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?
25 Oct 2013
by J.J. Cooper
The Kansas City Chiefs defense leads the NFL in sacks (36), in Adjusted Sack Rate (12 percent), and is second in defensive DVOA. Tamba Hali and Justin Houston give the Chiefs a truly fearsome pass rush with Houston tied for second in the league with 10 sacks and Hali ranking fourth with nine sacks.
They’ve been very impressive this year, but if either ends up winning the sack crown, they may want to say a little thanks to their teammates in the secondary as well.
The Chiefs lead the league in Long Sacks (sacks that take 3.2 seconds or longer) with 12. Hali is tied for the lead among individuals with four long sacks, while Houston is tied for ninth with 2.5 long sacks. Robert Mathis, who has been a surprise with his league-leading 11.5 sacks, is the other co-leader along with Hali. That's somewhat surprising given how poor the Colts secondary played last season, but Vontae Davis and Darius Butler have played very well to this point.
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Now long sacks aren’t a bad thing -- it generally is indicative of pass rushers who don’t give up on a play because they are initially stuffed. But it also is fair to say that a 3.5-second sack has less to do with an excellent pass-rushing move than a two-second sack.
Looking among the team long sacks totals, Pittsburgh's numbers are frightening for the team’s future. The Steelers only have eight sacks all year -- five of them are long sacks where the opposing quarterback held the ball for longer than he should have.
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As mentioned earlier, Hali is fourth in the league with nine sacks. None came easier than one of the two he picked up against the Texans this week.
Hali is one of the league’s best pass rushers, but one of the advantages of being an outside linebacker is that if the offensive line guesses wrong with which way to shift its protection, you can end up with situations like the one the Texans found themselves on Sunday as they gave Hali a completely free run at quarterback Chase Keenum.
Hali’s other sack was a more traditional one -- Keenum held the ball a little too long during the two-minute drill, and Hali went the long way around right tackle Derek Newton and hit Keenum from behind.
Houston also picked up an easy sack this past weekend, but in his case, it was a matter of clever blitz design more than any mistake the Texans made.
Any time a team fakes a blitz, having a prospective rusher take a step or two forward before peeling back into coverage, it gives something up in coverage. But it can also make the coverage superfluous, because if you can get to the quarterback before he can throw, who cares who’s covering who?
The Chiefs lined up with an apparent overload blitz set against the right side of the Texans' protection. At the snap, Derrick Johnson, lined up head-up on Texans guard Brandon Brooks, took a step forward as if he was rushing the quarterback. That was enough to get Brooks to commit to him. Johnson then peeled out, buzzing underneath tight end Garrett Graham to take away Keenum’s potential dumpoff pass over the middle.
Brooks reacted reasonably quickly to the realization that the man he was going to block wasn’t there. But it wasn’t quick enough, as Houston ran right on by him. That forced Keenum to flee outside of the pocket, ruining the blocking angle for Newton, who was trying to block Hali. The result? A speedy 1.8-second sack shared between Hali and Houston.
Eagles quarterback Nick Foles did everything he could to find an open wide receiver, but all it got him was the longest sack of the week with an 8.5-second special that almost gave fans enough time to go grab a beer before the play was over.
Foles sat in the pocket for a while, rolled out to his right, bought some more time, and still found no one to throw to. Eventually Jarius Wynn and George Selvie wrapped him up for the fourth-longest sack of the year.
The Dolphins offensive tackles have been one of the big things standing between Miami and a winning record. Left tackle Jonathan Martin has been a poor replacement for departed free agent Jake Long, but even more disappointing has been the play of free-agent acquisition Tyson Clabo.
Clabo gave up two sacks to Mario Williams on Sunday, pushing him to 7.5 sacks allowed this year. Both were crucial fourth-quarter sacks that helped the Bills start their comeback.
But if Clabo is going to lose his job, and the acquisition of Bryant McKinnie from the Ravens this week indicates he might, the first sack he allowed to Williams might have been the clincher.
On a second-and-8, Clabo set too wide, leaving a wide-open invitation for Williams to beat him to the inside. It took only 1.7 seconds for Williams to fire off the snap and absolutely crush Ryan Tannehill.
McKinnie isn’t exactly a world beater, but he’s been better than Clabo this year.
There’s no real analysis needed for this next sack, but Seawhawks defensive tackle Tony McDaniel’s (#99) destruction of Cardinals tackle Eric Winston on this play is worth a look. After tossing a 300-pounder to the ground, it’s no surprise that McDaniel ends up doing the same to quarterback Carson Palmer.
13 comments, Last at 13 Dec 2013, 2:04am by Gavin Oscar