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November 18, 2018

Keeping a quarterback upright is imperative in the NFL. Here’s who’s doing it better and worse than last year

November 10, 2018
Tennessee Titans nose tackle Austin Johnson (94) sacks Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) during the second half of a game on Nov. 5. (Michael Ainsworth / Associated Press)

It’s hard to make a definitive statement about a sack.




There are lots of reasons why they happen, among them a lineman or back missing a block, the quarterback holding the ball too long or simply being immobile, receivers not getting open or a team falling behind, ditching its running game and being completely predictable for an ears-pinned-back defense. Sometimes, the opponent is just great at rushing the passer.

Typically, it’s a combination of factors. The Rams, for instance, have kept Jared Goff upright for most of the season. But, in a three-week span, he was sacked five times by Denver and five more by Green Bay. It didn’t help that receiver Cooper Kupp was out, denying Goff another safety valve when the pressure got too intense.

So it’s an oversimplification to judge NFL offensive lines on raw sack numbers, although we do know this: Sacks are bad, and they don’t help your quarterback stay healthy.

Also, not all sacks are created equal. A crushing blow from behind on third down is much worse than a quarterback getting chased out of bounds a yard behind the line of scrimmage. Still, it’s instructive to take a peek at the midseason numbers.

With that in mind, here’s a look at teams that are trending up and trending down, comparing current sacks-allowed numbers to those from last season:

TRENDING UP

Indianapolis — Andrew Luck has taken a beating throughout his career and sat out all of last season with a shoulder injury. Protecting him is clearly a priority in the new offense under Frank Reich. The Colts are on pace to allow just 20 sacks this season, a whopping 36 fewer than in 2017.

Kansas City — The Chiefs made a quarterback change to the mobile Patrick Mahomes, and their offense is clicking. They’re scoring a lot, and therefore have the luxury of balancing the pass and run. They have a talented offensive line, too, and are on pace to allow 21 sacks, 16 fewer than last season.

Washington — The Redskins can feel good about the fact that they’ve given up 13 fewer sacks than last season, but they’re heading into a tough stretch. They lost offensive guards Brandon Scherff and Shawn Lauvao on Sunday to season-ending injuries. All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams is already out with a dislocated thumb, and right tackle Morgan Moses missed some practice this week with a sore knee.

Cincinnati — Of the five most improved teams in this category, the Bengals are the only one with the same quarterback as last season. Former Dallas Cowboys offensive line coach Frank Pollack has assembled a group of tough overachievers up front who have not only done a good job of protecting Andy Dalton — aided by his quick release — but have also opened holes for Joe Mixon. The Bengals are on pace for a 12-sack improvement.

Denver — Case Keenum can be slippery and evasive, although the Chiefs got to him a combined nine times in sweeping the Broncos this season. Denver has done a good job of making do with an offensive line that already has had five different starting combinations. The team is on track to allow nine fewer sacks this season.

TRENDING DOWN

New York Giants — Eli Manning is a sitting duck, and that hasn’t changed. It’s difficult to comprehend the Giants getting worse on the offensive line, but that’s the way it’s heading so far. The team is on pace to surrender 62 sacks, 28 more than last season. Through eight games, the Giants have started nine different offensive linemen.

Eli Manning continues to struggle behind a brutal offensive line.
Eli Manning continues to struggle behind a brutal offensive line. (Seth Wenig / AP)

Oakland — Derek Carr is starting to look like his older brother, David, who was sacked a staggering 76 times as a rookie in Houston. The Raiders are on pace to allow 50 sacks this season, more than double last year’s total (24). Oakland has had troubles all over its line, including the two tackle spots, with right tackle Donald Penn out for the season, and rookie left tackle Kolton Miller hobbling on a hurt knee.

Dallas — Not so long ago, the Cowboys were the gold standard in terms of building a rock-solid offensive line. That’s a distant memory as the team deals with various injuries, illnesses — All-Pro center Travis Fredrick is recovering from Guillain-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune disorder — and plain disappointing play. The club has already replaced its offensive line coach. The Cowboys are on track to surrender 56 sacks, 24 more than last season.

Jacksonville — How have the Jaguars missed running back Leonard Fournette? Let me count the ways. He’s coming back now, so that should help Jacksonville look a little more like it did last season, when it got to the AFC Championship Game. As it is, the Jaguars are on pace to give up 44 sacks, which isn’t bottom of the barrel, but grim compared to last year’s 24.




Atlanta — The Falcons, running Steve Sarkisian’s system, have the No. 2 passing game but are 28th in rushing. There’s a lot of pressure on Matt Ryan, who doesn’t shy from contact and will hang on to the ball until the last possible moment. Like the Jaguars, the Falcons are on pace to give up 44 sacks, an identical dropoff for 24.

ON A ROLL

Six teams are on pace to surrender fewer than 25 sacks. That’s New Orleans (18), Indianapolis (20), Pittsburgh (21), Kansas City (21), New England (23), and the Chargers (24). It’s noteworthy that four of those have older quarterbacks — Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, and Philip Rivers — who aren’t the fastest quarterbacks but have quick releases and exceptional pocket awareness. Or, in the case of Roethlisberger, can swat away tacklers like flies.

Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer

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