How the Titans sacked the passer in 2011, part one

After my series on five part series on how the Titans were sacked, it’s time to look at the other side of the coin and look at how the Titans sacked the opposing passer last year. As I did with that series, this will be another five-parter, with the first four installments devoted to looking at the four quarters of the season game by game and the fifth and final part will be an attempt to draw some broader conclusions.

As was true of how the Titans were sacked, the best way to describe how the Titans sacked the opposing passer in 2011 was “not very often.” The Titans only had 28 sacks, second-fewest in the league, ahead of only the Buccaneers. They didn’t have few sacks because they didn’t have opportunities, either, as Titans opponents attempted a well above-average number of passes. By Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Sack Rate, which accounts for all those opportunities and the teams the Titans played, the Titans also came out 31st at 4.8%, compared to a league average of 6.7%, behind those Bucs and ahead of only the Green Bay Packers.

As with my analysis of how the Titans were sacked, the write-ups in this series will be deterministic and describe from a defensive perspective how the sack happened. These are not intended to be complete or fully-inclusive analyses, and I’m not necessarily going to include how the opponent could have or should have avoided the sack unless there’s something glaringly obvious.

As with all of my play-by-play write-ups, I’m performing the analysis in a world of highly incomplete information. I don’t actually know either team’s calls, I don’t necessarily have all-22 footage, which mean line angles may be unclear and downfield coverage completely hidden, etc. These are educated best guesses, not definitive statements of fact. That out of the way, on with the show.

WEEK 1-AT JACKSONVILLE-Luke McCown 24 attempts, 2 sacks, 4 QB hits
The Jaguars shockingly ended the season only 26th in Adjusted Sack Rate. Virtually all of that data was with Blaine Gabbert taking the snap; McCown would end the season with only one more start, against the Jets, and was hot garbage. Also hot garbage were left guard Will Rackley and right tackle Guy Whimper, who led interior linemen and all offensive players in the NFL, respectively, in blown blocks leading to sacks and holding penalties.

1-10-TEN 35 (1Q-3:21) L.McCown sacked at TEN 40 for -5 yards (W.Hayes).
The Titans are in base 4-3 personnel and show a two-deep look, while the Jaguars are in the I. RDE Hayes and RDT Casey slant left, hard. LT Monroe seems to be waiting for a stunt from LDT Clayton that’s slow in coming. Rackley doesn’t properly anchor or get his hands on Hayes, and gets shoved back. Monroe doesn’t move over to help, and Hayes has an easy path to McCown even with Rackley grabbing him. As noted, Rackley wasn’t very good, but credit Jerry Gray for the line games and iso-ing the inexperienced lineman.

3-7-TEN 20 (2Q-6:37) (Shotgun) L.McCown sacked at TEN 28 for -8 yards (J.McCourty). FUMBLES (J.McCourty), recovered by JAX-E.Monroe at TEN 30. E.Monroe to TEN 30 for no gain (D.Ball). 
The Ruby package in action! The Jaguars are in an empty look at first, but motion a back in. Chris Hope is in the box, and McCourty moves in late from his left corner position. He and Hope blitz from the offensive right, giving the Titans five rushers total. Karim, the back, picks up the inside man Hope. McCown is ready to throw the ball to Thomas, the apparent hot, but he slips and McCourty crushes McCown right after the pump fake. McRath was in position to tackle Thomas short of any potential first down had he not slipped.

WEEK 2-VS. BALTIMORE-Joe Flacco 32 attempts, 3 sacks, 5 QB hits
I always think of Flacco as a total statue who goes down a lot, but the Ravens actually came out a little better than league average in Adjusted Sack Rate at 5.9%. As we’ll see, though, none of these three were particularly normal sacks.

1-10-TEN 30 (2Q-:29) (Shotgun) J.Flacco sacked at TEN 38 for -8 yards (K.Klug). FUMBLES (K.Klug), and recovers at TEN 34. J.Flacco to TEN 34 for no gain (D.Ball).
Titans rush the standard four. RDE Ball and RDT Klug run an E-T stunt. Ball is picked up inside, and LT McKinnie sort of shoves Klug along, but he’s able to swipe at Flacco and knocks the ball out of his hands. Good move by Klug, and more evidence of the effectiveness of line games.

2-10-TEN 19 (2Q-:15) (Shotgun) J.Flacco sacked at TEN 23 for -4 yards (D.Ball).
Hey, it’s the wide-9! LDT Klug slants left on his rush and gets doubled by the left guard and center. Ball has lots of space to work with; McKinnie handles his outside speed rush just fine… until he gets his weight too far to the outside and Ball’s late spin move gives him an easy path to Flacco. Note J.J. Cooper’s sack project has this one at 3.4 seconds, which is a fairly long sack; a less hesitant QB gets rid of the ball here, especially given the game situation.

1-10-BLT 31 (4Q-:20) (Shotgun) J.Flacco sacked at BLT 26 for -5 yards (D.Morgan).
The third sack of the game, and the third in the final minute of a half. By now, it’s 26-13, and we’re in complete garbage time (this would end up as the final play of the game). A bit like Ball’s first sack: Morgan isn’t as wide (looks like a 7-tech, no all-22 on this play to be sure), but Oher ends up with outside positioning and doesn’t properly anchor. When Flacco steps up, Morgan has a fairly easy takedown. Four-man rush again.

WEEK 3-VS. DENVER-Kyle Orton 39 attempts, 1 sack, 3 QB hits
The Broncos would end up with the fourth-worst Adjusted Sack Rate in the league, but that was Tim Tebow’s doing. Orton was sacked a much more respectable 9 times compared to 155 attempts. Certainly not Hasselbeck-ian, but less than half Tebow’s raw rate (though of course that’s not adjusted for scrambles). This would be a pretty good game for the Broncos, though, as Orton went down a lot less often than the six times the Titans sacked him in the game at LP Field in 2010.

1-10-TEN 38 (4Q-2:00) K.Orton sacked ob at TEN 39 for -1 yards (W.Witherspoon).
Even this is a bit of a sack in name only. The Titans blitz with five, bringing what appears to be Michael Griffin. Orton vacates to his left, where there’s space and possibly a running lane as well. Witherspoon closes that down more quickly than Orton seems to have anticipated, though, and he steps out of bounds for a short loss after 5.7 seconds. Nice job by Spoon, but the key to this play was the downfield coverage that got Orton to go on the move in the first place.

WEEK 4-AT CLEVELAND-Colt McCoy 61 attempts, 3 sacks, 9 QB hits; Josh Cribbs 0 attempts, 1 sack
Three sacks seems like a respectable number, but McCoy dropped back to pass 66 times in this game (two scrambles). In that context, it’s less impressive. The Browns were overall just slightly better than average at avoiding sacks, ranking 16th but at 6.4%.

3-6-TEN 24 (1Q-7:38) J.Cribbs sacked at TEN 31 for -7 yards (K.Klug). Cribbs took pitchout from right side
Outstanding effort by Klug on this play, as Cribbs was running something like a speed option. The Browns were running their protection for Cribbs to set up left. Klug doesn’t follow LG Pinkston, though, and C Mack’s shove barely disrupts him from getting into the backfield and preventing Cribbs from making it to the little pocket the Browns were trying to create. Cribbs tries to reverse field, but Klug does a great job of pursuing him to the far side of the field and taking him down. A better thrower than Cribbs probably gets rid of the ball here.

1-10-CLV 49 (2Q-2:01) C.McCoy sacked at CLV 39 for -10 yards (J.Jones).
The Titans are in nickel against base personnel and bring a zone blitz, with Finnegan coming off the offensive left and Ruud from up the middle. LDE Morgan drops off. Jones, lined up at LDT, makes the play. RT Pashos had fanned out wide to go against Morgan’s expected rush, and Jones has plenty of space to get outside of RG Lauvao and nail McCoy on his deep drop. Ruud arrives soon after Jones does, but the play has already been blown dead for in the grasp.

2-4-CLV 18 (3Q-13:01) C.McCoy sacked at CLV 17 for -1 yards (A.Ayers).
At 6.2 seconds, the Titans’ longest sack of the year because Colt McCoy simply is not willing to throw the football against man coverage. The Titans rush five, get no immediate pressure, McCoy has room to step up and throw, and he just doesn’t. He eventually decides to scramble for yards, neglecting that there are no open lanes, and Ayers runs him down from behind after he hesitates doing that. A sack in name only.

1-10-CLV 15 (4Q-1:49) (Shotgun) C.McCoy sacked at CLV 15 for 0 yards (D.Morgan).
We’re in pure garbage time, at 31-13 late in the game, and it’s another failed scramble by McCoy after he refuses to throw the ball. There’s no all-22 here like there was for the previous play, so I have no idea if there was a throw a more confident quarterback would have attempted or if taking off was a good decision. Either way, Morgan brings him down from behind.

That’s it for part one. In part two, I’ll hit the road loss to the Steelers, the home loss to the Texans (hint: short write-up for that game), the home win against the Colts, and the home loss against the Bengals. 

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