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02 Dec 2011

Under Pressure: Running Past the Rams

by J.J. Cooper

The 2011 season has been a disaster for the Rams and Sam Bradford.

Picked by some (although not by Football Outsiders) to be a playoff contender, instead St. Louis has regressed. At 2-9, St. Louis ranks 31st in DVOA and last in offensive DVOA. With a young first-round quarterback and an extremely expensive offensive line, the Rams offense was supposed to get better, not worse.

It hasn’t worked out that way. Starting left tackle Rodger Saffold did not come close to repeating his surprisingly strong rookie season, and now he’s out for the year with a pectoral injury. On the other end, 2009 first-round pick Jason Smith has never lived up to his draft status and is now sidelined with a concussion. Center Jason Brown was once one of the top free agents on the market, but his five-year, $37.5 million contract has been a disaster, and he’s now been benched.

The combination of disappointing performances and lack of continuity among the line explains in part why the Rams are 32nd in offensive DVOA, 29th in rushing DVOA and 31st in passing DVOA.

But they’ve also played at least a part in Bradford’s regression. Bradford’s -19.8% DVOA is significantly worse than his -9.3% DVOA last year.

Bradford leads the league in sacks taken this year, and he ranks worse than average in sack rate no matter what timeframe you’re looking at. But when you look at "long sacks" (sacks where a quarterback holds the ball for three seconds or more), Bradford’s numbers look most troubling.

Bradford’s short sack rate (sacks of 2.5 seconds or less) is 2.38 percent, not far off of the NFL rate of 2.28 percent. His "normal" sack rate (2.6-2.9 seconds) is 2.67 percent, a good bit more than the NFL rate of 1.55 percent. But his long sack rate is 4.65 percent, fifth-worst in the league among quarterbacks with 30 or more pass attempts this season.

Last year as a rookie, Bradford didn’t have any such problems with long sacks. His long sack rate of 2.32 percent in 2010 was better than league average. Only Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore has seen a bigger jump in long-sack percentage.

Long Sack Rate Leaders, 2011
Player Team Long Sacks Percentage
Caleb Hanie CHI 3 7.69%
Christian Ponder MIN 11 6.11%
Matt Moore MIA 12 5.19%
John Beck WAS 7 5.04%
Tim Tebow DEN 7 4.67%
Sam Bradford STL 16 4.65%
Matt Cassel KC 13 4.61%
Blaine Gabbert JAC 12 4.35%
John Skelton ARI 5 4.10%
Cam Newton CAR 16 3.92%

It will take some more study to get to the bottom of Bradford’s sack problem, but it can’t all be blamed on him. The Rams’ pass protection has fallen apart on a regular basis. Before he was injured, Saffold gave up 6.5 sacks. Saffold’s replacement at left tackle, Mark LeVoir, lasted less than a half before he left with an injury. Third-stringer Kevin Hughes, a practice squad call-up, gave up two sacks in just over a half of action. Adam Goldberg, the fill-in for Week 12, gave up two sacks.

Bradford has held the ball too long way too often, but when your blind-side protector is giving up pressure on a regular basis, it can lead to some antsy feet. Watching Bradford in recent weeks, he doesn’t seem to have the decisiveness or the comfort in the pocket that he showed last year.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Seahawks quarterbacks just aren't getting the time that they need. Tarvaris Jackson ranks among the worst in the NFL in short and normal sack rate, but when it comes to long sacks, is better than the league average. Charlie Whitehurst had similar numbers in limited time under center.

Sack Percentages by Quarterback, 2011
QB Sacked Team 2.5 seconds or less Pct 2.6-2.9 seconds Pct 3.0 seconds and over Pct
Kevin Kolb ARI 8 3.40% 7 2.99% 9 3.81%
John Skelton ARI 5 4.10% 1 0.85% 5 4.10%
Matt Ryan ATL 11 2.72% 3 0.76% 8 1.99%
Joe Flacco BAL 4 0.96% 7 1.67% 10 2.38%
Ryan Fitzpatrick BUF 4 1.07% 4 1.07% 6 1.60%
Cam Newton CAR 8 2.00% 2 0.51% 16 3.92%
Jay Cutler CHI 10 3.09% 6 1.88% 7 2.18%
Andy Dalton CIN 7 1.89% 1 0.27% 8 2.16%
Colt McCoy CLE 8 2.00% 3 0.76% 15 3.68%
Tony Romo DAL 5 1.30% 5 1.30% 10 2.56%
Kyle Orton DEN 2 1.27% 3 1.90% 4 2.52%
Tim Tebow DEN 6 4.03% 3 2.05% 7 4.67%
Matt Stafford DET 8 1.77% 5 1.12% 8 1.77%
Aaron Rodgers GB 10 2.69% 6 1.63% 11 2.95%
Matt Schaub HOU 7 2.34% 1 0.34% 8 2.67%
Kerry Collins IND 3 2.97% 2 2.00% 0 0.00%
Curtis Painter IND 9 3.57% 3 1.22% 4 1.62%
Blaine Gabbert JAC 9 3.30% 7 2.58% 12 4.35%
QB Sacked Team 2.5 seconds or less Pct 2.6-2.9 seconds Pct 3.0 seconds and over Pct
Matt Cassel KC 4 1.47% 5 1.82% 13 4.61%
Chad Henne MIA 6 5.08% 2 1.75% 3 2.61%
Matt Moore MIA 8 3.52% 3 1.35% 12 5.19%
Donovan McNabb MIN 4 2.50% 6 3.70% 6 3.70%
Christian Ponder MIN 5 2.87% 2 1.17% 11 6.11%
Tom Brady NE 8 1.86% 3 0.71% 9 2.09%
Drew Brees NO 9 1.92% 5 1.08% 5 1.08%
Eli Manning NYG 8 1.95% 6 1.47% 6 1.47%
Mark Sanchez NYJ 9 2.36% 4 1.06% 12 3.12%
Jason Campbell OAK 2 1.20% 2 1.20% 1 0.60%
Carson Palmer OAK 4 2.86% 3 2.16% 4 2.86%
Michael Vick PHI 3 0.99% 3 0.99% 9 2.91%
Vince Young PHI 0 0.00% 2 1.72% 3 2.56%
Ben Roethlisberger PIT 13 3.27% 5 1.28% 14 3.51%
Philip Rivers SD 7 1.64% 8 1.87% 13 3.01%
Tavaris Jackson SEA 12 3.57% 11 3.28% 8 2.41%
Alex Smith SF 12 3.87% 9 2.93% 9 2.93%
Sam Bradford STL 8 2.38% 9 2.67% 16 4.65%
Josh Freeman TB 4 0.96% 7 1.67% 7 1.67%
Matt Hasselback TEN 7 1.85% 2 0.54% 5 1.33%
John Beck WAS 4 2.94% 4 2.94% 7 5.04%
Rex Grossman WAS 6 2.17% 6 2.17% 4 1.46%
NFL Overall 276 2.28% 187 1.55% 345 2.85%

Quick Sack of the Week

Every now and then, an offensive lineman is asked to do the impossible. On a rollout this week, the Raiders had Raiders’ left guard Stefan Wisniewski pull to pick up any pass-rushers coming off of the edge. One problem with that: defensive tackle Henry Melton fired straight up field, coming through the wide-open hole left by Wisnieswki’s departure. Center Samson Satele tried to pick Melton up, but Melton was by him before he had gotten a step into Melton’s direction. The result, a 1.7 second sack where Carson Palmer never had a chance.

Long Sack of the Week

It’s surprising that Cam Newton doesn’t show up on the long sacks more often considering how mobile he is. However, this week, Newton truly earned the long sack award. He dropped back, didn’t find anyone open, and eventually tried to run for it. Linebacker Pat Angerer came up from coverage to trip him up at the line of scrimmage, 7.7 seconds after the snap.

Posted by: J.J. Cooper on 02 Dec 2011

7 comments, Last at 03 Dec 2011, 6:43am by matt w


by trill :: Fri, 12/02/2011 - 3:24pm

At least some of Bradford's long sacks have to be related to the poor quality of receivers he's working with, and/or McDaniels' scheme. Can't get the ball out quickly if no one is open.

If I were the Rams front office I wouldn't be quick to dump the kid. Give him another year in the system and see what he can do with some decent pass pro and WRs who aren't rookies or free agent castoffs. And keep McDaniels as far away from the draft room as possible.

by Dean :: Fri, 12/02/2011 - 4:44pm

At minimum, it's time to dump the OL coach and OC in STL. McDaniels has been a complete and utter train wreck. People are clamoring to have Pat Shurmer back, and they were ready to tar and feather him (to the extent that people get their ire raised about football around here) last year.

At this point, what remains to be seen is if Spagnulo, and possibly even Devaney, see next season.

They went from being a young, up and coming team to a team that's not just bad, but old, bad, and boring all at once.

by andrew :: Fri, 12/02/2011 - 3:26pm

I know a qb run or scramble where they didn't get any positive yards are considered sacks... but was wondering how the numbers (especially long sack #s) would look if the ones where they intended to run were taken out of it...

by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 12/02/2011 - 4:17pm

If you look at the long sack percentage leaders (should that be losers?) then a pretty clear trend emerges, not a single one of the quarterbacks on your list has started for more than three seasons. I can't be bothered to look them all up but I think that only Cassel has started for more 32 games and most have started less than 16. Pavlovian conditioning at work perhaps, if you hold onto the ball too long then you get pummeled.

by Tommy (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2011 - 5:09pm

Karl has a good point. In John Beck's games, clearly his biggest issue was the sacks. (not to say that he didnt have other problems, but he was competing against grossman, so it wasnt like he had to be awesome to keep the job)

I think inexperienced QBs seem to not be as capable of keeping track of the pass rush and getting rid of the ball. I would guess that the inexperience causes the sacks, not the opposite, but who knows...

by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 12/02/2011 - 6:51pm

Well the opposite would be for sacks to cause inexperience, which would be odd. :)

by matt w (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2011 - 6:43am

Could happen -- if they cause you to lose your job (through benching or injury), then the leaders will all be inexperienced.