Jake Locker's Adjusted Sack Rate as a rookie was 8.3%. Jake Locker's Adjusted Sack Rate in his second season was 8.2%. The league-averaged Adjusted Sack Rate, Football Outsiders' statistic that accounts for the quality of the opposing pass rush and situations (e.g., quarterbacks are sacked more often on third down and long), in 2012 was 6.5%. Therefore, Jake Locker is one of those quarterbacks who tends to get sacked a lot, so we should expect Jake Locker's Adjusted Sack Rate in 2013 to be about 8.3%, right?
Well, it's complicated.
One of the things I did here last offseason was write about how the Titans, which meant mostly Matt Hasselbeck, were sacked in 2011. Sacks are rare events; per Football Outsiders charting data, less than one quarter of total pressures in 2012 (hurries, hits, and sacks) ended up with the quarterback on the ground with the ball and not gaining any yardage. Still, they happen and they're important, so they're worth taking a look at in greater detail.
Sacks seem to be mostly a function of the offense, which in fact means a function of the quarterback and perhaps the offensive system. When a team changes quarterbacks, the team's sack rate changes. I've noted this before, but Jason Lisk found there's no correlation between quarterback A and quarterback B's sack rate even when A and B play for the same team in the same season. Moreover, when a quarterback changes teams, sack rate tends to remain as much or more constant than other rate stats. The Denver Broncos provide excellent recent examples of both of these phenomena. First, Tim Tebow replaced Kyle Orton during the 2011 season. Orton was sacked 5.4% of the time. Tebow was sacked 11.2% of the time (both numbers by ASR). Second, Peyton Manning became the Broncos' starter in 2012. His sack rate was 4.2%, in line with his ASR in Indianapolis, which fluctuated between 2.8% and 4.2% from 2002-10.
Jake Locker's Adjusted Sack Rate in the Titans' first 11 games was 3.7%.
Jake Locker's Adjusted Sack Rate in the Titans' final 5 games was 12.9%.
In other words, Jake Locker spent half the season getting sacked less often than Peyton Manning and the other half of the season getting sacked more often than Tim Tebow.
Quarterbacks are the biggest determinant of sack rate. Same quarterback, same season, wildly different sack rates. This makes no sense. At all. What the heck is going on here, and what should we expect from Jake Locker in 2013?
At this point I now try to explain something I regard as essentially confounding and completely inexplicable. So, here goes nothing.
Possibility 1: The Titans are changing basically the entire passing offense to something new (at least to Jake Locker) in 2013, so 2012 (and for that matter, 2011) data is entirely useless in making predictions for 2013.
Evaluation: There's something to this idea. I think offensive scheme can have a lot to do with sack rate. Buffalo is a great example of that-Ryan Fitzpatrick was hardly ever sacked not because the Bills had the league's most accomplished offensive line but because the design of the offense was for him to get the ball out quickly. The Titans threw out Chris Palmer's playbook (which they were using at least in some form even the second half of 2012), and we've never seen Jake Locker in another NFL offense. If you want to say "we can't judge Jake Locker at all, so talk to me again at midseason or next offseason," I get where you're coming from. I don't agree with you, since I think there's some information to be gained in over 400 NFL dropbacks, but I do get you.
Possibility 2: The Titans' offensive line the second half of the season was just that bad.
Evaluation: Yes, once Steve Hutchinson and David Stewart went down in Week 13, the line was really bad. Mitch Petrus, who started Week 16 against the Packers, may have been the worst player to start a game in the NFL in 2012. (I don't want to single Petrus out too much-he's probably still at least a trillion times better than me at football and got thrown into the lineup quickly, which was not his fault and "unfair" to him.) But there were still three offensive linemen in the lineup who started in the stretch where Locker was sacked rarely and one of the backups was a tackle who'd been in the system for at least two years. That wasn't a good offensive line, but it also wasn't the worst line we've seen in the NFL since the 2002 Texans. It affected Locker, for sure, but I don't buy it explains all the change.
Possibility 3: Fewer dumpoffs means more sacks.
Evaluation: We're in the realm of small sample size here, but FO charting has Jake Locker with 19 dumpoffs on the season. Of those dumpoffs, 14 came in the first eleven games and only 5 in the final five games. Locker had roughly equal numbers of dropbacks in each "half" I'm looking at, so 9 fewer dumpoffs could mean 9 more sacks. One thing both Mike Munchak and Dowell Loggains have talked about this offseason is better distribution of the wide receivers and running backs, so this could be implicated here. The only problem was, this doesn't seem to be an issue until the second half of the season.
Possibility 4: The loss of Jared Cook.
Evaluation: Cook missed the last three weeks, which was when things were at their worst. So, maybe? The problem I have with this attempt at an explanation is there's no causal mechanism. There was no Jared Cook, so so what? If this is what changed things, then it's likely because Cook's absence caused something else to changed. If so, what else was it that changed? If there is something meaningful here, I would expect it to show up in something else.
Possibility 5: Too many blockers means not enough targets.
Evaluation: I've noted before Chris Palmer philosophically believed in having lots of eligible receivers out in routes. The blockers were the 5 linemen, maybe plus the back. Dowell Loggains did use more blockers, but not a whole lot more and we still have the Titans with 5 blockers 40% of the time. I don't see a change from 5.56 to 5.69 blockers as a particularly compelling case for this. Then again, the league as a whole averaged 5.64 blockers per play so that change does mean the Titans went from a protector-light team to a protector-heavy one. Plus even with just 5 blockers Locker didn't stay as clean as he was the first half of the season.
Possibility 6: Opponents brought more rushers and had more success because of it.
Evaluation: This is at least half-right; teams did in fact bring heavier rushes against Locker in the final five games. Opponents brought five or more rushers 43% of the time after only doing so 29% of the time the first 11 games, and they had some success when they did so. The problem is, even on those less common occasions they brought four rushers they still had a lot more success than they did earlier in the season. This is a seductive explanation, but I don't think what happened actually supports it as much as it seems at first glance.
Possibility 7: Jake Locker's sack rate is particularly subject to the quality of the offensive line he's playing behind.
Evaluation: Unless you're dealing with a large and robust sample size that cannot be explained in any way, my position is to be deeply, deeply skeptical of any sort of snowflake theory claiming "X is different from all the things similar to X that have come before it." It's possible this is right, but I'm putting my money into Powerball before I put it here if only because of the payoff.
Possibility 8: Arbitrary endpoints. You're looking at two relatively modest sample sizes, each of less than 200 passing attempts, and suggesting both of them are independently meaningful. Hogwash. Stop overreading this "evidence" and just use his full-season number as the best predictor for 2013.
Evaluation: Even if only for space-related reasons, this more or less was the approach I took in Football Outsiders Almanac 2013, where I don't have 1300 words (and counting) to write just about what to make or not make of the split in Jake Locker's Adjusted Sack Rate.
I'm not sure what Locker's Adjusted Sack Rate is going to be in 2013. Subjectively, I haven't been impressed with his pocket presence. I think he didn't take many sacks the first half of the year because he threw a bunch of short passes and is athletic.
The Titans' offensive line should be better than it was the first half of 2012, though I think you've gotten the right idea if you read me as saying the offensive line isn't as important as you think it is.
We've seen quarterbacks change who they are before, to some degree-one of the reasons for That Brief and Magical Period Where Vince Young Seemed Like a Real Starting Quarterback was he didn't take nearly as many sacks as Kerry Collins did or he used to (and would again in the future). I think the Titans think Locker took more sacks than they'd like because he wasn't comfortable in Chris Palmer's offense, and he'll be more comfortable and play faster in the new offense (assuming the Titans even agree with me in thinking Locker took more sacks than they'd like, all things considered). We'll see.
Proverbial gun to my head, I'm putting my guess at Jake Locker's Adjusted Sack Rate in 2013 at 7.3%. Now tell me why I'm wrong and what I'm missing.
UPDATE (2013-06-024, 0846 CT): Prodded by Paul Kuharsky, I added a brief description of what Adjusted Sack Rate is in the first paragraph.
100% agree with Brian. You can wonder about the split all you want, and by the way...THE RUNNING GAME WAS AWFUL!!!! Quite a bit of fault there equally goes to Palmer, the O-line, Bruce Matthews, and CJ. Most of CJ's big yardage late in the year came in passing situations where the Titans chose to run the ball. When they passed in those situations the sack % skyrocketed.
Very good defenses are able to break down tendencies, personnel, and exploit them. I would have to believe that the Packers, Texans, and Jets had the Titans figured out pretty darn well. Heck, with 7-8 beers in me, I could properly guess 80% of the time if we were running right or left, or passing with primary targets left or right. Heck, when I got to 12 beers I was still about 75% correct...and half asleep.
Heres the number one reason....
Linemen who missed at least one
game... Roos, Hutchinson, Harris, Stewart (all starters and 3 ended up
on IR missing several games down the stretch). Backups who were on the
street Petrus, Lutui, DeVan, Baldridge yet played in a game. Reserve
linemen who were hurt in camp or started a game only to be hurt and miss
another game, Matthews, Otto. Lastly Stingily started a game and
Velasco is only linemen to play all 16 games. I think their is someone
else I am missing but this is off the top of my head. (Maybe Amano who
was a starter entering camp and went down)?
I sincerely hope you don't devalue the importance of a line that plays most if not the entire year together. Between communication and talent it has a lot to do with the sacks. most notably is the pressure up the middle which can clearly be an indication of a lack of push by the interior O-line which was the most decimated with injuries and lack talent.
2 and the most ridiculous to overlook as an analyst is the situations he was in. In the first 3 games Locker was sacked 3 times in 104 pass attempts
before he dislocated his shoulder in week 4. After that Locker switched part of his offense after Palmer was fired and 3 of those games with slight changes in the playbook were against:
Packers 4th in league in sacks had 7 against Locker.
Texans (2nd game against them) 5th in league in sacks 6 sacks against Locker
Jets who werent stistically great but still were playing better down the stretch had 4 sacks.
17 of Lockers 25 sacks on the year were in 3 of his 11 games. Meaning he averaged 1 sack per game in the other 8 games.
That said is it shocking that a Rex Ryan, Dom Capers and Wade Phillips defense out witted a porous O-line and a first year starting QB? Not in my mind
I'm not saying Locker doesn't have his share of issues but if his O-line is healthy most the year and this new offense that Loggains tailored to Lockers strengths and improved running game with the addition of Warmack and Levitre, Three tight ends who excel at blocking (unlike Cook who was horrible), He doesn't have any excuses this year. But year one as a starter? I think he gets a passing grade for playing through a separated shoulder, a revolving door at O-line, A hit and miss run game, dropped balls, a horrible defense that meant they were always playing from behind. You wanna slam a QB who is overrated look at Jay Cutlers stats behind a porous O-line and with a timing based passing attack.
I think he will be much better in the pocket, but people need to remember sacks for QB's who like to extend plays is commonplace. Ask Ben Roethlisberger and Michael Vick. You love them for the great plays they make but then you will definitely be scratching your head on some of those same plays in a negative way.
Locker and Cutler (a guy with 77 more games of experience) had a difference of 1 pass attempt per every sack they took. Cutler was also throwing 1500 of those yards to one guy the Titans didn't have a true number one last year. This year he should have a lot of depth at WR and a slimmer more explosive Wright and praying for a healthy Britt. That should yield a better year from locker across the board.
@BrianFlanagan Thanks for reading, and for commenting.
It's interesting, because the Titans started the season with a new left guard, a center who was forced to step in during training camp, and a right guard who'd never played the position before and missed a lot of time in the offseason due to injury, and Locker was very good. It was the sheer magnitude of the split that got to me. If Locker had been roughly average the first half of his season and then been awful the final five weeks, I don't raise an eyebrow. It was just the transition from great to awful that got to me, and I'd say the OL injuries explain about half of it.
And I concur with you on it being possible for very good quarterbacks to take way more sacks than you'd like-Aaron Rodgers is probably the currently poster child for this, as even when he was awesome in 2011 he was sacked at an above-average rate. This is the type of quarterback I think Locker ends up being, which is why I found his first half split was so noticeable.
@ThomasGower Thanks for the reply,
I agree there were changes to the Titans O-line but Left Guard was Steve Hutchinson who is a sure fire Hall of Famer, Velasco was a solid in preseasn and was an obvious upgrade on Amano (if that's saying anything), Harris you are right about, he didn't get a ton of reps b/c of lingering injuries and having never played right guard there was a huge learning curve in which I remember Velasco talking about guys stepping on each other at times during camp. The only reason I don't agree is this O-line had 4 guys who deservedly been starters the year before or in 2012. Harris I have always liked but injuries slowed his progress. I think he is a solid backup but not a starter. This group started the first 7 games (4 in which Locker started) together. After that their was 5 different starting combinations in 9 games. Thats where I give Locker a break. The second game against Houston Stewart and Hutchinson were lost for the year. At one point because of injuries, Velasco even had to play right tackle! The Jets game started Roos, Velasco, Matthews, Lutui and Otto. Pretty underwhelming, then Matthews got hurt and DeVan filled in. The run game struggled minus CJ's 94 yard bonanza run, another sign of just how bad this O-line was considering they were facing the 26th worst defense in the NFL. Green Bay was another new lineup Roos, Petrus, Velasco, Lutui and Stingily .
That said I think Lockers first 4 games of only being sacked 3 times in 106 pass attempts are not what we can expect from him. I think the upgrades not only at the starting interior spots but most importantly the depth has tremendously improved. CJ is a veteran and has been consistently good in my opinion (on an annual average) but at his salary and with this O-line he has to be much more efficient week to week, if he is that will help Locker as well. I feel bad for Locker he toughs out a year on a separated shoulder behind an O-line no one should play behind in his first year as a starter and people are already calling for his head. I personally think the Titans will surprise some people this year. If they don't I think it's fair to say CJ and Locker need a big year to get the monkey off their backs. The fact CJ annually is slammed yet Foster is held to such a high regard is crazy. Foster has fallen from 4.9 ypc, 4.4 ypc to 4.1 ypc yet people worship the guy even though his TD runs are of the goal line variety. Anyways I'm getting off topic. haha
Thanks again for the response.
Tom, good to see you posting again. I think Locker's sack rate was likely a combination of him having poor pocket presence, perhaps not trusting his arm and looking to run too much, and, yes, very poor o-line play towards the end of the year. Because the line play was so poor, defenses blitzed more and got more pressure as a result (they got more pressure without blitzing too). I have high hopes for this season (perhaps because I want to), but the team only goes as far as Locker will take them.