How did New England find the right combination of offensive linemen this season, and where are Seattle's biggest weaknesses in pass protection?
04 Oct 2012
by J.J. Cooper
The Cardinals revamped their offensive line this offseason by installing rookie fourth-round right tackle Bobby Massie and turning to journeyman left tackle D’Anthony Batiste, who came into the season having played for six teams while making only four starts.
Until this week, the revamped line had managed to hold their own. But on Sunday, Massie found himself completely outmatched in his matchup against Cameron Wake. Wake has one of the quickest first steps in the game. On Sunday, Massie showed that he’s a little slower to get into his drop.
When Wake tried to bull rush or loop inside, he was ineffective as a pass rusher. But when he tried to beat Massie with his speed, he quickly found his way into the backfield, time and time again.
When the game was over, Wake had logged four-and-a-half sacks (all against Massie) and officially picked up five additional quarterback pressures. In going back and logging every Cardinals’ pass play, Wake actually either sacked, flushed, or pressured Kevin Kolb on 15 different pass plays. Every one of the five sacks Massie had a hand in allowing occurred in less than 2.7 seconds. Three of them took place in 2.3 seconds or less.
Being an NFL tackle is a rough life, but any offensive tackle who is failing on one of every four pass plays should be worried about his job security.
It was actually, somehow, even worse than it looked statistically. Once Wake picked up his second sack early in the second quarter, the Cardinals started using a back or tight end to chip him on key pass plays. From that point on, there were seven plays where the Cardinals chipped Wake. On another play, the Cardinals slanted the line Wake’s way so that right guard Adam Snyder was able to help Massie.
Wake isn’t a particularly powerful pass rusher, but Massie did appear to have a good understanding of leverage and setting his feet against bull rushes. Wake was never able to take advantage of Massie over-commiting to getting to the corner. But Massie is showing slow feet, a problem that was apparent again on Thursday night as Massie was worked by Chris Long on the outside speed rush.
The Cardinals still have a pair of games against Aldon Smith and the 49ers as well as a game against Clay Matthews and the Packers. Speed rushers will clearly take note of what Wake did, which means Massie better be working on getting quicker in the weeks ahead.
The replacement officials may have returned to calling Division III, high school, and Lingerie Football League games, but we were offered a reminder that even the actual officials can screw things up pretty impressively.
The mistake occurred on a third-and-12 early in the second quarter of the Broncos-Raiders game. Carson Palmer dropped back, but quickly saw that an unblocked defensive back was headed his way. Rather than take the sack, Palmer threw the ball away. It could have been flagged as intentional grounding, as Palmer was in the pocket and threw in a direction where there was no receiver, but no flag was thrown. Instead, the officials somehow ruled that Palmer was sacked by Chris Harris, even though Harris didn’t even hit him until after he had thrown the ball. The play wasn’t ruled a fumble either, the ball rolling around on the ground was simply ignored.
Somehow it ended up as an 11-yard sack against Palmer. Because of the situation, it didn’t affect much -- it just meant the Raiders lost a little yardage in the change of possession. But it is a reminder that all officials are fallible.
There are all kind of protection schemes to ensure five offensive linemen can figure out how to block defenders coming from a variety of levels and angles.
It’s safe to say that no protection scheme should ever leave a defensive tackle unblocked, but a miscommunication by the Chargers’ offensive line did exactly that on Sunday. With the Chiefs in a four-man front, San Diego forgot to block defensive tackle Ropati Pitoitua.
At the snap, left guard Tyronne Green blocked down, helping out the center. At the same time, left tackle Jared Gaither blocked out, picking up the defensive end, where he got help from a back. It would appear that Green made the mistake -- usually you don’t ask a running back to block Tamba Hali one-on-one, which would have happened if Gaither was blocking down. But it’s also possible that the Chargers’ line were all supposed to block their right gap, which means Gaither made the mistake.
Whoever it was that screwed up owes Philip Rivers an apology. Pitoitua came through unblocked, crunching Rivers under all 6-foot-8, 315 pounds of his frame, just 1.7 seconds after the snap.
The fastest sacks of the year always come through the A-gap (between the center and guard). If a blitzing linebacker or defensive back can time his rush perfectly, and they face a blocking scheme that asks a running back to pick them up, then there is sometimes nothing that anyone on the offense can do to stop a sack.
That’s exactly what happened to the Dolphins on Sunday. Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington timed his rush perfectly, hitting the line at full speed just after the snap. Fullback Jorvorskie Lane was supposed to pick up Washington, but by the time he got to Washington, Washington was already pulling quarterback Ryan Tannehill to the ground just 1.3 seconds after the snap. It is the fastest sack of the season up to this point.
Cam Newton is always going to have some of the longest sacks in the NFL because his legs allow him to buy time. Often that gives him a chance to check to another receiver or to take off and run, but every now and then that also means he picks up one of the longest sacks you’ll see.
Newton already had the longest sack in the NFL this year with a 7.1-second sack in Week 1. He topped that this week with a 7.9-second sack against the Falcons. This time Newton dropped back, got plenty of time, stepped up near the line of scrimmage, then ran parallel to the line of scrimmage trying to buy more time. It did buy him time, but not enough; linebacker Sean Weatherspoon tripped him up for no gain.
It was Newton’s fourth sack that has taken four or more seconds. He has an additional three sacks that came in 3.2 seconds or more. Considering he has only nine sacks in 116 dropbacks, the Panthers’ offensive line has done a pretty good job of keeping him upright.
5 comments, Last at 05 Oct 2012, 1:03pm by Dean