Under Pressure: Overpaid and Underperforming
by J.J. Cooper
In most cases, teams who are having trouble with a pass-protecting tackle are getting what they paid for.
Steelers left tackle Kelvin Beachum leads the league with 4.5 sacks allowed, but he’s a 6-foot-3 left tackle whose cap hit is a microscopic $580,000. Bills right tackle Seantrel Henderson is tied for third-most sacks allowed in the league with four, but if you’re starting a seventh-round rookie with a $430,000 cap hit, you’re not expecting all that much from him.
The rest of the top 10 in sacks allowed are largely the same story: inexpensive veterans with whom teams are hoping to get by, young players who are both inexpensive and inexperienced, and the occasional backup asked to do too much in a fill-in starting role.
But there are two names among the top 10 that do jump out because they are getting paid a lot of money (and cap room) to do better.
|Player||Team||Sacks Allowed||Cap Hit*|
|* All salary cap data from sportstrac.com|
Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil was the fourth pick in the 2012 draft. He was a Pro Bowler as a rookie, and he’s taking up nearly $5.4 million in cap room this year. On a team that has lots of questions at quarterback, Kalil is expected to be one of the Vikings’ biggest answers.
So far, not so good. He’s tied for second in the league in sacks allowed with four. Kalil has been beaten with speed rushes by Dont'a Hightower (twice) and Chandler Jones, on a bull rush by Junior Galette and on a spin move by Clay Matthews. Two of those sacks were shared with other Vikings linemen, which is why he has four sacks allowed.
(As an aside, you may see other sources credit Kalil with fewer sacks allowed so far. For Under Pressure, we look at who was the cause of the sack. This week, Matthews used the spin move to beat Kalil to the inside and hit Christian Ponder. Ponder did manage to bounce away from that hit without going down, but only to run into Packers’ defensive lineman Mike Daniels. In our eyes, on a sack where the quarterback is hit, forced to tuck the ball and scramble and never has another chance to throw the ball, we’re blaming the blocker who caused the whole mess to fall apart, not the one whose man eventually cleaned up later to officially record the sack.)
In 2012, Kalil allowed only two sacks all season. Thanks in part to a knee injury, Kalil allowed six sacks last year, a jump but still a reasonably respectable number when you consider that he played every offensive snap for the Vikings.
Currently, Kalil is on pace to allow 14 sacks this year. He will assuredly improve on that pace or he’ll be benched, but the trend line in the first two and a half seasons in Kalil’s career is heading in the wrong direction.
The other highly paid blocker among the top 10 in sacks allowed is Cowboys right tackle Doug Free. Forced to fill in as a left tackle early in his career, Free then moved to right tackle, where he has been a better fit, when the Cowboys acquired Tyron Smith in the 2011 draft. Free allowed only 3.5 sacks in 2012 and three sacks last year. He has already equaled that number with three sacks allowed this year.
Free isn’t a terrible right tackle but he’s paid like an elite one, so it is fair to wonder how long the Cowboys are willing to accept him with a $6.5 million cap hit.
Next One Up, Not So Good
The Ravens found a great undrafted free agent find in former North Carolina Tar Heel James Hurst. The Ravens were impressed enough with Hurst to make him their swing tackle as a rookie.
So when Eugene Monroe went down with a knee injury, the Ravens had no choice but to turn to their undrafted rookie as their starting tackle. The results have been as you may have expected.
Hurst gave up 2.5 sacks in his second start at left tackle, Week 5 against Carolina. He was beaten to the outside, beaten to the inside and generally looked like an undrafted rookie trying his best to survive.
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Monroe is not expected to be back for several more weeks, so the Ravens are forced to hope that Hurst’s rough debut at left tackle is not going to be a consistent issue.
If you see that Ben Roethlisberger was sacked four times by the Jaguars, you may believe that the Steelers offensive line troubles have returned. In actuality, this was a case of some of Ben Roethlisberger’s old tendencies returning for a week.
All four sacks took 3.2 seconds or longer. Only one could be blamed on the offensive line at all. Early in the fourth quarter, Abry Jones drove Maurkice Pouncey back, then shed him to run down Roethlisberger and force a fumble. It was a 3.2-second sack that was at least in part the line’s fault. But on the other three, the line can be absolved of any issues. Roethlisberger decided to scramble to the outside to try to buy time on a goal-line play in the second quarter, but Paul Posluszny came up from coverage to sack him before he could throw. Jones picked up his first sack with a 3.5-second sack when Roethlisberger stayed in the pocket but couldn’t find an open receiver. And the other sack came on a screen pass that fell apart when the Jaguars sniffed it out.
The Steelers still have a lot of offensive issues, but the offensive line’s pass protection this week wasn’t as bad as you may have thought.
Quick Sack(s) Of The Week(s)
It’s always baffling when a line protection call leaves a defensive lineman unblocked. That was Rams quarterback Austin Davis’s misfortune as Eagles defensive end Vinny Curry was left completely free on a straightforward rush. The Eagles' decision to bring up a linebacker to Curry’s inside at the last second screwed up the Rams’ line call, leaving Curry with a 1.5-second sack that will be the easiest he will ever get.
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In Week 4, the fastest sack was a 1.8-second sack where the Steelers asked Le’Veon Bell to try to block defensive end Michael Johnson. It didn’t work, as Roethlisberger never had much of a chance to plant to throw.
Long Sack(s) Of The Week(s)
With his mobility, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is a frequent winner of the long sack of the week thanks to his tendency to buy time outside of the pocket. It was true again in Week 5, as Kaepernick dodged the rush in the pocket, buying more time by scrambling to the sideline. When no one ever came open, he eventually stepped out of bounds 7.4 seconds after the snap. It wasn’t a very costly sack, as he lost four yards on a first-and-10.
Charlie Whitehurst provided the longest sack of Week Four with a similar story. His scramble ended up with him going out of bounds 7.1 seconds after the snap. He lost no yardage, but it was a third-and-4, so it was an unsuccessful third down conversion.