Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
27 Sep 2013
by J.J. Cooper
Some weeks, the offenses have the upper hand when it comes to pass protection. Other weeks, the defenses are leaving a whole lot of quarterbacks bloodied and bruised.
Week 3 was a bad week for quarterbacks. There were 100 sacks around the league, after an average of less than 80 sacks a week over the first two weeks of the season. But even more shocking than the total number of sacks was how many teams had pass-protection nightmares occur. There were pass-protection issues flaming up all over the league this past weekend.
Eight different teams had their quarterbacks sacked five or more times. (Congratulations Carson Palmer: with four sacks the Cardinals were not on the list -- at least for one week.) Four quarterbacks were sacked six or more times, led by EJ Manuel’s eight sacks and Eli Manning’s seven.
With that in mind, here’s a look at who is most to blame for the four teams that gave up six or more sacks.
Who is to blame: Manuel.
Manuel had only been sacked once in his first two games and had played pretty well. But for all his press foibles, Rex Ryan and the Jets defense still know how to confuse a quarterback.
Manuel was sacked eight time by the Jets, and four of them could be credited to Manuel’s confusion and his tendency to try to buy more time by running around. Four of the sacks came on plays where Manuel held the ball for 4.7 seconds or longer. Of the 10 longest sacks of the week, Manuel had four of them.
But some of the problems may also be play-design related. On one of the sacks, the Bills sent three receivers deep, all on the right side of the formation. When Manuel felt pressure, he scrambled to his left. To his credit he tried to keep his eyes downfield to look for a receiver, but there were no good options -- he could either throw all the way across the field or eat the ball. He chose to take the sack.
If you give up seven sacks, there are plenty of people to blame, but the biggest problem for the Giants was that left tackle Will Beatty was simply not up to the task of slowing down Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy.
Hardy picked up three sacks by beating Beatty in a variety of different ways. He showed off his speed to beat Beatty to the outside for a sack less than three minutes into the game. Now that he had established that he could win the race to the corner, he beat Beatty to the inside for his second sack, just a little over three minutes later. Hardy added the trifecta by starting upfield on a speed rush, then once Beatty had overcommitted to stopping that, cutting back inside of Beatty for the sack.
Along the way, Beatty was also partially responsible for a sack where Mario Addison bull-rushed Beatty into guard Kevin Boothe, freeing Kawann Short to pick up the sack. One game, three-and-a-half sacks allowed. Not a good day for Beatty.
It wasn’t a great day for right tackle Justin Pugh or right guard Chris Snee either. Pugh had a hand in three of the sacks. He was beaten to the outside by Thomas Davis while Charles Johnson beat Snee up the middle early in the game, forcing Manning to simply dive to the ground for protection. Pugh’s man -- Star Lotulelei -- picked up a sack when Manning simply stepped up into them. That one was really Manning’s fault. And Pugh had a hand in the final sack of the day as both he and Snee were beaten again. Pugh’s man (Johnson) was credited with the full sack because Snee grabbed and held his man (Hardy) to try to preserve his quarterback.
Who Is To Blame: Right tackle Lane Johnson.
Until this week, Johnson, the fourth pick in last spring’s draft out of Oklahoma, was having a nice and relatively smooth introduction to the NFL. Justin Houston ruined that.
Johnson had given up half a sack in Week 1 for his only blemish coming into last Thursday’s game. Houston beat him to the inside for a sack at the two-minute warning of the second quarter, followed it up by beating Johnson for a second sack on the next play. Then, in the final two minutes of the game, Houston beat Johnson with a speed rush for a third sack allowed.
The final tally could have been worse as Houston actually ended the night with 4.5 sacks, but one of those came on a play where Vick held the ball for 5.6 seconds and another came on a bad snap where Vick simply ran to the ball and fell on it.
Johnson’s off the hook for those two sacks.
Who Is To Blame: Jake Long.
Until this week, Bradford hadn’t been sacked this season. If you want to give the Rams front five a pass for one bad week, feel free.
The blame for the Rams six sacks allowed was somewhat spread around. By my best understanding (and remember the caveat that without knowing line calls, it’s impossible to ever be 100 percent certain about who to blame for sacks), Long was responsible for two of them, guard Chris Williams gave up another, running back Isaiah Pead gave up one, Harvey Dahl was dinged for one, and one was a play-call problem where Orlando Scandrick came in unblocked on a blitz.
The two Long gave up were very uncharacteristic for the left tackle. He allowed only 18.5 sacks over the previous four seasons. But this isn’t his first two-sack day: He was beaten for two sacks by the Falcons (John Abraham and Kroy Biermann) in Week 1 of 2009 and Julius Peppers beat him for two sacks in a 2010 game against the Bears.
When you play rock-paper-scissors, the problem is figuring out where you stop the analyzing. If the opponent played rock last time, will they try to play scissors this time, assuming you’re going to play paper to beat the rock? But since they know you know that, do they end up going to paper because you may play rock to beat scissors, so you go to scissors to beat the paper play? And so on.
There’s a certain similarity in how NFL teams disguise who’s rushing. Is that linebacker who jumped up into the A-gap to telegraph a blitz blitzing, or is he faking a blitz to then drop into a short zone?
Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David added a third wrinkle to that on Sunday. He jumped into the A-gap to seemingly telegraph an A-gap blitz. He fired off at the snap, but then he backpedaled. To the Patriots offensive line, he was a faker. He had faked a blitz, then was dropping into coverage.
But in reality, David was faking the fake of his fake. He faked a blitz, then faked dropping into coverage ... and then actually blitzed.
And here’s the crazy thing: It worked. By the time David had gotten around to actually rushing the quarterback, Patriots center Ryan Wendell had stopped focusing on him and was looking around for someone to block (with a four-man rush, there was no one else to block). David ran right by him for a surprisingly easy sack. Granted, it only worked because the Patriots called a pass play with a deep drop, but David managed to add a new aspect to the fake blitz.
On the first play of the Redskins-Lions game, the Lions went with an empty backfield. The Redskins responded with a six-man blitz that turned the first play of the game into a race. Could the Rams blitz get there before Matthew Stafford got rid of the ball by dumping it off to his hot receiver?
London Fletcher won the race. Coming unblocked, he hit Stafford just 1.6 seconds after the snap, about .2 seconds before Stafford could get rid of the ball to throw it at a wide-open tight end.
Win one for the defense.
There were plenty of long sacks this week, but none longer than Alex Smith’s extended scramble against the Eagles. Smith rolled to his right, reversed field to run back to his left, and was finally run down by Nate Allen 8.2 seconds after the snap.
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