An erratic but improving offensive line played a big part in Denver's championship win.
30 Jan 2012
by J.J. Cooper
Archie Manning taught his boys well.
Unable to make it to the Super Bowl himself -- he never led a team to a winning record -- Manning has watched sons Peyton and Eli Manning both win Super Bowls, with Eli trying on Sunday to win the third Manning Super Bowl title.
You can credit good genes, good coaching, or a lot of luck. But along the way, he appears to have instilled in his sons the need to make sure they get rid of the ball quickly.
When Archie Manning played behind some awful lines, he was sacked a lot. His 396 sacks are the 11th most in NFL history. The sins of the father have not been passed on to the sons, as both of his children are among the league’s best at avoiding sacks.
For a guy who makes a whole lot of throws behind a less-than-imposing offensive line, Eli Manning doesn’t get his jersey very dirty. His career sack rate of 4.75 percent is the 15th best in NFL history. This year, the Giants' adjusted sack rate of 5.1 percent was fifth-best in the league. Much of that can be credited to Manning, as he very rarely holds the ball long enough to pick up a long sack. Manning didn’t record a sack all year that took longer than 3.6 seconds. In the three years that Under Pressure has timed sacks, he has seven sacks of longer than 3.6 seconds. In comparison, Tom Brady had eight sacks this year that took 3.6 seconds or longer and 16 over the past three years.
Of course Eli has nothing on his brother. Peyton’s 3.10 percent sack rate is the second-best in NFL history, behind only journeyman Steve Walsh. Manning has two sacks that took longer than 3.6 seconds in his last two healthy seasons.
That doesn’t mean that the Patriots won’t have chances to put Manning on the ground though. He gets rid of the ball, but he also plays in front of a relatively porous offensive line. David Diehl was challenged in pass protection earlier this year, when he was a guard. Asked to move back to left tackle when Will Beatty was lost for the season in Week 10, Diehl is often overmatched at the more demanding position. Diehl gave up a team-high 6.5 sacks during the regular season. He gave up another two in NFC playoffs.
|Regular Season Sacks Allowed, Patriots and Giants|
|New England Patriots||New York Giants|
|Player||Sacks Allowed||Player||Sacks Allowed|
|QB/Play Call*||13||David Diehl||6.5|
|Nate Solder||5.5||Kareem McKenzie||5.5|
|Brian Waters||4||QB/Play Call||4|
|Matt Light||3||Chris Snee||3.5|
|Sebastian Vollmer||3||Will Beatty||2.5|
|Logan Mankins||2.5||Kevin Boothe||2|
|Rob Gronkowski||1||David Baas||1.5|
|Thomas Welch||1||Ahmad Bradshaw||1|
|Dan Connolly||0.5||Mitch Petrus||1|
|*If you've followed the FO game charting project, you'll see that the Under Pressure methods for determining sack responsibility are a little different. This category generally incorporates sacks which the game charting project would mark "Coverage Sack," "Rusher Untouched," or "Failed Scramble."|
Unlike many struggling left tackles, speed hasn’t been Diehl’s biggest problem. Diehl is just as likely to overplay to the outside, leaving him vulnerable to being beaten to the inside. Three of his sacks have come when he has been beaten to the inside, and another one came when he was bull rushed back into the quarterback. That’s bad news for Manning, because a pass rusher beating a tackle through the B gap is both tougher to dodge (you can’t step up) and a quicker path to the quarterback.
Over on the other side of the line, right tackle Kareem McKenzie gave up 5.5 sacks himself. Like most tackles, McKenzie’s problem is usually speed rushers —- four of his sacks have come by just being too slow to beat his man to the corner.
The Patriots have a better offensive line than the Giants, but they will also be facing a much better pass rush. It’s hard to pick any one offensive lineman out as a weak link among the Patriots’ front five, although rookie Nate Solder is arguably the group’s least consistent member. Solder has given up Tom Brady’s only sack in two playoff games.
On the subject of the playoffs, here’s the rundown of all the playoff sack numbers.
|Player||Team||Total Sacks||Median Sack Time||Avg. Sack Time||Sack Rate|
Ravens fans can’t complain much about how Joe Flacco played during the playoffs, but at times he seemed to forget any idea of pocket awareness. That happened a couple of times early in the Patriots’ game, but it was most obvious on a third-quarter snap against the Texans. Flacco held the ball, and held it, and kept holding it. He was eventually pulled down by Brooks Reed 6.8 seconds after the snap.
Maybe it’s because these are the best teams in the NFL, or maybe it’s just a fluke, but there hasn’t been a very quick sack at any point in these playoffs. There have not been any sacks under two seconds, and only three that came in at two seconds flat. Lions’ defensive end Cliff Avril came unblocked when the Saints shifted their line the wrong way, and Saints defensive back Malcolm Jenkins was untouched on his way to 49ers quarterback Alex Smith. The most impressive of the three sacks was Osi Umenyiora’s: he beat Chad Clifton with an inside move and managed to rip the ball away from Aaron Rodgers in the process.
With 266 of the 267 games this season in the book, it’s also time to honor the sacks of the year.
In logging over 3,000 sacks over the past three years, there has never been a sack that comes close to matching the speed of Ronde Barber’s sack of Jay Cutler in Week 7. Barber timed the snap perfectly and came unblocked through an A gap. The tailback asked to block him never had a chance as Barber hit Cutler as he was backing away from center, 0.3 seconds after the snap. Barring capturing the game and timing frames, it’s hard to imagine we’ll ever see a faster sack -— it’s hard to press the plunger on the stopwatch quicker than that. The second-quickest sack of the season took a full second longer.
And in case you are wondering, none of Troy Polamalu’s timed leaps on goal-line plays came on pass plays.
Brad Smith is a wide receiver who used to play quarterback in college, so his 10-second sack on a lateral that fell apart says more about a trick play that didn’t work than anything else.
Among quarterbacks, Tim Tebow holds the award. On a fourth-and-17 against the Patriots in Week 15, Tebow kept trying to buy time to find someone open by running further and further backwards. It didn’t work, and Tebow was finally pulled down 9.1 seconds after the snap. The 28-yard loss was the most distance lost on a sack all season.
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