The Redskins have made a remarkable turnaround from last year in one important category.
In 2014 they allowed 58 sacks, the second-worst total in the NFL. The quarterback was sacked on 9.6 percent of pass dropbacks leading to 412 yards in losses. It’s tough to keep drives going like that.
This year, it’s a different story.
“The offensive linemen have done a phenomenal job,” said Kirk Cousins. “I think we’ve given up 26 sacks, down from 55-plus last year; I think it was more than that. If we could stay under 30 after this game against Dallas, I think that would be a big accomplishment to almost cut our sack total in half, which is a credit to those guys.”
Cousins, who has taken every snap at quarterback this year, has been sacked on 4.7 percent of his dropbacks and the sacks have cost 186 yards.
While Cousins gives credit to the offensive line for the decline in sacks, the quarterback releasing the ball rather than taking a sack has a lot to do with it. This is a particular strength of his; last year his sack rate was 3.8 percent, considerably better than those of Robert Griffin III (13.4%) and Colt McCoy (11.7%) while playing behind the same offensive line.
But the line certainly deserves its share of credit. And their performance has been remarkable in light of their lack of experience. Since Week 6, the Redskins have started four linemen who are in their first seasons as NFL starters. Rookie Brandon Scherff and second-year player Morgan Moses were installed at right guard and tackle, respectively, in training camp. Center Josh LeRibeus and left guard Spencer Long came in to replace injured players. Their ability to pick up the intricacies of NFL pass blocking has impressed the lone veteran in the group, left tackle Trent Williams.
“Pass blocking is a skill and it’s an art,” said the sixth-year tackle. “It’s something where you have to do repetitions. There’s no easy way about it. Run blocking has a lot to do with attitude and sometimes how you physically match up with the guy in front of you. Sometimes a guy might just be naturally better at run blocking because of his physical makeup. Pass blocking is definitely not easier than run blocking.”
Williams has been instrumental in Moses’ development, showing him the ropes as he learned the game at the NFL level. He seems to be particularly impressed with his progress and that of the rookie Scherff, the fifth overall pick in the draft last spring who was a tackle until being moved inside in August.
“Morgan has extremely long arms and great feet,” said Williams. “He’s meant to be a great pass blocker. He works, he put tools in his toolbox, and he developed that skill. It’s the same way with Brandon. He’s used to blocking on the edge so moving him down inside is a little bit easier transition for him. That’s just a simple case of those guys being really good and having all of the tools that it takes to be a good pass blocker.”
The line still needs to develop its run blocking; the Redskins are 30th in the NFL with an average of 3.6 yards per carry. But for right now, with Cousins passing well enough to carry the team, being good at one “art” has been helpful.