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Clay Matthews Led the NFL in Untouched Sacks

Feb 27, 2011 – 1:48 PM
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JJ Cooper

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Clay Matthews
Clay Matthews is one of the best pass rushers in the league, so you would think that no matter where he is, offenses would want to make sure that he's always accounted for by their pass protection scheme.

So it might surprise you to learn that Matthews led the league in unblocked sacks last year. There were four different sacks when Matthews was able to come through completely untouched to bring down the quarterback. Initially I believed that this was a credit to Dom Capers' scheme, which managed to confuse defenses enough to let the Packers' best pass rusher come free, but in checking back over my notes it's more of a credit to Matthews' ability to read a play on the fly.

Twice Matthews came on a delayed blitz where the offensive line did not account for him because it appeared he was not rushing. It's difficult to say if these were designed delayed blitzes or simply plays where Matthews was able to rush late because he was either asked to spy (one of the sacks was of Michael Vick) or because his assigned man in coverage stayed in to block.

On two other plays, Matthews was left unblocked by the design of the play -- a play action rollout in his direction. When that happens, the play is designed for the play action fake to draw the outside linebacker inside by having him chase the supposed ball carrier. But Matthews read the plays from the start, resulting in two very easy sacks of two very surprised quarterbacks.

Looking at the rest of the 20 players who had two or more unblocked sacks, you see a lot of names you may expect to see.

Player Team Unblocked Sacks Player Team Unblocked
Sacks
Clay Matthews Packers 4 Desmond Bishop Packers 2
Drew Coleman Jets 3 James Ihedigbo Jets 2
Jonathan Vilma Saints 3 Joey Porter Cardinals 2
Wil Witherspoon Titans 3 Mario Haggan Broncos 2
London Fletcher Redskins 2.5 Nate Allen Eagles 2
Clark Haggans Cardinals 2 Patrick Willis 49ers 2
Cameron Wake Dolphins 2 Roman Harper Saints 2
Bryan Scott Bills 2 Shaun Phillips Chargers 2
Antoine Winfield Vikings 2 Tamba Hali Chiefs 2
Daryl Smith Jaguars 2 Tyvon Branch Raiders 2

Cornerbacks and safeties who can time their blitzes well are generally some of the most successful at coming through untouched. Drew Coleman (three sacks) and James Idedigo (two sacks) are a good reminder that Rex Ryan's defense does a good job of causing confusion.

Titans' linebacker Wil Witherspoon's name is notable here because he's much more a coverage linebacker than a pass rusher. The stats here reflect that -- his three sacks last year all came when he through untouched as part of a blitz. The story was very similar with Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma. His four sacks last year all came on blitzes where he was left relatively free to pick up an easy sack (on one of them a running back got enough of him to avoid it being called an unblocked sack.
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