How did New England find the right combination of offensive linemen this season, and where are Seattle's biggest weaknesses in pass protection?
03 Jan 2014
by J.J. Cooper
Picking third in the 2013 draft, the Dolphins had plenty of ways they could have gone. It was the year of the offensive lineman, so Miami could have gone with a third straight offensive tackle by taking Lane Johnson or D.J. Fluker. Or they could have picked a pass-rusher to team with Cameron Wake, choosing between Dion Jordan, Ezekiel Ansah or Barkevious Mingo.
The Dolphins ended up picking Jordan. So far, it looks like they chose wrong.
You could get into a debate over whether the Dolphins even needed to pick a pass rusher -- Cameron Wake is a consistent pass-rushing threat, as his 8.5 sacks this year attest, and Olivier Vernon produced 11.5 sacks on the other side.
But this is not about that debate. If the Dolphins were going to pick a pass rusher, they chose the wrong one. It’s not that Jordan finished the season with only two sacks (both were sacks that took 3.5 seconds or longer to develop), didn’t start a game, and played less than 30 percent of the Dolphins defensive snaps.
It’s just that by picking Jordan instead of Ansah, the Dolphins gave up a chance to pick a future star.
Admittedly, when the Dolphins were picking, Ansah was seen as a long-term project. After all, he’d only been a productive player for one year in college. But then, Jordan was seen as a project as well.
Watching Ansah play for the Lions this year, you see plenty of flashes of someone who is going to turn into an offensive tackle’s nightmare. He recorded 8.5 sacks this year as a rookie, but the best is yet to come.
Early in the season, when Ansah did get sacks, they were largely because he played on the same line as defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. They would flush the quarterback and Ansah would run him down. Ansah recorded 3.5 sacks in the first five weeks of the season, but 2.5 came on plays where he was effectively blocked. More often than not, the quarterback ran into him rather than the other way around.
Ansah then missed some time with an ankle injury. But during the final six weeks of the season, Ansah showed that he was starting to figure out how to rush the quarterback in the NFL.
That doesn’t mean that the still-raw Ansah has developed a wide range of pass rushing moves. You won’t see Dwight Freeney’s spin move or J.J. Watt’s power rip, but you do see amazing explosiveness: the kind that allows Ansah to already start picking up sacks even though he hasn’t mastered a full set of pass-rushing skills yet.
Ansah has the speed to get around the corner, and he’s started to show that he can also beat tackles to the inside if they get too concerned with his speed rush. But more than anything, he has the arm length to keep tackles from grabbing hold. Ansah will bull over tackles at times, or beat them around the edge because they can’t lock him up.
Ansah has the burst to get to the corner, especially when he uses his long reach. Here's how that looked against Buccaneers tackle Donald Penn.
But Ansah also showed late in the season that his bull rush can be pretty ferocious as well. Here, he dismantles David Bakhtiari.
Ansah’s explosiveness was even more apparent in this sack where he beat Giants tackle Will Beatty.
Admittedly, beating Penn, Bakhtiari and Beatty is not the same as overwhelming Joe Thomas, but it is a sign of good things to come for Ansah. If he can spend his offseason adding some pass-rushing moves, Ansah has double-digit sack seasons in his future.
The Chiefs almost knocked the Chargers out of the playoffs with one of the least-experienced offensive lines you will ever see in an NFL game. With Andy Reid resting as many starters as he could, the Chiefs used three offensive linemen making their first-ever starts.
Both second-year guard Rishaw Johnson and second-year guard Rokevius Watkins were cut by their original teams and had played a combined total of 19 snaps on the offensive line this season (and for their careers) before Sunday. Center Eric Kush, the Chiefs’ sixth-round pick in 2013, was even more of a novice, as he’d played one offensive snap before Sunday.
Reid probably would have rested more linemen if he could, but since you have only 10 linemen on the roster, and seven of them are in the Chiefs regular rotation, those three were the only novices he had to put out there on Sunday.
All in all, they handled themselves pretty well. Watkins and Johnson each allowed one sack, but the trio helped the Chiefs rush for 143 yards and gave Chase Daniel generally enough time to throw, although admittedly most of the passes were quick-hitting short passes.
Johnson, Watkins and Kush will head back to the bench this week. But if nothing else, the trio will head into next season with some understanding of what it takes to start in the NFL.
Amazingly there was no really quick sack this week. There were five sacks that took 2.1 seconds, but none that were quicker than that.
Since the regular season is over, it’s a fitting time to look at the fastest sack of the year. Since Troy Polamalu’s amazing blitz in the first week of the season wasn’t ruled a sack, the field is much more wide open.
Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter and Packers linebacker Brad Jones each ended up sharing the honor. Both timed their blitzes nearly perfectly, hitting the line at close to full speed on their way to 1.3-second sacks. Carter’s sack came in Week 2 against the Packers, while Jones did the deed in Week 11.
Matthew Stafford stayed in the pocket way too long on a first-and-10 against the Vikings. As he looked around, waited and looked around some more, eventually Jared Allen came free for the sack, 6.4 seconds after the snap.
Fittingly, Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor earns the honor for longest sack of the year. Pryor had 10 sacks that took five seconds or longer, including two of the five longest sacks of the season.
His 10.6-second sack in Week 9 against the Eagles was a masterpiece. Pryor scrambled backwards a full 25 yards as he tried to buy time, then turned a corner and managed to nearly make it back to the line of scrimmage. On the stat line, it looked like a simple three-yard loss on a quarterback sack, but it was the only sack all season to take more than 10 seconds.
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