The LA Rams pass rush has been recording quarterback sacks more rapidly over time. We highlighted that fact in a recent article about the Rams' pass rush and how the Rams were sacking the opposing quarterback with ever-increasing frequency. Unfortunately, it did not sit well with everyone. Some had pointed out that Cleveland Browns quarterback Joe Flacco 'had all day to throw,' in Week 13. So let's take a better look at Week 13, and see what went on in that game.
For openers, let's start with the Cleveland Browns offensive line, and the fact that the Browns have allowed 35 sacks in 12 games. But the Browns have had four different QBs throwing in recent weeks. So let's compile some data about the Browns passing stats. Because we want to understand how effective the Rams pass rush was against the Browns, let's pull up some data about the past five games for the Browns:
2 TE plays
Time to Throw
So what does the data tell us? Several curious conclusions can be drawn from the data itself. But perhaps there is a bit of reading between the lines that is necessary as well.
Initially, you can see that the Cleveland Browns allowed 10 sacks in four games prior to the LA Rams in Week 13. But who were the teams that the Browns faced? They faced the Baltimore Ravens (#1 pass rush), the Arizona Cardinals (#18 pass rush), the Pittsburgh Steelers (#8 pass rush), and the Denver Broncos (#21 pass rush), all of whom are ranked higher in getting to the quarterback than the LA Rams.
What does closer inspection of the data reveal?
The LA Rams, with 2.0 QB sacks in Week 13, were on par with other more prominent defenses. But there was more at work in the game. Keep in mind that the Cleveland Browns offensive line is no slouch when it comes to pass blocking, as you can see from the way this team handled the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers pass rush.
Now look at the chart above once more. Notice that the Browns had amazing success at pass protection when the offense emphasized running their 12-personnel package? The Browns use two tight ends 11 times in Week 9 vs. the Cardinals, 13 times in Week 11 vs. the Steelers, and 20 times in Week 13 vs. the LA Rams. Only the Rams were able to get multiple QB sacks against that heavy tight-end usage. That is worth noting.
In the end, Cleveland Browns quarterback Joe Flacco did have plenty of time to get the pass off. But it's not as easy as simply saying that the Rams' pass rush was not performing up to par. The Cleveland Browns, knowing that they would be playing the rusty but savvy veteran QB Joe Flacco, afforded him maximum protection to ensure that he had sufficient time to make his throws.
Ultimately, Flacco made throws but was not very impressive in connecting with the Browns receivers. Note that even though he was starting his first NFL game in over a year, Flacco tracked quite high on aggressiveness. In the NFL Next Gen Stats glossary, aggressiveness tracks the number of passing attempts a quarterback makes that are into tight coverage, where there is a defender within 1 yard or less of the receiver at the time of completion or incompletion. AGG is shown as a % of attempts into tight windows over all passing attempts.
It's clear that the Rams dictated the Browns pivot to heavy passing in the game as they took the lead. But it's also true that the Browns, despite heavy use of their 12-personnel package, were ineffective at passing. At least far less effective than they hoped to be.
You may or may not agree that the Rams pass rush is getting stronger with each game. But we now have valid reasons why Joe Flacco had time to throw. Ultimately, the Rams defense gambled on the Browns' offense trying to win the game on Flacco's throwing arm.
In the end, the Rams won that gamble, and the game.