Ben Roethlisberger's ability to perform under a heavy pass rush remains critical to Pittsburgh's offensive success.
14 Sep 2012
by J.J. Cooper
Life as a left tackle is pretty rough.
Yes, it’s a well-paid rough life, but left tackles spend each week having to try to slow down some of the best athletes in the world, who get 30 to 40 chances to beat them for a sack. In baseball, if a hitter gets one hit in three tries (.333), he’s great. If a left tackle is regularly 28-for-30 (.933) on handling his pass-blocking assignment, he has to start wondering if he’s going to get replaced.
With 11:13 left in the third quarter against the Rams, Stafford lined up in shotgun on second-and-9. Defensive end Robert Quinn lined up across from Backus, flared out in a nine technique to get a good angle in case it was a pass play.
It was, and Backus quickly fired out with a kick step, trying to get to the corner before Quinn did. Backus might have gotten there, if not for one problem. Stafford took his shotgun snap, which already had placed him five yards behind the line of scrimmage, and proceeded to take another five-step drop.
A seven-step drop is a deep drop. If you are lined up in shotgun, you don’t have to make a significant drop afterward to get enough depth to throw. By taking a five-step drop from the shotgun, Stafford took away an offensive lineman’s option of driving a pass rusher beyond the quarterback.
Offensive tackles don’t prepare to protect quarterbacks on 11-step drops, which effectively is what Stafford took. Stafford ended up setting up almost 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Quinn didn’t have to worry about cutting the corner on his way to the quarterback, he was able to simply take a slight angle to get to Stafford.
That was the only sack that Backus allowed in Week 1, and the only one the Lions allowed against the Rams. But really, it was Stafford who caused it.
J.J. Watt told Pro Football Talk this week that he learned the Dolphins’ snap counts by watching Hard Knocks, which helped him gets 1.5 sacks in Week 1. But Watt wasn’t the only lineman who appeared to figure out snap counts. John Abraham beat Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert for a sack and a forced fumble on a play where he either knew the snap count or made a hell of a guess. Abraham was across the line of scrimmage before most of the Chiefs’ linemen had even gotten out of their stance. Albert never had a chance, as Abraham beat him to the outside for a forced fumble the Falcons recovered. On the next play, the Falcons scored to go up 34-17, putting the game away.
Pittsburgh drafted a pair of offensive linemen in the top two rounds and brought in Todd Haley as the new offensive coordinator. Part of the reason for the changes was to attempt to keep Ben Roethlisberger from being black and blue in the black and yellow by December.
But just like usual, Roethlisberger ended up on the ground a lot in the season opener.
The Steelers have a league-worst five sacks and the third-worst sack rate (11.1 percent) in the league. And just like they have over the last seven years, the Steelers’ leaky offensive line and Roethlisberger’s tendency to hang on to the ball to try to make things happen are the root of the problem.
Of the Steelers five sacks, all were either short sacks (under 2.5 seconds) or long sacks (3.0 seconds or more).
Three of the sacks were clearly the line's fault; all three took 2.3 seconds or less. Doug Legursky, playing right guard as an injury replacement for Ramon Foster (eye injury) gave up 1.5 of those three sacks. Mike Adams, this year’s second-round pick, came in at right tackle to replace the injured Marcus Gilbert (knee injury) and gave up one himself when Von Miller dipped his shoulders and flew by him on a speed rush.
Roethlisberger also had a pair of sacks that were set up by his desire to wait just a little bit longer to try to make a play. He was sacked in 3.7 and 4.6 seconds on those two plays. In Roethlisberger’s defense, those two sacks came on a third-and-13 and a fourth-and-15 (the last play of the game), so Roethlisberger’s sacks cost a little bit of yardage and added to the sack stats, but they didn’t really kill any Steelers drives.
Figuring out the snap count may have helped Watt out, but one of his 1.5 sacks was a freebie. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill fell down pulling back from center. All Watt had to do was win the race to first touch Tannehill. He won the race, so maybe knowing the snap count helped him after all.
Cam Newton’s running ability gets him out of some sacks, it also ensures that he’ll pick up some long sacks, as it did this week.
When the Buccaneers sent a blitz up the middle, Newton decided to break outside and try to outrun the rush. It didn’t work, and Ronde Barber came up to corral him two yards short of the line of scrimmage, 7.1 seconds after the snap.
Newton also added a 4.1-second sack to his total.
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