Were Michael Vick, Tony Romo Injuries Really Due to Bad Pass Protection?
After Week 2, add the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys to the growing list of teams who understand that a hit on the quarterback is a big deal, whether he has the ball or not.
At present, Tony Romo intends to suit up for Dallas' Week 3 tilt against the Washington Redskins, despite breaking a pair of ribs and suffering a punctured lung in the Cowboys' 27-24 overtime win at San Francisco last week.
But in Philadelphia, Michael Vick's status for the next few weeks is still up in the air. Vick suffered a concussion in the Eagles' loss to the Atlanta Falcons when, while getting tackled by blitzing safety William Moore, he caught a faceful of overmatched right tackle Todd Herremans.
Both quarterbacks have well-earned reputations for making plays outside the pocket, but both were hurt while making the traditionally "smart" decision to stand and deliver after a quick drop-back.
Our knee-jerk reaction has been to flunk their protection in the weekly review. Taking a deeper statistical look, though, reveals that the Cowboys' and Eagles' pockets, in relation to the rest of the NFL, were more unlucky than truly dangerous places to be last Sunday.
Week 2: NFL Pass Protection Improves Considerably on Rough Week 1
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Outside of Dallas and Philadelphia, there's reason for optimism in the offices of most NFL teams where protecting the quarterback is concerned.
In Week 2 action, only seven teams allowed double-digit knocks on their passers.
That's a big improvement on a Week 1 where almost half of the NFL (15 teams) hit that bad benchmark.
Even more telling, 21 teams improved on their Week 1 PASH (pass attempts to sacks and hits) average, meaning that pass pressure got to their quarterbacks at a lower rate.
As a whole, the NFL posted a .189 PASH for the week. That brought the league average back in line with its .205 mark from the end of 2010—a strong recovery from a Week 1 in which passers were shellacked to the tune of .222 PASH, or once every four to five drop-backs.
Passing yards and traditional offensive stats have been up from the get-go this year, which could be chalked up to recent offense-friendly rule changes. But improvements in pass protection are a real sign that NFL offenses are catching up to the defenses in terms of organization.
NFL Predictions: PASH Slips to 9-6-1 Picking Week 2 Winners in Hindsight
Marc Serota/Getty Images
After a promising 10-6 start in Week 1 as an indicator of the only stat that truly measures in pro football, PASH proved ultimately irrelevant in several of Week 2's late games.
Calling the Houston Texans and Atlanta Falcons' protection "lackluster" would be nice.
But both teams escaped with victories that defied the conventional wisdom of keeping the most important position safe.
Still, it's the second consecutive week that PASH has proved less random a predictor than much-bandied-about metrics such as time of possession and total yards.
Game by game, with the PASH winner in bold:
Detroit Lions (.150) 48, Kansas City Chiefs (.240) 3
Buffalo Bills (.065) 38, Oakland Raiders (.121) 35
Tennessee Titans (.048) 26, Baltimore Ravens (.257) 13
New York Jets (.200) 32, Jacksonville Jaguars (.222) 3
Cleveland Browns (.182) 27, Indianapolis Colts (.175) 19
Washington Redskins (.205) 22, Arizona Cardinals (.273) 21
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (.212) 24, Minnesota Vikings (.125) 20
Green Bay Packers (.065) 30, Carolina Panthers (.220) 23
New Orleans Saints (.079) 30, Chicago Bears (.333) 13
Pittsburgh Steelers (.152) 24, Seattle Seahawks (.353) 0
Dallas Cowboys (.182) 27, San Francisco 49ers (.500) 24 (OT)
New England Patriots (.167) 35, San Diego Chargers (.167) 21
Denver Broncos (.148) 24, Cincinnati Bengals (.140) 22
Houston Texans (.344) 23, Miami Dolphins (.281) 13
Atlanta Falcons (.313) 35, Philadelphia Eagles (.162) 31
New York Giants (.219) 28, St. Louis Rams (.208) 16
Second Level: Defense-Adjusted PASH Reveals Pretenders in Pass Protection
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
As promised last week, the numbers have been crunched to view each team's PASH through the filter of strength of schedule.
To calculate defense-adjusted PASH (daPASH), a team's raw PASH score for the week is scaled according to how the DPASH of that week's opponent compares to the NFL average.
Put practically, it's much easier to keep the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (.062 DPASH) away from your passer than the San Diego Chargers (.186), so we should adjust our evaluation of the Minnesota Vikings' first two weeks (.372 daPASH, easily the NFL's worst) against each opponent accordingly.
By the same token, it'd be wrong to judge the Indianapolis Colts too harshly for letting Kerry Collins get hit 19 times (.257 PASH) thus far. They've faced the attack-minded Houston Texans (.318 DPASH, fourth-best in the league) and Cleveland Browns (.254, 10th) and are matched up with the Pittsburgh Steelers (.250, 11th) in Week 3.
Of course, just because Indianapolis' .186 daPASH represents a theoretical improvement of almost 1.5 extra pain-free drop-backs per knock doesn't mean Collins should throw his Tylenol away.
Adjusting for strength of schedule in pass protection will tease out more pretenders and vindicate some of the beaten as this season wears on, but the unadjusted numbers will remain a better reflection of the grimaces, cortisone shots and general mileage on each team's quarterbacks.
Tennessee Titans Tightened Up in Week 2, Atlanta Falcons Get Respite in Week 3
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Posting a middling .222 PASH in a loss to the traditionally toothless Jacksonville Jaguars wasn't a promising start for the Tennessee Titans in Week 1.
But the Baltimore Ravens, their Week 2 opponents, popularly characterized as an aggressive defense, found Tennessee a tough nut to crack.
Left tackle Michael Roos put the brakes on fellow All-Pro Terrell Suggs, holding the fearsome edge rusher sackless while quarterback Matt Hasselbeck dissected Baltimore's secondary to the tune of 358 yards passing in the Titans' surprising 26-13 win.
Tennessee's .048 PASH was the lowest (i.e. best) of any team in Week 2, and it bodes well for the Titans against the Denver Broncos and their woeful .136 DPASH this Sunday.
The Atlanta Falcons (.321 PASH, .264 daPASH) are also poised to improve, and in much more drastic fashion.
As mentioned previously, Tampa Bay's defense has been the league's least violent to the passer through two weeks. Expect the Bucs to be a welcome change-up for an offensive line beaten by Chicago (.222 DPASH) and Philadelphia (.347) the past two weeks.
San Francisco 49ers' Bubble Burst in Week 2, Oakland Raiders in Danger in Week 3
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Remember last week, when you were warned that the San Francisco 49ers' .050 PASH-standard protection wouldn't last?
That totally happened.
After Alex Smith hit the turf just once in 20 pass attempts during a 33-17 win over the Seattle Seahawks, he kissed grass on fully half of his drop-backs against DeMarcus Ware (two sacks) and the Dallas Cowboys.
San Francisco's .500 PASH last week was the worst single-week score this year, topping Philadelphia's Week 1 mark of .429 with the hot-footed Michael Vick under center. This week, the Cincinnati Bengals (.188 DPASH, 18th in the NFL) will be a truer measure of the 49ers' pass protection than either of their first two opponents.
According to the evidence, the Oakland Raiders' Jason Campbell (.125 PASH, .217 daPASH) is next in line for a rude awakening. Where Denver (.136 DPASH, 28th) and Buffalo (.113, 31st) are two of the NFL's passer-friendliest defenses, Rex Ryan's New York Jets (.239, 13th) had Jacksonville's Luke McCown chucking footballs to them (four picks in 25 attempts) for mercy last week.
If Oakland's linemen don't play up to the challenge, Campbell won't fare much better.