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Playing the blame game for Bronco sacks 2018 - Part 3

The final installment of who was to blame the sacks the Denver Broncos allowed on offense in 2018.

NFL: Houston Texans at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Before we dig into the details let’s look at the league as a whole. In doing this research it seemed to me that the Denver Broncos gave up a high percentage of the sacks that we allowed on 3rd down (19 of 34 - 55.9%). I wanted to see where that ranked in the league.

See the table below.

Rk Tm Sk 3rd down sacks % of sacks on 3rd DN 3rd Down sack %
1 DEN 34 19 55.9% 9.1%
2 MIN 40 22 55.0% 10.7%
3 GNB 53 28 52.8% 13.5%
4 NWE 21 11 52.4% 5.5%
5 TEN 47 24 51.1% 11.7%
6 SEA 51 26 51.0% 12.5%
7 OAK 52 26 50.0% 13.1%
8 CIN 37 18 48.6% 9.5%
9 CHI 33 16 48.5% 7.9%
10 ARI 52 25 48.1% 12.4%
11 MIA 52 25 48.1% 13.4%
12 ATL 42 20 47.6% 9.9%
13 BUF 41 19 46.3% 8.8%
14 LAR 33 15 45.5% 7.8%
15 NOR 20 9 45.0% 4.9%
16 SFO 48 21 43.8% 10.8%
17 NYJ 37 16 43.2% 7.5%
18 JAX 53 22 41.5% 9.6%
19 TAM 41 17 41.5% 8.9%
20 DAL 56 23 41.1% 10.6%
21 BAL 32 13 40.6% 5.6%
22 NYG 47 19 40.4% 9.1%
23 CLE 38 15 39.5% 7.1%
24 WAS 44 16 36.4% 7.8%
25 HOU 62 22 35.5% 10.4%
26 KAN 26 9 34.6% 5.1%
27 PIT 24 8 33.3% 4.0%
28 DET 41 13 31.7% 6.3%
29 CAR 32 9 28.1% 4.8%
30 IND 18 5 27.8% 2.3%
31 PHI 40 11 27.5% 5.3%
32 LAC 34 8 23.5% 4.5%
LEAGUE 1281 550 42.9% 8.5%

The Broncos gave up the highest percentage of sacks 55.9% on 3rd down. League average was 42.9% with the Chargers being the team that allowed the lowest percentage of their sacks on 3rd down - 23.5% (only 8 of 34). Now don’t confuse this with overall 3rd down sack %, which is also shown in the table. That value is % of all 3rd down plays that resulted in a sack. Denver was 14th in that value at 9.1%.

The team that was the best at not giving up a sack on 3rd down in 2018 was Indianapolis, that only allowed 5 sacks on 206 3rd down plays (2.3%). They did that with two rookie starters on the offensive line. It’s not surprising that Indy was the best team in the league at converting on 3rd down in 2018 - 48.6%. Denver converted at 33.7%. League average was 39.2%.

Denver was 28th in 3rd down conversion % in 2018, but the other teams in the bottom 5 either had their back up QB starting a bunch of games (Miami) or a rookie QB. The bottom 5 teams in terms of 3rd down conversion were:

28 - DEN, 33.7%

29 - NYJ, 32.2%

30 - BUF, 31.6%

31 - MIA, 30.1%

32 - AZ, 29.1%

Do with that what you will. Now - back to the discussion of sacks.

Sack #23: vs HOU, 3rd & 5 from the HOU 40 with 12:41 left to play in the 4th, score was 19-17 Texans

On this sack the Texans showed seven who could rush the passer including the DB who is off-screen in the first pic.

The Texans rushed 5 defenders. Max Garcia does a pitiful job against Clowney (#90) who is lined up over his outside shoulder in a two-point stance. Clowney set Garcia up with a head-fake then beat him with a quick swim move. Case Keenum had no chance. This sack occurred 2.5 seconds after the snap. Garcia was to blame here.

The All-22 shows that Keenum had a chance to hit Sutton on the deep-IN but he would have had to release the ball before Sutton made his break. That was probably too much risk for him to take in this close game. Turnovers are worse than sacks.

Sack #24: vs HOU, 2nd & 10 form the HOU 40 with 8:07 left in the game still trailing by 2.

Houston showed their base defense here and rushed four. Denver was in an I-formation with the TE split out wide.

The playfake held the LBs and this play looked to be blocked well at the outset, but Elijah Wilkinson was already getting beaten to the outside and J.J. Watt is about to run a stunt on that same side.

Jared Veldheer and Wilkinson executed a good switch here, but that left Wilkinson in the unenviable position of trying to keep Watt from beating him inside when Watt had a full head of steam. Wilkinson did a good job of getting into position to block Watt, but Watt used Wilkinson’s momentum to beat him with a swim move and took down Keenum.

Keenum should have dumped this off to Andy Janovich here, who would have gained 5 yards by catching this and just getting tacked (or falling down). That would have set up 3rd and 5 from the 35, which is very makeable and means that we would have been in FG range without a loss of yardage on 3rd down. After the sack it was 3rd and impossible. The Broncos ended up punting.

I blamed this sack on Keenum who had time to get rid of this ball as this sack occurred at 3.7 seconds after the snap. Keenum had Janovich open for an easy 5-7 yards (or more), but he also had Phillip Lindsey open on the dump-off in the flat, Courtland Sutton open down the left sideline and Emmanuel Sanders open in the deep middle (in the All-22 shot below). I have no idea why he didn’t throw the ball here.

Sack #25: vs PIT, 1st & 10 from the DEN 41 with 12:26 left in the 3rd quarter, score tied at 10.

On this sack Pittsburgh showed max blitz with eight guys who could rush the passer.

Denver has the fullback offset behind the RT and TE left. The Steelers could very easily overload blitz on the offense’ right from this formation.

The Broncos ran a jet-sweep fake, but Wilkinson got beaten so quickly by the swim move that this play never has a chance. Keenum was sacked before he got to his drop point to survey the field.

This sack occurred 1.9 seconds after the snap and was completely the fault of Wilkinson.

Sack #26: vs PIT, 3rd & 4 from the DEN 22 with 5:25 left to play in the game leading 24-17.

Pittsburgh showed five or six who could possibly blitz on this play. Denver was in an empty set.

The Steelers rushed five and we had five to block them - usually that means that someone is going to be open since that means the defense has six to cover five receivers.

Wilkinson got beaten by an outside rip move and while he was able to drive the defender to the ground, the defender had penetrated far enough that he was able to tackle Keenum as he tried to climb the pocket.

Keenum would have done better to climb left in the pocket, but he chose to go right which was wrong.

The coverage on this play was great and Denver had no one open (see below). This sack occurred at 2.5 seconds after the snap and Wilkinson is to blame (unless you want to put some of the blame on Keenum for not moving to the open space in the pocket). Sutton(?) looks like he might be coming open on the in route at the 30, but that throw would have taken trust and anticipation. Denver might have also converted here be getting the ball to Devontae Booker on the stick-and-out right at the marker.

Sack #27: vs CIN, 3rd & 7 from the CIN 31 with 8:06 left to play in the 2nd quarter, score tied at 0.

Here we had another situation where any play that did not lose yards should have resulted in a very makeable FG attempt from 48 (even at sea-level). The Bengals showed seven who could rush and they brought four. The Broncos lined up in a tight-empty formation with both Booker and Jeff Heuerman lined up in the slot and Sanders on the line, but only five yards from Veldheer. (With this look, a big athletic QB might audible to a QB run up the middle here which could have easily gained the needed 7 yards).

At the outset this play appeared to be well blocked with Conner McGovern and Wilkinson double-teaming #75, and the rest of the OL each taking a defender one-on-one.

Keenum had a relatively easy throw to Sanders (pic above) which would have moved the chains or he could have chosen to run (shorter blue arrow) and maybe could have gained the required 7 yards for the first down. Billy Turner is in the process of getting beaten by an inside move in the picture above.

Keenum chose to scramble, but did not get very far because #94 was able to slide off of Garett Bolles’ block and make the sack for a two yard loss.

Keenum almost tried to flip this ball over the safety to Sanders, but chose not to. He also had Sutton breaking open in the deep middle, but that would have been a throw with a much higher degree of difficulty under pressure (see pic below). Booker one-on-one with the LB on the wheel route down the left sideline would have also been a throw and catch that was available here.

This sack happened 4.5 seconds after the sack and I deemed this a no-fault sack. You could argue that the blame here is on Keenum, but I disagree.

Sack #28: vs CIN, 3rd & 7 from CIN 42 with 10:07 left in the game leading 21-10.

Cincy only showed five who could blitz as #56 is walked off the ball quite a bit (he could still come bit it would be a delayed blitz).

They rushed four with Jordan Willis and Geno Atkins running a twist. Wilkinson needed to force the switch here since he had the looper, but he didn’t. He stayed on #97, Atkins.

Confusion allowed Atkins to split the gap between Wilkinson and McGovern and left Booker to attempt a block on Willis. Bolles was losing the battle to his man deep so Turner, who had been blocking air, stepped over to help on the edge. Atkins was coming free at this point and so Keenum could see the pressure coming from both sides.

Booker gave a valiant effort, but gets pushed aside. Wilkinson ended up holding with his left arm (not called) which slowed Atkins down. Keenum sensed the pressure and decided to climb the pocket to his left to avoid Willis.

Unfortunately Willis was much quicker than Keenum expected and he was unable to escape. A quick flip to Booker would have avoided the sack, but that would have been dangerous as Keenum would have had to get the ball over Willis. I don’t know how many yards that might have gained (we needed 7 to convert). A four yard gain here would have put the Broncos in long FG range; a 7 yard sack meant a punt.

This sack happened at 2.8 seconds after the snap and I blame this sack on both Wilkinson and Booker.

Sack #29: vs SF, 3rd & 8 from SF 45 with 10:36 left in the 2nd quarter trailing 0-6.

The 49ers showed either five or six who could rush the passer here, but you’ll note that the middle of the field is devoid of defenders pre-snap with the exception of the nose and the safety who is 15 yards deep.

SF rushed 5 with two defenders stressing the edge on either side.

The OLB coming from the right is either the responsibility of Veldheer or Keenum depending on how the protection was called (which I can’t know). I would expect that he would have been Veldheer’s man and that the DE would have been Wilkinson’s responsibility.

That DE ended up running a stunt with the NT and Wilkinson and McGovern did a good job, initially, of picking up the stunt. The OLB on the left, who looked to be blitzing initially, stopped and stayed with Lindsey in coverage. Turner was left blocking air and Bolles was left to handle the DE.

At this point Keenum appeared to have a nice pocket, but that changed quickly.

Bolles got beaten (and holds - which got called but declined). Wilkinson decided to let his man go and help McGovern, presumably thinking that Veldheer, who was engaged already, would pick up his guy. Keenum was not looking at the middle of the field where he had a big play if he could have hit Tim Patrick in-stride.

Keenum would end up getting hit by three defenders simultaneously, but the credit for the sack was given to #98, Ronald Blair, who lined up over the center. The sack happened at 4.10 seconds after the snap, so Keenum had time to throw the ball, but missed Patrick open in the middle of the field. I split the blame here between Bolles, Wilkinson and McGovern who all did a poor job on this play.

Sack #30: vs SF, 3rd & 11 from DEN 26 with 13:34 left in the 3rd quarter trailing 0-20.

SF loaded up with seven who could rush the passer prior to this play, including the CB, who Keenum pointed out prior to the play as you can see in the All-22 shot below. Notice where Booker is lined up. The play design called for him to block that CB if/when that CB blitzed.

When ended up with Veldheer one-on-one with #54, Cassius Marsh and the other four offensive lineman left to handle the NT-DE stunt. Booker had to go a long way to get in position for his block on #32, D.J. Reed.

In this shot above, Bolles had DeForest Buckner well blocked so Turner stepped back to help Booker with the blitzing CB, #32, D.J. Reed. McGovern was waiting to help Wilkinson while Veldheer had stymied his defender. Booker broke down to get in position for a solid pass block, but then he whiffed on the block.

This sack occurred 3.60 seconds after the snap and while that we enough time for Keenum to throw the ball, the blame rests with Booker for this one. Keenum had no one open, but had Booker been able to block Reed, maybe someone could have gotten open. You could also lay some of the blame on the Bill Musgrave for the play design that asks a running to get all the way across the formation to block a blitzing CB. This is the type of play where Peyton Manning would have moved his RB to the other side of the formation since, since the QB knew from film study that the 49ers liked to bring CB blitzes under these conditions (see the pre-snap pic).

This also could have been part of a chess game where the determination of which corner was blitzing came from the opposite position of the RB. So, in that case, we just got out-schemed, which happened frequently to our previous coaching staff.

Sack #31: vs CLE, 2nd and 10 from the DEN 25 with 14:35 to play in the 1st quarter, score tied at 0. Second offensive play of the game.

Cleveland showed 7 who could blitz - showing an overload to the offense’ right - with four defenders and only three blockers. In a situation like that, the QB and the receivers needed to be ready for a hot-read throw.

Cleveland rushed six, but because of the play-fake, there were only two blockers on the offense’ right trying to block three defenders. Veldheer recognized the stunt in the pic above is about to bump Wilkinson to force the switch. McGovern, Turner and Bolles were all manned up with their defenders. Rusher #6 appeared to have an unobstructed path to the QB.

That’s supposed to be an eye to indicate Keenum needs to see this defender is unblocked and get rid of the ball.

At this point in the play Keenum needed to be aware of the extra rusher and hit his hot-read (presumably DeSean Hamilton on the quick hitch). Keenum did not see the defender or he thought that he had more time than he actually did.

He ends up eating the ball fan an 8 yard loss. This sack occurred at 2.20 seconds after the snap, but it is the job of the QB to know where the best pass rushers on the opposing D are lined up. This was Jamie Collins, who has never been a great pass rusher, but who does have elite quickness and foot speed for a LB. This sack is on Keenum despite it happening so quickly. In a potential overload situation like that, if you don’t have a hot-read called, you need to audible to one. A 5-yard dump off to Hamilton would have gotten us in 3rd and 5 which is much easier to convert than 3rd and 18.

Sack #32: vs CLE, 4th and 10 from the 50 with 43 seconds left in the game down by one point.

This one may or may not have cost us the game. Cleveland showed seven again with an overload right. Needing 10 yards, there was no option here for a quick dump off like there was in the previous sack in this game. A first down on this play would have gotten the Broncos almost into desperation FG range (60+ yards).

The Browns rushed six, with four coming from the offense’ right and no blockers to account for Jabrill Peppers, #22, as McGovern blocked to his left to pick up Collins, #51, while Bolles and Turner double-teamed Larry Ogunjobi, #65. #95 is Myles Garrett, their best pass rusher. Matt LaCosse did a decent job blocking him one-on-one. Booker ran a route.

What should have happened is Bolles taking Ogunjobi and Turner taking Collins. This would have allowed McGovern to block #53, Joe Schobert, Wilkinson to block #90, Emmanuel Ogbah, and then Jared Veldheer would have been able to pick up the safety blitz. That being said. Keenum needed to be more aware of the potential overload blitz (like in the first sack against Cleveland). A roll to his left could have bought him the extra bit of time he needed to attempt a throw here.

Peppers came like he was shot out of a cannon and Keenum was again sacked at 2.2 seconds after the snap.

I’m blaming this one on Keenum since his lack of awareness of the safety blitz led to this sack. Because this sack happened so quickly Keenum had little chance to make a throw, but there were three places where he could have made a desparation throw on this play. An interception is the same as a sack on this play as it would end the game, but at least there would have been a chance for one of our receivers to make a great catch here if he had thrown the ball up for grabs.

Rolling slightly left and throwing to receiver running the in/crossing route at the 40 looks like it would have been the best shot here, but there were options if Keenum could have bought just a little more time with his awareness and movement within the pocket.

4th down sacks are rare - there were only 28 during the entire 2018 regular season. Denver allowed two of them. There were actually two teams that allowed three - WAS and MIA. This sack was more painful than most because not only did it end the game, but it also ended any hope of us making the playoffs or having a winning season in 2018.

Sack #33: vs OAK, 2nd and 8 at the OAK 45 at the start of the second quarter down 0-7.

The Faiders showed an 8-man box, but the Broncos had 8 in the picture who could pass block.

Jokeland rushed five and you can see that Turner was immediately beaten across his face by the DE who lined up on his outside shoulder.

Turner was able to recover enough to push his man out of the path of the QB, but Wilkinson was also getting beaten so that when Keenum stepped up to avoid one rusher, he was immediately confronted with another.

Keenum made two tacklers miss before getting sacked by a third. Because Keenum was moving forward when he was hit, this sack only resulted in a loss of two yards. I am going to put the blame on Turner since it was his man who got the initial pressure even if #42, Karl Joseph, who was being blocked by Andy Janovich, is the player who finally made the sack. This sack happened 2.9 seconds after the snap.

Sack #34: vs LAC, 3rd and 6 from the LAC 6 with 21 seconds to play before halftime down 0-7.

LA showed base with four players in position to rush the passer.

This play started off with a good pocket.

Joey Bosa ran the hump and Veldheer did what he was supposed to do, push him deeper than the QB. The protection from the rest of the OL at this point was solid.

Keenum sensed some pressure and should have tried to climb the pocket to the left.

He didn’t move quickly enough and Bosa was able to tackle him from behind, but Keenum had places to go with the ball (and time to throw it). This sack happened 3.3 seconds after the snap, which is plenty of time for a goal line passing play. Keenum needed to get this ball out and I’m not sure why he didn’t try to get the ball to Courtland Sutton in the back of the endzone where he could win a jump-ball type play.

I blamed this one on Keenum who looked like he may have been waiting on the slow-developing wheel route to Booker in the back left of the endzone.

Final Sack Blame Table and Blame Tally.

Sack # Time to sack (s) Blame
1 2.6 Paradis
2 2.8 Booker and Bolles
3 3.9 Bolles
4 2.4 Veldheer
5 3.7 Keenum
6 2.3 Lindsey
7 2.5 Bolles
8 5.9 nobody
9 2.6 Heuerman or Booker
10 3.2 Turner
11 3.8 McGovern
12 3.7 Keenum
13 2.6 McGovern
14 2.9 Booker
15 6.1 Keenum
16 3.1 Keenum
17 3.3 Booker or Keenum
18 3.7 Keenum
19 2.6 Paradis and Turner
20 2.6 Turner
21 2.9 Bolles
22 4.2 Keenum?
23 2.5 Garcia
24 3.7 Keenum
25 1.9 Wilkinson
26 2.5 Wilkinson and Keenum
27 4.5 no one
28 2.8 Booker and Wilkinson
29 4.1 Bolles, Wilkinson and McGovern
30 3.6 Booker
31 2.2 Keenum
32 2.2 Keenum
33 2.9 Turner
34 3.3 Keenum
Player Sack Blame Total
Keenum 12.5
Booker 4.5
Turner 3.5
Bolles 2.8
McGovern 2.3
Wilkinson 2.3
Lindsey 1.5
Paradis 1.5
Veldheer 1.5
Garcia 1.0
Heuerman 0.5