Under Pressure: SackElroy
by J.J. Cooper
It’s amazing to think that the worst offensive line performance of the season was not turned in by the leaky Cardinals front five. As bad as Arizona’s line was early in the season, none of their efforts were as putrid as what happened to the Jets offensive line last Sunday.
New York gave up 11 sacks against the Chargers. It’s the most any team has given up since 2007, when the Giants sacked Donovan McNabb 12 times in a game best remembered as Winston Justice’s worst nightmare. That 12-sack game equaled the NFL record for sacks allowed (since sacks became an official stat), and is the only time this century that a team has given up more sacks than the Jets did against the Chargers.
This week, Lomas Brown admitted that he missed a block to make sure Scott Mitchell was knocked out of a game. Watching the Chargers-Jets game, one has to wonder (only half-facetiously) whether New York's linemen hate Greg McElroy.
It was McElroy’s first start, but this is not something that can be blamed on an inexperienced quarterback. Only two of the 11 sacks were logged as coverage sacks. McElroy actually kept the Jets out of the record books with a couple of short scrambles that were just a yard or two away from being recorded as sacks.
McElroy sustained a concussion during the game that he hid from the team. Once it was discovered, McElroy was ruled out for the season finale this weekend. It would be a shame if this ends up to be McElroy’s only NFL start, because he truly didn’t get a chance to show what he could do. He was pressured on 16 of the 25 pass attempts he did manage to get off. Even with all that pressure, he didn’t play poorly.
Looking back over the 18 games since the merger where a team gave up 11 or more sacks, you won’t be surprised to hear that very rarely does the battered quarterback limp off the field a winner. Teams are 2-16 when they give up 11 or more sacks.
Equally obvious: the quarterbacks who are bludgeoned very rarely have a good game. McElroy’s 60 percent completion percentage was the second best of the 18 games, and his 7.7 yards per attempt were second best among those 18 games as well. Quarterbacks as good as Bert Jones, Steve Bartkowski, Troy Aikman and Bernie Kosar have crumbled under the weight of double-digit sack games. McElroy actually held up pretty well under the onslaught.
(As an aside, if you want to see a game where the pass rush ruined the passing game, check out what had to rank as one of the most unwatchable Monday Night Football games of all-time -- Oct. 6, 1975, when the Cowboys held the Lions to 27 net passing yards in a 36-10 Dallas’ win.)
But back to the Jets. There are plenty of linemen to blame. By my count, Austin Howard gave up 3.5 of the sacks; Brandon Moore gave up 1.5 sacks; D’Brickashaw Ferguson allowed 1.5 more. Every starting Jets lineman had a role in at least one sack.
A STAR IS BORN?
Sure, he was helped by New York's decision to quit a couple of weeks before the season ended, but it was hard not to be impressed with Chargers rookie defensive tackle Kendall Reyes, who notched 3.5 sacks.
Reyes showed a variety of pass-rushing moves throughout his breakout game. He managed to get Moore off-balance with a bull rush and drive him back into McElroy for a half-sack early in the game. On his next sack, Reyes slid off his blocker and ran down McElroy with a bit of foot speed. Reyes worked a nice two-man game to beat Austin Howard for his next sack, as Howard was caught staying too focused on the inside as Reyes looped outside. And Reyes’ final sack came on one of McElroy's two long sacks. It was one that was almost a freebie for Reyes, but it also made up for San Diego's first sack of the game, which Reyes played a significant part in. He ran over Bilal Powell and wrapped up McElroy, but wasn’t credited with a half of the sack.
Reyes now has 5.5 sacks this year as a part-time defensive end/defensive tackle. Expect to see him improve on those numbers in upcoming years with more experience and more playing time.
SEND THE HOUSE
When a defensive coordinator dials up a seven-man pass rush, you dream of getting a situation like the Redskins received against the Eagles on Sunday. Jim Haslett brought eight men up to the line of scrimmage in man coverage, a Cover-0 look.
One of the eight did bail out to cover Eagles tight end Brent Celek, but the Redskins sent seven, which meant that safety Madieu Williams was left completely unblocked. With Celek heading out on a pass route, the Eagles only had five linemen and running back LeSean McCoy to pick up seven rushers. No Eagles blocker appeared to blow his assignment, but it didn’t matter as Williams nabbed Nick Foles 1.4 seconds after the snap.
The sack forced the Eagles to settle for a field goal after a short pass on third down.
REALLY SEND THE HOUSE
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Washington's seven-man blitz was a great example of a risky play call paying off, but it was positively sedate compared to the Rams, who successfully pulled off an eight-man rush on a first down against the Bucs. Safety Quintin Mikell got the sack 2.6 seconds after the snap.
An eight-man rush sack is rarer than you might think. No one recorded a sack on an eight-man rush in 2011, three were recorded in 2010, and one in 2009.
The Rams are the only team with a sack on an eight-man rush this season -- and they have four of them. St. Louis has dialed them up in a variety of situations. They have two eight-man sacks on first down, one on second down, and one on third down. Clearly, the Rams are willing to be a little riskier with their blitzes than most teams.
The Cardinals offensive line has shown minor improvement since rookie Nate Potter replaced D’Anthony Batiste at left tackle. But you wouldn’t have known that by watching Sunday’s game. Julius Peppers abused Potter for three sacks. Peppers didn’t have to do anything unusual to beat Potter. He just lined up and beat Potter with speed on each of the three sacks. Potter has now given up eight in just six starts, so while he’s better than Batiste, it’s still worth remembering that he’s among the worst left tackles in the league.
QUICKEST SACK OF THE WEEK
A sub-1.0 second sack is about as common as a winning Browns season. Since this sack project began in 2009, there have only been five sub-1.0 second sacks recorded. So it’s notable that Steelers safety Troy Polamalu picked up a 0.7-second sack that ranks as the second-fastest sack of the past four years and the fastest of the season.
Polamalu didn’t look to be blitzing in the pre-snap look. He was lined up across from Bengals tight end Orson Charles, who was flanked out as a wide receiver. But before the snap, Charles went into motion into the backfield. Polamalu followed him across the formation, then shot the A-gap at the snap, turning sideways to more easily fit into the gap. He hit quarterback Andy Dalton before anyone else could react.
In case you’re wondering, Ronde Barber’s 0.3-second sack of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler last year is the fastest of the past four years, and is likely a record that will never be broken -- it’s hard to start and stop the stopwatch much quicker than the amount of time that passed from Barber perfectly timing the snap with a full-speed blitz in his hit of Cutler.
LONGEST SACK OF THE WEEK
One of the few things to not work for Seattle last week against the 49ers was a fake-option pass that the Seahawks tried to pull off with Russell Wilson. Wilson pulled off the fake properly, but when he found no one open, he ended up running around for eight seconds before getting nabbed by Isaac Sopoaga.