It's pretty difficult to explain how an offense allowed a quarterback to be sacked 11 times.
Two, three, even four times? Sure, that is somewhat acceptable. Perhaps a few were coverage sacks, and a missed block or two.
But 11? That's a banner day for a defense and one an offense would like to send to the shredder and then the incinerator. Destroy these files. Make sure these never grace another human's line of sight again.
Plus, how does a team that had one of the top offensive lines entering this season surrender so many quarterback takedowns?
Let's go Behind the O Line to figure this out -- because it's not as simple as one might think.
That big number --- posted by Baltimore's defense against the Tennessee Titans in its 21-0 victory last week -- immediately reflects poorly on the offensive line. They're the ones tasked with protecting their quarterback. But much like how QB hits are not strictly an offensive line metric, neither are sacks.
Sometimes, a defense dials up a well-timed blitz, or a wise veteran makes an savvy play. That's no fault of the offensive line.
Second-year rusher Chris Wormley gets credit for the sack, which is accurate, but he's not the one who made the key play on this down.
Tennessee runs play-action off what would be a zone stretch to the left if it were a run, but is instead a run fake, with Mariota running a bootleg off the fake to the right. Veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs correctly reads the play, and instead of staying tight to the line and serving a contain role, pursues Mariota off the bootleg, disrupting the quarterback's path and forcing him to adjust, which allows time for Wormley to come off the left side and clean up the play for a sack.
No lineman is at fault here. This is simply an example of a wise veteran correctly reading the opponent and making a play, even if he didn't get credited with the sack.
On the very next play, Tennessee faces a five-man rush with enough blockers to handle the pressure. Every Titans target runs a route of at least 10 yards (a proper call, seeing as it was third-and-12), creating a necessity for a little longer of a block. Mariota sees Tajae Sharpe breaking out of his first cut with what appears to be enough space for a target but thinks twice about attempting a throw that might have been risky with safety Tony Jefferson nearby and ready to defend the pass. In the time Mariota takes when double-clutching, Za'Darius Smith breaks through right guard Josh Kline and sacks the quarterback.
We could blame this on Kline not blocking quite long enough to keep his quarterback clean, but Mariota was past three seconds before encountering any pressure from Smith. As a result, this one goes to Mariota, again.
Sack No. 3 is due to Mariota bailing out a little too early.
On the play prior, Mariota shows an unusual tendency to escape the rush quicker than needed, pulling down the ball and taking off for a 6-yard gain that was erased by a holding penalty on tackle Jack Conklin. This set up Tennessee with a third-and-18 and a need for a big gain, which at least explains why Mariota didn't release the ball quickly. It also foreshadows a day in which the quarterback would constantly feel the heat and attempt to escape early as a result.
Here, Mariota drops to pass against a four-man rush. His line holds up well, but the pressure in the face of Mariota forces him to escape to the right in an attempt to extend the play. In the process of escaping, though, he misses Sharpe, who came open on his route between two defenders exactly when Mariota rolls out right. He never has a chance to throw through the open window, instead running toward the sideline and oddly running out of bounds instead of throwing the ball away. The play ended in a 2-yard loss and the nearest defender, Anthony Levine, gets credited with a sack despite not hitting the quarterback.
This next sack falls under the category of a coverage sack.
Again, we absolve the line of responsibility here, as none of the aforementioned targets were open and Baltimore properly reacted by collapsing on Mariota. What was originally a four-man rush becomes a seven-man attack and an unwinnable situation for the Titans.
On the next play, the effect of the pressure became evident. A gun shy Mariota bailed out of an adequate pocket and scrambled for a gain of four. And then, on the next play came another sack.
This one can be blamed on the offensive line. Showing a double-A gap pre-snap look, Baltimore rushes five against a six-man protection (five offensive linemen and running back Dion Lewis), and Smith blows by left guard Quinton Spain to strip-sack Mariota, who recovered his own fumble for a loss of seven yards.
Further statistical breakdown (via Next Gen Stats) shows how the outlier --- the 11-sack Week 6 --- has vaulted the Ravens up the charts.
Weeks 1-5: 55 QB pressures, 25.7 percent QB pressures, sack rate of 7 percent (15 sacks), 31.3 blitz percentage
Week 6: 14 QB pressures, 53.8 percent QB pressures, sack rate of 42.3 percent (11 sacks), 65.4 blitz percentage
Six-week totals: 69 QB pressures, 28.8 percent QB pressures, sack rate of 10.8 percent (26 sacks, No. 1 in the NFL), 35 blitz percentage
It worked, in part, because of Mariota's tendency to run into sacks.
Here, Mariota feels the pressure and again escapes to his right, eliminating the chance of finding Taylor running a whip route on the backside. He still could have attempted a second-level throw to Davis, running an intermediate crossing route, but instead pulled his eyes down and took the sack.
Chalk this one up to Mariota. Current score: Mariota 2, Titans offensive line 2, Baltimore defense 2. We're all knotted up.
The next sack is as much a coverage sack as it is Mariota running into rushers.
Only Sharpe had a case for potentially being open, and safety Eric Weddle was in the vicinity, which makes a lack of a pass attempt understandable. Tight coverage elsewhere rendered the other Titans receivers useless. Meanwhile, Mariota steps up in the pocket before escaping left and running into linebacker Kenny Young.
Current tally: Mariota 4.5, Baltimore defense 2.5, Titans offensive line 1. The picture is getting clearer.
In what had become a futile effort, Tennessee was forced to pass frequently while trailing 21-0 and mustering little of anything offensively. On this sack, Mariota drops against another blitz, a five-man rush against six blockers, and could have thrown to Davis, who was running an out to the left sideline. The problem: Tennessee ran two routes into each other, bringing another defender down to clutter the area.
Tackle Taylor Lewan is slightly beat off the edge by Judon, but in a normal pass drop, his block is adequate enough to give the quarterback time and space to step up and throw. The problem: Mariota tried to escape right, and ran into the rusher for another sack. Add it to the quarterback's tally: 4.5.
(We're almost done, I promise.)
This one is less clear and is slightly debatable, but I'll put this on the quarterback, too. Mariota drops back against another five-man blitz, and Tennessee does a good enough job picking up the rush to give him time to get the ball out. He has Davis running a shallow crosser, but thinks twice right before releasing, avoiding a potential interception but taking the sack.
We've reached the final sack. Titans fans have understandably cleared out, at least from the seats near the game clock, per the tape.
At this point, Mariota is frazzled. He can barely drop without anticipating the rush. The quarterback sets up to pass, has Sharpe down the seam and never even considers throwing him the ball, instead trying to run from the relentless rush and right into Judon.
He also admitted he ran into some sacks. By our count, he was right: Of the 11 sacks, 6.5 were on him. Of the other 4.5, three and a half were credited to Baltimore's pass coverage, and one fell on the shoulders of the Titans line.
This is why this weekly piece exists. While the masses decry Tennessee's offensive line as overpaid and underperforming, the tape tells a different tale. So do the numbers: Of Baltimore's 11 sacks, only one came in less than three seconds. Seven came after the four-second mark had been passed.
What's next for the Titans is less clear. The blueprint to beat Tennessee's offense is now out there, but it requires consistent coverage. One thing is for sure: Mariota won't forget the afternoon he spent running from purple-and-black defenders. Here's hoping Tennessee makes it less of an escape act in the following weeks. If not, the results could continue to be disappointing.