Under Pressure: Coming Unblocked
by J.J. Cooper
Gregg Williams loves to take risks.
When Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams goes shark hunting, he leaves his shark cage at home. Williams spends his vacations climbing Mount Everest, and he doesn't need any supplemental oxygen. Whenever he's in Japan, he has to order the Fugu.
He's even been known to go to an Eagles' game wearing an opposing team's jersey.
Actually, I don't know anything about Williams' personal habits. But on the field, he coaches with a bravado and a go-for-broke insanity that is unlike anyone else in the game. There are risk takers, and then there is Williams.
For most teams, a seven-man rush is a fine play call to use every couple of weeks (or once or twice a year depending on the coach). Teams use it as the occasional change-up, an all-out assault to try to catch the offense unaware, or to force a quarterback into a quick checkdown pass on third-and-long.
Last year, the Saints sent six or more rushers 50 percent more often than any other team in the league. The Packers sent seven men twice last year, the Redskins sent seven once. The Saints called a seven-man blitz 42 times.
It hasn't changed this year. We don't have the complete data yet on the number of times teams have sent seven, but the Saints have seven sacks on seven-man rushes this season. The rest of the league has nine. Give Williams credit, he knows how to get a blitzer a free run at the quarterback. In logging sacks where the rusher comes untouched, the Saints have eight unblocked sacks. No other team has more than five.
|Unblocked Sacks by Team, 2011|
|Team||Unblocked Sacks||Team||Unblocked Sacks||Team||Unblocked Sacks|
Williams' frequent blitz calls also cover up something else -- when New Orleans doesn't send a lot of men, they generally don't rack up sacks. The Saints have as many sacks on seven-man rushes as they do on four and five-man rushes combined. New Orleans lacks pass rushers who can consistently generate pressure on their own, so Williams has figured out a way to compensate for it: sending everyone. That also explains why of the five defenders who have picked up two unblocked sacks this year, New Orleans has two of them, including the NFL leader, Jonathan Casillas, who has three.
|Unblocked Sack Leaders, 2011|
New Orleans isn't a particularly talented defense, and Williams' blitzing isn't a perfect panacea -- they are 25th in the league in DVOA and 20th in pass defense -- but Williams has figured out how to generate pressure with few true pass rushers.
When it comes to teams who are victimized by unblocked defenders, is anyone surprised to see the Bears at the top of this list? Combine Mike Martz's aversion to hot routes and max protect and Jay Cutler's tendency to hold the ball and you get some unblocked sacks. When the Bears had the misfortune to face the Saints, New Orleans racked up four unblocked sacks came against the pair.
With Seattle, it would be easy to blame the quarterback for some of those, but they are divided rather evenly between Tavaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst, and on only one of them did a defensive back come unblocked (those are usually plays where a quarterback has to check down to a hot receiver). The other four all appear to be a case of miscommunication or other confusion among the offensive lineman and the backs.
|Unblocked Sacks Allowed by Team, 2011|
|Team||Unblocked Sacks||Team||Unblocked Sacks||Team||Unblocked Sacks|
On to this week's sack notes, which leads off with a note on an unblocked sack.
QUICKEST SACK OF THE YEAR
In doing this project, you see a lot of sacks -- nearly 3,000 at last count. But in two-and-a-half years of logging sacks, I’d never been a sack like the one Ronde Barber pulled off against the Bears last Sunday.
Normally, timing a sack is pretty easy: you hit the stopwatch’s plunger at the snap and then again when the sacker hits the quarterback. But in this case, it’s hard to promise that my nearly 40-year-old reflexes are up to the task. Barber hit Cutler so quickly that the start and stop clicks are nearly instantaneous.
By my best estimate, Barber first hit Bears quarterback Jay Cutler 0.3 seconds after the snap. In the previous 2,701 sacks, none had been recorded in less than 0.8 seconds, and only two had been recorded in less than a second -- the next fastest sack this year took 1.5 seconds. Barber didn’t really hide his blitz. He came up to the line, stood in the A gap and timed the snap to hit Cutler before Cutler had even gotten his first step into his dropback. It’s impossible to know exactly what the Bears’ blocking scheme on the play was, but in many schemes, a blitzing defensive back is the responsibility of a running back. If that was the case, there was absolutely no chance to stop Barber.
The Redskins sacked Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton four times, but what was notable is that only one of those four sacks involved a Panthers’ linemen actually being beaten by a defender.
One of those sacks came when Newton rolled out of the pocket, found no one open, and eventually ran out of bounds. Another came when LaRon Landry was unblocked on a safety blitz from one side while Adam Carriker beat Geoff Hangartner on the other to combine for a sack.
But the two puzzling ones were both the results of what appeared to be either significant mental breakdowns or simply poor line calls. Carriker was left unblocked on a simple four-man rush for the easiest sack of his career on one play, while on another, the Panthers somehow left Brian Orakpo unblocked on a short edge with no tight end on his side. No matter how athletic Newton is, he’s not going to avoid an unblocked Orkapo, especially when he’s coming from Newton’s blind side. The result was what you would expect: a crushing hit only 1.7 seconds after the snap.
In that same Panthers-Redskins game, Panthers’ defensive coordinator Sean McDermott came up with a very inventive zone blitz call to force a sack on a key fourth-and-two early in the second half, with the Panthers up by just three.
With the Redskins lined up with three receivers to the right of the formation and another split out to the left, Carolina could feel confident that Washington was going to throw for the first down. The Panthers lined up with linebacker James Anderson and safety Charles Godfrey standing in the A gaps, flanking defensive tackle Ronald Fields. Linebacker Antwan Applewhite also showed blitz as he was lined up just outside of right defensive end Charles Johnson.
At the snap, Anderson and Godfrey came on blitzes, just as they had telegraphed before the play. But Fields, the defensive tackle, and defensive end Greg Hardy both fired off for one step, then peeled back into short zones, as did Applewhite. What had looked like an all-out blitz ended up being a four-man rush.
The Redskins had six blockers to handle the four Panthers’ pass rushers, but since center Erik Cook was focused on blocking Fields, he let Anderson and Godfrey run right by him. Running back Roy Helu picked up Godfrey, but he couldn’t block two men, and Anderson came flying in nearly untouched for an easy sack. The key to the play was sending both rushers up the middle. Neither Fields or Hardy was going to stick with any of the Redskins’ receivers for long, but since Anderson got there 2.2 seconds after the snap, they didn’t need to. John Beck had an open receiver over the middle he could have connected with for the first down, but before he could get rid of the ball, Anderson was already there.
LONGEST SACK OF THE WEEK
Newton's rollout sack was timed at 6.1 seconds, but that was only the second longest sack of the week. Aaron Rodgers had a similar sack that took 6.7 seconds against the Vikings, as he rolled out, found no one open, tried to run for it, and was caught by Marcus Sherels before he could get past the line of scrimmage.
The longest non-scramble sack of the week also went to Rodgers, as he held the ball for five seconds in the pocket before Everson Griffen caught up to him.