If you're a reasonably diligent football fan, it's pretty easy to follow which running backs, quarterbacks and wide receivers are living up to their reputations -- you just check the stats. It's not as easy, but you can also get a pretty good sense of which pass rushers are having big years, by checking out the sacks.
But when it comes to evaluating offensive linemen, it's a lot tougher to know which blockers are starring and which ones are living off reputation.
After logging 401 sacks this season, it's time to start diving into the numbers to try to get a better sense of who has stood out this year.
Thanks the Sunday Ticket Shortcuts and the NFL's easily available gamebooks, I've watched and re-watched all but two of the 401 sacks that have taken place this season in the NFL (thanks to CBS' technical screw-up five minutes of last week's Redskins game was lost forever).
I've logged how many rushers were sent on the play, who gave up the sack, the down and distance, how long the quarterback held the ball before the sack and who was responsible for the sack. Thankfully on most sacks the culprit is pretty clear. Usually it's a sacker simply lining up and beating the man trying to block him. On other plays it can get more difficult, as a blitzer will come free or a stunt will lead to a missed hand-off from one offensive lineman to another. In those cases, I've assigned the block to the blocker most likely to have been responsible for the rusher. If two blockers were both responsible, I assigned them each half a sack. And if the quarterback ran his way into a sack or a play call left no blocker with a chance to block the sacker, that sack was logged as the responsibility of the quarterback or play call (roughly 80 of the 401 sacks fall into that category).
So lets take a look at which offensive tackles have given up the most sacks. Eventually we'll list every offensive linemen, but considering how many centers and guards are still without a sack allowed, that can wait a couple of weeks. But if you're an offensive tackle who has played every week without giving up a sack, you're putting together a pretty impressive season.
|Allen Barbre||Green Bay||6|
|Daryn Colledge||Green Bay||5|
|Jeromey Clary||San Diego||3.5|
|John St. Clair||Cleveland||3.5|
|Marcus McNeill||San Diego||3|
|Donald Penn||Tampa Bay||3|
|Brandon Albert||Kansas City||2.5|
|Jeremy Trueblood||Tampa Bay||2|
|Jermon Bushrod||New Orleans||2|
|Chad Clifton||Green Bay||2|
|D'Brickshaw Ferguson||N.Y. Jets||1.5|
|Ryan O'Callaghan||Kansas City||1|
|Nick Kaczur||New England||1|
|Kareem McKenzie||N.Y. Giants||1|
|Damien Woody||N.Y. Jets||1|
|David Diehl||N.Y. Giants||1|
|Adam Goldberg||St. Louis||1|
|Alex Barron||St. Louis||1|
|Matt Light||New England||0|
|Jonathan Stinchcomb||New Orleans||0|
|Ichekuku Ndukwe||Kansas City||0|
But no one expected Packers right tackle Allen Barbre or fill-in tackle Daryn Colledge to be anything more than adequate. Barbre is truly the Packers' weakest link now that Chad Clifton is back at left tackle. And as we documented last year, Cardinals right tackle Levi Brown struggles with pass blocking, so seeing him near the top of the list is almost to be expected.
But seeing Panthers' franchise player Jordan Gross among the list of shame is pretty shocking. It seems Julius Peppers isn't the only Panthers star who has struggled at times this year. Gross had a disastrous three-sacks-allowed game against the Redskins as Andre Carter beat him a couple of times on simple speed rushes around the outside. One of those five sacks came when he appeared to miss his assignment on an overload blitz by the Eagles, but he's also been beaten multiple times one-on-one.
At the other end of the spectrum, Indianapolis has allowed only two sacks all season and neither has been allowed by an offensive tackle. The Falcons have also allowed only two sacks -- both in the season opener against the Dolphins. Part of that can be credited to Matt Ryan's quick release, but Tyson Clabo (0 sacks) and Sam Baker (1 sack) also deserve lots of praise.
It's also impressive to see Steelers right tackle Willie Colon among the unblemished. Colon has had pass protection problems in the past (6.5 sacks last year), but he's shown significant improvement this season.
Here are some other notes from watching the lines for Week Six.
-- There is a lot of legitimate criticism of Andy Reid's decision to forget the running game in the Eagles' shocking upset loss to the Raiders. But it's nearly as surprising that the Raiders' leaky offensive line was able to handle the Eagles' pass rush. Oakland's line has had lots of turnovers this year -- three diferent players have started at left guard, there have been two different centers and two different right tackles. Erik Pears, the fill-in left guard and right tackle, has been a weak link with four sacks and the Raiders need to work on their backs blitz pick-up -- the running backs are responsible for four sacks -- but left tackle Mario Henderson (1.5 sacks allowed) is giving the Raiders their first solid play at left tackle in years.
-- The Kansas City Chiefs may need to rethink some of their blocking schemes. Tight end Sean Ryan gave up his fifth sack of the season on Sunday against the Redskins. No other tight end in the league has given up more than two sacks this year.
It's hard to blame Ryan too much for this. He's given up sacks to Osi Umenyiora, Brian Orakpo and Juqua Parker. It's hard to ask a tight end to adequately block three of the better pass rushers in the NFC East. Ryan bounced round to three different teams last year, so he's fortunate to have a starting job, but the Chiefs are asking him to do things that he's not really capable of doing when they ask him to handle defensive ends one-on-one.
-- There's been a lot of explanations given for the Broncos' amazing defensive turnaround. And there are a lot of good reasons to explain why the Broncos have gone from 29th last year in yards allowed to second this year.
You can credit new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan first of all for giving the defense an identity. Last year the Broncos switched back and forth between the 3-4 and the 4-3 like they were changing socks. And even when they did go with the 3-4, they did it with undersized linebackers like Boss Bailey while asking undersized defensive ends like Elvis Dumervill to play up on the line.
This year Nolan has made them a 3-4 team with an identity, and he's done an excellent job of getting pass rushers like Dumervill into situations to create havoc.
But what stood out against the Chargers was Nolan's clever use of delayed blitzes. You don't often see delayed blitzes because they usually take too long to develop pressure against the fast-paced NFL offenses. You have to time it perfectly -- rush too soon and the offense can adjust to pick up the second blitzer, rush too late and it doesn't even matter.
But Nolan pulled out the delayed blitz in perfect situations against the Chargers. San Diego likes to throw deep to Vincent Jackson and the rest of their crew of tall receivers, so the delayed blitz has a little more time to reach Phillip Rivers.
It worked three different times against the Chargers. On the first sack, defensive back Andre Goodman waited until a linebacker had fully occupied the Chargers tailback serving as the quarterback's last line of defense. By delaying his rush, Goodman got a free rush at Rivers for an easy sack. The same approach worked later for a sack by linebacker D.J. Williams. It also worked to a degree on the Broncos' last sack of the night, although defensive linemen Darrell Reid simply beat Louis Vasquez for the sack.