Day three of our breakdown of what goes into pass protection and we’re now just one piece away from unveiling our rankings. If you’ve missed it, we’ve already gone over who gives up the most pressure (and where), and yesterday we looked at which teams are best (and worst) when it comes to preventing that pressure from turning into sacks.
Up next, and the third part of what makes up the formula for our rankings, we’re looking at the average number of blockers each team held in over the season.
There’s obviously bound to be some correlation between the number of blockers left in, and how much pressure gets through, but, while we’ve ranked the units from least amount of men kept in to most, keeping in fewer doesn’t necessarily make you the better pass-blocking team. It’s about adding just enough and finding that balance that limits your weaknesses in pass protection, but gives your quarterback the options to expose weaknesses in your opponent’s coverage.
So, getting into it, which team has decreed that keeping blockers in just isn’t for them? Well, in that regard, the top of the charts are … the Detroit Lions. It’s not the biggest surprise since the Lions were big users of three receiver sets and preferred what their tight ends could do as pass catchers more so than as blockers. Throw in a veteran quarterback and the idea that they seemed to realize whatever back(s) were left in the backfield didn’t help much and they obviously decided their best chance of success was in getting men out running routes.
Just behind them is the team I expected to come in first, the Indianapolis Colts. They have a quarterback who gets rid of the ball and they run an offense that features as many multiple receiver sets as any team in the league (and that’s without mentioning the use of Dallas Clark and Jacob Tamme who are essentially wide receivers for the roles they play). With Manning at the helm, it’s hard to see this ever changing, especially with how accustomed he has become to sub-standard line play.
Behind the Lions and Colts are the Washington Redskins. While Detroit and Indianapolis were both in the Bottom 10 in terms of the amount of pressure given up, the Redskins gave up the fifth most in the league. This goes back to that point about balance, where the Redskins probably should have kept more men in to help divert some of the pressure that made its way to their quarterbacks.
Another team who had similar issues with large amounts of pressure getting through and relatively few extra blockers utilized was the Philadelphia Eagles. Seventh in this list and ninth highest in pressure given up on a per play basis, they are somewhat of anomaly. A quarterback like Michael Vick who moves about so much in the pocket will often makes his protection look worse than what it is, so keeping more men in isn’t going to do much but make those guys look bad as well.
You can’t level that charge at the San Francisco 49ers. Sixth worst on the pressure per play scale, they left in the fifth fewest amount of blockers. Surely they could have offered Anthony Davis some more assistance, no? Given the young right tackle’s struggles, it wouldn’t have hurt to have kept a tight end to help out a little more often, though that does see them losing Vernon Davis as a target which is by no means ideal.
Average Number of Blockers Per Pass Play
Avg. # Blockers
But balance issues don’t just affect teams leaving too few men in, there are also teams that leave too many. One of the chief culprits are the Miami Dolphins. Sure, they don’t allow a lot of pressure to get to Chad Henne, but it takes leaving in the third highest average of pass blockers to get it done. Given that their offensive line itself is one of the better pass protecting units, it seemed like – either by design or quarterback call – the Dolphins would have been better served sending more men out on pass routes. Given how Henne played when under pressure we understand why they would want to limit it, but for the second year in a row they may have gone too far.
Same could be said for the New York Giants. While Eli Manning may be great at helping to keep pressure from turning into sacks, he can also often chuck the ball up for grabs. So, no surprise the Giants want to limit those plays where he is under duress, but perhaps a bit too often given their line’s ability to protect on their own. Of course, given how great it is to watch Ahmad Bradshaw stand up blitzers, perhaps they’re just keen on seeing that as much as possible?
Moving away from the issue of balance, there are some teams that recognize they have issues protecting the quarterback and try to get more men in to help with little impact. Take the Oakland Raiders who came closest to averaging six blockers per pass play. While no team kept in more extra men, only three teams gave up more pressure on a per play basis. It’s not really something you’d blame on the blocking of their skill players (none of them earned a significant negative grade), but rather a reflection on their quarterback’s knack for holding onto the ball, and their offensive line’s troubles.
It’s not too dissimilar a tale for Chicago who, despite the number of blockers they added, still walked away giving up the third highest amount of pressure. While their halfbacks helped out, the Bears thinking Brandon Manumaleuna could block like a tackle was folly. The tight end gave up pressure on 12.37% of pass plays he was blocking for, a huge number. If you’re going to keep men in to assist with protection, they need to do better than that.
If there’s a message from this piece it’s that balance is key, and that sometimes, no matter how much you try, even keeping in extra men can’t overcome sub standard play from the offensive line or quarterback. Some teams get it very right (Atlanta, Indianapolis and Houston to name but three) and others, as we have mentioned, get it very wrong.
So there you have it. Our final look at some of the things that go into pass protection. All that remains now is our rankings, and if you come back tomorrow you’ll get a run down of No.’s 32 through 17.
See you tomorrow.
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