I’ve been wanting to write this piece for a year or two now, but the opportunity never really presented itself in a way that seemed relevant to what was going on with Washington’s football team at the time. On the heels of a nine sack game - as many as the Redskins gave up in the entire 1991 season - it seems like the appropriate time to broach it.
The conventional wisdom is that the primary responsibility for sacks falls on a team’s offensive line. After all, these hogmollies are paid big bucks to keep opponent’s pass rushers at bay, and to protect the most valuable player on teams across the league, right?
A few years back, Jason Lisk of the The Big Lead undertook an analysis to try to tease out the degree to which different variables were responsible for quarterback sacks. He looked back at 30 years of data (from 2018), evaluating those QBs who had at least 6 seasons with enough passing attempts to qualify for the analysis. Here is what he found:
There were 66 qualified passers who have thrown 224 or more passes in at least six seasons since 1988. On average, the best sack seasons for this group was 4.0%, and the worst sack seasons were at 9.1%. That gives us an average range of 5.1%. I then subtracted 13.3% (our fictional worst realistic NFL QB performance) minus 9.1%. That gives us 4.2% as the average good quarterback contribution to the sack rate, over the baseline worst possible result. Divide that amount by the difference between the worst possible and the average best contribution (9.3%), and you get the following:
Sack rate is at least 45% the responsibility of the quarterback, and about 55% everything else. In this case, everything else includes offensive teammates, coaching/scheme/offensive philosophy, opponents, game scenarios, injuries that affect performance, aging/inexperience (as a subset of the worst seasons in categories tend to come in the first or last year starting), and randomness/luck.
Think that doesn’t sound like all that much? Turns out that - statistically - it’s about the same amount of influence as a QB independently has on completion percentage (44%), and quite a bit more than he has on yards per attempt (38%) and touchdown rate (34%).
Lisk considered his analysis an early cut at the thesis that “Sacks are a QB Stat,” which really turns out to be a little less grandiose than the article title, and something more along the lines of this:
“Quarterback(s) plays a larger role than people think in determining a team’s sack rate.”
With that in mind, I’d like to evaluate the performance of Carson Wentz and the Commanders’ offensive line against the Eagles.
Let’s Take a Look at Wentz’s Sacks Against the Eagles
Thankfully, the Eagles took the liberty of compiling all nine sacks from yesterday’s game for our viewing pleasure. Below, I’ve catalogued several of the key elements about each sack, including the approximate time Wentz had from the snap to the initiation of the sack.
Sack 1 - (13:57 1st quarter; sacked at 2.75)
Wentz is in shotgun. Wentz drops back 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage, gets pressure from both ends, and steps up into pressure up the middle and is sacked.
Sack 2 - (10:41 1st quarter; sacked at 3.15)
Wentz drops back, the right guard (Trai Turner) gets beaten badly and Wentz is sacked.
Sack 3 - (10:00 1st quarter; sacked at 3.20)
Wentz is in shotgun. Norwell was essentially a turnstile.
Sack 4 - (3:56 1st quarter; sacked at 3.76)
Wentz is in shotgun. Has plenty of time, Wentz runs into the man that Sam Cosmi is holding off. This one’s clearly on Wentz.
Sack 5 - (14:13 2nd quarter; sacked at 4.27)
Wentz in shotgun. He feels pressure from the outside, steps up into the pocket, poorly protecting the ball and fumbles. This sack is on Wentz as is the boneheaded fumble.
Sack 6 - (6:34 2nd quarter; sacked at 2.93)
Wentz in shotgun. Drops back 10 yards from the line of scrimmage, gets pressure from both edges, steps up, and Hassan Reddick makes a great reach to knock the ball from Wentz’s arm. Wentz fumbles and recovers the fumble. I’d put this one 50/50 on Wentz and the line.
Sack 7 - (9:55 4th quarter; sacked at 2.42)
Wentz in shotgun. Cosmi simply gets beaten like a drum around the edge and Wentz goes down.
Sack 8 - (9:01 4th quarter; sacked at 3.70)
Wentz in shotgun. Wentz drops back 10 yards from the line of scrimmage, feels pressure from Cosmi’s man and steps up into the middle of the pocket which is a feeding frenzy at this point. This one is on Wentz.
Sack 9 - (4:28 4th quarter; sacked at 2.58)
Wentz in shotgun. Wentz drops back around 10 yards from the line of scrimmage, feels pressure from the ends, steps up into Norwell’s man bearing down on him like a cruise missile, and is promptly eaten by the defensive tackles.
Through the first two weeks of the season, Carson Wentz had one of the longest “pocket times” in the NFL (2.7 seconds). That’s around .2 seconds more than he averaged for the Colts last year, which again, was at the top end of the league. On these nine sacks, he averaged about 3.2 seconds in the pocket.
Andrew Norwell was horrible yesterday. Full stop. I’d put about a third of these sacks largely on his miserable performance. Count me among those who would like to see Martin Mayhew give Ereck Flowers a call.
However, by my count, a full 3.5 of these 9 sacks (39%) - including the crippling fumble in Commanders’ territory - were squarely on Wentz, either for holding onto the ball too long or for poor pocket awareness.
I’d conservatively say at least 4 of these sacks are 100% on Wentz: pic.twitter.com/zSos5RoHj7— Ross Tucker (@RossTuckerNFL) September 26, 2022
That matches up beautifully with Lisk’s broader hypothesis, in a way that I probably couldn’t have tailored if I had tried. As we deconstruct what went wrong with the Eagles’ game, there’s plenty of blame to go around, but let’s make sure we’re methodical and accurate in assigning responsibility.
Now in his 7th year in the league, it’s fair to wonder if Carson Wentz can change his bad habits and get his tendency to hold onto the ball too long under control. If this team wants to have any shot at success this season, it’s going to be imperative that Scott Turner and Ken Zampese do whatever they can to make sure that he does. Meanwhile performances like this are likely to begin earning the ire of his offensive line, if he’s not careful.
Commanders LT Charles Leno with amazing quote describing today’s offense: “It’s like we’re constipated. Couldn't get shit going."— JP Finlay (@JPFinlayNBCS) September 25, 2022
At this point in his career, do you think Carson Wentz can change his ways?
This poll is closed