Continuing our look into unblocked pressure, we turn our attention to the league’s offenses and their ability to minimize the amount and withstand the effects of free runners against them.
There are a number of ways that an offense can regulate the unblocked pressure it sees. For starters they can simply execute both pre-snap and during the play. Teams with smarter centers and quarterbacks setting the protection should be able to pick up when and where the pressure is coming from and thus be able to pick up defenders that other, perhaps less aware, offenses may leave unattended. At the same time you can minimize their numbers by being better at passing off rushers on stunts so that defenders don’t get free runs on loop-arounds.
Finally you can simply get rid of the ball before the free runner becomes a threat to the passer. Just because there is a free runner on the play doesn’t necessarily mean he will convert that into unblocked pressure. If you pick it up pre-snap then a quick release will neutralize the free runner before he ever becomes a factor in the play, mark another one up for the perceptive quarterback improving his pass protection.
Manning Keeps the Free Runners at Bay
It should be no surprise to see Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos’ atop the list of offenses giving up the least unblocked pressure during the 2013 regular season. Manning ticks off many of the key attributes we spoke about above in terms of his pre-snap organization and, in particular, his quick release — if you get rid of the ball consistently within 2.5 seconds there isn’t going to be a great deal of time to generate any pressure, even unblocked.
The Broncos did, however, see a downturn in their unblocked pressure allowed during the second half of the season. Through to the beginning of November the Broncos had only allowed nine unblocked pressures but by season’s end that total rose to 30. The Chiefs (2 Ht, 2 Hu) and Texans (3 Ht, 3 Hu) showed that there was an unblocked path to Peyton Manning, though the Seahawks didn’t need to take advantage of this in the Super Bowl, they just got their pressure directly through the Broncos’ pass protectors.
Total Unblocked Pressures Allowed
|Rank||Offense||Sacks||Hits||Hurries||Total Pressures||Sack %||Knockdown %|
At the bottom of the class were the Houston Texans who took a poor first half of the season (30 unblocked pressures) and got worse as it went on, surrendering 48 unblocked pressures in their final nine games. Only twice in that run to the end of the season did the Texans yield fewer than five unblocked pressures in a single game (three against New England in Week 13, one against Tennessee in Week 17) and only once all season did they manage not to yield an unblocked sack or hit (one hurry allowed to the Rams).
The Texans were the most susceptible offense in the league to giving up unblocked pressure due to overloads, surrendering 36 pressures by that means (9 Sk, 10 Ht, 17 Hu), more than four times as many as Manning and the Broncos (8 – 1 Sk, 4 Ht, 3 Hu).
Smith Feels the Heat but Stays Upright
Surrendering 56 unblocked pressures the Kansas City Chiefs were among the league’s 10 worst offenses at giving up unblocked pressure but as a group, led by quarterback Alex Smith, they did the league’s best job at ensuring those pressures weren’t converted into hits and sacks. Of the 56 unblocked pressures the Chiefs surrendered last year only five were sacks and nine of them hits, a league best conversion rate of 25%.
Other offenses that saw the quarterback tending to be upright against unblocked pressure were the quarterback by committee in Oakland, the Ben Roethlisberger led Steelers and the Drew Brees led Saints. This collection of quarterback shows how different approaches to quarterback play can yield success in ensuring the quarterback doesn’t go down against unblocked pressure. If you’re good at it whether you fight the pressure (literally in Roethlisberger’s case) or do it by subtle movement in the pocket and timely release (Brees and Smith) success can be found in abundance.
Conversion to Knockdowns Allowed, Top 5
|Rank||Offense||Sacks||Hits||Hurries||Total Pressure||Sack %||Knockdown %|
At the other end of the scale, five offenses saw their quarterback hit the turf on more than 50% of the unblocked pressure they surrendered. The Cardinals were bang on 50% and just outside the bottom five while three members of the AFC East were in this particular basement. At mid-season the Patriots led the way in this unwanted statistic and while they were better in the second half they still ranked third from bottom with Tom Brady hitting the turf 22 times (9 Sk, 13 Ht) due to unblocked pressure over the course of the season.
Conversion to Knockdowns Allowed, Bottom 5
|Rank||Offense||Sacks||Hits||Hurries||Total Pressure||Sack %||Knockdown %|
Kaepernick Turns the Tables
Having an agile quarterback will certainly help when dealing with free runners and the league’s best offense at making a defense pay for not getting home with their unblocked pressure were the Colin Kaepernick led 49ers. As if to epitomize that balance Kaepernick was sacked on more than a quarter of the plays where he faced unblocked pressure (nine times on 35 drop-backs), comfortably above the league average of 18.1%. However, when he was able to either make the free runner miss or get the ball out ahead of time, he made those defenses pay with both his arms and his legs.
Kaepernick scrambled four times and registered an offensive success on three of those carries while notching a league leading 125.4 passer rating and 10.5 yards per attempt passing the ball against unblocked pressure. He wasn’t shy of going deep against unblocked pressure with average depth of target of 10.7 yards (eighth-deepest) but his completions tended to benefit from the work of his receivers after the catch with his 18.7 yards per completion including an average of 12 yards after the catch.
A notable name at the top is Philip Rivers, often accused in recent seasons of being a quarterback who gets flustered under pressure. In our signature stats pages you’ll see that Rivers had the league’s second highest completion percentage (57.4%) under any kind of pressure and that translated particularly well against unblocked defenders. One of three quarterbacks to top 100 in passer rating against unblocked pressure, Rivers led the league snagging a conversion (touchdown or first down) on 44.8% of his attempts and only tossing one interception. Had he not suffered four drops on his 23 targets his numbers would have been even better.
Unblocked Pressure – Passer Rating, Top 10
|4||Alex D. Smith||46||6||1||39||21||206||5.3||2||0||86.1|
|7||Robert Griffin III||51||12||4||35||17||229||6.5||3||2||74.6|
Room for Improvement in Tampa Bay
The Buccaneers were in the middle of the road when it came to surrendering unblocked pressure last season (48 – 8 Sk, 8 Ht, 32 Hu) but it had a severe effect on their young starting quarterback. On 38 drop-backs against unblocked pressure, Mike Glennon was sacked eight times and had a passer rating of just 11.5 on his 29 pass attempts (one scramble, four throw aways), netting just 1.4 yards per attempt. Only Carson Palmer threw more than Glennon’s three interceptions under unblocked duress, though, with an extra eight pass attempts for Palmer their interception rates were comparably poor.
Unblocked Pressure – Passer Rating, Bottom 10
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