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Weekly Lineman: Understanding context on a sack filled day for Bengals vs Browns

We break down and inject some perspective on all seven sacks the Bengals and Browns allowed this week

Near the end of the first quarter of the Bengals’ win over the Browns, CBS put up a very telling graphic in relation to how inept Cleveland has been this year on both sides of the ball. The graphic pertained to the teams with the worst sack differential in the NFL, with the Browns leading everyone else in the category, as they have accumulated only 17 sacks and have allowing 45 sacks for a whopping -28 differential.

In fourth place on the list was none other than the Cincinnati Bengals, who were listed with a -10 differential coming into the game, as prior to Sunday, they had only generated 22 sacks and allowed 32 on the season.

No other matchup in Week 14 featured two teams who have allowed more combined sacks this year through 12 games, so it was no surprise that there were seven of them in this contest. Let us not only dive into some of the sacks, but understand why they happened and who was at fault:

Browns Sack #1

  • 10 minutes left in the first quarter
  • First-and-10
  • Ball on the Browns’ 31 yard-line

The Bengals’ first drive on offense was about as quick and easy as you’ll see, but midway through, it hit a roadblock in the form of a strip-sack that was luckily recovered by the offense:

There’s not a lot of mystery here deciding who’s at fault for this. Right tackle Eric Winston allowed outside linebacker Cam Johnson to run the arc on him and get to quarterback Andy Dalton. Let’s zoom in:

Johnson’s hand quickness got the better of Winston here, as Winston’s punch was poorly timed and allowed Johnson to get under and around him. But is this also on Dalton?

From both GIFs, you can tell Dalton is surveying the middle of the field and is just beginning his throwing motion when he is sacked, opening the football to harm’s way in the form of an incoming Johnson. And from the all-22 view, you can see halfback Ryan Hewitt breaking free over the middle, who is Dalton’s presumed target:

I think you can ask for Dalton to make the decision to throw to Hewitt a little quicker, as he clearly sees him the entire way. But with how fast Johnson got to him, it may not have mattered in the end. So I’m comfortable with putting the entire blame on Winston for this one.

Browns Sack #2

  • 11:30 left in the second quarter
  • First-and-10
  • Ball on the Bengals’ 49 yard-line

The next sack didn’t happen until almost a full quarter of football later, and it is a perfect example of Dalton’s biggest weakness:

Every quarterback has an internal clock inside his head, and Dalton’s is one of the quickest. If the ball isn’t out of his hands within about a four second window from the time he gets the ball, you see the same shuffling of his feet and the dropping of his head. It was right guard Kevin Zeitler and right tackle Jake Fisher’s assignments who eventually broke free and arrived at Dalton simultaneously for the five yard loss, but it really shouldn’t have been the case:

Dalton has three downfield options to progress through, a deep post on his left by Cody Core, a deep dig on his right by Brandon LaFell, and an out also on his left by Tyler Eifert. Core and LaFell were well covered, so Dalton turned to Eifert and wound back to throw, but he held back as he saw pressure coming. Lost in this is Rex Burkhead, who is open as well to the left of Eifert, and who should’ve been Dalton’s final read.

It wasn’t perfect blocking in front of Dalton, but even against teams whose pass rushers don’t often finish, there’s only so much time before they will eventually break through. And when your quarterback goes down after a good amount of time in the pocket with a receiver open, it’s on him.

Browns Sack #3

  • 8:45 left in the second quarter
  • Third-and-four
  • Ball on the Browns’ 34 yard-line

About three minutes later, the Bengals recovered some ground after their last sack allowed and were on the very edge of scoring range. The worst thing that could happen, other than a turnover, is a sack to put them out of field goal range:

There’s no doubt that the ball was supposed to get out of Dalton’s hands really quickly here as you can see Eifert running across the middle as Dalton’s primary and probably only read. The only thing that could ruin this play is pressure coming up the middle, which is precisely what occurred when outside linebacker Jamie Collins met center Russell Bodine:

Oh man, where to start?

Never let someone cross your face. Be an athlete and react accordingly. Collins then proceeds to box out Bodine, as if they are in the paint on a basketball court. When the rusher turns his back to you, it’s up to you to make him pay, not go backwards against your will. But we know how much posterior strength Bodine has, and it isn’t a lot.

No question about it, Bodine is at fault here.

Browns Sack #4

  • 0:34 left in the second quarter
  • First-and-10
  • Ball on the Browns’ 16 yard-line

Death, taxes, Bengals getting beat with stunts.

Hey, if the Bengals can’t beat it, why would the Browns stop doing it?

There’s no need to zoom in this time, Bodine fails to recognize the stunt and ends up so far out of position that he ends up behind the Browns defensive tackle. The Bengals are forced to call a timeout to stop the clock and settle for a field goal to close out the half, which happen to be Mike Nugent’s last points scored as a Bengal.

Bengals Sack #1

The first sack for the Bengals occurred about 30 seconds into the third quarter and was credited to outside linebacker Karlos Dansby, as he pushed quarterback Robert Griffin III out of bounds at the line of scrimmage. So since he isn’t a lineman and it wasn’t really a sack, we’re going to skip it.

Bengals Sack #2

  • 7:00 left in the third quarter
  • Second-and-10
  • Ball on the Bengals’ 48 yard-line

After being silenced for the majority of the game, it was inevitable for Geno Atkins to do something:

Leaving your left guard alone one-on-one with #97 is a bold strategy for the Browns, but Atkins thanks you regardless. Let’s focus in:

No matter who faces off against him, Atkins will ALWAYS win the battle of leverage, every single time. With his signature bull rush, he gets the guard’s hands flailing not once but twice, and just blows by him once he has a path to Griffin. It was at about this time when Griffin should’ve gotten rid of the ball to his running back Duke Johnson, leaking out of the backfield, but with Atkins in his face, I don’t blame him for holding onto the ball. This is just on the guard and probably the Browns as a whole for leaving him alone with a mismatch.

Bengals Sack #3

  • 6:10 left in the fourth quarter
  • third-and-18
  • Ball on the Browns’ 44 yard line

When it rains, it pours. On the very next play, Atkins wasn’t done with RG3:

If a three man rush doesn’t get home at all and the quarterback flushes himself out of the pocket, odds are, it’s because of the coverage. And the all-22 view proves this:

Griffin had nowhere to throw this ball in play, and since it was third and long, throwing the ball wasn’t an option. Coverage sack or not, it was still a good hustle play by Atkins, who stayed discipline in his pursuit and took a great angle to finish what defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson started. I think Griffin could’ve stayed in the pocket a little while longer, but no receivers were working back toward him, so he was all alone to try to make something out of nothing.

At the end of the afternoon, the Browns decreased their negative sack differential by one and the Bengals increased there’s by the same amount. The Pittsburgh Steelers however are on the opposite end of the scale, as they’ve sacked the opposing quarterback 31 times this year and have only allowed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to be sacked a mere 15 times for a differential of +16. With the Bengals’ minimal playoff hopes hinging on this game, it would help if they decrease that differential a considerable amount in Week 15.