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?
29 Nov 2013
by J.J. Cooper
Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon is having an excellent rookie season. He’s thrown 13 touchdowns against only four interceptions and ranks a middle-of-the-pack 18th in DYAR and DVOA. He’s one of the big reasons the Bucs are no longer known solely as a giant hot zone of MRSA.
But the Bucs quarterback does need to work on something -- when he gets in trouble in the pocket, it’s better to step up then to try to backpedal away from danger.
Glennon has generally tried to run away from danger. It hasn’t helped his sack rate (he has 21 sacks in 290 dropbacks) and it’s led to an NFL-leading 11 sacks of 10 or more yards lost. He’s also had a pair of intentional grounding penalties of 10 or more yards. When you consider that Glennon has started only eight games this year, it’s a pretty strong sign that Glennon has some work to do.
Five of those 11 sacks have come on third down, which costs the Buccaneers a little field position, but little else. But four have come on first down and another two on second down. Those six sacks have killed those six drives -- the Bucs have five punts and a missed field goal after the long-yardage sacks.
The rest of the top 10 in double-digit yardage sacks features a number of names you might expect -- mostly they are mobile quarterbacks who have the speed to try to extend plays by running away from trouble. Sometimes it works, and sometimes they end up with a very lengthy loss on a sack.
But there is one other name that stands out because of the sheer number of long-yardage sacks: Fill-in Texans starter Case Keenum. Keenum fits the mold of a mobile quarterback, but he might need to do a little less backpedaling to evade the rush. Keenum has been sacked 13 times since he took over as the team’s quarterback. Seven of those sacks have been 10 yards or longer. Like Glennon, Keenum has a predilection to backpedal or even turn his back to the line to try to avoid the rush. In Keenum’s defense, six of his seven long-yardage sacks have come on third down, so while they cost Houston field position, they don’t kill drives. Those drives are dead already.
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Sometimes as an offensive lineman, you’re just screwed.
Titans center Brian Schwenke apparently did everything right on a first-quarter pass play against the Raiders, and he still gave up a sack.
The Raiders lined up in a four-man front in a 4-2-5 look. Right before the snap, linebacker Nick Roach switched over from Schwenke’s left to stand in the A-gap to Schenke’s right. He became Schwenke’s obvious immediate target to block at the snap. The Titans play call had the lone running back going out into the pass pattern, meaning that if Roach was coming, it would be five linemen to block five rushers.
Roach wasn’t faking. As soon as the ball was snapped, he fired upfield, aiming for the gap between Schwenke and right guard Chance Warmack. Schwenke picked him up as he was supposed to, while Warmack began blocking defensive tackle Brian Sanford who was attacking the B-gap off his right shoulder.
So far so good. But linebacker Kevin Burnett was also blitzing following right behind Roach and Sanford. Six rushers, five blockers. Burnett did a good job of being patient, waiting for a gap to open up. That happened pretty quickly as Roach knew that his job was to aggressively attack the Titans’ right A-gap, opening a massive hole to Schwenke’s left.
To Schwenke’s credit, he realized what was happening, then tried to hand Roach off to Warmack and shifted back to his left to try to pick up Burnett as well. It's just an impossible block to make. Unless the NFL legalizes clothesline arm bars again, anyway.
Schwenke came close to doing just that, as he punched Burnett in the chin with his left hand. That was enough to annoy Burnett, but not enough to slow him down. He collaborated with Roach, freed up when Schwenke shifted to try to block Burnett, for an easy sack.
Schwenke diagnosed what was happening perfectly, but he was facing a problem with no simple solution. Life as a lineman is hard.
Patriots center Ryan Wendell can agree with Schwenke that sometimes linemen are asked to do the impossible.
In last Sunday night’s game, Wendell was asked to block Broncos defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, who was lined up on right guard Dan Connolly’s outside shoulder. He was asked to pull off this block because Connolly was pulling to try to help pick up any rusher coming off the Patriots’ left edge.
It was impossible for Wendell to pull this block off as Vickerson fired directly upfield at the snap. Wendell had to wait until Connolly had cleared the area to ensure they didn’t trip over each other’s feet. By then, Vickerson was halfway to Tom Brady, wrapping him up for a 1.7-second sack.
Hail Mary passes are an understandable source of long sacks. It’s the end of the game or the half, and the quarterback has to give his receivers time to get downfield. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill ran into exactly that problem on the final play of the team’s loss to the Panthers last week.
Tannehill couldn’t find a clean pocket to step into to throw, so he ran around to try to buy time. The problem never cleared up, and eventually the Panthers sacked Tannehill, but only after he had run around for 9.2 seconds.
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