by J.J. Cooper
At the end of the first quarter of the NFL season, some teams are seemingly already out of it. Colts and Dolphins fans are already waiting for their chance at Andrew Luck. Others have proven pleasant surprises: Say hi, Bills fans!
Much like that opening quarter gives us a good indication of what this season will be like for our favorite teams, a four-game stretch is also enough time to start analyzing the 2011 sacks. What we find is much what you would expect: Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco still like to hold onto the ball, while Alex Smith is hit way too often as he’s just getting set up in the pocket.
But the worst team in the league in allowing long sacks (sacks of three or more seconds) is somewhat surprising. Last year, Sam Bradford was better than the league average when it came to being pulled down for long sacks. This year, the Rams' offensive line has placed him squarely in last place.
The Rams’ 10 long sacks are four more than any other team in the league. They’ve given up long sacks on 5.71 percent of their pass plays this year, a full percentage point worse than any other team.
The Rams’ lack of NFL-caliber receivers would appear to be a factor in the large number of long sacks, but Bradford wasn't exactly throwing to Jerry Rice and John Taylor last year. On the other end of the spectrum, the Bills’ zero long sacks and their two overall sacks are a stunning development. Just two years ago, the Bills were dead last in adjusted sack rate. Now, Ryan Fitzpatrick is getting time to throw and making good use of it.
|Percentage of Long Sacks Allowed, 2011 season|
|Team||Long Sacks||Pass Attempts + Sacks||Percentage||Team||Long Sacks||Pass Attempts + Sacks||Percentage||Team||Long Sacks||Pass Attempts + Sacks||Percentage|
When it comes to short sacks (sacks of 2.5 seconds or less), three moribund offenses are among the league’s worst. Of the bottom five teams in quick sacks allowed, only the Dolphins have an offense ranked in the top half of the league by DVOA. Maybe the Rams’ offensive line isn’t as bad as it would appear -- they’ve allowed 19 sacks overall and 10 long sacks, but only two of their sacks allowed are short sacks.
|Percentage of Short Sacks Allowed, 2011 season|
|Team||Short Sacks||Pass Attempts + Sacks||Percentage||Team||Short Sacks||Pass Attempts + Sacks||Percentage||Team||Short Sacks||Pass Attempts + Sacks||Percentage|
And now, a look at some of the notable sacks of the week.
WORST SACK OF THE WEEK
The Cowboys did manage to keep Tony Romo upright more than you would expect against the Lions’ stout front four. Romo was sacked only once, but that one sack was one that rookie right tackle Tyron Smith won’t live down for a while.
Defensive end Willie Young didn’t try anything fancy as Dallas tried for a last-second comeback. He simply ran straight at Smith, gave him a punch with his right arm and managed to knock Smith onto his butt. The impact was violent enough that Smith almost ran into Romo. Smith did avoid that embarrassment, but it didn't add much more work for Young, who stepped over the cockroached Smith for the sack.
ASKING TOO MUCH
Yes, the Rams may have allowed only two short sacks this year, but the Rams had all kind of protection problems against the Redskins, which is a pretty damning indictment for an offensive line that has two recent high-round picks (Roger Saffold and Jason Smith) and also added a pair of big-money free-agent signings (Harvey Dahl and Jason Brown) in the last few years.
But on a sack that led to a lost fumble on Sunday, you have to blame the scheme more than the players. On a third-and-22 (set up by a hands to the face penalty called against Smith) the Rams faced a straightforward four-man rush. Despite the basic pass rush, the Rams somehow ended up with rookie wide receiver Austin Pettis matched up one-on-one in pass protection against Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan.
Pettis did about as much as you can ask a wide receiver to do against a top-notch pass rusher. He did briefly slow Kerrigan down, much like a traffic cone placed in the middle of a freeway. With Brian Orakpo driving Saffold back into quarterback Sam Bradford, Kerrigan was left free to blindside Bradford and force a fumble. Three plays later the Redskins had a touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
In that Redskins-Rams game, Orakpo and the rest of the Redskins pass rush humiliated the Rams offensive line. It’s not just the seven sacks the Rams allowed, it was the pressure and penalties the Rams’ front five gave up when they weren’t giving up sacks. Smith, the right tackle, was flagged for the aforementioned hands to the face and tacked on an illegal formation procedure for 20 yards in penalties. Saffold, the left tackle, picked up 25 yards in penalties himself with two holds and a false start. Center Brown added another false start.
Saffold has generally been a solid left tackle since the Rams drafted him in 2010, but Orakpo quickly found out that Saffold had trouble handling a straight-ahead bull rush. Play after play, he simply drove the 315-pounder into the backfield.
When we looked a couple of weeks ago at which pass rushers pick up quick sacks Jason Babin was fifth-best in the NFL. Sacks like the one he got against San Francisco this week show why. Babin was lined up as a wide nine defensive end, well outside of 49ers right tackle Anthony Davis, with defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins lined up to his inside (as a seven technique end). As you would expect at the snap, Jenkins fired off to the inside, trying to hit the B gap between Davis and guard Adam Snyder. Babin went wide, trying to beat Davis to the outside.
It ended up being a lot easier than Babin expected. There was nothing complicated about what the Eagles did -- no linebackers or defensive backs rushed, and none of the four defensive linemen ran twists or loops. But even with all that, Babin came through completely unblocked.
Davis blocked down, helping out Snyder. With no tight end on that side and no back staying in to block, Babin had one of the easiest sacks he’ll ever get. He poked the ball out of Alex Smith’s hands just 1.9 seconds after the snap, leading to a turnover.