The 2014 sack project

Ray Fittipaldo 8 years ago

In Sunday’s paper, as part of our nine-part offseason series, I wrote an analysis of the Steelers offensive line. A small portion of the analysis focused on the pass protection and the 33 sacks the Steelers allowed.

Early in the season, when the Steelers were giving up an average of more than three sacks per game, I wanted to do a thorough analysis of the pass protection, but it was too time consuming. So I put it off until now.

I wanted to do it for several reasons. For one, fans and web sites love to assign blame for sacks, but it’s not always that easy. Sometimes, it’s easy to say the outside linebacker beat the left tackle, but there’s more to the play than that. Did the quarterback scramble because of another breakdown somewhere else? Did the quarterback hold onto the ball too long? Did the linebacker come free because of a stunt?

The purpose of this project was to analyze in great detail what happened on each of the 33 sacks this season and to explain why they happened.

For example, in the comments section of the Sunday story, someone wrote the Steelers allowed 33 sacks because Roethlisberger holds onto the ball too long. That didn’t seem right on its surface, but I had no real proof to debunk his theory.

Until now, that is. I put a stopwatch on every sack, and do you know how many times Roethlisberger was sacked because he hung onto the ball for more than four seconds?

Three times.

In my analysis, I found more than half the sacks came as a result of quick pressure. Roethlisberger was sacked in fewer than three seconds 17 times.

*The Steelers were horrid in pass protection early in the season, allowing 20 of the 33 sacks were allowed in the first seven games. They were much better at the end of the season when they allowed three sacks over the final five games.

*The Steelers gave up sacks on consecutive plays in games on four occasions. It happened twice against Baltimore, once against the Browns and once against the Titans. In the second game against the Ravens the Steelers allowed sacks on three consecutive plays. I’m not sure what that trend means other than teams maybe honed in on tendencies or weaknesses and exploited them before adjustments could be made.

*17 sacks came on one-on-one pass rushes

*6 sacks came via tackle-end stunts

Here are the sacks game by game:

Game 1 Browns

Sack 1 – (3.01 seconds) Browns OLB Paul Kruger overpowered Marcus Gilbert with a bull rush and came back inside to sack Roethlisberger when he attempted to scramble.

Sack 2 – (3.5 seconds) Kruger gets early pressure by executing a speed rush past Beachum, which forces Roethlisberger to step up into the pocket. When he does he is met by blitzing linebacker Karlos Dansby, who beat left guard Ramon Foster after he came off a double team with center Maurkice Pouncey. Foster is hunched forward with his hands down at the time he notices Dansby coming through the B gap. This is poor technique by Foster, and he allowed the sack, but the early pressure by Kruger put the sack on Dansby’s platter.

Sack 3 – (2.01 seconds) Jabaal Sheard bull rushes Gilbert into the lap of Roethlisberger, who never had a chance. Gilbert’s first mistake giving his inside hand to help guard David DeCastro, who was one-on-one with a defensive tackle. By the time Gilbert turns his attention to Sheard it’s too late. Sheard’s head is firmly implanted in Gilbert’s chest.

Game 2 Ravens

Sack 1 – (2.80 seconds) Elvis Dumervil beats Gilbert to the outside and sacks Roethlisberger.

Sack 2 – (2.7 seconds) Gilbert is bull rushed by Dumervil, who sacks Roethlisberger again.

Game 3 Panthers

Sack 1 – (2.58 seconds) Mario Addison beats Beachum with a speed rush.

Game 4 Tampa Bay

Sack 1 – (2.0 seconds) Gerald McCoy abuses Cody Wallace with a spin move and gets to Roethlisberger in a flash.

Sack 2 – (1.75 seconds) Michael Johnson is unblocked and sacks Roethlisberger before he can react. It’s the fastest sack of the season. Beachum blocked down on the defensive tackle because the Bucs were threatening a blitz with a linebacker in the A gap, which occupied Wallace. Le’Veon Bell attempts to come across from the other side of the formation to block Johnson, but he doesn’t get there in time.

Sack 3 – (3.06 seconds) Michael Johnson beats Beachum one-on-one and sacks Roethlisberger.

Sack 4 – (2.23 seconds) Scott Solomon beats Beachum with a speed rush up the field and sacks Roethlisberger.

Sack 5 – (2.2 seconds) Beachum and Wallace do a poor job of passing off a stunt and DaQuan Bowers overpowers Beachum to get to Roethlisberger in quick fashion.

Game 5 Jaguars

Sack 1 – (6.18 seconds) Roethlisberger holds the ball for too long and is sacked by Paul Poslusny as he tries to scramble. Initial pressure is given up by Beachum as his man collapses the pocket and forces Roethlisberger to scramble.

Sack 2 – (3.48 seconds) Abry Jones overpowers Pouncey, and Roethlisberger is sacked.

Sack 3 – (3.15 seconds) Roethlisberger steps up into the pocket and is sacked Jones, who defeated Pouncey’s one-on-one block.

Sack 4 – (3.6 seconds) Roethlisberger feels pressure that’s not there and attempts to scramble up the middle. Chris Clemons tackles him.

Game 6 Browns

Sack 1 – (2.5 seconds) Initial pressure is provided by Barkevious Mingo, who comes untouched after Heath Miller blows an assignment. Roethlisberger steps up to avoid the pressure and is sacked by John Hughes, who spun off David DeCastro.

Sack 2 – (3.9 seconds) On the very next play, Roethlisberger trips over Gilbert’s leg in an attempt to step up in the pocket and is touched down by Desmond Bryant, who beat DeCastro.

Game 7 Houston

Sack 1 – (2.71 seconds) Foster and Beachum fail to properly handle a stunt. Whitney Mercilus comes free to sack and strip Roethlisberger. Mercilus is Beachum’s man, but this sack is on Foster for his poor technique, which allowed Mercilus a clear path to Roethlisberger.

Sack 2 – (2.98 seconds) J.J. Watt beats Beachum to the inside on a power move and sacks Roethlisberger.

Sack 3 – (2.45 seconds) For the second time in the first half, the Texans sack Roethlisberger with the same stunt. Mercilus is the man who comes free and gets the sack again. Once again, Foster has poor technique picking up the stunt, which allows his man to pick off Beachum and in turn allows Mercilus to come free. I’m pinning this one on Foster, too, though others might disagree.

Game 8 Indianapolis


Game 9 Ravens

(All three sacks in this game on consecutive plays)

Sack 1 – (2.26 seconds) Chris Canty sacks Roethlisberger quickly after Beachum and Foster once again fail to properly pick up a stunt. Canty begins the play over Foster, who passes him off to Beachum before the “bump.” Without the bump, Canty is able to split them and get to Roethlisberger.

Sack 2 – (3.78 seconds) Pernell McPhee applies the original pressure on the play by easily getting around tight end Matt Spaeth. That forced Roethlisberger to step up in the pocket, where Haloti Ngata was waiting after splitting a double team by Beachum and Foster.

Sack 3 – (2.60 seconds) Dumervil beat Gilbert with a speed rush up the field and got to Roethlisberger quickly.

Game 10 Jets

Sack 1 – (3.36 seconds) The Jets bring seven rushers. The initial pressure is supplied by David Harris, who gets around Heath Miller. Jaiquawn Jarrett spies Roethlisberger, and when Roethlisberger steps up in the pocket to avoid the pressure Jarrett gets the sack.

Sack 2 – (2.43 seconds) The Jets scouted well and used a tackle-end stunt to get to Roethlisberger, once again on Beachum and Foster’s side. Foster passed off Leger Douzable to Beachum, but Beachum wasn’t quite ready and Douzable curled inside to sack Roethlisberger.

Game 11 Titans

Sack 1 – (5.58 seconds) The Titans rushed three and Roethlisberger held the ball too long in an attempt to make a play. Quentin Groves got the sack after initially being double-teamed by Miller and Beachum.

Sack 2 – (4.86 seconds) The initial pressure comes from the edge when Roethlisberger either missed a hot read to Blount in the flat or Blount failed to block the rusher. Pressure came as a result. Roethlisberger was forced to step up in the pocket and Derrick Morgan was rewarded with the sack.

Sack 3 – (2.86 seconds) The initial pressure comes over DeCastro, which forces Roethlisberger to step up in the pocket. Gilbert is not expecting that and his man, Shaun Phillips, comes free to get the sack. This one was pinned on Gilbert, but DeCastro deserves most of the blame for allowing the early pressure.

Sack 4 – The pressure comes from a pair of blitzing linebackers and they end up splitting the sack. Wesley Woodyard beats Heath Miller to the inside and gets the initial pressure. It was cleaned up by Avery Williamson, who beat Foster.

Sack 5 – (2.3 seconds) DeCastro fails to pick up blitzing linebacker Avery Williamson, who comes free and sacks Roethlisberger. Poor recognition by DeCastro and Pouncey, who double team an interior lineman and were unaware a linebacker was coming.

Game 12 New Orleans 


Sack 1 – (3.53 seconds) Cameron Jordan beats Mike Adams to the inside and tracks down a scrambling Roethlisberger for the sack.

Game 13 Cincinnati


Game 14 Atlanta

Sack 1 – (3.66 seconds) A stunt allows nose tackle Paul Soliai to come all the way around the edge to sack Roethlisberger. Mike Adams and David DeCastro fail to recognize the stunt. I’m pinning this one on Adams, who never picked his head up.

Game 15 Kansas City

Sack 1 – (3.25 seconds) NFL sacks leader Justin Houston beats Beachum one-on-one and brings down Roethlisberger.

Game 16 Cincinnati