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04 Nov 2011

Under Pressure: Long and Short Sack Percentages

by J.J. Cooper

These Tampa Bay Buccaneers are no longer the defense-first team that led Cigar City to four straight playoff appearances in the early part of the past decade, but when it comes to getting to the quarterback, the Bucs are the best in the NFL at one thing.

Tampa has the best short sack rate (defined as sacks taking 2.5 seconds or less) in the NFL. On over four percent of pass plays against the Bucs, the quarterback has been hauled down before he ever got a chance to get fully comfortable in the pocket. No other team comes close to the Buccaneers at picking up short sacks, and only the Steelers are even near the four percent mark.

But there’s another aspect of the Buccaneeers’ sacks that is harder to explain: This year if the Bucs haven’t gotten to the quarterback quickly, they haven’t gotten the sack at all.

It’s hard to give a good explanation for why, but of the Buccaneers 12 sacks this year, 11 have taken place in 2.5 seconds or less. Mason Foster’s 2.9 second sack of Donovan McNabb in Week 3 is the only time this year that the Bucs have had a sack that wasn’t a short sack.

Percentage of Quick Sacks divided by Total Opponent Dropbacks, 2011
Team Quick Sacks Percentage Team Quick Sacks Percentage Team Quick Sacks Percentage
TB 11 4.38% CLE 6 2.84% NYG 4 1.52%
PIT 11 3.89% SF 7 2.82% IND 4 1.47%
PHI 9 3.75% BAL 7 2.77% SD 3 1.43%
MIN 12 3.73% JAC 7 2.54% GB 4 1.38%
STL 9 3.56% WAS 6 2.44% NE 4 1.33%
HOU 10 3.50% Average 6.40 2.39% OAK 4 1.30%
DAL 9 3.32% SEA 7 2.35% CAR 3 1.23%
NO 10 3.32% CIN 6 2.34% KC 3 1.22%
DEN 8 3.20% ATL 6 2.33% BUF 3 1.12%
DET 10 3.13% TEN 6 2.17% ARI 2 0.72%
MIA 8 3.09% NYJ 4 1.69% CHI 2 0.66%

Tampa Bay is the only team in the league without a long sack (defined as a sack of three seconds or longer). Five teams in the league are in double digits in long sacks, led by the Jets.

Percentage of Long Sacks divided by Total Opponent Dropbacks, 2011
Team Long Sacks Percentage Team Long Sacks Percentage Team Long Sacks Percentage
NYJ 11 4.66% CLE 6 2.84% DEN 5 2.00%
BAL 11 4.35% MIN 9 2.80% CHI 6 1.98%
WAS 10 4.07% MIA 7 2.70% STL 5 1.98%
NYG 10 3.80% OAK 8 2.60% NO 6 1.93%
BUF 9 3.35% DAL 7 2.58% JAC 5 1.81%
NE 10 3.33% IND 7 2.56% TEN 5 1.81%
PHI 8 3.33% Average 6.75 2.52% ATL 4 1.55%
SD 7 3.33% DEY 8 2.50% ARI 4 1.44%
SF 8 3.23% PIT 6 2.12% HOU 4 1.40%
CIN 8 3.13% CAR 5 2.06% KC 2 0.81%
GB 9 3.10% SEA 6 2.01% TB 0 0.00%

There are a couple of theories out there for why a team gets long sacks, but in the Jets’ case it does appear that the team’s excellent coverage in the secondary plays a large part in picking up long sacks. In watching those 11 long sacks, seven of them showed the quarterback with a clean pocket and time to throw initially. But the quarterback held onto the ball until eventually the pocket collapsed or the quarterback unsuccessfully tried to scramble out of the pocket when he found no one open.

On the other hand, the Ravens’ long sacks appear to be more due to initial pressure that forces a quarterback to escape the pocket to try to buy time. On six of their 11 long sacks, the Ravens had a pass rusher get free relatively early in the play, but the opposing quarterback scrambled to buy time, only to be hauled down later in the play.

On to this week’s sacks.


Coming into Sunday’s game, the Buffalo Bills has generated four sacks in 226 opponent pass plays, for a very subpar sack rate of 1.7 percent. Against the Redskins, Buffalo performed more like the ‘85 Bears.

In a Sunday that saw a lot of defenses rack up gaudy numbers of sacks, no team was more surprising than Buffalo. The Bills sacked Redskins quarterback John Beck 10 times in 43 pass plays (23.2 percent). Washington came into the game with a 6.1 percent sack rate that was a little better than league average, but the Bills destroyed that with a flurry of sacks that was most notable for its lack of a pattern.

Buffalo got sacks when it sent the house (one sack on a seven-man blitz and another on a six-man rush) and when it sent its standard four (seven sacks). There were clear breakdowns by some Redskins offensive linemen (most notably Jamaal Brown and Will Montgomery), but also several sacks where Beck bailed out of a still solid pocket (and one where he simply dropped the ball). The Redskins wide receivers did him no favors either, as there were plays where no receiver appeared to be open.

All in all, it was a complete collapse by the Redskins offense. Washington is playing without starting left tackle Trent Williams, but don’t just point the finger at the offensive line. Since Beck took over as quarterback, he’s been sacked at a significantly higher rate than Rex Grossman -- Beck had an 7.1 percent sack rate even before Sunday’s debacle and six of his 14 sacks have come on plays where he’s held the ball for three seconds or longer. In almost twice as many attempts, Grossman has only two long sacks, which explains in part why he has a significantly better 5.2 percent sack rate compared to Beck’s now awful 14.2 percent clip.


Since being cut by the Bengals, Ahmad Brooks has found a pretty good home in San Francisco. He picked up 11 sacks combined in the 2009 and 2010 seasons as a situational pass rusher, and after stepping into a starting role this year, he’s responded by putting together his most productive year as a pro. On Sunday, Brooks picked up two sacks, giving him four for the season.

None of the previous ones was as impressive as the sack that got the 49ers off to a great start on Sunday. Less than a minute into the game, Brooks set up Browns right tackle Tony Pashos with a quick two steps straight up field, which caught Pashos taking too wide of a kick step. Brooks planted his left foot, and cut back inside. Pashos had all his weight on his back foot so he was unable to counter. Brooks found a massive opening for a free run to Colt McCoy.

All of that is pretty standard stuff for a pass rusher on a good day. But as Brooks crossed in front of the still backpedaling Pashos, Pashos reached up and ripped off Brooks’ helmet. Brooks didn’t slow down at all as he went ahead and wrapped up McCoy, knocking the football out. A few plays later, San Francisco had an early 7-0 lead.


Could it be anybody but Tim Tebow? Tebow wasn’t to blame for all of the seven sacks he picked up (he had three long sacks of three seconds or more), but it’s hard to find anyone else but Tebow to blame for his sack on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Tebow dropped back, remained in the pocket, but eventually was pulled down by Lawrence Jackson 7.9 seconds after the snap. John Beck deserves special mention for having two sacks of six seconds or longer, but then when you get sacked 10 times, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll have sacks of all different types. That was proven true when Beck also had the shortest sack of the week as an unblocked Jairus Byrd wrapped up Beck just 1.5 seconds after the snap.

Posted by: J.J. Cooper on 04 Nov 2011

11 comments, Last at 06 Nov 2011, 3:38pm by MTR


by andrew :: Fri, 11/04/2011 - 1:45pm

What is the longest sack on record? I remember seeing footage of an Eddie LeBaron sack where it looked like he ran backwards almost 30-40 yards trying to elude a pass rusher before being taken down...

I'm thinking Tarkenton might've had a few that ended like that as well...

by commissionerleaf :: Fri, 11/04/2011 - 1:53pm

Fran Tarkenton never took a sack.

[Sorry, there are about three jokes in a sentence there, so I ran with it.]

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 11/04/2011 - 2:27pm

Hey RaiderJoe, what's the abbreviation for "Detroit" again?

by dbostedo :: Sat, 11/05/2011 - 10:25am

I thought it was always "Detroit Loins"

by Mikey :: Fri, 11/04/2011 - 2:55pm

Wait, who Dey?

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 11/04/2011 - 3:03pm

Dey is who gonna beat dem Saints?

by nat :: Fri, 11/04/2011 - 3:41pm

Nifty. This is data with meaning.

Also good: going to the film to dig deeper into the Jets' and Raven's long sacks. Film by itself wouldn't have been as convincing, and the stats by themselves wouldn't let you give an opinion as to how these sacks were happening.

Nicely done.

by nat :: Sat, 11/05/2011 - 4:10pm

It looks like being good at getting long sacks is a better indicator of the strength of your pass defense. I haven't run the numbers, but the top third at quick sacks is all over the place in pass defense DVOA. The long sack group is more solidly in the top half in DVOA, with some notable exceptions: the Patriots, the Chargers, and the Packers.

This may mean that good sack numbers aren't a big part of being a good defense. Or perhaps, a strong offense puts your defense in better situations to get sacks. Or maybe it's the sacks that take between 2.5 and 3.0 seconds that really tell the story of your defense.

It makes you think.

by tuluse :: Sat, 11/05/2011 - 4:50pm

I was marveling myself at how good the Bears defense is while getting virtually no quick sacks, so then I checked their ASR, and under Movie Smith the Bears have never had a good ASR. Further their best years getting to the QB aren't even their best years in pass defense.

by MTR (not verified) :: Sun, 11/06/2011 - 3:38pm

To quote Bill Belichek: "Sacks are overrated. Pressure is underrated."

by Sander :: Sat, 11/05/2011 - 5:00pm

I can explain the Bucs' numbers: the secondary has been pretty weak, which means QBs can get rid of the ball if the defensive line doesn't get there immediately. And when the coverage does hold up, the defensive line is young and inexperienced which means they often give up contain, allowing the QB to scramble to find an open receiver - or throw away the ball.