Who To Blame for All The Steelers Sacks?

Another 40+ sack season, puts the Steelers at 5 straight seasons of surpassing that mark.  Who should we blame for all these sacks?  Do we blame the Offensive Line for not being able to block long enough for the QB to get the ball out?  Or do we blame Ben Roethlisberger holding on to the ball past 3 seconds and making the OL's job nearly impossible?  It is a difficult question to answer, because no one has really given us any in depth break down of league wide sack data.  Fortunately for us, NFL Fanhouse just filled that void, at least partially.

My assumption was that 3.5 seconds was the time you should expect an offensive lineman to hold his block.  That time should give the QB enough time to make at least 3-4 reads.  When it is up, the QB's internal alarm should go off and he should flee or throw the ball away.  If he gets sacked holding on to the ball the sack becomes his own fault.  Fanhouse decided to go with 3 seconds, which probably is based off stronger analysis than my perceived assumption.  They found that the mean sack time was 2.7 seconds, which apparently was exactly the same in 2009.  Also, they note that dependent variables like the amount of rushers were ignored, believing those factors average out.

Anyway, they went and reviewed every single sack in the 2010 season armed with a stop watch.  They tallied up the sacks in two columns: "Over 3 seconds" and "3 Seconds or Less".  Joe Flacco tops the list of "slow sacks" with 25, followed by Ben (20), Cutler (19), Vick (19), and (Campbell 16).  A great analysis, however something important is not acknowledged.  Not every QB played 16 games and not every QB drops back as frequently.  Our very own QB missed the first quarter of the year, which probably puts his "slow sacks" per game at 1.67 compared to Flacco's 1.56.

For my break down, I am going to average out the sack totals according to how many times the QBs dropped back (pass attempts + times sacked).  That way, we can more accurately compare the numbers.  The table is initially organized by "slow sacks" per drop back, but you can click on the column headers to organize the table differently.  I excluded all QBs who were sacked less than 10 times, except for all of the Steelers QBs.

Quarterback Team Dropbacks Total Sack % More Than 3 Sec Per DP Less Than 3 Sec Per DP
Byron Leftwich Steelers 9 2 22.22 1 11.11 1 11.11
Dennis Dixon Steelers 37 5 13.51 3 8.11 2 5.41
Ben Roethlisberger Steelers 421 32 7.6 20 4.75 12 2.85
Joe Flacco Ravens 529 40 7.56 25 4.73 15 2.84
Michael Vick Eagles 404 32 7.92 19 4.7 13 3.22
Colt McCoy Browns 245 23 9.39 11 4.49 12 4.9
Jason Campbell Raiders 363 34 9.37 16 4.41 18 4.96
Troy Smith 49ers 163 18 11.04 7 4.29 11 6.75
Vince Young Titans 169 13 7.69 7 4.14 6 3.55
Jay Cutler Bears 484 52 10.74 19 3.93 33 6.82
Charlie Batch Steelers 53 4 7.55 2 3.77 2 3.77
Kevin Kolb Eagles 205 16 7.8 7 3.41 9 4.39
Max Hall Cardinals 91 13 14.29 3 3.3 10 10.99
Matt Cassell Chiefs 476 26 5.46 14 2.94 12 2.52
Brett Favre Vikings 380 22 5.79 11 2.89 11 2.89
Kyle Orton Broncos 532 34 6.39 15 2.82 19 3.57
Tyler Thigpen Dolphins 72 10 13.89 2 2.78 8 11.11
Trent Edwards Jaguars 112 11 9.82 3 2.68 8 7.14
Mark Sanchez Jets 534 27 5.06 14 2.62 13 2.43
Derek Anderson Cardinals 353 26 7.37 8 2.27 18 5.1
Phillip Rivers Chargers 579 38 6.56 13 2.25 25 4.32
Alex Smith 49ers 367 25 6.81 8 2.18 17 4.63
Josh Freeman Buccaneers 493 19 3.85 10 2.03 9 1.83
David Garrard Jaguars 398 32 8.04 8 2.01 24 6.03
Aaron Rodgers Packers 506 31 6.13 10 1.98 21 4.15
Sam Bradford Rams 625 35 5.6 12 1.92 23 3.68
Matt Hasselback Seahawks 473 29 6.13 9 1.9 20 4.23
Donovan McNabb Redskins 509 37 7.27 9 1.77 28 5.5
Tom Brady Patriots 517 25 4.84 8 1.55 17 3.29
Ryan Fitzpatrick Bills 464 23 4.96 7 1.51 16 3.45
Jimmy Claussen Panthers 333 34 10.21 5 1.5 29 8.71
Matt Schaub Texans 606 32 5.28 9 1.49 23 3.8
Jon Kitna Cowboys 338 20 5.92 5 1.48 15 4.44
Matt Moore Panthers 155 12 7.74 2 1.29 10 6.45
Bruce Gradkowski Raiders 167 10 5.99 2 1.2 8 4.79
Matt Ryan Falcons 594 23 3.87 7 1.18 16 2.69
Shaun Hill Lions 433 17 3.93 5 1.15 12 2.77
Chad Henne Dolphins 518 28 5.41 5 0.97 23 4.44
Drew Brees Saints 684 26 3.8 5 0.73 21 3.07
Carson Palmer Bengals 612 26 4.25 4 0.65 22 3.59
Kerry Collins Titans 291 13 4.47 1 0.34 12 4.12
Eli Manning Giants 555 16 2.88 1 0.18 15 2.7
Peyton Manning Colts 694 15 2.16 1 0.14 14 2.02

 

First, it should be noted that Dixon and Lefty's numbers are skewed because of a small sample size.  However, I wanted to show them since they are our QBs.  Moving on, these numbers are pretty telling.  Ben has the highest "slow sack" per drop back percentage in the entire league, whereas his "fast sack" number is near the bottom of the league.  That means, not only are the majority of Ben's sacks coming from holding on to the ball too long, but it is happening considerably more than average (4.75% compared to league average of approximately 2.69%).

Oddly enough, Joe Flacco's percentages are almost mirror images of Ben's.  Very high "slow sack" % and a really low "fast sack" %.  Despite having plenty of receiving talent, Flacco seems to be holding on to the ball longer than he should.  Another side note, check out how low the "slow sack" numbers are on the Manning brothers.  That is pretty incredible, especially for Eli who is not known for having the same quick release as Peyton.

Back on topic, the verdict seems pretty clear from this analysis.  The high sack count is resulting from Ben holding on to the ball too long.  Maybe, just maybe, our offensive line is not as bad in pass protection as we perceived.  The problem is that I do not believe there is a cure for this problem.  Ben's game is designed around him extending the play and he is not going to change that.  Sometimes it results in a sack, but sometimes it results in a 40+ yard bomb.  We will all have to continue to keep our heart medicine nearby while watching the Steelers games.

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