Matt McGloin vs Terrell Pryor: Avoiding Sacks with a “Pocket Passer”

While simultaneously watching the Raiders-Cowboys game and recovering from a post-Thanksgiving food coma, I was reminded of the importance of decision-making ability at the quarterback position when it comes to minimizing sacks and other negative plays.

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Matt McGloin manged to avoid being sacked by the Cowboy defense entirely on Thursday. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Here you have young Matt McGloin going against a determined Cowboy defense, and consistently getting rid of the football on time, and helped by offensive coordinator Greg Olson calling a lot of misdirection runs, screens, and boot passes. (McGloin was not sacked at all, while Tony Romo was sacked twice for a loss of 17 yards)

One quote that has always stuck with me is something Steve Young said in an interview on ESPN: “Nothing is singular in football.” In other words, there is almost never one single factor that you can put your finger on to explain a number on the stat sheet. A QB who consistently throws for over 400 yards per game could be benefiting from a great game plan, excellent receivers, or it could be because his team always finds themselves down 21 points in the second quarter.

As important as speed is at the quarterback position when it comes to avoiding the pass rush, so is the ability to anticipate and feel the rush, as well as a talent for getting the ball out on time and hitting the checkdown. Often times, a mobile quarterback can be fool’s gold when it comes to avoiding the rush, because their natural abilities can run them right into an oncoming defensive end. It’s also common, especially among younger QBs, to develop the bad habit of pulling down the ball too soon instead of waiting for the passing game to develop*.

With guys like Terrell Pryor, it’s a feast or famine mentality when it comes to avoiding the rush. The reality is that Pryor, and other young mobile quarterbacks’ ability to make things happen with their legs can result in more 3rd and 17s than Sportscenter top plays.

This is why Peyton Manning is always in the bottom half of the league when it comes to sacks, and more mobile quarterbacks like Cam Newton and Russell Wilson are in the top half of the stats column.

Of course, equally important is a playcalling style that keeps the pass rush on edge. An effective mix of dropback passes, screens, sprint outs, and a running game to match will prevent the defenders from teeing off on the same spot in the backfield where they know the ball will be. The ability to move the pocket in every situation prevents defenders from simply starting in a sprinters stance on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage, and forces them to hesitate, giving the QB valuable time to get the ball where it needs to go.

McGloin displayed the pocket mobility that made Rich Gannon so successful in Oakland over a decade ago, and showed the ability to deliver the ball down the field in a game plan that showed flashes of a classic Al Davis vertical passing attack. Time will tell whether or not McGloin is the quarterback of the future for Oakland, but one thing is for sure, despite all the hype surrounding Terrell Pryor’s scrambling abilities, McGloin has provided a much more solid option under center for the Silver and Black.

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*As always, Football Outsiders provides some great perspective on this, tracking the different types of sacks, which they have divided up into short sacks, medium sacks, and long sacks. Short sacks, for example, are sacks which occur within a very short time after the ball is snapped, and therefore can most likely be attributed to a poor block by the offensive line, whereas a long sack is one where the QB is more likely to have held onto the ball longer than he should have, therefore the sack is likely the fault of the QB instead of the O-Line.

Follow me on Twitter: @AlexJKirby

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