Under Pressure: Short and Long Sacks
by J.J. Cooper
Cam Newton has been sacked 24 times this year, as the Panthers’ 7.7 percent Adjusted Sack Rate ranks 24th in the league. But please don’t point fingers at Jordan Gross and the rest of the Panthers’ offensive line -- it really hasn’t been their fault. Newton’s legs create plenty of big plays and buy lots of time, but in logging the time of every sack this year, it’s also apparent that his decision to hold the ball frequently is leading to a lot of sacks that aren't really the line’s fault.
It’s not a perfect measure, but quick sacks (those that occur in 2.4 seconds or less) are almost always a function of either a poor block or a mistake that left a blocker untouched. With the exception of blitzes that force a quarterback into a hot read, the quick sack is usually not the quarterback’s fault. Newton has only two quick sacks all season (0.7% of dropbacks), which ranks ninth-best in the league. Among regular starters, Newton’s short sack percentage is third-best in the league.
Short Sacks Through Week 10
|TEAM||QB Sacked||Short Sacks||Pct||Rk||TEAM||QB Sacked||Short Sacks||Pct||Rk|
|KC||Brady Quinn||0||0.0%||1||DEN||Peyton Manning||5||1.5%||22|
|PHI||Nick Foles||0||0.0%||1||PIT||Ben Roethlisberger||5||1.5%||23|
|MIA||Matt Moore||0||0.0%||1||BUF||Ryan Fitzpatrick||5||1.6%||24|
|WAS||Kirk Cousins||0||0.0%||1||ATL||Matt Ryan||6||1.6%||25|
|NYJ||Tim Tebow||0||0.0%||1||GB||Aaron Rodgers||6||1.7%||26|
|NYG||David Carr||0||0.0%||1||HOU||Matt Schaub||5||1.7%||27|
|NYG||Eli Manning||1||0.3%||7||MIN||Christian Ponder||6||1.8%||28|
|CIN||Andy Dalton||2||0.6%||8||OAK||Carson Palmer||7||1.8%||29|
|CAR||Cam Newton||2||0.7%||9||SEA||Russell Wilson||5||1.8%||30|
|DET||Matt Stafford||3||0.7%||10||SD||Philip Rivers||6||1.9%||31|
|TEN||Jake Locker||1||0.8%||11||NO||Drew Brees||8||2.1%||32|
|NE||Tom Brady||3||0.8%||12||DAL||Tony Romo||8||2.2%||33|
|SF||Alex Smith||2||0.8%||13||STL||Sam Bradford||7||2.2%||34|
|TB||Josh Freeman||3||1.0%||14||WAS||Robert Griffin III||7||2.5%||35|
|CHI||Jay Cutler||3||1.1%||15||NYJ||Mark Sanchez||8||2.5%||36|
|CLE||Brandon Weeden||4||1.1%||16||ARI||John Skelton||5||2.7%||37|
|BAL||Joe Flacco||4||1.2%||17||MIA||Ryan Tannehill||8||2.7%||38|
|TEN||Matt Hasselbeck||3||1.3%||18||PHI||Michael Vick||10||2.9%||39|
|IND||Andrew Luck||5||1.3%||19||ARI||Kevin Kolb||11||5.2%||40|
|JAC||Blaine Gabbert||4||1.3%||20||JAC||Chad Henne||3||7.1%||41|
But when you look at long sacks (those of three seconds or longer), there are few who pick up more sacks than Newton by holding the ball for a tick or two after the internal alarm clock in his head starts screaming "throw the ball now." In looking back at Newton’s long sacks, one trend pops out: tackle Byron Bell is competent enough to generally block his man for three seconds or so, but after that, all bets are off. By my count, Bell has allowed only one sack this season that can truly be called his fault, but there are three "long sacks" where his man eventually got free to sack Newton.
Newton isn’t the only young quarterback who has a dramatic discrepancy between his short sacks and long sacks. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton generally has plenty of time to throw -- he has only two short sacks this year. But Dalton has taken 16 long sacks after having only 10 long sacks in his entire rookie season.
Long Sacks Through Week 10
|TEAM||QB Sacked||Long Sacks||Pct||Rk||TEAM||QB Sacked||Long Sacks||Pct||Rk|
|TEN||Jake Locker||0||0.0%||1||PHI||Nick Foles||1||2.9%||22|
|DEN||Peyton Manning||3||0.9%||2||DET||Matthew Stafford||12||3.0%||23|
|MIA||Ryan Tannehill||3||1.0%||3||KC||Matt Cassel||9||3.2%||24|
|OAK||Carson Palmer||4||1.0%||4||MIN||Christian Ponder||11||3.2%||25|
|NO||Drew Brees||4||1.0%||5||JAC||Blaine Gabbert||10||3.4%||26|
|HOU||Matt Schaub||3||1.0%||6||SD||Philip Rivers||11||3.4%||27|
|DAL||Tony Romo||4||1.1%||7||STL||Sam Bradford||11||3.5%||28|
|TEN||Matt Hasselbeck||3||1.3%||8||WAS||Robert Griffin III||10||3.5%||29|
|NYG||Eli Manning||7||1.9%||9||SEA||Russell Wilson||10||3.7%||30|
|ATL||Matt Ryan||7||1.9%||10||PHI||Michael Vick||13||3.8%||31|
|CLE||Brandon Weeden||7||2.0%||11||ARI||Kevin Kolb||8||3.8%||32|
|NE||Tom Brady||8||2.1%||12||GB||Aaron Rodgers||15||4.2%||33|
|KC||Brady Quinn||1||2.2%||13||CAR||Cam Newton||14||4.7%||34|
|BUF||Ryan Fitzpatrick||7||2.3%||14||CIN||Andy Dalton||16||4.7%||35|
|JAC||Chad Henne||1||2.4%||15||MIA||Matt Moore||1||4.8%||36|
|BAL||Joe Flacco||8||2.4%||16||CHI||Jay Cutler||16||5.7%||37|
|TB||Josh Freeman||7||2.4%||17||SF||Alex Smith||16||6.6%||38|
|NYJ||Mark Sanchez||8||2.5%||18||WAS||Kirk Cousins||1||10.0%||39|
|ARI||John Skelton||5||2.7%||19||NYJ||Tim Tebow||1||14.3%||40|
|PIT||Ben Roethlisberger||9||2.7%||20||NYG||David Carr||1||33.3%||41|
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s lack of long sacks is surprising. Generally, quarterbacks with mobility are more likely to get a long sack because they are more likely to buy time by scrambling. Jake Locker’s zero long sacks would appear to be even more impressive, but since I've been logging sacks for three-and-a-half years now, it’s hard to not notice that it may be a function of the Titans scheme. With the exception of Vince Young, no Titans quarterback in the past four years has picked up many long sacks. Kerry Collins had five long sacks in 508 dropbacks from 2009-2010 (1 percent), and Locker and Matt Hasselbeck combined to pick up six long sacks in 608 dropbacks last year (again, 1 percent).
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler always seems to have plenty of long sacks, but 49ers quarterback Alex Smith’s appearance at the bottom of the long sack charts is somewhat surprising. From 2009-2011, Smith’s long sack percentage was 2.5 percent. This year, it’s more than doubled, as Smith has as many long sacks this year (16) as he had in the past three years combined. Smith’s interception rate has gone down in the past two years as his sack rate has gone up, so it may simply be an intentional decision to hold the ball for sacks instead of getting rid of the ball.
LONG SACK OF THE WEEK
Fittingly, Newton had the longest sack of this week. But in this case, it was really a function of the play call's inability to block a defensive back. Newton managed to dodge an unblocked defensive back blitz at 2.6 seconds, but that led him to decide to tuck and run. Kevin Vickerson ran him down at the sideline two yards behind the line of scrimmage at 6.8 seconds.
SHORT SACK OF THE WEEK
The shortest sack of the week is hard to judge. Is it Carson Palmer’s flop job where he fell down backing away from center? Palmer fell to the ground just 0.8 seconds after the snap, but it took another 2.4 seconds before the first Ravens defender finally got around to touching down the stone-footed Raiders quarterback.
If not for that sack, the shortest sack of the week would have belonged to Mark Sanchez and the Jets. The Jets got so worried about picking up a potential overload blitz by the Seahawks that they forgot to block Bruce Irvin. Watching the play on the all-22 view, it’s quite clear that the Jets were all talking about slanting the line to their left (notice the number of players pointing at Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons lined up on the Jets left.)
The Seahawks were actually rushing only four, but the Jets slanted their protection anyway.
New York had no problem blocking the pressure from its left, but in doing so, right tackle Austin Howard protected his unoccupied inside gap. Irvin accepted the gift of an unblocked run at the quarterback, slamming Sanchez to the turf just 1.6 seconds after the snap.
600-PLUS POUNDS HEADED YOUR WAY
The most innovate pass rush I saw this week was a variant on the 11 Angry Men approach that has become so popular in the NFL. Many teams will have all but one or two men stand up in obvious pass-rushing situations. The idea is that by having different players milling around, you create confusion for the protection scheme.
The Bills didn’t really worry about creating confusion with their approach on a third quarter third-and-5 against the Patriots: they had everyone stand up, with no linemen with their hands on the ground. But the real reason was so defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams could stand shoulder-to-shoulder to get a running start at Patriots center Ryan Wendell.
It’s hard to find any center who’s going to be able to handle that much mass if they get the jump on him. At the snap, Williams spun away from guard Logan Mankins while Dareus simply knocked Wendell on his butt. The two Bills defensive tackles met at Tom Brady, sandwiching him under 630 pounds of Bills’ beef.
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SHOULDN’T BE THIS EASY
It’s been a couple of seasons now since the Jaguars had an offense that could be described as mediocre. Completely inept is a pretty fair description of the Jags under quarterback Blaine Gabbert. After finishing 31st in offensive DVOA in 2011, the Jags are, again, 31st this year.
The ineptness was apparent again last week when the Colts managed to pick up a pair of sacks on safety blitzes that should have had no business succeeding. Twice in a three-minute span in the fourth quarter, the Colts ran safety blitzes from what, pre-snap, looked like a Cover-2 set. For the first sack, Antoine Bethea took off from 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage to sack Gabbert. In this case, the sack was a coverage sack, as Bethea sacked Gabbert 4.5 seconds after the snap.
Less than three minutes later, Tom Zbikowski did the same thing. In the Jaguars defense, this blitz was a little tougher to defend. Zbikowski timed his approach well, waiting until the Jags picked up a blitzing linebacker with the one back in the backfield. Because of that, Zbikowski arrived unblocked 2.3 seconds after the snap.
Those weren’t the only bizarre sacks the Jaguars gave up last week. On another sack, the Jaguars lined up wide receiver Justin Blackmon, their first-round pick this year, as a tight end, then asked him to block cornerback Josh Gordy coming off the edge on a cornerback blitz. Blackmon did an awful job in pass protection, as Gordy flew by him to nab Gabbert for a 14-yard loss. Then again, when the Jaguars drafted Blackmon, he probably didn’t know he needed to work on his pass-protection skills.