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.
19 Oct 2012
by J.J. Cooper
We’ve written about the struggles of the Cardinals’ offensive line before. This is not a new topic for Under Pressure. But now that we’re six weeks into the season, there’s enough of a sample size to take a look at who has allowed the most sacks.
You won’t be surprised to find a Cardinals starter at the top of the list. Cardinals right tackle Bobby Massie has given up 8.5 sacks in six games, proving that, as expected, a fourth-round rookie is going to have a little trouble handling pass rushers. And Massie can’t blame his troubles on a quarterback who holds the ball too long -- none of his sacks have taken longer than three seconds.
Things aren't any better for Arizona on the other side of the line. D’Anthony Batiste is second-worst in the league with seven sacks allowed. Batiste is the definition of an NFL journeyman -- the undrafted tackle has played for six teams in his eight seasons. Batiste also can’t blame Kevin Kolb -- 6.5 of his 7 sacks allowed have occurred in 2.6 seconds or less.
Here’s a look at the "top" 20 linemen in sacks allowed through six weeks. If a sack is clearly a fault of the quarterback holding the ball -- generally sacks that occur in more than 3.5 seconds -- it is not assigned to a blocker but is instead charted as a coverage sack. The standard disclaimer applies: blame is assigned as can best be determined from several views of each play. If the person to blame can’t be determined with a reasonable degree of confidence, the sack is not assigned to any one player.
John Abraham spent a lot of time in the Raiders’ backfield Sunday. He finished with three sacks, which is his third-highest single game sack total. Abraham’s first sack was a thing of beauty. He beat right tackle Willie Smith to the inside for a lightning-quick 1.9-second sack. Next, he blew past left tackle Jared Veldheer to the outside for a 2.8-second sack.
But his third sack was really all about Vance Walker’s work, Abraham just got to claim the credit. Walker was lined up to Abraham’s inside at defensive tackle. At the snap he got great leverage on right guard Alex Parsons and quickly started driving him into the backfield. When he got close to quarterback Carson Palmer, Walker simply threw Parsons into the Raiders quarterback, knocking Palmer to the ground. It was as impressive a display of strength as you will see. Once he hit the ground, Palmer could technically still get up; Walker may have thrown an offensive linemen at him, but he never actually touched Palmer with his own hands. Abraham was well-blocked on the play, but a second later he ran by and touched Palmer for the easy sack.
Jets fans got used to getting mad at right tackle Wayne Hunter’s blocking foibles, and it’s fair to say that no Jets fan outside of Hunter’s immediate family was all that disappointed to see him leave town. But with the Rams, Hunter has been surprisingly adequate ... until this week.
On one play against the Dolphins, Hunter completely whiffed. The Dolphins brought a pair of linebackers up to the line in the A-gaps, tipping off what appeared to be an X-blitz where one linebacker hits an A gap and the other follows right behind him. It’s a tough pickup for offensive linemen and running backs, and it requires that everyone executes their blocking assignment properly.
The Dolphins ended up only blitzing one linebacker, so the job of picking up the blitz should have been easier. No one remembered to tell Hunter. It's hard to say if he was looking for the other linebacker or just got confused, Hunter ended up blocking no one, and let defensive end Oliver Vernon run right by him for a 1.4-second sack.
Maybe Hunter is returning to expected form. He also showed terrible hand usage on the Rams’ crucial third-and-4 with 37 seconds left to go in the game. The 6-foot-2 Vernon was able to control Hunter because he won the hand battle and delivered an excellent push to Hunter’s chest. Hunter failed to grab Vernon with either hand. So Vernon drove Hunter back into Sam Bradford, then slid off of him to the inside for the sack.
That sack cost the Rams three yards and led coach Jeff Fisher to decide on a puzzling 66-yard field goal attempt instead of risking losing the ball on downs on fourth-and-7. That field goal missed wide left, and handed the Rams a costly loss.
It was only a matter of time before Kolb was going to be injured with the struggles of Cardinals’ tackles Batiste and Massie. But there was a sack last Sunday that could not be blamed on the line: Blame the play call instead.
Arizona tried to run a flea-flicker, but it didn’t fool the Bills safeties. Eventually the Cardinals did have a wide receiver come open, but by that time Kolb had rolled to his right, and the receiver was all the way across the field. So Kolb instead tucked and ran, and he was nabbed at the line of scrimmage by linebacker Nick Barnett, 7.5 seconds after the snap.
Since 2009, there had only been four sacks where the defense rushed eight players. After this week, there are five. The Rams nabbed Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill with an eight-man rush.
If suspended Rams’ defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was coaching, the eight-man blitz would be just another part of his all-out assault. One of the previous four eight-man rush sacks came on a Williams’ all-out Cover Zero blitz against the Rams’ Bradford in 2010.
Instead, this was the safest eight-man rush you will ever seen. The Rams drew the play up as a simple, safe five-man rush -- they were trying to generate pressure, but without sending the house. Miami’s decisions in protection ended up turning it into an eight-man rush. The Dolphins kept a tight end in to block linebacker Rocky McIntosh. Seeing that, free safety Quintin Mikell took off on a blitz from nine yards behind the line of scrimmage. Linebackers James Laurinaitis and Jo-Lonn Dunbar had man coverage responsibilities for the backs, but when Reggie Bush stayed in (to block Mikell) and fullback Jorvorskie Lane initially got stuck behind guard Richie Incognito, it freed Laurinaitis and Dunbar to blitz. So what had begun as a five-man rush was now an eight-man rush -- one more than the Dolphins could block.
Miami had gone max protect because the Dolphins were sending both wideouts on deep routes. Davon Bess was trying to get safety Craig Dahl to come up to cover his 18-yard square out, while Brian Hartline tried to get behind Dahl 30 yards downfield. To Dahl’s credit, he stayed over the top of both, taking away the deep pass.
With good coverage on both Bess and Hartline, there wasn’t really anywhere for Tannehill to throw the ball when he hit his back foot on the seven-step drop. He then checked to dump the ball to his checkoff Lane, but because Lane was still extricating himself from running into the back of Incognitio, that wasn’t an option either.
At this point, Tannehill was completely screwed. If he had kept his eyes on Lane, he would have been able to dump the ball off to his fullback a couple of tenths of a second later, just before the unblocked Dunbar came free on his delayed blitz. But it’s not really Tannehill’s fault that he had already run through his progressions and found Lane stuck in the backfield when he looked for his checkdown. He turned his eyes back downfield hoping that Bess or Hartline was open. By that point Dunbar was ready to turn him into a divot in the Sun Life Stadium turf, and Tannehill has become an answer to an extremely obscure triva question --he’s only the third quarterback since 2009 to succumb to an eight-man rush. Bradford and former Dolphin Chad Henne (two apiece) can welcome him to the club.
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