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30 Nov 2012

Under Pressure: Shutdown Linemen

by J.J. Cooper

Left tackle Duane Brown was considered a little bit of an overdraft when the Texans took him in the first round in 2008. Four years later, he’s one of the main reasons the Texans are one of the best teams in the NFL.

Brown has kept Matt Schaub’s jersey nice and clean this year. He’s given up one sack in 12 games, best among all NFL tackles.

Last week we took a look at the offensive linemen who have given up the most total sacks. This week, by pairing the sack stats with the NFL’s snap counts, we can zero in on which offensive linemen who have done the best job of protecting their quarterbacks.

Before we get to looking at which blockers have excelled at pass protection, it’s worth explaining how each sack is evaluated by my project.

A standard disclaimer applies here: sacks allowed are determined by multiple viewings of every sack in the NFL this season. Generally, it’s pretty easy to tell who was responsible for allowing the sack -- if a man starts to block a pass rusher and is beaten by that pass rusher for a sack, then he’s the one charged with the sack. In the case of line stunts and twists, context matters. Generally linemen are expected to handoff pass rushers who twist away from them while picking up the rusher who comes back their way. If a sack is a clear case of one blocker handing off his initial man and picking up the next while the second blocker blocks no one, then the man who blocks no one and ends up chasing the defender who notches the sack gets charged with the sack. If it’s less clear, the sack is split between the two blockers: one half-sack each. The same split is true if a rusher splits a gap where two blockers both tried to block him.

There’s another way a sack isn’t blamed on a blocker: if a quarterback holds the ball for an extended period of time (usually 3.4 seconds or longer, but somewhat dependent on play call and protection scheme), a lineman is not blamed for a sack and it’s listed as a coverage sack. If the sack came because of a blitzing linebacker or defensive back who could not reasonably be expected to be blocked, it’s charged as a quarterback/play-call sack. The same is true for some screen passes that the defense sniffs out -- if the offensive lineman is told to let a pass rusher by, it’s not fair to blame him for letting the guy by. And if a bootleg play-action pass is called where an unblocked man isn’t suckered by the play-action (which happens more than you may think), that’s a quarterback/play-call sack as well. Of the 805 sacks this season, 318 are charged as either coverage sacks or quarterback/play-call sacks.

OK, now that the details are out of the way, let’s take a look at the pass protection stars of 2012. Admittedly, we’re just looking at sacks, not hurries allowed, but in my experience running this project, generally blockers who don’t give up sacks also don’t give up many hurries either. Those that give up lot of sacks are also getting beaten often on close calls as well.

Here are the 25 offensive linemen with 500 or more offensive snaps this season and no sacks allowed.

Offensive linemen with 500 or more snaps and no sacks allowed (through Week 12)
Team Lineman Position Snaps Sacks Allowed Team Lineman Position Snaps Sacks Allowed
IND 75-M.McGlynn RG 824 0 SD 65-L.Vasquez RG 714 0
DET 67-R.Sims LG 820 0 BAL 73-M.Yanda RG 712 0
HOU 55-C.Myers C 799 0 STL 59-R.Turner C 700 0
PHI 69-E.Mathis LG 789 0 PIT 73-R.Foster RG 699 0
OAK 66-C.Carlisle LG 753 0 TEN 61-F.Velasco C 685 0
DEN 68-Z.Beadles LG 749 0 OAK 61-S.Wisniewski C 681 0
ATL 63-J.Blalock LG 748 0 SEA 60-M.Unger C 681 0
NO 73-J.Evans RG 728 0 SF 59-J.Goodwin C 657 0
CHI 63-R.Garza C 722 0 PHI 66-D.Reynolds C 653 0
SD 61-N.Hardwick C 719 0 CAR 63-G.Hangartner C 637 0
WAS 63-W.Montgomery C 716 0 SD 69-T.Green LG 597 0
MIA 51-M.Pouncey C 714 0 NYG 75-S.Locklear RT 584 0

More than a third of the league’s starting centers have not allowed a sack this year that can be blamed on them. It’s interesting to note that no regular offensive tackle has made it through Week 12 without allowing a sack. Here’s a look at the 25 tackles who have allowed the fewest sacks:

Fewest sacks allowed, tackles (through Week 12)
Team Lineman Snaps Sacks Allowed Pct. Team Lineman Snaps Sacks Allowed Pct.
NYJ 60-D.Ferguson 729 0.5 0.07% NYG 65-W.Beatty 661 1.5 0.23%
HOU 76-D.Brown 790 1 0.13% NE 77-N.Solder 834 2 0.24%
DEN 78-R.Clady 745 1 0.13% KC 74-E.Winston 758 2 0.26%
NE 76-S.Vollmer 703 1 0.14% OAK 68-J.Veldheer 752 2 0.27%
DET 76-J.Backus 685 1 0.15% NO 74-J.Bushrod 730 2 0.27%
KC 76-B.Albert 669 1 0.15% MIN 75-M.Kalil 721 2 0.28%
TB 69-D.Dotson 624 1 0.16% TB 70-D.Penn 685 2 0.29%
SEA 76-R.Okung 615 1 0.16% SF 76-A.Davis 679 2 0.29%
DET 77-G.Cherilus 820 1.5 0.18% DAL 77-T.Smith 626 2 0.32%
PHI 79-T.Herremans 529 1 0.19% IND 69-W.Justice 619 2 0.32%
DET 71-R.Reiff 248 0.5 0.20% CAR 77-B.Bell 607 2 0.33%
CLE 73-J.Thomas 713 1.5 0.21% DEN 74-O.Franklin 742 2.5 0.34%
TEN 76-D.Stewart 674 1.5 0.22%


Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins’ sack of Carson Palmer was simply a thing of beauty.

Usually a 1.5-second sack either involves a linebacker coming through unblocked, a quarterback tripping over the feet of a lineman on his dropback, or some other massive screwup by the offense.

Atkins sacked Palmer in 1.5 seconds without the Raiders making any major mistakes. Atkins just blew by guard Mike Brisiel at the snap and happen to have the good fortune of Palmer stepping into his path as he set on his dropback.

It was Atkins’ ninth sack of the season, extremely impressive for a true defensive tackle. With his next sack he will become only the second defensive tackle to reach double digits in the past five seasons. (Ndamukong Suh had 10 in 2010.) It likely won’t be enough for him to win defensive player of the year with the seasons J.J. Watt (14.5 sacks) and Aldon Smith (16.5 sacks) are having, but he should get consideration.


Brady Quinn put up middling stats in his return to the starting lineup, just as expected. He was sacked twice, and both times, it was because he held the ball.

Quinn had a 3.6-second sack, but he also had a 5.7-second sack that was the longest sack of the week. Quinn had plenty of time, rolled out, thought about running, and eventually got run down by Von Miller. It wasn’t Miller’s normal quick sack, where he beats a offensive tackle, but he’ll take it all the same.

Posted by: J.J. Cooper on 30 Nov 2012

39 comments, Last at 05 Dec 2012, 6:33pm by Independent George


by Lee Cockrell (not verified) :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 2:43pm

How many sacks does Brown give up if he's protecting David Carr?

by Noah Arkadia :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 6:41pm

It depends. Can a QB truly get sacked if nobody's watching?

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

by Mr Shush :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 9:46pm

About 2, probably - Carr tended to take roughly twice as many sacks per play as Schaub. Close to 3 times as many is his worst years. Maybe say 3, on the grounds that Carr's 2012 Texans would be a worse team and therefore passing more as well as getting sacked more times per play.

by Left guard (not verified) :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 2:48pm

SF's Mike Iupati is purely a guard.

by J.J. Cooper :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 3:44pm

Fixed. Thanks.

by J.J. Cooper :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 3:44pm

Fixed. Thanks.

by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 2:52pm

Wouldn't this make more sense to judge the pass blocking on sacks per pass play rather than total snaps? Not even the Bears line allows many sacks on running plays.

by J.J. Cooper :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 3:19pm

Karl, it's working with the data we have. We have snap counts for total offensive plays, we don't have snap counts broken down by pass and running plays.

by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 3:37pm

Could you not do pass attempts plus sacks? I suppose that would leave out qb scrambles but for most passers you could add rush attempts to that, it's only a handful of guys like RGIII, Newton and Kaepernick who see quite a few designed runs. According to your stats only those three and Vick have more than 31 runs.

by Kulko :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 3:47pm

The problem is, that not on every Play the lineman is in play. So if Vollmer is having 20 Snaps, but NE runs 15 Passes and 10 Runs, they wont know if the 5 plays where he was on the sideline were runs or passes.

by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 3:52pm

I see, that is problematic. I think it would probably be possible because most linemen play pretty much every snap and only miss time due to injury but it would be quite time consuming to work out participation for every player on every team.

by LionInAZ :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 7:11pm

I agree with Karl -- better to use pass attempts accounting for games played. A minor complication would be for OL who participated in jumbo sets. A significant number of Riley Rieff's offensive snaps were as a 6th OL this year, for instance.

by Italian Niner :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 2:54pm

Mike Iupati plays guard, Joe Staley plays LT.

by MehlLageman56 (not verified) :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 3:11pm

I was wondering where D'Brickashaw Ferguson landed in the study. According to Pro Football Focus, he hasn't given up a sack, and ranked third in pass protection. Just curious.

by MehlLageman56 (not verified) :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 3:35pm

Guess I'm blind. Just saw his name, didn't think it would that far up.

by J.J. Cooper :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 3:40pm

No Mehl, thank you. When bringing stats over from snap counts, I had failed to bring Ferguson's snaps over so he failed to show up. Apologies for the error and thanks for pointing it out. The only sack Ferguson allowed was a Week 7 sack where Chandler Jones beat Ferguson to the outside. It was a half sack because Jermaine Cunningham was beating Austin Howard at the same time. Kevin Love actually got the sack, but Love was cleaning up for the sack that Jones and Cunningham forced.

by MehlLageman56 (not verified) :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 3:52pm

Thanks, it's good to know not everyone on my favorite team is having an atrocious year. Still rather be rooting for Duane Brown at this point.

by Athelas :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 7:48pm

KYLE Love.

Good stuff.

by zenbitz :: Sat, 12/01/2012 - 4:47pm

on the flip side, Anthony Davis was rated very poorly by PFF - giving up tons of hurries and hits.

by In_Belichick_We... :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 3:20pm

"It’s interesting to note that no regular offensive tackle has made it through Week 12 without allowing a sack."

I see NYG 75-S.Locklear RT

Is he an irregular offensive tackle?

by J.J. Cooper :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 3:36pm

He's technically David Diehl's backup, but yes he's the one guy on the list who has played significant snaps at tackle.

by J.J. Cooper :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 3:41pm

Along those lines, if you're a Giants' fan, I think I'd rather have Locklear than Diehl playing right tackle since pass protection is the Giants' biggest need with a quarterback like Eli Manning.

by commissionerleaf :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 3:54pm

I understand what you mean, that since the Giants have a franchise quarterback they should think about protecting him. However, they may think run blocking is a more important skill for the same reason; Eli Manning could probably rank in the top half of the league in passing statistics with subway turnstiles for linemen.

That said, I'm far from sure that Diehl is better as a run blocker either, so your mileage may vary.

by In_Belichick_We... :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 5:52pm

Pats fan looking for weaknesses on the Giants:)
Too young to have "In_Belichick_We_Trust" from the Giants days.

by Guest789 :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 3:54pm

He's the back-up swing tackle. David Diehl is the starter.


“Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.”

by Nathan :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 3:31pm

Yes but is he "elite"?

by Anonymous_Guy (not verified) :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 3:45pm

Kind of offended that Von Miller isn't also listed in the DPOY consideration.

by Jake (not verified) :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 7:12pm

Seconded. He's had a better all-around year than Aldon Smith.

by Karl Cuba :: Sat, 12/01/2012 - 1:46pm

I'm not sure that you can say that with such certainty. Smith has been outstanding against the run, they both have shed loads of sacks.

by DisplacedPackerFan :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 5:13pm

I'm trying to get a better handle on the Brian Bulaga injury.

Lang got burned some in the last couple of games playing tackle, but I also know he gave up some sacks playing guard. He was at 5.5 sacks allowed in last weeks article. Reading some of the GB beat writers, one of them says Bulaga only gave up sacks in the Seattle game, another credited him with half a sack in two games other than the Seattle game. I'm curious where you have him in your tracking, was it just the Seattle game (and really just the first half of that game) where he was really bad? Last season he was quite solid and I saw a bit on PFF ranking him well before the injury as well. I know Saturday has been one of, if not the, worst centers in the league this year, Sitton hasn't been as good as he was in the past, but still seems adequate. Lang seems adequate at guard, and if Bulaga really is as solid as I think at RT the Packers might not be as far away as I sometimes think from fixing the problem next year.

Also how many coverage/play call sacks do the Packers have, heck I think that would just be a good feature to run for the league here in the next couple of weeks, with 39.5% of all sacks being categorized that way, would be interesting to see where teams rank on that.

by BewareDaBroncos (not verified) :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 5:19pm

32 teams * 5 O lineman = 160 players.

There are 50 players listed here.

So by this simple math, about 1/3 of the league's O lineman made this list. Doesn't seem very "elite" to me.

by tuluse :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 7:10pm

ctrl-f elite

Not found until a user comment.

by BewareDaBroncos (not verified) :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 7:22pm

Fair enough, but regardless of the wording used, the article's focus is clearly to identify the best offensive linemen, or at least the best at protecting against sacks. Considering FO is a site all about statistical analysis, the data in this article doesn't pass a basic statistical smell test. My point was to show that this data set isn't quite up to FO's usual high standards.

by tuluse :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 7:46pm

His cutoffs for listing players is the top 25 though. He makes no effort establish that 25 means anything, it's just an arbitrary cutoff.

by Bobman :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 6:24pm

This is very cool stuff. but seeing two Colts linemen up there makes me wonder about all the punishment Luck takes--is it holding the ball too long, or is it the fact that he's battered but gets the ball out before being sacked? (meaning that if it's not because he holds on too long, then a QB hits analysis might show the Colts OL in a different light. If that was the case, however, instead of analysing 805 sacks, you'd have had to review about 2,500 QB hits, perhaps more, and determine which ones are legit...)

by LionInAZ :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 7:28pm

I find it just incredible that Gosder Cherilus could be on that list of tackles. The only reason I can imagine is that Cherilus is getting caught holding instead.

by JonFrum :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 7:35pm

Interesting to see individual sack rates. Then again, Pro Football Reference lists the Giants and Patriots at 3.4% sack rate, the Packers at 8.8% and the 49ers and Cardinals at 9.6%. There's a lot of team play in blocking, beyond individual assignments.

by In_Belichick_We... :: Mon, 12/03/2012 - 11:44am

To make it on this list, you need only to hold your block longer than the guy next to you.
I'm not saying that this is completely useless, but the data on players from bad teams should be evaluated in depth.

by Independent George :: Wed, 12/05/2012 - 6:33pm

Yeah, having watched Roberto Garza all season long, I can say with confidence that the only reason he hasn't given up a sack is because J'Marcus Webb or Gabe Carimi beat him to it. He's still probably the best lineman on that team, but that's really not saying much.