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21 Sep 2012

Under Pressure: Chasing Cutler

by J.J. Cooper

Yes, Bears left tackle J’Marcus Webb is one of the worst left tackles in the league. But the next time Jay Cutler wants to let rip at Webb’s poor pass protection, Webb could retort with "Hey Jay, could you get rid of the ball a little quicker?"

Cutler was sacked seven times in 34 dropbacks on last Thursday, which just adds to the narrative that the Bears can’t protect him. He also threw four interceptions, which adds to the narrative that when he’s not protected, he doesn’t protect the ball.

But in rewatching the Packers’ easy win, one thing was clear: The longer Cutler held the ball, the worse things became for the Bears.

Of Cutler’s seven sacks, five came when he held the ball for three seconds or longer. The sacks were only part of the problem. When he held the ball for three seconds or longer and managed to not get sacked, Cutler was only 3-of-10 for 33 yards and two interceptions. If you add in the yards he lost on sacks, Cutler and the Bears accounted for one net yard and two turnovers in 16 dropbacks where Cutler held the ball.

When Cutler tried to create something, it just made things worse. Of the eight plays where Cutler held the ball for four seconds or longer, he threw two interceptions, was sacked three times, and completed one-of-four passes for 15 yards.

Cutler wasn’t great when he got rid of the ball in a more reasonable amount of time -- he was 8-of-17 for 93 yards with two interceptions and two sacks on pass plays of less than three seconds. But since he's playing in front of a pretty porous offensive line, Cutler should remember that holding the ball may be counterproductive.


Peyton Manning is upset with questions about his arm strength. Those questions are going to pop up when you throw three interceptions in a quarter just two games into a comeback from a neck injury that was considered career-threatening.

Others can decide whether Manning’s arm is a problem or not, but in watching the Broncos’ loss to the Falcons on Monday night, there was another Manning problem that stood out: He has become human when it comes to getting sacked.

When Manning was a Colt, there was generally only one way to sack Manning -- get someone into the backfield almost instantly. If Manning had time to set his feet, he was generally going to get rid of the ball before anyone took him to the ground.
Under Pressure has been logging the time of every sack since 2009. In 2009 and 2010, before his injury, Manning had four long sacks (3.0 seconds or more) in 1,276 dropbacks. That's one long sack every 319 dropbacks. Manning only had one additional sack that took more than 2.6 seconds. The rest of Mannings’ sacks (21, to be precise) over those two years took 2.6 seconds or less. No other NFL quarterback came close to matching Manning’s ability to avoid long sacks.

Against the Falcons, all of a sudden Manning was just a normal quarterback. He was prone to holding the ball too long looking to make a play. There was one "normal" Manning sack, where William Moore came unblocked off the edge and nailed Manning 2.2 seconds after the snap. But Manning’s other two sacks were both long sacks. One took 3.0 seconds and the other took 3.2 seconds, and in both cases Manning stepped up into pressure. Manning recorded two long sacks in 40 dropbacks, one more than he had in all of 2010.


As the Seahawks got ready to line up for a third-and-6 in the fourth quarter of their win over the Cowboys, Anthony Spencer was sprinting off the field. But as he reached the sideline, coaches yelled to tell him he was supposed to be on the field, so he scurried back onto the turf.

When the ball was snapped, Spencer was a long way from his designated position at defensive end. The Cowboys were in a nickel package with a four-man front, and Spencer was still outside the numbers.

It ended up being a great advantage for Spencer. If the Seahawks had been running his way, rolling Russell Wilson away from him, or doing almost anything else, Spencer’s furious dash onto the field would have been a disadvantage. But in this one case, it gave him a free run at the quarterback. Right tackle Breno Giacomini blocked down, helping out the right guard because he didn’t see anyone lined up on his outside. Running back Leon Washington didn’t notice Spencer either until it was too late. In essence, Spencer managed to accidentally call a 250-pound cornerback blitz. It wouldn’t work often, but it worked this time.


The costliest play of the second week of the 2012 season was Brian Orakpo’s first and last sack of the season. Orakpo clearly anticipated the snap count, taking a step before anyone else on either side of the line had started to come out of their stance.

Rams left tackle Rodger Saffold never had a chance as Orakpo flew past him, sacked Sam Bradford and forced a fumble that Saffold then recovered.

But as he sacked Bradford, Orakpo tore a pectoral muscle which ended his season. On the same play, Saffold sprained his MCL ligament in one of his knees, which will sideline him for several weeks.


Andrew Luck learned a valuable rookie lesson: In the NFL, running backwards will rarely work to buy time against NFL defensive linemen.

On third-and-5 late in the Colts win over the Vikings, defensive end Brian Robison beat Colts right tackle Jeff Linkebach. Linkenbach stayed with Robison long enough to drive him to the ground at Luck’s feet. So, while the pocket was ruined, Luck was able to scramble away. So far, so good. But with Everson Griffen beating Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo, Luck scrambled backward, eventually running directly away from the line of scrimmage. As you would expect, nothing good came from running with his back to his receivers, and Griffen caught up to Luck after a 22-yard loss. That 22-yard loss is tied for the second-longest sack in the NFL since 2009. The only longer sack was a 28-yard loss Kurt Warner took against the Colts back in 2009 -- that one made some sense, as Warner’s loss came on a fourth-and-15 late in the game, so he had little choice but to try to create something.

Maybe there is something about rookies. The other 22-yard sack (and the only other sack longer than 20 yards since this project was started in 2009) came when the Saints sacked Sam Bradford in Week 14 of his rookie season. But in that case, the 22-yard loss came because Bradford fumbled, the ball rolled backwards, and Steven Jackson had to chase it down.


D’Qwell Jackson picked up three sacks against the Bengals on Sunday, just a half sack off his career high in sacks for a season. From afar, you might think that Jackson developed a new pass-rushing move, or the Browns have decided to start blitzing the middle linebacker more often. It’s nothing of the sort. All three of Jackson’s sacks came on plays where he was in coverage. In each case, when Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton found no one open, he decided to scramble. In each case, Jackson came up from his zone and corralled Dalton before he got back to the line of scrimmage.

It was a good day for Jackson, but don’t think of picking him up in your fantasy league just because of his trifecta.


Doug Martin has been the primary Buccaneers ball carrier for the first two weeks, but it would appear that there was one pass play where he made a rookie mistake Sunday against the Giants. On a second-and-10, the Giants sent a pair of blitzers. Fullback Erik Lorig slid outside to pick off the blitzer coming off the edge, but Martin didn’t pick up Chase Blackburn flying up the middle for an easy sack of Josh Freeman. It took only 1.6 seconds.


One of Jackson’s three sacks was easier than the others: early in the Bengals-Browns game, Dalton was given plenty of time by the Bengals’ offensive line. He found no one to throw to, and decided to try to run for it. Jackson rushed up, and when Dalton saw him, he just dove to the ground at the line of scrimmage. All Jackson had to do was touch him for a sack.

Posted by: J.J. Cooper on 21 Sep 2012

26 comments, Last at 24 Sep 2012, 1:13am by Anonymousse


by Ryan :: Fri, 09/21/2012 - 12:02pm

You have to believe that Peyton's long sacks are a function of his new relationship with receivers. If he takes sacks like these in week 10, there's a problem.

by dbt :: Fri, 09/21/2012 - 12:36pm

It could also be because he lost a couple mph off his fastball and can't jam the ball to his hot read every time anymore.

by tuluse :: Fri, 09/21/2012 - 3:40pm

I don't see how that would stop him from throwing it.

by Will Allen :: Fri, 09/21/2012 - 4:29pm

Well, I've nver played the position, obviously, but I would imagine that if you have less certainty as to where your receivers are going to be in 1-3 seconds, you'll have less certainty as to where the defenders are going to be as well. Throw in an extremely noisy venue which makes it far more difficult to make multiple changes at the line of scrimmage, and I could see a cumulative effect of increasing the time needed to get the ball out.

by tuluse :: Fri, 09/21/2012 - 5:46pm

Maybe, but I don't see how he would already understand exactly how much weaker his arm is. Wouldn't he still be throwing it and then be surprised where it ends up?

I find the lack of familiarity explanation a lot more plausible.

by nat :: Fri, 09/21/2012 - 7:50pm

More plausibly, he's just not getting as good protection and/or his receivers aren't as good as they were with the Colts. Luck's getting average protection stats, and he's even more unfamiliar with the O line since he's never had any NFL line at all. Meanwhile, Denver continues to get good run blocking stats and bad protection ones, the reverse of the Colts both past and present.

No doubt, Manning is giving the the Broncos protection stats a boost, same as he did for the Colts. It's just that the Manning Effect has never been as large as his most ardent fans have claimed. He's worth 16 spots in OL stats over a fresh rookie or a bad backup (see 2010, 2011, and this year so far), and so about half that over a solid veteran starter. Factor out his current rust and age, and you'd expect a 4-6 spot bump in protection stats.

Lo and behold, that's what he's added so far for the Broncos.

by theslothook :: Fri, 09/21/2012 - 11:57pm

That might be true, but pff numbers and the fact that just about all the colts previous olinemen have vanished is more evidence that the line was terrible beyond belief and a vintage manning was what inflated their stats.

The real issue imo is that the broncos don't have quite the arsenal of plays out of their no huddle that they are comfortable running. In the past, manning wud go no huddle, audible into one play and get the defense to show several different hands before he had a clear picture and audibled correctly. the sacks were the result of him not being comfortable with the picture he had.

by tuluse :: Sat, 09/22/2012 - 12:01am

8 slots over an established veteran QB seems *huge* to me.

by nat :: Sat, 09/22/2012 - 12:30am

Yup. It means Manning's line was merely solidly above average for his whole career with the Colts. Just not as great as their stats.

by theslothook :: Sat, 09/22/2012 - 4:10pm

Unless you've been watching them closely, i don't know exactly how you can say they've been solidly above average his whole career. Even as a colts fan, I haven't watched the line super closely over his whole career. However, since pff actually grades individual line play, i tend to trust their ratings and their ratings show the colts line was and still is positively abysmal- at least since their ratings began in 2008

by nat :: Sat, 09/22/2012 - 8:25pm


by theslothook :: Sun, 09/23/2012 - 12:19am

results of what? Sacks? Hits? Pressures?

by Noah Arkadia :: Fri, 09/21/2012 - 1:12pm

Great read, I really enjoyed it! The description of the Luck play made me laugh, I'm going to go watch it now.

FO posters are a peacock. You got to let us fly!

by Noah Arkadia :: Fri, 09/21/2012 - 1:38pm

Aww, I can't find it.

FO posters are a peacock. You got to let us fly!

by hendricg :: Fri, 09/21/2012 - 1:14pm

Two things:

1. I really like Everson Griffen, and I'm not a Vikes fan.

2. If the Bears come out in 11 personnel and the Packers counter with a Dime or Quarter Cover 4, it is somewhat likely - perhaps even reasonably likely - that Jay Cutler will take more than 3 seconds to find an open receiver. This is especially true if a LB or S is assigned to pick up the HB on the wheel route. If the Packers are able to consistently break through the O-Line within 2-2.5 seconds while only dropping 7 or 8, Cutler is going to have to make some hard choices that aren't really his fault, especially if he doesn't have enough freedom to make audibles at the line and/or the down/distance is unfavorable.
Maybe this is elementary, but I felt like it warrants mentioning in the Cutler v O-Line fault debate.

by DisplacedPackerFan :: Fri, 09/21/2012 - 4:58pm

Martz is gone, Cutler has full freedom at the line now and I believe I read that in the week 1 game he changed something like 50% of the play calls at the line. I haven't heard numbers for the week 2 game against the Packers. So I don't think you can say he didn't have options. Now if he didn't recognize the coverage (and as I'll get into the Packers changed things from week 1) and with the solid secondary coverage, then yes he did have to make hard choices because the defense was dictating the game. Of course he still never took the throw it away option that would have been a better choice than some of the long sacks or ints.

From watching the coaches film on that game, if the Packers secondary covers the way they did that game, several QB's could be in for long days. The personnel changes they made between week 1 and 2 paid off. I love the NFL publishing snap counts and what this site has done for viewing them. Since I think the biggest differences where in coverages and not the pressure units I'm focusing most on that.

Week 1 - 67 defensive snaps, Packers CB/S numbers
M Burnett (S) - 67
C Woodson (S/CB) - 67
T Williams (CB) - 66
J Bush (CB) - 42
S Shields (CB) - 26
J McMillian (S) - 16
M Jennings (S) - 15
C Hayward (CB) - 3

Week 2 - 63 defensive snaps, Packers CB/S numbers
M Burnett (S) - 63
C Woodson (S/CB) - 63
T Williams (CB) - 63
S Shields (CB) - 60
J McMillian (S) - 44
C Hayward (CB) - 23

Bush was phased out. Packers fans everywhere were happy about this because of plenty of history of big plays happening when he is on the field. Jennings was phased out as well. Shields (injured for half of preseason), McMillian (R), and Hawyard (R) did enough in week 1 and the practices afterward to gains Capers trust to play more (Capers is on record saying this)

In the 3-4-4 base they had Shields-Woodson-Burnett-Williams with Woodson at safety. Sometimes up on the line leaving Burnett as single high and often giving Williams bracket coverage help on Marshall, Shields was left solo on Jefferies, playing trail technique and did this most of the game regardless of formation.

In the 2-4-5 and the odd 3-3-5 (I think I remember this 3 times) they usually were Shields-Woodson-McMillian-Burnett-Williams with Woodson moving up as the slot (or what many call the nickle) CB spot and McMillian coming in at the other safety spot. Though a couple of times they left Woodson at safety and brought Hayward into the slot. He also spelled Shields for a play or two on the outside. Hayward also saw time in the 4-2-5 in a Shields-Woodson-McMillian-Haward-Williams 4 CB 1 safety dime set.

Another noticeable change was in their 1-5-5 where the single down lineman was Worthy (in 2010 that was Jenkins, last year and in game one it was Raji or Pickett usually) and another rookie, Desmon Moses came in as the extra LB (he also spelled Matthews for a couple of snaps in the 3-4-4 and 2-4-5).

Snaps were taken away from Merling and given to Mike Daniels (R), mainly in the 4 man fronts, which makes a lot of sense because he is really a 4-3 tackle body type (too small for a 3-4 end) and that is what he played in college.

They also took Nick Perry (R) off the field, he played 100% of the defensive snaps in week 1, when the Bears lined up with more receivers (not always WR but TE too), limiting him to mostly just pass rushing, and not forcing him into coverage situations like in Week 1. Some of that was because of Eric Walden being available (he was suspended in week 1), but again something I was very happy to see because he was a hand on the ground player in college and he needs time.

It was a significantly changed D from week 1, and was much better than what Cutler faced against Indy (or Smith faced with the 9ers in week 1).

There are a lot rookies or 2nd year players that didn't play much last year on this defense which scares me and gives me hope. I expect that Davon House (CB) is going to get some snaps against Seattle likely as the the other slot CB opposite Woodson when they are in the 4 CB/1 Safety dime sets, though it depends on how good the arm is, he's a bigger corner and was playing great in the first couple of weeks of training camp this year.

by KK Probs (not verified) :: Sat, 09/22/2012 - 10:31am

Excellent post.

by commissionerleaf :: Fri, 09/21/2012 - 3:13pm

Peyton Manning's 2010 sacks should be taken with a grain of salt, since he never, in 2010, had three seconds to hold the ball before a defensive lineman reached him. He had only short sacks because he got rid of the ball quickly, and because his offensive line never delayed the opposition even by three seconds.

He has an offensive line now, so it is now at least possible that he will take long sacks, although I'm sure the fact that he did may be shaking the rust off issues.

by simeonjunker11 :: Fri, 09/21/2012 - 11:09pm

He has an offensive line now, so it is now at least possible that he will take long sacks, although I'm sure the fact that he did may be shaking the rust off issues.


by KK Probs (not verified) :: Sat, 09/22/2012 - 12:06pm

Jay Cutler question for someone who's followed his career, but first a brief Tice rant:

The Bears hired Mike Tice in 2010, and in 2012 they changed his title changed from "guy who looks tough standing next to Martz" to "Offensive Coordinator." The case could be made that Tice was a good OL coach... except he was the guy who was brought in to fix this OL in 2010-2011, and he plainly didn't. Martz was obviously working around this guy's unit for two years, and don't forget when you do Tice vs. Martz comparisons that Martz never had a receiving talent in the same ballpark as Brandon Marshall to work with, nor did he have anything close to Michael Bush to compliment Matt Forte. So you promote the guy in charge of the part of the offense that's the problem?

My biggest question is, what evidence do we have of Jay Cutler's play-calling genius? Was he great at it in college? In Denver? In Chicago, pre-Martz?

by Marko :: Sat, 09/22/2012 - 4:14pm

The biggest problem with the OL is lack of talent, not Tice's coaching. So the problem lies at the feet of the front office (and therefore is mostly the fault of former GM Jerry Angelo), not Tice. Tice is trying to make chicken salad out of you know what. And you have it backwards regarding Martz working around Tice's unit for two years; it was Tice that had to work around Martz's crazy scheme. (It was crazy when considering the talent of the players in it.) For both of the last two years, the offense played much better and the offensive line was adequate once Lovie Smith and Tice reined in Martz's play calling and made him utilize the running game as a bigger part of the offense. In both years, the Bears had several early games in which Martz completely ignored the running game and helped turn Jay Cutler into a human pinata, leading to some sort of intervention by Smith and Tice.

As for Brandon Marshall, what you said is true. It's not true with regard to Michael Bush. Chester Taylor and Marion Barber were very capable of complimenting Matt Forte ("Great run, Matt! You're the man!"). However, it true that Taylor and Barber were not close to Bush as a complement to Forte.

Regarding the last part, I don't know if anyone knows the answer because Cutler doesn't call his own plays. Yes, he can audible now (which he wasn't allowed to do under Martz), but that's not the same as being a play-caller in the first place.

by Dan :: Sat, 09/22/2012 - 9:23pm

I have to assume that Tice deserves at least some of the blame for the lack of OL talent. The front office is not going to just draft a Division II offensive tackle in the 7th round and then tell the coaches "this guy is a starter for the next 3 years." They get input from the coaching staff, especially the OL coach, and presumably Tice told them something along the lines of "I like this guy, we can win with him." My guess is that Tice has been overconfident in what he could do with second-rate OL talent (and has overestimated the talent of the guys that he had), which has contributed to the front office not making as much of an effort as it should have to seek out more OL talent.

by Eddo :: Sun, 09/23/2012 - 12:41pm

Excellent use of "compliment" and "complement", Marko.

by KK Probs (not verified) :: Sun, 09/23/2012 - 12:49pm

According to Displaced Packer Fan (above), "Martz is gone, Cutler has full freedom at the line now and I believe I read that in the week 1 game he changed something like 50% of the play calls at the line." If true, that's considerable power over play-calling. The announcers I've heard in Bears games also discuss what a great improvement this is to have Cutler call plays, and they appear to be being fed that information by the Bears, as if that's the party line. I see no basis for it, and I have yet to hear any justification for giving Cutler this role.

Martz is an awkward communicator with a knack for making strange calls in high-profile situations and then being aggravatingly aloof about it, and he looks like a dork. Mike Tice had the "Randy Ratio;" Martz never said anything that PR friendly. I think Martz was a more popular scapegoat, and an internally consistent narrative was constructed to make that happen, but the narrative wasn't totally based on reality, in particular with regards to Cutler somehow being a great play-caller. This happens in organizations. The whole thing smells like a Mike Tice coup d'etat to me.

I agree that Tice had very little talent to work with, but I don't buy that Tice was working around Martz at all. It's not like his OL was asked to do some odd skill that they didn't do well: they simply didn't do anything well. The reason Martz didn't keep more blockers in, in my opinion, was that he figured it was better to have more guys go down for passes, hopefully pull more guys into coverage, confuse the defense, and hope that somebody, somewhere might get open. This is especially true given that even Forte was nearly as effective as a receiver as he was as a rusher. If an OL coach needs to 6-7 guys to keep the QB from being injured, it's not him being forced to work around the OC's philosophy, it's him coaching a bad OL, however you want to assign the talent/coaching blame balance.

by DisplacedPackerFan :: Sun, 09/23/2012 - 1:03pm

Just as an FYI http://espn.go.com/blog/nfcnorth/post/_/id/46135/blogger-blitz-jay-cutle... is where I first read about Cutler changing plays. I'm not really arguing whether he should be allowed to or not, and if Tice is worse/just as bad/better than Martz. I just wanted to give a source for my numbers on that one, since it does seem relevant to the point you are trying to make and in case anyone questions that number later (as I think this is a point that could generate discussion) I wanted to provide my original source.

by Anonymousse (not verified) :: Mon, 09/24/2012 - 1:13am

"Cutler was only 3-of-10 for 33 yards and two interceptions. If you add in the yards he lost on sacks, Cutler and the Bears accounted for one net yard and two turnovers in 16 dropbacks where Cutler held the ball."

That doesn't necessarily say anything about Cutler. After 3 seconds a QB should have a low completion rate; he usually still has the ball because nobody is open. Thats going to lead to throwing the ball away, sacks, or interceptions.

I don't see any way looking at those numbers that you can put the blame on Cutler, or the receivers specifically. There's no way to seperate them.