Short-yardage passing had a good year, except at the end of the Super Bowl. We look at the return of quarterback runs, the rise in pass-happy strategy, and 2014 success rates for offense and defense.
21 Sep 2012
by J.J. Cooper
Yes, Bears left tackle J’Marcus Webb is one of the worst left tackles in the league. But the next time Jay Cutler wants to let rip at Webb’s poor pass protection, Webb could retort with "Hey Jay, could you get rid of the ball a little quicker?"
Cutler was sacked seven times in 34 dropbacks on last Thursday, which just adds to the narrative that the Bears can’t protect him. He also threw four interceptions, which adds to the narrative that when he’s not protected, he doesn’t protect the ball.
But in rewatching the Packers’ easy win, one thing was clear: The longer Cutler held the ball, the worse things became for the Bears.
Of Cutler’s seven sacks, five came when he held the ball for three seconds or longer. The sacks were only part of the problem. When he held the ball for three seconds or longer and managed to not get sacked, Cutler was only 3-of-10 for 33 yards and two interceptions. If you add in the yards he lost on sacks, Cutler and the Bears accounted for one net yard and two turnovers in 16 dropbacks where Cutler held the ball.
When Cutler tried to create something, it just made things worse. Of the eight plays where Cutler held the ball for four seconds or longer, he threw two interceptions, was sacked three times, and completed one-of-four passes for 15 yards.
Cutler wasn’t great when he got rid of the ball in a more reasonable amount of time -- he was 8-of-17 for 93 yards with two interceptions and two sacks on pass plays of less than three seconds. But since he's playing in front of a pretty porous offensive line, Cutler should remember that holding the ball may be counterproductive.
Peyton Manning is upset with questions about his arm strength. Those questions are going to pop up when you throw three interceptions in a quarter just two games into a comeback from a neck injury that was considered career-threatening.
Others can decide whether Manning’s arm is a problem or not, but in watching the Broncos’ loss to the Falcons on Monday night, there was another Manning problem that stood out: He has become human when it comes to getting sacked.
When Manning was a Colt, there was generally only one way to sack Manning -- get someone into the backfield almost instantly. If Manning had time to set his feet, he was generally going to get rid of the ball before anyone took him to the ground.
Under Pressure has been logging the time of every sack since 2009. In 2009 and 2010, before his injury, Manning had four long sacks (3.0 seconds or more) in 1,276 dropbacks. That's one long sack every 319 dropbacks. Manning only had one additional sack that took more than 2.6 seconds. The rest of Mannings’ sacks (21, to be precise) over those two years took 2.6 seconds or less. No other NFL quarterback came close to matching Manning’s ability to avoid long sacks.
Against the Falcons, all of a sudden Manning was just a normal quarterback. He was prone to holding the ball too long looking to make a play. There was one "normal" Manning sack, where William Moore came unblocked off the edge and nailed Manning 2.2 seconds after the snap. But Manning’s other two sacks were both long sacks. One took 3.0 seconds and the other took 3.2 seconds, and in both cases Manning stepped up into pressure. Manning recorded two long sacks in 40 dropbacks, one more than he had in all of 2010.
As the Seahawks got ready to line up for a third-and-6 in the fourth quarter of their win over the Cowboys, Anthony Spencer was sprinting off the field. But as he reached the sideline, coaches yelled to tell him he was supposed to be on the field, so he scurried back onto the turf.
When the ball was snapped, Spencer was a long way from his designated position at defensive end. The Cowboys were in a nickel package with a four-man front, and Spencer was still outside the numbers.
It ended up being a great advantage for Spencer. If the Seahawks had been running his way, rolling Russell Wilson away from him, or doing almost anything else, Spencer’s furious dash onto the field would have been a disadvantage. But in this one case, it gave him a free run at the quarterback. Right tackle Breno Giacomini blocked down, helping out the right guard because he didn’t see anyone lined up on his outside. Running back Leon Washington didn’t notice Spencer either until it was too late. In essence, Spencer managed to accidentally call a 250-pound cornerback blitz. It wouldn’t work often, but it worked this time.
The costliest play of the second week of the 2012 season was Brian Orakpo’s first and last sack of the season. Orakpo clearly anticipated the snap count, taking a step before anyone else on either side of the line had started to come out of their stance.
But as he sacked Bradford, Orakpo tore a pectoral muscle which ended his season. On the same play, Saffold sprained his MCL ligament in one of his knees, which will sideline him for several weeks.
Andrew Luck learned a valuable rookie lesson: In the NFL, running backwards will rarely work to buy time against NFL defensive linemen.
On third-and-5 late in the Colts win over the Vikings, defensive end Brian Robison beat Colts right tackle Jeff Linkebach. Linkenbach stayed with Robison long enough to drive him to the ground at Luck’s feet. So, while the pocket was ruined, Luck was able to scramble away. So far, so good. But with Everson Griffen beating Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo, Luck scrambled backward, eventually running directly away from the line of scrimmage. As you would expect, nothing good came from running with his back to his receivers, and Griffen caught up to Luck after a 22-yard loss. That 22-yard loss is tied for the second-longest sack in the NFL since 2009. The only longer sack was a 28-yard loss Kurt Warner took against the Colts back in 2009 -- that one made some sense, as Warner’s loss came on a fourth-and-15 late in the game, so he had little choice but to try to create something.
Maybe there is something about rookies. The other 22-yard sack (and the only other sack longer than 20 yards since this project was started in 2009) came when the Saints sacked Sam Bradford in Week 14 of his rookie season. But in that case, the 22-yard loss came because Bradford fumbled, the ball rolled backwards, and Steven Jackson had to chase it down.
D’Qwell Jackson picked up three sacks against the Bengals on Sunday, just a half sack off his career high in sacks for a season. From afar, you might think that Jackson developed a new pass-rushing move, or the Browns have decided to start blitzing the middle linebacker more often. It’s nothing of the sort. All three of Jackson’s sacks came on plays where he was in coverage. In each case, when Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton found no one open, he decided to scramble. In each case, Jackson came up from his zone and corralled Dalton before he got back to the line of scrimmage.
It was a good day for Jackson, but don’t think of picking him up in your fantasy league just because of his trifecta.
Doug Martin has been the primary Buccaneers ball carrier for the first two weeks, but it would appear that there was one pass play where he made a rookie mistake Sunday against the Giants. On a second-and-10, the Giants sent a pair of blitzers. Fullback Erik Lorig slid outside to pick off the blitzer coming off the edge, but Martin didn’t pick up Chase Blackburn flying up the middle for an easy sack of Josh Freeman. It took only 1.6 seconds.
One of Jackson’s three sacks was easier than the others: early in the Bengals-Browns game, Dalton was given plenty of time by the Bengals’ offensive line. He found no one to throw to, and decided to try to run for it. Jackson rushed up, and when Dalton saw him, he just dove to the ground at the line of scrimmage. All Jackson had to do was touch him for a sack.
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