Under Pressure: Unblocked

Under Pressure: Unblocked
Under Pressure: Unblocked
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by J.J. Cooper

Whenever a defensive coordinator can get a rusher unblocked with a free run at the quarterback, he’s done his job well.

Dom Capers is doing his job well.

The Packers defensive coordinator has gotten Packers defenders free for seven unblocked sacks this year. That’s as many sacks as the Steelers have had all year, and two more than the Giants have racked up.

It’s not all that surprising that Capers, one of the originators of the zone blitz, is still figuring up ways to dial up blitzes where a pass rusher comes completely free. Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan (six unblocked sacks) also brings a reputation of inventing clever blitzes, and Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver (six unblocked sacks) is a lesser-known coach who is doing an excellent job of confusing protection schemes.

It’s more surprising that Rex Ryan’s Jets only have one unblocked sack while Dick LeBeau (the other originator of the zone blitz) has yet to get one unblocked sack for the Steelers.

Sacking Team Unblocked Sacks Sacking Team Unblocked Sacks Sacking Team Unblocked Sacks
GB 7 ATL 3 DET 2
NO 6 HOU 3 PHI 2
OAK 6 SD 3 CIN 1
KC 5 TB 3 MIN 1
WAS 5 CHI 2 NE 1
CAR 4 DAL 2 SF 1

Capers' ability to get free rushers to the quarterback has been an inordinate part of the Packers pass rush this year. Around the league, 14 percent of all sacks are caused by an unblocked rusher. For the Packers, it’s 41 percent of their sacks.
Linebackers A.J. Hawk and Clay Matthews are tied for the team lead with three sacks, but they each have two unblocked sacks. In Matthews' case, one of his unblocked sacks came when a defensive back came unblocked, hit the quarterback initially, and Matthews was able to clean up to record the sack.


Team Unblocked Sacks
27-M.Jenkins NO 2.5
25-D.Searcy BUF 2
50-A.Hawk GB 2
52-C.Matthews GB 2
56-P.Riley WAS 2
58-D.Williams CHI 2
58-T.Davis CAR 2
23-T.Porter OAK 1.5
26-U.Young OAK 1.5

At the same time, the Bengals and Patriots are two teams with playoff hopes who have some protection problems to work out. The Bengals have given up six unblocked sacks and the Patriots have given up five.

Sacked Team Unblocked Sacks Sacked Team Unblocked Sacks Sacked Team Unblocked Sacks Sacked Team Unblocked Sacks
NE 5 CLE 2 TB 2 NO 1
MIN 4 DET 2 BUF 1 SD 1
PHI 4 IND 2 CAR 1 SF 1
WAS 4 KC 2 GB 1 STL 1

New England's problem has been unblocked defensive backs off the edge. Four of the five unblocked sacks came when defensive backs came free off the corner. In most protection schemes, blitzing defensive backs are the responsibility of the quarterback and wide receivers: the quarterback has to recognize it to get rid of the ball quickly, and the receivers have to recognize it so someone breaks off to the hot route. That’s been a problem for the Patriots early this season, to the point where on one of the sacks, Tom Brady just dove to the ground before the Saints Malcolm Jenkins could arrive on his unblocked blitz.


Speaking of unblocked blitzes. No one had an easier two-sack day than Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis. Davis was never touched by a Vikings blocker on either of his two sacks. On the first, the Panthers dialed up a well-designed blitz that sent Davis and another linebacker on blitzes from outside the tackle box. Running back Adrian Peterson picked up the other linebacker, but Davis came unblocked for a quick two second sack.

The second sack was just as easy. Davis ran unblocked by left tackle Matt Kalil’s left shoulder as Kalil blocked no one. Kalil looked as if he expected to be blocking defensive tackle Greg Hardy, who was lined up head up on him at the snap, but Hardy fired off to his left, coming across the face of left guard Charlie Johnson which left Kalil blocking air.

Davis also set up a third unblocked sack for the Panthers, as he ate up two blockers on a fourth-quarter blitz, allowing Mike Mitchell to come untouched for Carolina's final sack of Sunday’s game.


It’s fair to say that Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 1.5-second sack was completely his fault. No pass protection problems, no blown blocks, no actual pass rusher. The Titans backup quarterback drew back to throw, then he lost the ball. It landed a few yards ahead of him, forcing Fitpatrick’s teammates to scramble to recover the fumble.

If you’re looking for a sack where the quarterback was actually hit, the honor is shared by a pair of 1.6-second sacks. Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton ran through the A-gap unblocked as guard Marcus Cannon looked to his outside and ended up blocking no one, and Bucs linebacker Lavonte David came in unblocked off Philadelphia's left edge as the offensive line slanted its protection to the right.


Terrelle Pryor had plenty of long sacks this week, but none was longer than an 8.8 second epic where he bobbled the snap, rolled to his left, reversed his direction, and eventually was run down at the other sideline by Tyson Jackson.


7 comments, Last at 22 Oct 2013, 4:46am

1 Re: Under Pressure: Unblocked

Very interesting topic and what you have is well written. However I would think that there is definitely a causation in how many players you blitz and how many unblocked sacks you generate. I do not think Capers (who I think is a good DC) deserves praise for creating these sacks at the cost of opening other holes on defense, for example the 49ers have only one unblocked sack but I imagine they send less rushers than just about every team in the league. I know it is early in the season but I would find rate stats more telling in this category as this article leaves me with more questions with answers. Unless that is the point!

2 Re: Under Pressure: Unblocked

Yeah, the first things that popped in my head when reading about this topic were all negative:
1) Teams that get a lot of unblocked sacks must be blitzing a lot.
2) Ergo, they must not have much faith in their 4-man rush.
3) An unblocked sack is less likely to happen as the season goes on (and into the playoffs) as teams get more film of your schemes.

4 Re: Under Pressure: Unblocked

I don't see why #3 would be true. Dom Capers has been coaching since 1992. Do you think he suddenly came up with brand new blitzes no one has ever seen before that will lose their effectiveness in a few weeks?

3 What about the read-option?

I would surmise that because a lineman/linebacker is unblocked by design in most read-option plays, sometimes he would turn out faster than anticipated and take down the QB that keeps the ball--I guess my question is if it would count as a sack (vs. negative run)?

6 Re: Under Pressure: Unblocked

Even with only one unblocked sack, the Jets are still tied for 5th in the league with 20. I think Rex is probably too worried about coverage problems in the secondary to send a bunch of huge blitzes as he has in the past. He also is probably satisfied with the pass rush coming from their defensive line.