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11 Nov 2011

Under Pressure: Who's Getting Beat?

by J.J. Cooper

Besides wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, the Arizona Cardinals haven’t had much consistency on offense. They’ve gone from Kurt Warner to John Skelton and Max Hall to Kevin Kolb at quarterback, and they’ve tried a multitude of running backs as well.

But whoever is lined up under center, the Cardinals quarterback can count on one thing: that he’s going to have to worry about tackle Levi Brown’s pass protection. Since starting this sack project in 2009, Brown has consistently ranked among the worst in football in sacks allowed. By my count (which may be slightly different from the count of the FO game charting project) he gave up 7.5 sacks as the team’s right tackle in 2009. Left tackle Mike Gandy wasn’t much better, so it wasn’t that shocking that the Cardinals let Gandy leave. What was stunning was Arizona’s decision to move Brown, who had struggled at right tackle, to left tackle to replace Gandy.

Brown gave up 10 sacks in 2010. He’s on pace to blow those numbers away this year with 8.5 sacks allowed in only eight games. Brown’s problems all seem to stem from his slow feet. Brown has been beaten to the edge by speed rushes on five of his 8.5 sacks allowed. Another sack came when Brown overplayed to the outside, allowing a wide open lane for Charles Johnson to cut back inside.

A word of caution with all of these numbers: as Ben Muth has pointed out in Word of Muth, assigning blame along the offensive line is sometimes easy, often hard and sometimes impossible. All of this is done to the best that can be determined, and when there is a significant question of who was responsible for the sack, or if it does not appear to be a sack that was the responsibility of a blocker, it’s listed as a quarterback/play call sack.

There is one other left tackle that shares Brown’s shaky protection crown. Rams left tackle Rodger Saffold was a revelation last year as a rookie. He quickly moved 2009 first-rounder Jason Smith to right tackle, even though Smith was a top-10 pick, because he showed he had better pass blocking skills. It’s all fallen apart for Saffold this year, though. By my count, he gave up only two sacks last year, but he’s tied for the league lead this year. Saffold’s problems, in many ways, appear to be assignment-related more than any physical problems. On 3.5 of his 8.5 sacks, Saffold struggled to hand off or pick up a looping or stunting pass rusher.

The collapse of the Rams’ line overall is puzzling. They played well last year, and Steve Loney is back for his fourth consecutive year as the team’s offensive line coach. The Rams have benched Smith and center Jason Brown at different times this year as they try to fix a team that is 26th in the league in sack rate and 25th in adjusted line yards.

At this point, any Cardinals fan who pays any attention is probably aware of Brown's noticeable limitations. In Detroit, it may be noticed a little less that left tackle Jeff Backus is having significant problems in pass protection as well. Unlike Brown and his feet of stone, Backus appears to have trouble with technique. On two of his sacks he gave an initial punch but lost the hand battle and failed to lock up his man. On another sack he was caught leaning forward with his head down while trying to block Jared Allen, with results that you would expect. On two more, he was simply bulled right back into the quarterback.

Here are the other blockers who have been charged with four or more sacks this season.

Sacks Allowed, 2011
Player Team Sacks Allowed
Levi Brown ARI 8.5
Rodger Saffold STL 8.5
Jeff Backus DET 7
James Carpenter SEA 6
Guy Whimper JAC 6
Tyson Clabo ATL 5
Bryant McKinnie BAL 5
Will Rackley JAC 4.5
Joe Staley SF 4.5
Zane Beadles DEN 4
Wayne Hunter NYJ 4
Tryon Smith DAL 4
Jonathan Scott PIT 4
Jamaal Brown WAS 4
Jake Long MIA 4
J'Marcus Webb CHI 4
Orlando Franklin DEN 4
Marshall Newhouse GB 4

On to the notable sacks of the week.

LONG SACK OF THE WEEK

Matt Cassel was on the run a lot on Sunday. The Dolphins took a page out of the Saints playbook and sent scores of six- and seven-man blitzes to keep Cassel from ever getting comfortable in the pocket.

Cassel did show some mobility. He scrambled nine times for 38 yards. But there were a pair of scrambles where he simply ran out of space. On the longest sack of the week, Cassel was hit by Cameron Wake at 3.5 seconds from the snap, after Wake had beaten right tackle Barry Richardson, but he managed to get free. He bought some more time, but failed to get rid of the ball before Jared Odrick ran him down 7.0 seconds after the snap. Cassel also endured the second-longest sack of the week as he took off to run but didn’t get past the line of scrimmage on a sack that took 6.5 seconds.

SHORT SACK OF THE WEEK

If not for Ronde Barber’s amazing sack two weeks ago, fill-in guard Joe Hawley would have a unwanted crown. Hawley let the Colts’ Philip Wheeler fly right by him for the second-fastest sack of the season. Wheeler pulled down Matt Ryan only 1.4 seconds after the snap.

Cassel’s rough day didn’t just produce long sacks. Tyrone Culver shot through unblocked to sack him in just 1.6 seconds as the Dolphins sent seven men while the Chiefs kept only six in to block. That was one of three sacks this week where the Dolphins rushed seven. Before this week, Miami had picked up only one sack all season on a seven-man rush.

Posted by: J.J. Cooper on 11 Nov 2011

14 comments, Last at 03 Jun 2012, 2:01am by thesmel

Comments

1
by Mr. X (not verified) :: Fri, 11/11/2011 - 3:07pm

Newhouse's numbers may go up this week after facing Jared Allen again. I hope not, but one has to be a realist.

2
by Led :: Fri, 11/11/2011 - 4:12pm

Jake Long, by reputation, is supposed be one of the best 1 or 2 left tackles in the NFL, but I'm not sure his performance the last couple years bears that out.

3
by Sifter :: Fri, 11/11/2011 - 4:52pm

From what I saw he was good last year, but this year, yeah there's something wrong with him, he's definitely come back to the field.

5
by Ben Muth :: Fri, 11/11/2011 - 5:35pm

Something to consider is the scheme they play in. For instance Carpenter's 6 sacks in Seattle is really bad, because it's clear they're calling protections to hide him as much as possible. They are constantly giving him RB and TE help or just having him block down on a DT while Zach Miller is left one one one with the DE.

Contrast that with the Dolphins game I just watched (it was the KC game). Long was one on one pretty much the whole game. He didn't get any real help from a guard or TE, and got a chip only if the back was realeasing that way anyway. Considering he was blocking Hali, it was one of the better games I've seen from an OT the past two years at FO.

8
by Dr. Mooch :: Sat, 11/12/2011 - 3:48am

And Moore is really not helping his blockers any.

13
by Dave_P (not verified) :: Mon, 11/21/2011 - 5:25am

I think Moore is actually helping the line, and specifically Jake Long, more than Henne was. Henne has a tendency to get to the back of his dropback and stay there. This is a problem because QBs are taught to step up into the pocket in order to avoid the edge rushers. And tackles are taught to push rushers upfield in order to keep them away from the QB stepping into the pocket.

So when Henne would sit way back in the pocket he was vulnerable to end rushers. I think his is a big reason why Long gave up a few sacks early in the season. Moore seems to be better at stepping up into the pocket. And he seems a little more mobile overall than Henne, perhaps having more pocket awareness too. I think that is a reason why the offense is playing better.

4
by zenbitz :: Fri, 11/11/2011 - 5:10pm

Stunned that Anthony Davis doesn't make this list. Are these guys mostly tackles or is there a mix of guards as well.

6
by Arkaein :: Fri, 11/11/2011 - 5:46pm

This is interesting, but I'd really like to see the average sack time, or at least the number of short, medium, and long sacks given up by each player.

In particular, GB has given up a fairly high number of sacks this year, but I don't think that many have been short sacks, or long yardage sacks. A lot have been because Rodgers would rather hold the ball, scramble, and possibly take a short loss of yardage than risk a throw into coverage.

Is there any chance that the short/medium/long sack percentages could ever be added to the Offensive Lines stats page?

9
by Flounder :: Sun, 11/13/2011 - 3:08pm

GB actually hasn't given up that many sacks. From a couple recent Bob McGinn articles:

"We know Rodgers won't rattle. He isn't running into sacks or holding the ball too long, as he often did in 2008-'09. His eyes will remain downfield.

...

Given the fact left tackle Chad Clifton played just 4¼ games, the offensive line has pass-blocked adequately. Contrast its 9½ sacks to mid-2009, when the toll was 20½.

Counting sacks, knockdowns and hurries, the line has been responsible for just 45½, its lowest midyear total since 2004. It reflects marked improvement from mid-2010 (61½) and mid-2009 (86)."

and

"Marshall Newhouse has allowed the most sacks (four) and the most pressures (14½). Rodgers is next in sack responsibility with 3½, which is down from 5½ in '10 and way down from 10 at this point in '09. Neither Chad Clifton (five games) nor Bryan Bulaga has allowed a sack, but Scott Wells has allowed the fewest pressures (two)."

7
by TomC :: Fri, 11/11/2011 - 6:16pm

I think Marcus McNeil's backup (Dombrowski?) gave up 4 just last night.

Is it so hard for a coaching staff to identify what's wrong and give a guy help? As Rivers was getting killed in the 2nd quarter, Mayock said something along the lines of "they're going to have to regroup at halftime and start giving Dombrowksi TE help and chipping with the backs." Why wait until halftime? Why even wait until the first sack? If you know your LT is a liability, why not proactively give him some help.

It's not just the Chargers---hell, it took Mike Martz six games last year to figure it out, then he forgot it again and it took another five games this year.

10
by ScottyB (not verified) :: Sun, 11/13/2011 - 5:34pm

Hunter was eaten alive in the first few weeks, especially against Ware. But he has been much better lately (at least to my untrained eye).

11
by EasyLikeSundayMorning (not verified) :: Tue, 11/15/2011 - 4:41pm

I'm genuinely surprised that Jonathan Scott is the only Steeler on this list. Maybe, because of injuries, no one else has played enough to make the list.

12
by Intropy :: Tue, 11/15/2011 - 6:13pm

But Scott himself has been injured and isn't even starting anymore. He really had to earn that spot.

14
by thesmel (not verified) :: Sun, 06/03/2012 - 2:01am

Your Wrong about Levi Brown, The Cardinals were last in rush attempts and rush yardage 3 of the last 5 years, Warner played a put pressure on the defense- style of offense, which kept maximum pressure on Levi Brown and the oline. So Levi Brown took the cardinals to their first SB and another playoffs- under the worse possible circumstance for a LT. IMO