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What to do? Kolb, Bradford sacked most

11/26/2011

The Arizona Cardinals' opponents have sacked Kevin Kolb on 9.4 percent of dropbacks this season.

That is the highest percentage in the league.

2011 NFL Sack Percentages

The St. Louis Rams' Sam Bradford owns the second-highest percentage (9.3).

Both quarterbacks face capable pass-rushers Sunday, provided Kolb returns from the toe and ankle injuries that have sidelined him for three games.

The Rams' Chris Long has nine sacks this season, while the Cardinals' Calais Campbell has five and faces a favorable matchup when these teams meet in the Edward Jones Dome.

Conventional wisdom says teams can protect against sacks by tightening their formations and keeping a running back in the backfield to assist with protection. These tactics certainly can help, but teams can also minimize sacks by emptying the backfield, spreading out their formations and trusting their quarterbacks to get rid of the football.

With an assist from Doug Clawson of ESPN Stats & Information, I've put together two charts showing sack percentages by down and whether the offense went with an empty backfield.

2011 Sam Bradford Sack Percentage

The first chart shows percentages across the league this season. The second one shows the percentages for Bradford this season, in light of questions about whether emptying the backfield was the right approach for St. Louis against Seattle last week.

Teams take sacks less frequently when they empty the backfield. The advantage has been even greater for the Bradford this season.

The tradeoff is a costly one for the Rams, however, because it removes any rushing threat from the team's best player, Steven Jackson. The Rams previously had success running the ball from shotgun formations. Those formations indicated a pass was likely coming, but Bradford would hand off to Jackson for the misdirection runs Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley discussed heading into Week 11.

I'd expect a return to that strategy for the Rams this week.