Under Pressure: Violence of the Rams
by J.J. Cooper
It wasn’t a good year to be a St. Louis Rams quarterback.
When the Rams drafted Sam Bradford in the first round before the 2010 season, they expected he’d be making significant strides towards establishing himself as a franchise quarterback by now. Instead, he regressed significantly as a passer in his second season. Of course, it didn’t help that he was often running for his life. When he was injured, the Rams turned to A.J. Feeley. When Feeley was injured, they were forced to turn to Kellen Clemens.
No matter who was under center, the Rams didn’t win much. And whoever was taking the snaps, he was sure to take a beating.
The Rams gave up the most sacks (55) and the most quarterback hits (114) in the NFL this year. The team’s 9.2 percent Adjusted Sack Rate did rank only 28th, but you can make a convincing argument that the Rams’ offensive line was the leakiest, least effective group of pass protectors in the league.
(Ed. Note: This number represents QB hits as counted by the league -- counting sacks as hits, and not counting plays cancelled by penalty. In the FO count -- not including sacks, but including plays cancelled by penalty -- the Rams had 67 hits, tied for second behind Washington. -- Aaron Schatz)
Wherever Feeley and Clemens are nursing their injuries, they need to know something -- it wasn’t their fault.
Feeley’s 9.35 percent sack rate and Clemens 9.00 percent sack rate ranked among the worst in the league. But in looking at the time elapsed on their sacks, it’s hard to say that there was anything they could do about the onslaught.
It’s a little simplistic, but in timing the sacks, there’s a general rule that the quicker the sack, the more likely it was the fault of the offensive line, and the longer the sack, the more likely it was a coverage sack or otherwise a responsibility of the quarterback and the receivers.
On more than five percent of Feeley’s dropbacks, he was sacked in less than 2.5 seconds -- the worst percentage in the league among quarterbacks with 60 or more pass attempts. Feeley was sacked on nearly four percent of his dropbacks in the same timeframe -- fourth-worst in the league. Both also ranked in the top five for the worst sack rate on "normal" sacks (those between 2.5 and 2.9 seconds).
But when it came to long sacks (those of 3.0 seconds and longer), Clemens had none and Feeley was better than the league average. Whether it was a case of being conditioned by the shaky line play or just simple fear, there were very few plays where the Rams backup quarterbacks felt comfortable enough to hold the ball long enough to pick up a long sack.
At the other end of the spectrum, Tim Tebow wasn’t doing the Broncos’ offensive linemen many favors. Tebow was the league’s worst at picking up long sacks. In more than 10 percent of his dropbacks, he was sacked three seconds or more after the snap. In watching lots of Tebow snaps this year (way too many, to be honest), the large amount of time it takes for him to go through his progressions is readily apparent. His tendency to try to scramble away from pressure also adds to his large number of long sacks. It’s hard to blame the Broncos’ lack of talent at receiver -- Kyle Orton’s long sack percentage was only 2.02 percent when he was in Denver.
Scrambling quarterbacks and inexperienced quarterbacks are the kings of the long sacks. Christian Ponder’s lack of pocket awareness was quite shocking. On a large number of dropbacks, Ponder would check what appeared to be his first read, then take off scrambling whether he needed to or not.
|Rate listed is percentage of total pass attempts that lead to sacks of that timeframe. Minimum 70 pass attempts.|
It is worth noting that Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco, two quarterbacks often dinged for their tendency to hold the ball, showed significant improvement in that aspect in 2011. Flacco was league average in long sacks while Roethlisberger was just slightly over league average in long sacks.
NOT GOING TO HAPPEN
Jared Allen fell a half-sack short of Michael Strahan’s NFL single-season sack record of 22.5 as he was "held" to 3.5 sacks in a season-ending loss to the Bears. Unlike the gift that Brett Favre gave Strahan to give him the record, the Bears went out of their way to ensure that Allen wouldn’t put his name in the record book.
On the first snap after Allen got within a half-sack of the record, the Bears used three men to block him, lining up in an almost-unheard-of two tight end formation where both tight ends (Matt Spaeth and Kellen Davis) and left tackle J’Marcus Webb were asked to block Allen. Not surprisingly, it did manage to keep Allen away from the quarterback.
On the next pass play, the Bears did ask Webb to handle Allen on his own, but it was a quick screen the other way, so Allen was virtually a non-factor. Allen drove inside on the next play, which meant Webb didn’t need help. That was followed by a play where Allen was initially blocked by Spaeth, then by guard Edwin Williams as he looped inside. Despite plenty of attention he got close enough to nearly knock the ball out before Josh McCown could throw. That was the closest he came to setting the record.
From then on, the Bears kept Allen away from the record by largely keeping the ball on the ground, double-teaming him on most passes and making sure that McCown threw the ball quickly whenever he was asked to pass.
SHORT/LONG SACK OF THE WEEK
One of Allen’s 3.5 sacks was the fastest sack of the week as he flew by Webb to sack McCown two seconds after the snap.
Cam Newton’s legs usually serve him well, but last week, it couldn’t get him away from the Saints’ Cameron Jordan. Newton rolled out, scrambled around, but eventually was run down by Jordan 7.5 seconds after the snap. Jordan did horse collar him, and was flagged for it, so it wasn’t all bad for the Panthers.