Under Pressure: Seattle's Sackfest
by J.J. Cooper
It was lost in the outcry over the final play, but at halftime of Monday night’s Seahawks-Packers game, the biggest shock was the Seahawks' eight first-half sacks of Aaron Rodgers, just four off the all-time NFL single-game record. At the rate Rodgers was being sacked, Chris Clemons (four first-half sacks) also seemed to have Derrick Thomas’ NFL record seven-sack day in his sights as well.
The Packers did manage to keep Rodgers upright during the second half, but eight sacks -- in a half or a game -- is still an awful performance. But in re-watching all eight sacks, it’s clear that the offensive line wasn’t nearly as culpable as one might believe.
Of those eight sacks, only three came in less than three seconds. And one of those came when Rodgers simply fell to the ground when he tried to plant his feet to throw -- that one’s completely on Rodgers.
Let’s take a look at all eight sacks.
Sack No. 1: Rookie defensive end Bruce Irvin is an impressive pass rusher. On this play, he clearly got the better of Bryan Bulaga. Irvin has a quick first step, but what he also showed was his ability to use his hands to generate leverage. He won the battle of hand position against Bulaga, giving a nice upward shove to Bulaga’s chest, which got Bulaga light on his feet. Then, with Bulaga’s weight shifted onto his heels, Irvin cut inside of him to wrap up Rodgers 2.5 seconds after the snap. Blame the offensive line, and Bulaga in particular, for this one.
Sack No. 2: This is the Rodgers fall. Rodgers dropped back and tried to set his feet, but he stumbled and fell to the ground. Brandon Mebane won the race among Seahawks’ defensive linemen for the easy sack. Rodgers hit the ground 2.6 seconds after the snap. Blame this one on Rodgers.
Sack No. 3: This one is somewhat of a repeat of the first sack. Irvin got Bulaga back on his heels, then cut back inside. But this time, Rodgers had 3.7 seconds to throw before he was hit. This sack had more to do with the Seahawks’ excellent coverage downfield than Irvin’s pass rush. On this sack, blame goes to the Green Bay wide receivers for their inability to get open.
Sack No. 4: Rodgers has plenty of mobility and the Packers try to take advantage of that with rollouts. When you roll a quarterback out, you often gain a little extra time to throw, but you also limit yourself to throwing to roughly half of the field . Throwing back across your body is extremely risky.
Rodgers rolled out to his right and found himself with plenty of time, even though defensive end Clemons was left unblocked at the snap. Fullback John Kuhn flowed across the formation with Rodgers on the bootleg and managed to cut Clemons to slow him down. Rodgers had plenty of time to throw, but with nowhere to go, defensive tackle Alan Branch eventually shed his block and forced Rodgers to scramble. That gave Clemons enough time to get off the ground and run Rodgers down 3.5 seconds after the snap. Once again, the offensive line is relatively blameless on this sack.
Sack No. 5: The Seahawks were able to generate pressure without blitzing in the first half, which helped allow Seattle to be aggressive in re-routing Green Bay receivers while keeping safeties over the top. Of the eight first-half sacks, only once did Seattle rush more than four players. A lot of the credit for that goes to Clemons and Irvin. On this sack, Clemons lined up on the outside like usual, but looped inside at the snap. Center Jeff Saturday recognized Clemons coming his way and gave him a punch, but Clemons’ speed meant that instead of Saturday’s shove stopping him in his tracks, it came as Clemons was already a step past him. In fact, the shove actually pushed Clemons further into the pocket, forcing Rodgers to scramble. At the same time, Irvin was driving Bulaga back into Rodgers. Because Rodgers didn’t have much of a chance to step up to throw, Clemons was able to run him down. The sack came a lengthy 3.9 seconds after the snap, but in this case you can say that the offensive line was partly responsible for the sack.
Sack No. 6: Much like Sack No. 4, Rodgers rolled out. In this case he had plenty of time, but couldn’t find anywhere he wanted to throw the ball. After 5.2 seconds, Mebane eventually ran Rodgers down. But in this case, Rodgers had more time to throw than he could reasonably expect. The blame for this one goes to Rodgers and the wide receivers.
Sack No. 7: Clemons’ speed earned him a sack here. With left tackle Marshall Newhouse worried about getting beat to the corner, he over-committed to Clemons firing off the line. Clemons then took a quick step with his right foot, planted, and cut back to the inside. Newhouse’s race to the corner left a big opening to his inside and Clemons’ took advantage to sack Rodgers 2.4 seconds after the snap. This one is all on Newhouse.
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Sack No. 8: Clemons picked up his fourth sack of the first half just 30 seconds after his third sack, but the circumstances were completely different. In this case, Rodgers held the ball for 4.7 seconds before Clemons ran him down.
Clemons actually beat Newhouse to the outside at the snap, but Rodgers was able to step up and roll to his left to buy him some time. He had plenty of time to throw, but, once again, he couldn’t find anyone to throw to. Clemons gets credit for a great motor, as he was driven past Rodgers but stayed with the play and made a second chance to hit the quarterback. Again, the blame here seems to be more on an inability to find anyone open rather than poor pass protection.
GOING OLD SCHOOL
In recent years, many teams have adopted the 11-angry men approach in obvious passing situations. Rex Ryan, Dick LeBeau, and other defensive minds have gotten their linemen and linebackers out of three-point stances, going with one or two down linemen and plenty of other potential rushers milling around the line of scrimmage. At the snap, the offensive line has to sort out which of the stand-up rushers are coming and which ones are dropping into coverage.
The Rams adopted the exact opposite approach on a second-and-15 against the Bears on Sunday. St. Louis went with a somewhat old school 5-1-5, with five defensive linemen with their hands on the ground, joined by one linebacker, James Laurinaitis, milling around behind them.
At the snap, all six potential rushers fired off. With five defensive linemen, the Bears’ offensive linemen didn’t have to figure out who to block -- the five offensive linemen blocked the five defensive linemen while the tailback picked up Laurinaitis.
But that didn’t help the Bears block effectively. Chris Long, lined up to the outside of the tight end, had an excellent angle to cut the corner. The Rams generated good pressure up the middle while Long helped drive right tackle Gabe Carimi into the backfield to pick up the sack.
QUICK SACK OF THE WEEK
Robert Griffin is fast enough to force defensive linemen to work hard to track him down. But on Sunday, Griffin made it easy for the Bengals when he ran into running back Alfred Morris, forcing a fumble that he recovered. If, like me, you count the fumble as the start of the sack, Griffins sack came only 1.5 seconds after the snap. Defensive end Michael Johnson picked up one of the easiest sacks he’ll ever get by touching Griffin down.
LONG SACK OF THE WEEK
When are these rookies going to learn? Just a week after Andrew Luck learned that it never pays to turn your back to the line of scrimmage when running from a pass rusher, Seahawks’ quarterback Russell Wilson learned the same lesson.
Wilson completely reversed field while trying to run away from Packers’ linebacker Nick Perry. All it did was add to his yards lost. The final tally: 19 yards lost on a 5.7-second sack. The 19-yard loss is the second-longest of the season on a sack, trailing only Luck’s similar scramble.