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More quarterbacks will go down if offenses don't adjust to blitzes

  • By Pat Kirwan NFL.com
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John Russell / Associated Press
Safety Michael Griffin had one of Tennessee's seven sacks on Jaguars' David Garrard in a 17-10 victory.


Here's one thing that stood out from Week 1: Quarterbacks are in trouble this year.

Just look at New England where Tom Brady, the 2007 NFL MVP, is already on the shelf for the 2008 season because of a knee injury incurred when the Chiefs blitzed safety Bernard Pollard.

As I reported during my summer camp tour, defensive coordinators around the league were inspired by the New York Giant game plan that sacked Brady five times and hit him another nine times in Super Bowl XLII. As defenses continue to bring the heat, this could be a tough year for quarterbacks all around the NFL. Week 1 could be a sign of things to come.

Alex Brandon / Associated Press
Jeff Garcia's status for Week 2 is uncertain after the Bucs QB took some heavy hits from the Saints defense in Week 1.

Vince Young (Tennessee) and Brodie Croyle (Kansas City) will miss time after the beatings they took. Jeff Garcia (Tampa Bay) may not be ready to go this week and Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh) and Tony Romo (Dallas) are just two of the signal callers that dodged a bullet in Week 1.

I took a look at three game tapes from Week 1, and the pressure the Titans, Steelers and Bills put on opposing quarterbacks suggests that it will be dangerous on the gridiron for quarterbacks this year. Buffalo had five sacks and nine more hits on Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck. Pittsburgh sacked Houston's Matt Schaub five times and hit him another six times. The Titans made life miserable for David Garrard as they sacked him seven times and tagged him with an extra 10 quarterback hits. There's little chance these quarterbacks or any others could survive a season of double-digit hits every weekend.

Week 1 saw a total of 65 sacks and another 107 hits on quarterbacks. That doesn't include all the shots quarterbacks take throughout the game, but it does illustrate that on average the most important player on the field for each team was hit or sacked a little over five times. Run that number out over 16 games and each starting QB is looking at getting tagged 80 times in 2008.

There was a time when teams refused to go after a quarterback such as Peyton Manning, because he would burn any teams that tried to blitz him. But the Bears decided heat would be a much bigger part of the game plan Sunday night than it was in Super Bowl XLI two years ago. If teams are willing to go after Manning, they will really turn up the heat on the young QBs.

As one defensive coordinator suggested this week, "We can't let two rookie quarterbacks with no experience come into this league and win games. We must get after them and the other guys who haven't played enough to recognize all the ways we can get a hit on them."

Matt Ryan (Atlanta) and Joe Flacco (Baltimore) did great jobs winning their home openers, but now they go on the road in Week 2, which should be more of a test.

What was interesting when I broke down the 65 sacks from Week 1 was where they came from. Perhaps it will provide an idea of what may lie ahead in the next few weeks.

Where the sacks came from in Week 1
Position Sacks
Defensive ends 24
Outside linebackers 16
Defensive tackles 12
Inside linebackers 7
Safeties 3
Cornerbacks 1

The number of defensive line sacks and outside linebacker sacks from the 3-4 teams will always be the core of pressure, but notice that 11 sacks came from inside linebackers or defensive backs. When offensive lines have to pay so much attention to the traditional pass rushers, that sets up the fire zone schemes that will fake a defensive line pass rush and blitz a safety, corner or inside linebacker. Look for the pressure numbers to increase for those less-likely positions over the next few weeks.

Offensive coordinators have to protect their quarterbacks and the league can't afford to absorb the quarterback injury rate we witnessed in Week 1. As one quarterback coach said to me this week, "We probably need to use more 6- and 7-man protection schemes than we used in the past and a few 8-man protections would make sense."

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