Sacks, Lies and Videotape: The truth about the passing offense



Sorry I had to lead with that. I don't like seeing it either, but that shows the gravity of what we are dealing with. We need to find a way to keep our quarterback on his feet. This problem is more complicated than many of us think. I got a chance to look at some stats, and three major things stuck out to me.

1. The severity of the problem is not what we think.

2. There are more ways to address the problem than we think.


3. The cause of the problem might not be WHO we think.

Gasp! That's right. The numbers might truly indicate that the blame for our sack problems this year don't rest with the O-line.

Because point #3 involves the emotional roller coaster of validating PFF and Jeff Bernard at the same time, we'll save that for last. I need time to come to terms with that crow sandwich.

Point #1. Oh My God. RG3 is taking SO many hits. He's getting killed out there!

Not exactly. According to Pro Football Reference, RG3 had a 7.7 sack percentage. (This is the percentage of times he took a sack on a passing attempt.) 7.7% isn't good. Its actually 25th in the league. Still, it's not the end of the world. It's still better than Nick Foles (27th @ 8.1%), Cam Newton (28th @ 8.3), Colin Kaepernick (30th @ 8.6) and Russell Wilson (35th @ 9.8). Its also less than a percentage point behind Aaron Rodgers (20th @6.8).

Ok, so that covers the percentage of time Mr. Three spent on the turf, but what about the total amount? Again, not good, but not as bad as you might think. RG3 was sacked 38 times this season, for 15th most in the league. By comparison Russell Wilson (4th with 44), Cam Newton (5th with 43), Alex Smith (12th with 39), Colin Kaepernick (13th with 39), Drew Brees (16th with 37).

Now, obviously I am not saying its ok to keep letting Griff get sacked. I am merely pointing out that several of his peers put up very similar or worse numbers and those same peers have two things in common:

A. They haven't been killed.

B. They all made the playoffs this year.

The shouts of "Oline! draft all Oline. We've mortgaged the future on a QB and then left him out there to die!" might be a bit exaggerated.

Point #2. So, how do we reduce this number of sacks? If you were like me this year you routinely finished watching a sacktastic Redskins performance and then brooded over it while you switched channels to watch The Walking Dead.

It turns out, our situation has a few major points in common with The Dead:

A. It seems like our line is all about the same size as Carl


B. Once a week RG3 has 4 sets of arms groping for him like THIS


C. Every zombie swarm like pass rush has 3 potential outcomes. (This is the important one) Every week our intrepid heroes will either hide behind the barricaded doors and hope it holds, try to find a back door to escape or discover that there is a back door they forgot to cover at all, and zombies are now streaming through it. That's it. Barricade, Escape, get devoured though the entry you forgot to cover.

For our passing offense:

Barricade: Depend on the line to hold their blocks

Escape: Find an open receiver to dump off to

Get devoured: Have a defender come in totally untouched because we missed an assignment or they simply out schemed us.


*Observe Zombies 1 and 2 working a Double A-Gap Blitz, which killed the Redskins this season.

Point #3 Having defined our sack prevention options, lets check the stats to see how well we did each one.

The folks over at Football Outsiders whipped up a chart which broke down each team's sacks into three categories, Blown Block, Confusion and Coverage.

Blown Block: This is what we think of normally. This is when an offensive lineman actually loses his matchup and gets overpowered by the rusher.

Confusion: This is where someone goes unblocked because no one determines that they are supposed to pick them up. The blame for this could go many ways. It COULD go to the QB for not recognizing the defense and calling the adjustment (which apparently just entails shouting "Omaha"). It could go to the coaches for getting out schemed. It could go to the line for just blowing coverage, but I reflect that back to the coaches, since any time the players don't know what to do, its partially on the coaches. Either they weren't told, or they weren't properly trained.

Coverage: This is when the Oline holds their blocks for a reasonable length of time, but the QB just fails to get rid of the ball in a timely manner. This could be on the receivers for failing to get open quickly. It could be on the QB for failing to recognize open receivers. This year's packers game was the exact opposite of this concept. Our pass rush showed that they could get to Rodgers, alas, we couldn't keep the ball in his hands long enough to give us time.

(Incidentally, coverage sacks are what sent me on this fact finding mission in the first place. I was trying to figure out if we would benefit more from strengthening the line, or from giving RG3 better targets.)

So, how did the Redskins shake out?

Redskins splits, vs league average:

Blown block: 39.4% vs 54.2% avg

Confusion: 27.3% vs 21.4% avg

Coverage: 33.3% vs 24.4% avg

That's the basics, but these numbers need more context, so let's really break this down.

First, for us specifically, 39.4% of our sacks were blown blocks, 27.3 were confusion and 33.3 were coverage.

SEE?! AHA. It's the line's fault. Told you!

Oh, but not so fast. We're not just trying to figure out what happened. We are trying to figure out where we are deficient and have room to improve. What we need to look at is deviation. Where are we doing better or worse than the rest of the league?

The results are... unexpected.

Blown block: 39.4% vs (total) 54.2% (Calc) avg 55.9%

Confusion: 27.3% vs (total) 21.4% (Calc) avg 20.9

Coverage: 33.3% vs (total) 24.4% (Calc) avg 24.8

*The "average" listed by FO is a crude figure based on the total number of the entire league vs the sack type (listed above as "total". I wanted a clearer representation of us compared to each team, so added up the individual average of each team and then took the average of those. I've labelled that above as "Calc". Turns out both numbers are close to each other.

And to drive the point home a little more

Out of 1000 total NFL sacks this year (549 Blown blocks, 212 Confusion sacks, 239 coverage sacks), here's how we stacked up to the average:

Blown Block: Wash 13/League Avg 17.15

Confusion: Wash 9/League Avg 6.6

Coverage: Wash 11/League Avg 7.4

Who knew? Apparently blown block sacks are the only sack type we were BETTER than league average on.


It would seem that the best way to bring our sack numbers down would be to make sure everyone is on their assignments, and to simply get the ball out of RG3's hand quicker.

Whether that is more a matter of coaching, receiving targets or whatever else is a argument for the comments section entire off time up to the draft.

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