5 NFL Teams in Need of Pass-Blocking Improvements in 2016
There are a lot of things that can lead me to cursing and controller-throwing during a game of Madden.
Nothing is higher on that list than a boatload of sacks.
Whenever I made the mistake of playing online when I was a kid, my opponents would realize without fail that I didn't know what a five-step drop was. As a result, they'd blitz the living daylights out of me, usually leaving Chad Pennington in a sling and me mashing the reset button. Being so helpless was completely unbearable.
That was a video game. Some NFL teams experienced that in real life this year, and they can't just "accidentally" disconnect the internet cord.
The five teams below are the ones who dealt with the most pass-rushing agony over the course of 2015. The rankings are based on numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP), the metric we use to track the efficiency of teams and players, with the team totals being adjusted based on strength of opponent.
If you're new to the site, here's how NEP works. Let's say a team has a 3rd-and-1 situation from the opponent's 30-yard line. The quarterback drops back to pass, and he gets dumped back on the 37. The team's expected points for the drive would clearly decrease there as the team lost any shot at a touchdown and now faces a long field goal. NEP tracks the fluctuations in those expected points over the course of a season to show which teams were the best at improving their situation and which struggled.
For each team, we looked at the NEP they lost on sacks in 2015. That number was then divided by the total number of drop backs (attempts plus sacks) to provide the expected points they lost on sacks per drop back (Sack NEP per drop back). The league average here was -0.108.
Let's take a look at which five teams struggled the most in this area and should be looking to address their offensive lines over the offseason.
1. Tennessee Titans
Sack NEP: -109.72 | Sack NEP per drop back: -0.197
I'll try not to spend too much time harping on the Tennessee Titans as we've already laid out the case for why they should draft an offensive lineman first overall. Just know this: they were reprehensibly putrid.
As you can see, they lost almost 110 points this year because of sacks. There was only one other team that lost more than 95. They set the bar for suckitude up front.
This isn't just a case of rookie struggles at the quarterback position. The two worst individual marks in the league for Sack NEP belonged to Marcus Mariota and Zach Mettenberger, and no other players came particularly close. When two guys from the same team form the bottom of one list, you know something is seriously wrong.
The most frustrating part of this -- as fleshed out in the link above -- is that Mariota was an efficient passer when he was allowed to throw. This should make the desire to improve up front even greater as the upside of the rest of the offense is considerable.
2. Cleveland Browns
Sack NEP: -101.14 | Sack NEP per drop back: -0.166
Again, you may want to point to a young quarterback -- this time Johnny Manziel -- as the source of the Cleveland Browns' struggles. Just like the Titans, this problem extends beyond just one player.
Although Manziel did have worse Sack NEP numbers than Josh McCown, both were among the nine worst marks in the league. Of the 43 quarterbacks who had 100 drop backs with one team, Manziel ranked third lowest at -0.152, and McCown was ninth at -0.137. This makes things look a bit better, but it's still far from optimal.
This issue could be compounded if perennial Pro-Bowler Joe Thomas were to request a trade. New head coach Hue Jackson "is confident he can win over" Thomas, according to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, though nothing appears set in stone yet. The Browns clearly need help at quarterback, but they also need to find ways to protect that player once he's in place.
It's no coincidence that the top two teams on this list are picking first and second in the draft. Rushing the passer is important, but so is protecting your team's quarterback. It's hard to expect success when the quarterback is constantly peeling himself off the turf.
3. Miami Dolphins
Sack NEP: -94.09 | Sack NEP per drop back: -0.160
For seemingly the 30th straight season, this was supposed to be the year Ryan Tannehill broke out for the Miami Dolphins. For the 30th straight season, it didn't happen, and sacks were a big part of that.
Among the aforementioned 43 quarterbacks, Tannehill ranked 31st in Passing NEP per drop back, which includes the expected points lost on sacks. When we exclude sacks for all quarterbacks, Tannehill moves up to 19th. That's the second biggest leap, with only Mariota seeing a bigger jump of 16 spots (27th to 11th). Tannehill wasn't great, but he doesn't deserve all of the blame for his struggles.
Unfortunately for the Dolphins, they can't chalk this one up to injuries. Every single one of their top five offensive linemen started at least 11 games this year, which is more than most teams in the league can say. They're in pretty desperate need of new talent up there, and any future Tannehill breakout will likely have to wait until that happens.
4. Minnesota Vikings
Sack NEP: -70.44 | Sack NEP per drop back: -0.155
It turns out that it's a bad thing when you lose 40 percent of your starting offensive line before the start of the season. That's what happened to the Minnesota Vikings, and it was Teddy Bridgewater who paid the price.
Bridgewater took a step back from his impressive rookie season this year, falling to 33rd in Passing NEP per drop back. When we take out the expected points lost on sacks, he slides up to 26th. Not all of Bridgewater's struggles can be attributed to the injuries to center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt, but it does at least help explain part of the decline.
Even though both Sullivan and Loadholt are under contract and set to return in 2016, this should still be an area of focus for the Vikings this offseason. Sullivan's injury was in his back, which is an ailment you wouldn't assume would get better with age. Additionally, the team struggled in 2014, as well, even when Sullivan was healthy and Loadholt started 11 games. This is a weakness that stretches beyond just injuries.
5. Green Bay Packers
Sack NEP: -88.75 | Sack NEP per drop back: -0.155
The Green Bay Packers' offensive line was essentially a jigsaw puzzle missing half its pieces this year. And the pieces that were there were a bit rough around the edges. It just wasn't pretty.
Three different players started at left tackle, and two started at every other position on the line. All in all, eight different players started at least one game for the Packers, and three of them started at multiple positions. It's no wonder they wound up here.
On the season, Aaron Rodgers dropped back to pass 129 times on third down; he was sacked 21.71 percent of the time. The average sack rate for the league on all downs was 6.44 percent. These third-down sacks resulted in -61.27 Sack NEP for Rodgers, and that doesn't even take the other downs into account. If you're looking for the source of the Packers' struggles, I think you've found it.
Rodgers' bounce back next year isn't just dependent on Jordy Nelson being back to full strength, but he also needs this offensive line to shape up. He moves up to 20th in Passing NEP per drop back when you take sacks out of the equation from 30th beforehand. Both numbers are well below what we've come to expect from arguably the best quarterback of this decade, but the offensive line deserves a heavy dose of the blame.