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How the Titans were sacked in 2011, part one

As part of our continuing meandering look on the Titans’ offensive line this offseason, I thought I’d take a look at how the Titans were sacked in 2011. On the whole, the best way to describe how the Titans were sacked in 2011 is “not very often.” Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker went down a combined 24 times, tied for second-fewest in the league.

My favorite measure of sack frequency, and not just because I write for them, is Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Sack Rate, which takes into account the number of pass attempts, down, distance, and opponent, all of which matter, and also includes intentional grounding penalties. By that measure, the Titans ranked second in the league in 2011 at 4.2%, behind the Bills. To give you a basis for comparison, the average quarterback was “sacked” 6.7% of the time by ASR. In doing these writeups, I’ll also be saying a little bit about the opposing time. That’ll include a reference to their defensive ASR.

In writing up plays, my focus is on how the sack could have been avoided. This may include commenting on the QB, the playcall, the blocking scheme, the individual blockers, and/or the receivers. It’s worth keeping in mind, though, that a sack is not necessarily a bad play, and certainly not the worst possible outcome. It’s not as good as a throw away, but better than an interception.

This is going to be a multi-part series. In this part one, I’m going to look at how the Titans were sacked in their first four games-a road loss to the Jaguars, home wins against the Ravens and Broncos, and then a road win in Cleveland. Part two on Tuesday will cover games five through eight, part three on Wednesday covers games nine through twelve, and part four on Thursday covers games thirteen through sixteen. Finally, in part five, which will run on Friday, I’ll take the granular analyses from parts one through four and put them together into a more coherent whole.

WEEK 1-AT JACKSONVILLE-Hasselbeck 21 pass attempts, 2 sacks, 5 QB hits
The Jaguars would end the season an improved pass rushing team, finishing 13th in Adjusted Sack Rate at 7.2%, after ranking 22nd at 5.8% in 2010. At the time, though, this looked like a not very good opening week for the Titans. It started especially inauspiciously, with a sack on the opening play (detailed below), but overall the Titans ended up with seven sacks plus hits on 23 dropbacks. That was the highest combined percentage of sacks plus hits by any Titans opponent all year.

1Q-1-10-TEN 20 (15:00) M.Hasselbeck sacked at TEN 14 for -6 yards (M.Roth).
This was the especially inauspicious start I referred to above. After a touchback on the kickoff, the Titans begin their first real play of 2011 and Hasselbeck gets taken down. This is a pretty simple play-Palmer called a playfake and then bootleg to the offensive right, and left defensive end Roth ignores the playfake completely. Hasselbeck boots right into him, and that’s an easy sack. Rock-paper-scissors, advantage to Jacksonville.

2Q-1-10-JAX 39 (14:27) (Shotgun) M.Hasselbeck sacked at JAX 48 for -9 yards (D.Coleman). FUMBLES (D.Coleman), recovered by TEN-J.Scott at JAX 47. J.Scott to JAX 47 for no gain (D.Coleman).
The Jaguars bring five on a zone blitz, with linebacker Paul Posluszny and corner Drew Coleman coming from Hasselbeck’s blindside. Roos properly takes the inside man Posluszny, leaving Coleman, who’d crept closer late, free. CJ immediately escapes the backfield on a route, and is picked up by dropping LDE Matt Roth. This play is either on Hasselbeck for not recognizing Coleman’s rush (or seeing his rush and having a broken internal clock) or on CJ for adjusting his route to be the hot read, and while I think it’s on CJ, I can’t be sure.

WEEK 2-VS. BALTIMORE-Hasselbeck 30 pass attempts, 0 sacks, 2 QB hits
The Ravens were the second-best sacking team in pro football, but you wouldn’t know it from this game. It’s likely this game will be Hasselbeck’s shining moment in a Titans uniform, as he regularly got the ball out quickly and accurately, slicing up the league’s best pass defense and negating their pass rush.

WEEK 3-VS. DENVER-Hasselbeck 27 pass attempts, 2 sacks, 2 QB hits
Another game, another good pass-rushing team. The Broncos weren’t quite as good as the Ravens, but they were still quite good, coming in fifth in ASR at 7.8%. The big threats were the two primarily edge rushers, DE Elvis Dumervil and LB Von Miller.

1Q-3-6-TEN 27 (8:14) (Shotgun) M.Hasselbeck sacked at TEN 18 for -9 yards (J.Wilhite).
A bit like Coleman’s sack in Week 1. The Broncos showed a Texans-style 5-man front look with the two edge players standing up. This time the two rushers come from the defensive left, while the end man on the defensive right drops off to cover CJ’s route. I’m not sure who the hot is. Slot man Hawkins runs a shallow crosser and is covered. It’s possible Cook should’ve cut his route off and simply stopped for a smash instead of running the out, but I’m not sure which. Either way, Hasselbeck was sunk and simply wasn’t agile enough to avoid Wilhite.

3Q-1-10-TEN 20 (1:17) (1:17) M.Hasselbeck sacked at TEN 13 for -7 yards (V.Miller). FUMBLES (V.Miller), RECOVERED by DEN-D.Harvey at TEN 13.
Line games, line games. The Broncos run a T/E stunt on the Titans’ right and an E/T stunt on the Titans’ left. Miller, who lined up as RDE in the four-man line is the man who makes the play. RDT Robert Ayers occupies Scott with his bull rush, then Miller loops inside. Amano is the free man to pick him up, but only slows him down a bit. Miller continues his run and swipes the ball out of Hasselbeck’s hand.

WEEK 4-AT CLEVELAND-Hasselbeck 20 pass attempts, 0 sacks;Locker 1 pass attempt, 0 sacks; 1 QB hit
The Browns were a litte bit better than the Titans at rushing the passer, but not a whole lot, ranking twenty-sixth in ASR at 5.8%. Thanks to some big plays and a defensive score, the Titans didn’t end up running many plays this game, only 50 to the Browns’ 87, and what there were were relatively untroubled.

Weeks 5-9 will be covered in part two on Tuesday, Week 10-13 in part three on Wednesday, Week 14-17 in part four on Thursday, and this series should Friday with part five.