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14 Sep 2012

Under Pressure: Backus Up

by J.J. Cooper

Life as a left tackle is pretty rough.

Yes, it’s a well-paid rough life, but left tackles spend each week having to try to slow down some of the best athletes in the world, who get 30 to 40 chances to beat them for a sack. In baseball, if a hitter gets one hit in three tries (.333), he’s great. If a left tackle is regularly 28-for-30 (.933) on handling his pass-blocking assignment, he has to start wondering if he’s going to get replaced.

Jeff Backus isn’t a great left tackle, so he has some bad days. But last Sunday, Matthew Stafford didn’t make his job any easier.

With 11:13 left in the third quarter against the Rams, Stafford lined up in shotgun on second-and-9. Defensive end Robert Quinn lined up across from Backus, flared out in a nine technique to get a good angle in case it was a pass play.

It was, and Backus quickly fired out with a kick step, trying to get to the corner before Quinn did. Backus might have gotten there, if not for one problem. Stafford took his shotgun snap, which already had placed him five yards behind the line of scrimmage, and proceeded to take another five-step drop.

A seven-step drop is a deep drop. If you are lined up in shotgun, you don’t have to make a significant drop afterward to get enough depth to throw. By taking a five-step drop from the shotgun, Stafford took away an offensive lineman’s option of driving a pass rusher beyond the quarterback.

Offensive tackles don’t prepare to protect quarterbacks on 11-step drops, which effectively is what Stafford took. Stafford ended up setting up almost 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Quinn didn’t have to worry about cutting the corner on his way to the quarterback, he was able to simply take a slight angle to get to Stafford.

That was the only sack that Backus allowed in Week 1, and the only one the Lions allowed against the Rams. But really, it was Stafford who caused it.


J.J. Watt told Pro Football Talk this week that he learned the Dolphins’ snap counts by watching Hard Knocks, which helped him gets 1.5 sacks in Week 1. But Watt wasn’t the only lineman who appeared to figure out snap counts. John Abraham beat Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert for a sack and a forced fumble on a play where he either knew the snap count or made a hell of a guess. Abraham was across the line of scrimmage before most of the Chiefs’ linemen had even gotten out of their stance. Albert never had a chance, as Abraham beat him to the outside for a forced fumble the Falcons recovered. On the next play, the Falcons scored to go up 34-17, putting the game away.


Pittsburgh drafted a pair of offensive linemen in the top two rounds and brought in Todd Haley as the new offensive coordinator. Part of the reason for the changes was to attempt to keep Ben Roethlisberger from being black and blue in the black and yellow by December.

But just like usual, Roethlisberger ended up on the ground a lot in the season opener.

The Steelers have a league-worst five sacks and the third-worst sack rate (11.1 percent) in the league. And just like they have over the last seven years, the Steelers’ leaky offensive line and Roethlisberger’s tendency to hang on to the ball to try to make things happen are the root of the problem.

Of the Steelers five sacks, all were either short sacks (under 2.5 seconds) or long sacks (3.0 seconds or more).

Three of the sacks were clearly the line's fault; all three took 2.3 seconds or less. Doug Legursky, playing right guard as an injury replacement for Ramon Foster (eye injury) gave up 1.5 of those three sacks. Mike Adams, this year’s second-round pick, came in at right tackle to replace the injured Marcus Gilbert (knee injury) and gave up one himself when Von Miller dipped his shoulders and flew by him on a speed rush.

Roethlisberger also had a pair of sacks that were set up by his desire to wait just a little bit longer to try to make a play. He was sacked in 3.7 and 4.6 seconds on those two plays. In Roethlisberger’s defense, those two sacks came on a third-and-13 and a fourth-and-15 (the last play of the game), so Roethlisberger’s sacks cost a little bit of yardage and added to the sack stats, but they didn’t really kill any Steelers drives.


Figuring out the snap count may have helped Watt out, but one of his 1.5 sacks was a freebie. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill fell down pulling back from center. All Watt had to do was win the race to first touch Tannehill. He won the race, so maybe knowing the snap count helped him after all.


Cam Newton’s running ability gets him out of some sacks, it also ensures that he’ll pick up some long sacks, as it did this week.

When the Buccaneers sent a blitz up the middle, Newton decided to break outside and try to outrun the rush. It didn’t work, and Ronde Barber came up to corral him two yards short of the line of scrimmage, 7.1 seconds after the snap.

Newton also added a 4.1-second sack to his total.

Posted by: J.J. Cooper on 14 Sep 2012

9 comments, Last at 19 Sep 2012, 12:23am by tuluse


by theslothook :: Fri, 09/14/2012 - 2:46pm

I suppose next week the headline player will be jamarcus webb.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Sat, 09/15/2012 - 5:26pm

"Jamarcus" just does not seem to be a good first name to have as an NFL player.

-I'm not Billy Bad-Ass.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Fri, 09/14/2012 - 6:04pm

I remember that play. I was wondering what the hell Stafford was doing dropping back like he's a quarterback in Madden '13.

-I'm not Billy Bad-Ass.

by LionInAZ :: Sat, 09/15/2012 - 4:34pm

He has to back up far enough to account for Raiola flying backwards.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Sat, 09/15/2012 - 5:22pm

Haha.Well played.

-I'm not Billy Bad-Ass.

by TaiPS (not verified) :: Sat, 09/15/2012 - 9:15am

Short version: Have you ever heard of dropping extreme situations from your sample?

Long version: The timing of sacks matters too. I watched the PIT@DEN game and 3 of BR's 5 sacks came on the last drive (3 sacks on 4 plays!), down 2 scores with less than 2 minutes left, so there was no threat of running whatsoever, and no chance at a play towards the middle of the field. Now the OL in Pittsburgh is a concern, but these sacks statistics are meaningless. If PIT's coaches had done the smart thing, given up on the game, and let Leftwich take those sacks or throw it away, we would be looking at 2 sacks, against the Denver pass rush at home. Here's the play-by-play:

PIT 19 DEN 31, 0 plays, 43 yards, 0:00 drive , 13:02 elapsed
M.Prater kicks 65 yards from DEN 35 to end zone, Touchback.
Pittsburgh Steelers at 1:58
1-10-PIT 20 (1:58) (Shotgun) B.Roethlisberger sacked at PIT 15 for -5 yards (V.Miller).
2-15-PIT 15 (1:27) (Shotgun) B.Roethlisberger pass short middle to E.Sanders to PIT 25 for 10 yards (J.Leonhard).
3-5-PIT 25 (1:01) (Shotgun) B.Roethlisberger sacked at PIT 15 for -10 yards (V.Miller).
Timeout #2 by PIT at 00:54.
4-15-PIT 15 (:54) (Shotgun) B.Roethlisberger sacked at PIT 10 for -5 yards (W.Woodyard).
Denver Broncos at 0:42
1-9-PIT 9 (:42) Direction Change. P.Manning kneels to PIT 11 for -2 yards.
2-11-PIT 11 (:42) P.Manning kneels to PIT 12 for -1 yards.

by LionInAZ :: Sat, 09/15/2012 - 4:27pm

You don't give up on a game if you're down by only two scores with nearly 2 minutes left. At least not if you want to keep your job as head coach. A quick score in one minute or less and an onside kick put you in striking distance. Or the opponent can cough up a turnover. Stranger things have happened in the lasr two minutes of play.

by Anonymousassa (not verified) :: Sun, 09/16/2012 - 7:48pm

lol at the Bears fan comparing Backus' relevance as a headliner to Webb. Webb is the worst tackle of the decade and the Bears are blindly putting him out there week after week even though he stinks.

Backus is a dependable starting LT who has started every single game since being drafted in 2001. He's played through many injuries. If Webb had half the heart Backus did, he may be bad as opposed to putrid. Did you notice Webb laughing when Cutler called him out for his crap play? I did.

by tuluse :: Wed, 09/19/2012 - 12:23am

Webb isn't even the worst tackle for the Bears in the past 3 years. Now sure that says more about the Bears tackles than Webb, but still.