How the Cardinals can reduce sack problem

October, 9, 2012
10/09/12
3:40
PM ET
The Arizona Cardinals aren't going to find Pro Bowl offensive linemen on the waiver wire.

Teams have a hard enough time finding them in the draft.
Fortunately for the Cardinals, they can dramatically reduce the number of sacks they're allowing -- 17 over the last two games -- without changing their personnel on the line.

They'll have to improve in other areas.

Missing open receivers, dropping passes and failing to defend well against the deep ball contributed to Arizona falling behind St. Louis and losing to the Rams, 17-3, in Week 5.

Falling behind allowed the Cardinals' opponent, St. Louis in this case, to abandon its responsibilities against the run. The Rams are better rushing the passer than defending the run, and better yet rushing the passer when the run isn't a concern.

That is one theory, anyway, and the information in the chart backs it up.

The Cardinals have suffered 17 of their 23 sacks while trailing this season. They are allowing sacks on 13.6 percent of pass plays when trailing, more than twice the percentage for the NFL's other 31 teams. It's possible those percentages would even out for Arizona if the sample size grew, or if we looked more closely at specific point differentials, but these are not experiments the Cardinals will want to pursue.

I thought coach Ken Whisenhunt had the right read following the 17-3 defeat to the Rams. He gave St. Louis credit for playing well on defense, but he also realized his team lengthened its odds for reducing sacks.

"There still were many opportunities in that game to make it a different game," he told reporters Friday. "We had a number of dropped balls. We had a number of opportunities to make plays and we didn’t get it done. They completed seven passes. They had two of them for over 100 yards and that set up their scores for them. If we eliminate those, it’s a different game. We had the ball (well into St. Louis territory), first-and-10, and got no points out of it, three times. If you handle those things, then it’s a different ball game."

The Cardinals have since found out running back Ryan Williams would require season-ending shoulder surgery. They're already without starting running back Beanie Wells until at least Nov. 25.

The injury situation at running back will make it tougher to reduce sacks. But the general idea holds. Teams with protection issues will have a harder time playing from behind, particularly against teams with strong pass-rushers. Arizona has the same starting offensive linemen it had while allowing six sacks over the first three games.

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