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Air and Space: Timing Rodgers on sacks

11/12/2009

I've tended to deflect the blame on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers for his NFL-high 37 sacks this season, a pace that would put him within striking distance of David Carr's record of 76 while playing for Houston in 2002.

There's no doubt Rodgers has held the ball too long on some occasions, in some instances causing a sack on plays where offensive linemen were coached to block for a quick release. My thought, however, is that a good pass-blocking offensive line can keep a quarterback clean no matter how long he holds the ball. In fact, quarterbacks are often praised for giving receivers extra time to get open.

To help demystify this issue, Hank Gargiulo of ESPN's Stats & Information timed how long Rodgers has held the ball on every sack this season -- from the snap until the point where significant contact or the act of bringing Rodgers to the ground occurred.

The results of Gargiulo's study are contained in the chart below. Keep in mind this is one person's attempt at a subjective process. (I was once scolded by a personnel man who threw me a stopwatch and asked me to show him the “accepted” way to time a 40-yard dash. It had something to do with finger placement. Whatever.)



How should we judge this data? It's important to note that every team has different standards for a quarterback's release, and often they depend on the type of dropback and route tree associated with the play call. Regardless, in West Coast offenses such as Green Bay's, the rule of thumb generally is four seconds. Put it this way: There are few plays designed for a quarterback to hold it longer, and given the state of the Packers' offensive line, I think you can safely assume none of them have been called.

Gargiulo's chart has some big numbers on it, including 8.0 seconds last week against Tampa Bay and 6.5 seconds two weeks ago against Minnesota. But overall, Rodgers was sacked prior to the four-second mark on 28 of the 37 occasions.

Even if you adjust for subjective timing and the intent of each particular play call, I think this study gives us an important baseline: It's roughly 3-1. We can fairly blame Rodgers for one of every four sacks he's taken.

You might consider that a higher number than it should be, but I look at it differently. To me, it means the focus on Rodgers' role in the sacks shouldn't overshadow the bigger picture: Responsibility for the majority lies elsewhere.