Under Pressure: Letting Ben Down

Under Pressure: Letting Ben Down
Under Pressure: Letting Ben Down
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by J.J. Cooper

Every year since Ben Roethlisberger became the Steelers quarterback, the Pittsburgh offensive line has had a built-in excuse.

No quarterback has been sacked more in the past decade than Roethlisberger. He’s the active leader in sacks (406), and is already 10th all-time in sacks allowed. He’s on pace to become the all-time most sacked quarterback in a little more than three seasons from now. Since Roethlisberger entered the league, the Steelers have never ranked better than 15th in adjusted sack rate and they’ve ranked 25th or worse six times in the past 11 years.

The Steelers offensive line could always explain away some of those numbers. Sure, Roethlisberger gets sacked a lot, but it’s largely Roethlisberger’s fault. He holds the ball and runs around to try to buy time. It leads to big plays, and Roethlisberger’s ability to shrug off defensive ends prevents some sacks that other quarterbacks would take. For every sack he dodges, though, there’s another one or two where he holds the ball for too long.

Normal sack distribution for a team is one-third short sacks (sacks of 2.5 seconds or less), one-third normal sacks (2.6 to 3.1 seconds), and one-third long sacks (3.2 seconds or longer). For the past five years, Roethlisberger’s stats are just what you would expect: he has taken 187 long sacks (53 percent), 95 middle sacks (27 percent) and 68 short sacks (19 percent).

So there is something to Roethlisberger being blamed for his own sack problems.

But this year, blame the offensive line. Pittsburgh once again ranks 29th in adjusted sack rate, but this time, Roethlisberger isn’t to blame.

Roethlisberger still does hold the ball at times, but under Todd Haley’s offense he’s no longer a long sack magnet.

This year, Roethlisberger has taken four long sacks all season (19 percent). The Steelers have allowed nine short sacks (43 percent) and eight normal sacks (38 percent). So this year, sacks have generally been the line’s fault.

Who is the problem? Look at the tackles. Left tackle Kelvin Beachum ranks among the league’s worst with 5.5 sacks allowed. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert has allowed 4.5 sacks himself.

So the Steelers still have protection problems, but Roethlisberger is making an active effort to take a few less hits.

Bowled Over

Chargers right tackle D.J. Fluker is having a fine second pro season. He has only allowed two sacks in seven games this season.

But when Fluker gives up a sack, it often seems to be in the most embarrassing way possible.

Last year, Fluker allowed a sack after being driven back into Philip Rivers as if he was on ice skates, finally falling to the ground at Rivers' feet.

This past week, he looked worse. Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston simply lined up, ran right at Fluker and knocked him backwards onto his butt, then stepped over him for an easy sack.

Fluker’s feet did get tangled up, but keeping a strong base has been Fluker’s only real issue in pass protection in his two years. Four of 6.5 sacks last year and both sacks this year have come when a pass rusher either drove him into the pocket or beat him to the outside. Only one sack came when a rusher beat him to the inside.

Again, he’s actually a pretty solid pass protector, but Fluker’s worst blocks are some of the worst you will ever see.

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A Painful Mistake

Branden Albert allowed his first sack of the season in Week 6, but it’s one where you can’t help but feel bad for Albert as it wasn’t really his fault. In the second quarter against the Packers, Albert was setting up to give Packers’ outside linebacker Mike Neal a punch when running back Knowshon Moreno came over to chip Neal to help out.

Moreno’s chip ended up hitting Albert’s elbow just as he extended his arms for the punch. Albert immediately grabbed his elbow and stopped blocking. The result was one of the easiest sacks Neal will ever have.

Albert left the game but did return. It was a rough week for Moreno as well, as he tore his ACL later in the game, though he somehow managed to finish the game despite the injury.

More Trouble

The Vikings are dead last in the league in sack percentage, and one of the main reasons has to be somewhat surprising. As we’ve mentioned here before, Matt Kalil, a Pro Bowl-caliber talent as a rookie, has struggled all season. He has given up 7.5 sacks this year, and the sacks he gives up are getting worse. This sack he gave up to Jerry Hughes is simply embarrassing.

Hughes reached the quarterback only 1.8 seconds after the snap. The quarterback never had a chance.

Fastest Sack Of The Weeks

Tip for the Buccaneers: if you’re facing the Ravens, you want to block Elvis Dumervil.

Dumervil already has seven sacks in seven games this year, but none of them were easier than the engraved invitation the Bucs gave him in Week 6. On a fourth-and-2, the Bucs decided to pass. The Ravens sent a six-man rush, which managed to get Dumervil a free run to the quarterback.

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Dumervil hit Mike Glennon only 1.5 seconds after the snap, which is tied for the fastest sack of the season.

The fastest sack of Week 7 was a little more understandable. While it’s mistake to ever let Dumervil come free, it’s more understandable that Corey White came unblocked on a cornerback blitz. Unless a back can pick him up, usually cornerbacks come free on blitzes. Often it’s up to the quarterback and wide receivers to see the blitz, read it, and make a sight adjustment.

White came on a well-timed corner blitz in the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s game against the Lions. Matthew Stafford didn’t see him until it was too late, and 1.8 seconds after the snap, White had the first sack of his three-year NFL career.

Longest Sack Of The Weeks

In the same game against the Ravens when Glennon was yanked down for the quickest sack of the season, he also rolled out, ran around, and finally ran out of bounds 7.5 seconds after the snap.

The longest sack of Week 7 was one of the craziest sacks of the year. With the Bengals struggling to string together two first downs in a very ineffective outing against the Colts, Cincinnati called on a pass play for wide receiver Mohamed Sanu. Considering Sanu is 4-for-4 for 166 yards and two touchdowns in his career, it made some sense.

But this time it didn’t work. Sanu caught a backwards lateral on what looked like a wide receiver screen, then took off back across the formation. He pretty quickly realized that he was going to be running with the ball rather than throwing it, but he was never able to turn the corner. He was run out of bounds for a 6-yard loss and a 7.6-second sack.


4 comments, Last at 24 Oct 2014, 10:21pm

#1 by Bernie // Oct 24, 2014 - 3:22pm

The Sanu sack was so stupid. He's got to realize that he can just throw the ball away there instead of stepping out of bounds, and losing yardage.

Points: 0

#4 by Jerry // Oct 24, 2014 - 10:21pm

I always hear about how non-QBs are told to hold onto the ball if they don't have an open pass, since they're so likely to try to force it otherwise.

Points: 0

#3 by theslothook // Oct 24, 2014 - 4:17pm

That Khalil sack had me laughing. Good god - can you imagine how film study went this week.

Points: 0

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