In the first part of our week long look at pass protection, we’re going to be breaking down which teams are giving up the most pressure. It will be the first of three key components we’ll inspect before our team pass protection rankings arrive on Thursday and Friday.
For this piece, it’s all about how much pressure is allowed and who is giving it up. We’re not just looking at the offensive line, but every offensive player – including the quarterbacks. That’s a point you’ll see me reiterate often this week as we sort out which offenses are the best when it comes to the many different elements of what constitutes pass protection.
What we’ve done for this piece is a very simple formula: the amount of pressure given up (sacks, hits, and hurries) divided by the total number of pass snaps. This gives us a Pressure Allowed Per Play Percentage, and forms the crux of this article.
Let’s begin with the team that gives up the least, the Seattle Seahawks. No team gave up less pressure per play than the NFC West champs, with their offensive line doing a particularly good job of not allowing oncoming rushers to get to their QB. The surprising star of the unit wasn’t solid rookie Russell Okung, but less-heralded Sean Locklear.
The Seahawks are in the good company, with Indianapolis hot on their heels. That’s no great reflection on the ability of Indy’s offensive line, but a big indictment of how impressive Peyton Manning is. No quarterback does as good a job of not letting pressure get to him, with only 0.88% of Colts pass plays resulting in pressure because Manning held onto the ball too long. The only player to better that number? The possibly soon-to-be retired Carson Palmer of the Bengals.
At the bottom, it won’t be a shock to see who had the biggest issues, and it gives even more reason to credit Ben Roethlisberger. Despite the Steelers surrendering pressure on over half of their pass plays (the only team to do so), they still reached the Super Bowl. Looking back on our Pressure Reveals article, a lot of this has to do with Big Ben’s ability to make plays when he’s forced to move around in the pocket (he finished with our fourth highest grade on the year in this area).
Right behind Pittsburgh was a 10-win team who also needs to thank their quarterback for making the most of some, at times, shoddy pass protection. The more you watch him, the more you think that picking up Josh Freeman in the 2009 draft may be one of the shrewdest moves Tampa Bay has made. The Buc QB finished fifth in our grading under pressure, behind a line that was among the worst in the league when it came to giving up pressure.
In any case, we’ll get into the reasons shortly, but for now here’s the list of teams that give up the most pressure on a per play basis:
Pressure Per Play Percentage, 2010
Pressure Per Play Percentage (PPP%)
We now dig into which offensive lines give up the most pressure as a percentage of their total number of snaps. We’ll start with the impressive New York Jets line doing everything they can to keep Mark Sanchez trouble free in the pocket – with good reason, given how he finished 32nd out of 34 in our QB grades under pressure. You’d dare not wonder how much the Jets would struggle if they didn’t have excellent players like D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold, Brandon Moore and Damien Woody last year. But they did, and it’s a big reason they’ve made it to the last two AFC Championship games.
In a similar fashion, Chad Henne can’t really ask for much more from his offensive line. Led by a truly elite left tackle in Jake Long, only two offensive lines allowed a smaller percentage of pressure per pass play, and it’s scary to think how much worse he would appear behind a lesser line.
Things don’t look so positive for the Chicago Bears who finished with the highest percentage. “Helped” immensely by the rookie struggles of J’Marcus Webb, the Bears hope to have at least partially rectified this with the drafting Gabe Carimi. Time will tell.
They’re followed by two teams who we’ve already mentioned in the Steelers and Bucs. While Pittsburgh’s problems were there for all to see after losing both of their starting tackles for the year, the troubles in Tampa were a lit bit less publicized. In fact, they were completely ignored. The benching of Jeremy Trueblood didn’t improve things as much as some would have you believe, and if we’re being completely honest, the selection of Donald Penn to the Pro Bowl was about as bad a pick as there was. Again, they can thank Josh Freeman for making so much out of so little.
The table below shows how much pressure offensive lines gave up on a per pass play basis:
Pressure Per Play Percentage, Offensive Lines, 2010
Cumulative O-Linemen Pass Protection Snaps
OL Pressures Allowed
It’s not just the offensive line that matters. We’ll look at quarterbacks separately below, but for now what of the running backs, receivers (yes they occasionally stay into pass block at times) and tight ends?
The Super Bowl champions led the way when it came to skill players being kept in to block and doing so effectively. None who stayed in on more than five occasions ended the year with a negative pass blocking grade. Maybe more teams will consider carrying three fullbacks on the roster if players like Quinn Johnson, John Kuhn, and Korey Hall can improve your pass protection this much.
They were quite a way ahead of the next-best New York Giants, who can thank the excellence of Ahmad Bradshaw, one of the best in the business at blitz pick up, for them finishing so high.
For as good as they were, the New Orleans Saints were bad in this department. You can put the blame on a few people with Dave Thomas giving up eight quarterback disruptions, and the quintet of backs (Julius Jones, Heath Evans, Reggie Bush, Ladell Betts and Pierre Thomas) allowing 24 between them. They were narrowly worse than the Baltimore Ravens who saw a real down year (in pass pro) for both Ray Rice (17 pressures allowed) and Le’Ron McClain (11).
Pressure Per Play Percentage, Skill Positions, 2010
Skill Player Pass Protection Snaps
Skill Pressures Allowed
Of course some pressure isn’t just about a man up front getting beat. Sometimes it’s a case of the quarterback failing to get rid of the ball and inviting pressure onto himself. So, which teams are best at avoiding that? As previously mentioned, both Carson Palmer and Peyton Manning did an exceptional job when it came to not making matters worse and others weren’t far behind. The Washington combination of Rex Grossman and Donovan McNabb weren’t given much of an opportunity to add trouble with their line’s inability to delay the rush.
Things weren’t so great in Minnesota, where Brett Favre held onto the ball too long, struggling to cope without Sidney Rice. Joe Flacco also had some problems in Baltimore, always seeming to want more time. Those are some of the less excusable names at the bottom, as opposed to the more understandable feature of Philadelphia at No. 29. When you have a player like Michael Vick you can let plays develop and pressure come because he can get out of it and turn it into something.
QB-Invited Pressures, 2010
So there you have our breakdown of who’s allowing the pressure. You’ll realize there’s a large percentage of pressure unaccounted for, and those are due to unblocked players that come free against roll outs or on overload blitzes, etc. Our goal here, though, is to show where the responsibility lies for all plays that can be attributed.
Ultimately, it’s a combination of things that make a team an efficient pass blocking unit. Tomorrow we’ll follow up by looking at the difference in how teams allow pressure to turn into to sacks. All of you pass-blocking aficionado’s stay tuned all week as we break down parts of pass protection before unveiling our team rankings.
Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled