The Commanders offensive line was third and fourth in pass blocking the past two seasons. How far have they fallen? Washington Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz is being pressured on 32% of dropbacks when the opposing defense is not blitzing. He’s being pressured on 48% of dropbacks when the defense is blitzing (both figures per Pro Football Focus). Those things are bad and are considered fatal flaws.
Are Sacks A Quarterback Stat?
The Washington Football Team’s offensive line was 3rd in pass blocking in 2020 and 4th in pass blocking in 2021.
Injuries, departures, and poor roster construction decisions have damned the team thus far in 2022. Brandon Scherff is gone. Trai Turner was so bad he got benched behind a “we brought him back too early” excuse from Head Coach Ron Rivera.
They played a center they signed the same week. Chase Roullier is done for the year. The backup center and backup right guard are the same person for some reason, and Wes Schweitzer is on IR. So while we’re talking about the quarterback position and Carson Wentz, the mass dysfunction on the Washington offensive line ought to be in the front of our minds. PFF grades should also be taken with at least a modicum of salt; there is no such thing as perfect metrics. The Commanders’ pass blocking grade of 64.7 (PFF) is slightly above average, 15th among all teams. Washington has allowed 17 sacks through four games, 32nd among all teams. The Bears, Rams, Bengals, and Colts round out the top five teams with the most sacks allowed. Their pass-blocking grades rank 27, 32, 28, and 19 respectively. That’s a -9 differential between blocking and sacks from Indy. The -17 differential in our nation’s capital nearly doubles that. The only other quarterbacks currently taking more sacks than Carson are Russell Wilson, who’s been notoriously sackable his entire career, the Jameis Winston/Andy Dalton fiasco, Mitch Trubisky, and designed runner Jalen Hurts. Only one of these five teams has more wins than losses.
Random note: The Lions have the 31st-graded pass protection in the NFL. They have taken five sacks all year, giving them a +29 differential. Jared frickin’ Goff, man – aka the pick before Wentz. He shows up once later, too.
Taking the most sacks with the 15th-graded offensive line is eyebrow-raising. It’s not uncommon for it to be the quarterback’s fault when they get buried behind the line before they can throw the ball. And Wentz isn’t the only starter not doing his hogs a favor. But 2022 follows a trend across Carson’s career. Here are where his teams have ranked in sacks allowed versus team pass-blocking (PBLK) grade.
🎥 All 9 Eagles sacks on Carson Wentz pic.twitter.com/TYHS7wRSah — Victor Williams (@ThePhillyPod) September 26, 2022
2016 – 14th sacks, 10th PBLK (rookie year) 2017 – 16th sacks, 10th PBLK (MVP candidate/Super Bowl year) 2018 – 16th sacks, 9th PBLK (recovery from injury year) 2019 – 14th sacks, 3rd PBLK (the most normal year since 2017) 2020 – 32nd sacks, 16th PBLK (Wentz led NFL, despite playing 12 games) 2021 – 10th sacks, 23rd PBLK (Colts: new team, new scheme, new Carson) 2022 – 32nd sacks, 15th PBLK (Commanders debut) When a quarterback takes sacks at a rate higher than his offensive line’s performance suggests, we can hypothesize they take more sacks than necessary. Wentz has had this happen six seasons out of seven. It’s safe to conclude that in his case, the hypothesis is correct. In every season of Wentz’s career except for 2020 and his rookie year, his team has won nine or more games. That suggests that he was on at least somewhat good teams, in addition to his blocking. Of course, a large amount of being good has to do with the fact Carson himself was leading those squads.
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Wentz has had only one year with below-average pass protection before this quarter-season with the Commanders. He hasn’t shown he can take advantage of that. It’s encouraging that his most recent season is the least sacked he’s ever been, and it was the year he had the poorest o-line play. It’s not encouraging that he took 32 sacks all year in 2021, and he’s at 17 currently through four games.
In contrast to quarterbacks that take an inordinate amount of trips to the dirt, here are the five least-sacked quarterbacks from the past five seasons. Each quarterback whose line was also in the top five is in blue, and quarterbacks whose offensive line posted a pass-blocking grade not in the top 16 of the league, are highlighted in green. 2021 – Tom Brady, Josh Allen, Mac Jones, Patrick Mahomes, Kirk Cousins 2020 – Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes 2019 – Jared Goff, Dak Prescott, Drew Brees, Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson 2018 – Jacoby Brissett, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Patrick Mahomes 2017 – Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Blake Bortles, Matt Ryan, Derek Carr Out of the 25 least-sacked quarterbacks over the last half-decade: – Only four had offensive lines worse than Carson Wentz has this year – 24 of them outperformed or equally ranked their line. Only 2019 Lamar underperformed. He had the #1 line but took the 5th least sacks (dastardly, I know) – Only nine had lines in the top five, and eight of those nine still ranked higher or the same as their line (’19 Lamar) – Only one quarterback to appear on this list more than once (Mahomes) did so before the age of 30.
Awareness And Cognition > Athletic Traits
From this sample, it’s fair to assume a strong correlation between quarterbacks that are adept at avoiding pressure and quality performance. Both the individuals and the teams on the above list succeed at much higher levels than Wentz or the Commanders have.
Wentz has shown that he can be as good as some of the guys on that list, in the flashes that everyone chases of his. There is not a single bad quarterback season on that list. The closest exception is Brissett, who went 7-9 with a middling defense and very bad weapons. You would think that with 25 chances, we would see a couple of random Colt McCoy’s or Sam Darnold’s on here. Taking so few sacks is a club that is incredibly quality controlled.
The age 30 thing is reassuring. Carson turns 30 on December 30 of this year. His golden birthday could yield big things. In every sport, athletes talk about how much the game slows down for them a few seasons into their pro career. Quarterback is the hardest position in team sports. The average age of Pro Bowl quarterbacks is nearly a decade older than the average age of Pro Bowl running backs.
Not gonna lie, this is a PHENOMENAL pass from Carson Wentz. That’s the rookie cookin’ too ♨️ pic.twitter.com/gyZCXLnLYT — NBC Sports Commanders (@NBCSCommanders) October 2, 2022
There is ample reason to believe that this correctable problem will be corrected. Slumps happen every year, but they aren’t just steadfast to happening mid-season. Ron Rivera’s teams have empirically started slow and gotten hot late. Carson Wentz led teams as well. The Commanders pace of 72 sacks, if it never gets a single bit better, would be the second-worst in NFL history.
The only quarterbacks to appear on that top-five list more than twice are Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes. Those might be the two best quarterbacks to ever live (at least in modern-day football). You don’t need to be them to win big or even win medium. Wentz has one top-10 appearance, and it was his most recent full season. The Commanders two most recent seasons featured top four pass-blocking lines.
Quickly, let’s look at the inverse of the data. Quarterbacks like Wentz that were among the five most-sacked while having an offensive line ranking in the top 16.
2021 – Lamar Jackson/Tyler Huntley/Josh Johnson 2020 – Carson Wentz (PHI), Alex Smith/Dwayne Haskins/Kyle Allen (whose protection was THIRD) Deshaun Watson (whose team went 4-12) 2019 – Ryan Tannehill, rookie Kyler Murray 2018 – Aaron Rodgers, whose protection was FIRST 2017 – Aaron Rodgers, whose protection was SEVENTH This is mixed and also very weird company. Eight occurrences total in five seasons, one this year.
2017 and ‘18 were the only years Rodgers has missed the playoffs or been below .500 except for his debut, pseudo-rookie year. Only one of these examples won more than eight games, and only two of them won more than seven. Those teams had Ryan Tannehill, Lamar Jackson, top-three run games, and good defenses.
This sample size is likely too odd to garner particular conclusions from. Each case had a unique circumstance. Kyler is a runner, small, and a rookie playing for a team that just picked him 1st overall. Watson had the 31st rushing offense and the 30th defense, so he had to throw it every down and distance.
Are Sacks A Quarterback Stat?
Are sacks a quarterback stat? It’s encouraging to see that correlation between unsackable quarterbacks overperforming their offensive lines are stronger than the data on quarterbacks who create sacks on their own. So the answer seems to dictate that yes, sacks are a quarterback stat.
However, it seems that that’s a good thing. Being difficult to sack and adept at avoiding pressure in the pocket is more an achievable skill trait than something guys may never improve at. Hopefully, Carson Wentz can get on the right side of that, and there are reasons to believe he can.