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Tale of the Tape: Blame for Colts sack epidemic falls on many shoulders

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NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Indianapolis Colts Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps no fact about the 2017 Indianapolis Colts has been more discussed than the beating backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett has taken throughout his second season in the NFL. The Colts have given up more sacks than any other team in the NFL and the team’s fan base has been desperately waiting to see improvement along the offensive line. Now that Andrew Luck has missed games in three consecutive seasons, including all of this year, nothing could be more front and center as the fan base looks toward the future.

While it will take focusing in on individual offensive linemen throughout the season to get a better read on where the line stands overall, breaking down the film on each of the offense’s allowed sacks should give fans a decent idea of what is causing this historically bad season. Each sack will be broken down by analyzing the end zone camera and sideline camera view of each plays. This allows us to focus in on line play and get a bigger picture of what else is going on for each play.

In the end, the goal of this feature is not to prove any narrative right or wrong. The goal is to objectively determine where the blame should be placed on each play. It should come as no surprise that there is plenty of blame to go around and often shared responsibility on each snap.

This story will focus on the sacks allowed against the Pittsburgh Steelers (Wk 10), Buffalo Bills (Wk 14), and Denver Broncos (Wk 15).


Left tackle Anthony Castonzo is lined up to the inside of defensive end T.J. Watt (#90). On this play, Watt slants inside and gets the attention of Jeremy Vujnovich. At this point, there is little Castonzo can do to help out other than maybe chip Watt as he slides back into protection. Rather than do this, Castonzo aggressively turns back inside and leaves the cornerback with a free lane to the quarterback.

The pressure from the corner sends Brissett scrambling to stay alive before Vince Williams (#98) is able to come up and make the stop. The biggest offensive line failure on this play is squarely on Castonzo who made poor choices.

He chose poorly by further engaging Watt after Vujnovich was anchored. He chose poorly by ignoring the corner blitz. He chose poorly by pushing Watt after he was on the ground instead of keeping his head on a swivel to maintain a clean pocket. Those choices allowed Williams to take away Brissett’s only lane to escape, resulting in an eventual sack.

While we can acknowledge that Anthony Castonzo made numerous mistakes that led to free pressure from a corner blitz, we need to see more of the field to assess if others deserve blame. From the sideline view, the play is more complicated.

We will continually discusses one of the easiest and most important quarterback reads in football, at all levels and in all offensive schemes. When there is a blitz from anywhere on the field, the blitzing players vacates an area of the field. If a quarterback can quickly identify where pressure is coming, he can quickly identify his new primary target.

In this case, Chester Rogers releases from the line right in front of Mike Hilton (#31) who blitzes from the corner. Brissett needs to immediately identify that Rogers will be open in the short to intermediate area of the field and prepare to release a pass to him. Instead, he hesitates and allows the window of opportunity to pass him. This leaves him scrambling and desperate for help. In situations like this, receivers need to break to the quarterback. This makes it easier for the quarterback to find them and get the ball out of their hands.

Lastly, any offensive coordinator and wide receiving coach worth his salt needs to have a hot route and hot read setup for just this situation. Unless Brissett is blind, he has to see the corner blitz within the first second of the snap. He should then be able to release a pass in less than a second. The hot route should be that Rogers should cut his route short and make himself visible in space. The hot read is for Brissett to get it to his receiver in the spot the blitzing player just vacated to make yards in space.

This is one of the easier plays to breakdown on the offensive line. There is a one-on-one match-up between right guard Denzelle Good (#71) and Steelers defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt (#91). Good gets beat when Tuitt rips to the inside and allows pressure in Brissett’s face. One could argue that center Ryan Kelly could have not committed so heavily to helping Jeremy Vujnovich but ultimately Good needs to not get abused in this way.

When we step out and look from the sidelines we will note a few things. First, the green line indicates the first down marker. This is relevant because it allows us to figure out how deep the routes are called on a given play. Second, the orange line indicates 5-yards downfield. This line is relevant because defensive players may chuck or make contact with receivers within 5-yards of the line of scrimmage but not after.

In terms of additional areas of responsibility. This is a poorly designed play. Only one receiver is running a route that is less than 10 yards down the field — at the first down marker. The Steelers show six players in the box with press man coverage on two receivers. This should result in an audible out of this route combination. Every wide receiver is running a route that takes so long to develop that a ton is required of the offensive line.

Also, there is defensive holding on Jack Doyle as he moves beyond five yards of the line of scrimmage. He is unable to run his route and the defender has his hands all over him.

Similar to the last play, the offensive line responsibility is easy to locate here. Right tackle Joe Haeg (#73) and right guard Kyle Kalis (#68) allow Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree (#48) to split right between them. Kalis has his feet in quick sand and Haeg half-heartedly brushes Dupree as he flies by. By the time Brissett reacts, he is swarmed by defenders.

There are, or should have been, two options available for Brissett to get rid of the ball before taking a sack. The first and best option is Chester Rogers running a shallow dig across the field in Brissett’s face. There is no one covering Rogers as he crosses to his left and cornerback Mike Hilton’s (#31) blitz leaves the left side of the field open. A quick release strike in anticipation of Rogers coming to his left was an option.

When T.Y. Hilton releases and sees the Mike Hilton is blitzing, this is another place where a hot route makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is running a out and up 20 yards down the field when the blitzing corner leaves the underneath exposed. He would have been wide open on an out route.

This is another play where Stephon Tuitt abuses the Colts offensive line. On this play, Tuitt tosses Haeg to the side as he gains inside leverage and puts Brissett on his back.

In what seemed like a bang-bang play where Brissett had no chance to get rid of the ball from the end zone camera, we see things entirely differently from the sidelines. This play was a prime example of Jacoby Brissett staring down his primary target. He wants to throw the ball to T.Y. Hilton on the left side of the field. What he should have done is noticed quickly that the safeties were cheating to that side of the field.

This can be diagnosed quickly when the center field safety turns his shoulders inside. If he moves through his progressions to the right he finds Chester Rogers wide open in space.

This is all Jacoby Brissett. He literally stands in one spot after rolling to his right for over a second and does nothing. What’s worse, T.Y. Hilton is flashing right in front of him with 10 yards or more in every direction around him. Why he doesn’t throw the ball here is mind boggling.

The sideline view shows you the radius and the throwing window before Brissett has pressure. He must get the ball out of his hands on plays like this one.

To start, Von Miller does Von Miller things here. Joe Haeg has no prayer against this move. In what can only be described as impressive balance under pressure, Brissett escapes a sure-sack and stays alive. He also displays the same kind of vision issue he often has on his passes. He is determined to try to the edge on this play and doesn’t pay any attention to turning the ball up the field and gaining positive yards.

The biggest thing we gain from the sideline view is that Brissett’s efforts to escape go unrewarded because his receivers are completely worthless. They come out of their breaks, look back for the ball, and see their quarterback is in trouble. They give up on the play and literally stand still waiting for the play to end before they finally realize that Brissett is still trying to keep the play alive. Not one of them makes an athletic and deliberate move to gain separation coming back to their scrambling quarterback in time to make any difference.