Collins or the OL to Blame for Sacks Against Houston?

The final numbers were no prettier than the pictures for Kerry Collins behind the Indy line on Sunday.

Three sacks.

Two fumbles.

One intentional grounding.

The sight of Mario Williams being “blocked” by Dallas Clark was burned across the retinas of Colts fans all afternoon.

The instant reaction from fans was to decry the offensive line as horrible, the worst in years. Given what we know about quarterbacks and sacks, however, the question has to be asked: is this a fair assessment?

A look at the tape says no.

Here’s a play by play break down of the five big negative plays in the passing game on Sunday.


2-8-HOU 42 (12:21) 5-K.Collins sacked at IND 49 for -9 yards (90-M.Williams).

This is the play the announcers couldn’t believe. If they had been paying attention, it would have been completely believable.

This sack is 100% on Kerry Collins.

The Texas show a 5 man front against a two wide set for the Colts with Williams lined up over Clark. The Texans blitz all five men with Clark taking Williams one on one.

Collins should have clearly recognized the matchup.

He executes a slow play action fake, and then Williams buries him. The sack time was 2.6 seconds. That’s a little quick but not particularly fast.

On the play, he clearly has room to step up in the pocket as Clark has pushed Williams wide. Collins completely fails to identify the blitz, step up, or react in any way to Williams coming. Clark had pushed Williams wide enough that there was room for Collins to take a step up and throw. Williams would have been sent too wide to get the sack.

On this play Linkenbach had no opportunity to help Clark because of the wide line taken by Williams, but there is simply no way that Peyton Manning gets sacked on that play. This first sack was 100% on Collins for failing to feel the rush and act accordingly. Think every pass rush you’ve seen Jerry Hughes make. That’s what that the play would have looked like if Collins had the awareness to step up.

Verdict: QB error.

1-10-IND 19 (4:21) 5-K.Collins sacked at IND 14 for -5 yards (94-A.Smith). FUMBLES (94-A.Smith), RECOVERED by HOU-95-S.Cody at IND 12. 95-S.Cody to IND 12 for no gain (74-A.Castonzo).

Again, we see the Texans show a 5 man front. This time they don’t blitz, as the defensive end drops back to pick up Dallas Clark coming out of the backfield. The play looks to be a quick toss to Clark, but he’s double covered by the end and the linebacker.

This coverage surprised Collins who can’t go to his first option, so he pulls the ball down and tries to reload.

Reitz is the guilty party here as he completely fails to keep Smith off of Collins who fumbles the ball.

Collins fails to read the defense fast enough to avoid the sack, but did manage not throw a stupid interception. It’s difficult to handle pressure up the middle. He had 2.3 seconds to throw. I think there’s a good chance even Manning goes down here.

Verdict: LG error

1-10-IND 20 (2:56) 5-K.Collins FUMBLES (Aborted) at IND 20, RECOVERED by HOU-99-J.Watt at IND 20. 99-J.Watt to IND 18 for 2 yards (29-J.Addai).

Collins pulls out of center early after a good snap by Saturday.

Verdict: QB error

3-14-HOU 49 (5:47) (Shotgun) 5-K.Collins pass incomplete short right [90-M.Williams]. PENALTY on IND-5-K.Collins, Intentional Grounding, 20 yards, enforced at HOU 49.

The Texans put six men up on the line and bring the house on a third and long. It’s a great strategy against Collins who appears rattled by the blitz.  Smith is lightning quick off the line, and it causes Collins to never complete his set up. The problem is that Diem actually has Smith corralled. If Collins had stepped up instead of back into the path of Mario Williams, he would have had time to throw.

He only had about 1.4 seconds before having to get rid of the ball, but that’s partially his own doing. As a general rule, it’s a terrible idea to run into the path of Mario Williams. This was created because of an OUTSTANDING play by Smith to get off on the snap. Collins didn’t vary the snap count enough and it gave the defender a huge advantage. There wasn’t much the line could do on this play. I doubt Manning goes down or takes a grounding here.

Verdict: Combination QB error/Excellent D line play.

3-5-HOU 7 (5:38) (Shotgun) 5-K.Collins sacked at HOU 16 for -9 yards (90-M.Williams). FUMBLES (90-M.Williams), recovered by IND-63-J.Saturday at HOU 16. 63-J.Saturday to HOU 16 for no gain (98-C.Barwin).

The Texans line up in a 6 man front, bringing a five man blitz. This creates confusion for the Colts who have both Addai and Clark in to block. Linkenbach takes the innermost of the three widest Texans, but he doesn’t blitz, leaving Linkenbach essentially blocking no one.

Addai is left to pick up #56 who is coming free unblocked. He does his job.

Clark is left to take Williams wide.

A better solution would have been if Linkenbach takes 56 leaving Addai to help up the middle (had the Texans brought 6) or switch out to chip Williams if necessary.

Collins doesn’t show any awareness and goes down in 2.2 seconds. It’s not fair to blame him for the sack, but it’s not one that I believe Manning would have taken on a short third down. I imagine that Peyton would have checked to a screen to Addai or Clark, and invited the pressure.

Verdict: RT error

Conclusion: The Texans ran a bunch of exotic blitzes at the Colts. When was the last time that worked against Peyton Manning? 2005? The fact is that the Colts line did a credible job run blocking on Sunday (4.1 ypc, 15th in DVOA rushing last week), but Collins did a poor job recognizing and exploiting blitzes. He didn’t have much awareness of pressure, and didn’t make use of the pocket well.

While I don’t think the Indy line is good, I also don’t believe they played any worse on this Sunday than they did the first week of 2010. In fact, they probably played a little better.

Sacks say more about the quarterback than they do the line. Not all sacks are the QB’s fault, of course. There are situations where any quarterback will go down. In general, however, there are many things a quarterback can do to keep himself standing. Collins did little to help himself on Sunday, and the Texans took advantage with a myriad of blitzes.

Kerry Collins will improve in a lot of ways. At the end of the day though, he’s still Kerry Collins, and he will take sacks.