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?
20 Dec 2013
by J.J. Cooper
Philosophers and other thinkers have long debated the trolley problem. It’s a simple problem, but one without an easy answer. A trolley is barreling down the tracks. Ahead on the tracks are five people tied up on the tracks. You can divert the trolley onto a different track, but there’s a person on that track as well. You can’t derail the trolley, so your choice is to do nothing and watch five people die or divert the trolley and kill one.
There is no "right" answer, but the way you answer is supposed to say something about how you think.
Offensive linemen face their own version if the trolley problem on a regular basis. Chargers tackle King Dunlap faced his trolley problem against the Giants. Against a five-man rush, Dunlap was out on an island with no good choice. He could block the pass rusher shooting by him to the inside, or the one looping past him to the outside.
OK, no one was going to die, but Dunlap was going to get to pick which 250-pounder would run over his quarterback. Fun, huh?
Like the trolley problem, there is no "right" answer, but there may be a better one. Dunlap blocked the man to his outside when he probably should have blocked Justin Tuck rushing by him to the inside. It may not have ensured Philip Rivers was safe from a sack, but it could have given him a couple of tenths of a second more to get rid of the ball. It’s hard to blame Dunlap: He saw two men who needed to be blocked, and he could only handle one himself. He did what he could, and his quarterback got creamed anyway.
This happens around the NFL on a regular basis. Watching line play every week, it’s somewhat amazing how many split-second decisions linemen have to make: recognizing stunts, knowing when to hand off a pass rusher to another linemen and when to pick someone else’s man up. Sometimes watching from home it looks easy. Sometimes it looks impossible. But as we move into looking at which linemen are giving up the most sacks, it’s worth remembering that it’s an amazingly difficult job.
With just two weeks left in the 2013 season, we have a pair of offensive tackles who have reached double digits in sacks.
|Most Sacks Allowed through Week 15, 2013|
It’s not exactly an honor you want to reach, but Giants tackle Will Beatty and Browns tackle Mitchell Schwartz each have given up 10 sacks this year, worst in the league.
With Schwartz, there’s no one overarching problem. He’s been beaten with speed, he’s been driven back into the quarterback, and he’s developed more of a tendency as the season has ground along to overplay to the outside to try to slow down speed rushers, allowing a chance for rushers to cut back inside for sacks.
The story is pretty similar with Beatty. He’s most vulnerable to getting beat by speed around the edge, but his knowledge that that’s a big problem for him has made him more vulnerable to being driven back by bull rushers who shed him.
Both Schwartz and Beatty also show up on the "leaderboard" for the worst sack percentage.
|Highest Percentage of Sacks/Snaps, through Week 15, 2013|
On the other end of the spectrum, here’s a look at the offensive linemen with 700 or more snaps allowed who have not given up a sack.
|No Sacks Allowed, Through Week 15, 2013|
Roaming the lobbies of the baseball winter meetings last week didn’t allow enough time to log the sacks, so this is a look at the past two weeks.
Vikings running Matt Asiata went from unknown to feature back thanks to injuries to Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart. He had a solid first week in the spotlight, but his attempted block of Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks was a pretty poor one. Kendricks was able to jump over his cut block, nabbing Matt Cassel just 1.6 seconds after the snap.
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo can dance around in the pocket like few quarterbacks in the league. He doesn’t have the pure speed of many other quarterbacks, but he can dodge a sack with the best of them. Romo came close to pulling off a highlight-level dodge against the Packers, as he twice dodged rushers and danced around. But he eventually was caught from behind 9.3 seconds after the snap.
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