starter to a backup can often be a precipitous fall.
The Dolphins are aware of that. When Jake Long missed the majority of Week 14’s Eagles game with a back injury, Miami had to plug in Nate Garner to replace him. That’s the equivalent of having a reservation at the French Laundry and ending up at the McDonald’s drive-thru instead. In less than one game, Garner gave up four sacks, getting beaten to the outside routinely.
|Sacks Allowed Leaders, through Week 15, 2011|
The Chargers have seen it happen too. If you are looking for an explanation for why San Diego is making their December surge, you have two options. You can credit it to the Norv Turner coaching philosophy, which appears to involve forgetting that the games in September count too, or you can look at left tackle, where Jared Gaither has finally stabilized a position that fell apart when Brandyn Dombrowski stepped in for the injured Marcus McNeill. Dombrowski gave up 3.5 sacks to Kamerion Wimberly in the Chargers' Week 10 loss to the Raiders, then gave up two more in a Week 12 loss to the Broncos.
But the award for the worst game of pass protection this season goes to Bears tackle Lance Louis. Louis has actually been a solid find for the Bears this year -- he’s generally an average pass protector and has given some stability to a position that has been a problem spot in Chicago for several years.
Through 12 weeks, Louis had given up only one sack. In Week 13’s game against the Chiefs, Louis seemed to lose any feel for the position. His footwork, hand placement and confidence all seemed to disappear at the same time as the Chiefs abused him for 5.5 sacks in just three quarters. Since then, Louis has regained his feel for blocking -- he’s allowed two more sacks in the three weeks that followed. His nightmare in Week 13 is a reminder of how tough the job of an offensive tackle is -- you can be cruising for 10 weeks and then all of the sudden you’re getting embarrassed regularly.
It was mentioned in Sunday’s Audibles, and it’s worth mentioning again that the Redskins truly screwed things up on a first quarter pass on Sunday. That’s the only charitable explanation, as it’s beyond belief that any offensive coordinator would design a simple dropback where Jason Pierre-Paul is left unblocked. Pierre-Paul was very accepting of his gift, as he beelined to Rex Grossman for an easy 1.8-second sack.
It was impossible to assign blame for the sack, as it’s hard to tell who screwed up their assignment. Should the tackle have picked him up, or were they asking a running back to come across the formation to block him? Rest assured, though, that someone screwed up.
As a pass rusher, there are few plays more enjoyable than a late-game fourth-and-really-long. Your opponent is going for it because they have nothing to lose, and you know that the quarterback has to give his receivers time to get downfield. So as a pass rusher, it’s clear that the quarterback will be taking a deep drop, and you know that it’s absolutely, positively, going to be a pass.
When you add Tim Tebow to that mix with his running ability, you can get a crazy play like the one that effectively finished Sunday’s loss to the Patriots. Facing a fourth-and-17 with just over two minutes to go, Tebow dropped back. When the Patriots’ pass rush got to him a little quicker than he had hoped, he scrambled further back to try to buy some more time, and he kept drifting further and further back in a search for a window to throw. Eventually, Rob Ninkovich tripped him up 9.1 seconds after the snap, 28 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
Tebow’s sack was the second-longest of the season in seconds (behind a 10-second Brad Smith wide receiver reverse pass attempt). It was the longest sack of the season in terms of yards lost, easily topping the 20-yard loss by Cam Newton on a Dwight Freeney sack in Week 12.
Nate Clements' well-timed blitz enabled him to wrap up Kellen Clemens just 1.7 seconds after the snap, but to be fair, Elvis Dumervill’s hit on Tom Brady was just as impressive. It came 1.8 seconds after the snap, and it’s amazing Brady got up immediately afterwards, as Dumervill drilled him at full speed. It’s hard to say what went wrong on the Pats’ sack, but it appeared guard Brian Waters was trying to pull outside to molly block Dumervill. If that was the case, it’s a play call the Patriots should never attempt again.
13 comments, Last at 24 Dec 2011, 3:57am by dmstorm22