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2022 Defensive Line Projection - Time to Hit QB Analysis from 2021

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saltybuck61's picture
August 3, 2022 at 1:24pm

All throughout the offseason, we have heard various proclamations made about the Buckeye pass rush. Some have pointed out the significant drop off from the Chase Young led unit in 2019. Others have mentioned that the pass defense was hamstrung by the lack of a consistent pass rush. These claims are not without merit either. The evidence looks damning.

Sacks per game – 2.8 (25th)

Sack percentage – 7.43% (44th)

While these aren’t horrid numbers, they certainly aren’t representative of an elite unit. Jim Knowles’ defense at Oklahoma State, meanwhile, finished with the following numbers:

 Sacks per game – 3.8 (3rd)

Sack percentage – 10.87% (3rd)

Fans are optimistic about this upcoming season because of Knowles’ success, but there remains some trepidation from the lack of established playmakers on the defensive line. This is a reasonable expectation to have. Something gnawed at me throughout the summer, though. As some folks on this board may know, I graded each play from last season and scored players based on their performance. While most of the grading matched future personnel changes and statistics, one area stood out – the defensive line kept scoring spectacularly well. For a unit that was underperforming, they seemed to be winning a lot of their individual matchups. Also, I don’t think anyone is accusing Larry Johnson of underperforming.

So, I decided to see if my suspicions were correct – I took a stopwatch and measured each pass thrown by CJ Stroud, the Ohio State defense, and the Oklahoma State defense to obtain a metric of performance outside of sacks. There was a sufficient sample size for all three datasets (~500 attempts), and the data reveals a couple of things about last year’s team – and implies further things about the 2022 team.

First, a little background; I chose these groups because I wanted to rewatch much of Ohio State’s season anyway, and I wanted to get an idea of what Jim Knowles’ defense would look like. Furthermore, Oklahoma State was one of the best defenses at sacking the quarterback (3rd in sacks per game and sack percentage), while the Ohio State offense was one of the best offenses at preventing sacks (14th and 4th respectively for least sacks per game and least sack percentage). I figured that between those two teams, I could probably get a range for how quickly quarterbacks release the ball and how quickly the quarterbacks get disrupted.

To measure the average release time, I measured the time between the ball hitting the quarterback’s hand and the ball leaving the quarterback’s hand. Along similar lines, I measured the time between the ball hitting the quarterback’s hand and a defensive player hitting or disrupting a quarterback for the average hit time. For example, if a free rusher blitzes the quarterback causing a scramble, I stop the stopwatch as soon as the blitzing player would have hit a stationary quarterback. This way a 4 second play where a free blitzer ran up the middle would still count as getting to the quarterback quickly. I want to know how quickly the QB throws and how quickly the defense can get to the quarterback.

First, I collected data for the average time to throw for both C.J. Stroud and Oklahoma State’s opponents. The results are listed below.

Average Time to Throw
2021 Average Time to Throw (s)
Ohio State offense 2.46
oklahoma state defense 2.47

To reiterate, this is just a measure of how quickly an average passing play lasts. The first thing to note is how close these two numbers are; over 500 snaps each, and they are almost identical. While this might be a coincidence, this lines up neatly with the adage that, on average, a pass play lasts 2.5 seconds. These two numbers are almost exactly even with that number.

When we add the 2021 Buckeye defense though, we see a bit of a different story…

Average Time to Throw
2021 Average Time to Throw (s)
Ohio State Offense 2.46
Oklahoma state defense 2.47
ohio state defense 2.22

Considering that the 2021 Ohio State offense and the 2021 Oklahoma State defense were nearly identical, the 2021 Ohio State defense had a drastically lower opponent average pass time - nearly a full quarter-second lower. That in and of itself doesn’t imply that opponents were getting hit more often or sacked more often – they weren’t. It does specifically say that Ohio State’s opponents were, for whatever reason, releasing the ball or getting hit significantly quicker than quarterbacks from the other datasets. This could be due to the vanilla defense from last year, allowing coaches to call better situational plays and allowing quarterbacks to make a higher percentage of their reads pre-snap. It could also be due to poor coverage allowing for quick and easy completions. Personally, I lean toward the former; the defense’s simplicity has been discussed ad nauseum for the past couple of seasons. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if teams gameplanned around Ohio State’s few coverages and blitzes.

Of course, how quickly each passing play lasts is only part of the equation. I also tracked how quickly quarterbacks were hit or affected throughout season. The results:

Pass Rushing Statistics
2021 Average Time to Throw (s) Average Time to Hit (s) Delta (s)
Ohio state offense 2.46 3.27 0.81
Oklahoma state defense 2.47 2.96 0.49
ohio state defense 2.22 2.51 0.29

First thing’s first, a reminder about what this is saying: when the quarterback is hit or is flushed out of the pocket, this measures how quickly the defense gets to the quarterback on average. First thing of note is that Oklahoma State’s defense gets to the quarterback quicker than opposing defenses got to C.J. Stroud. That seems reasonable and exactly in line with what we expected. Less expected is that Ohio State’s defense had an even lower number than Oklahoma State – and by a significant margin.

This doesn’t mean that Ohio State was the fastest to hit the quarterback always; it just means that when the quarterback is disrupted, they disrupt them the fastest of the three groups. This number was kept low due to factors outside of a pass rush’s control. Oklahoma State had many sacks that were longer than 3 seconds, and even a couple longer than 5 seconds. I can only remember 1 or 2 sacks from Ohio State that were longer than 3 seconds, as opposing quarterbacks had almost always already thrown the ball. If a defender doesn’t get to the quarterback, they won’t get timed as a hit, so sacks/hits that happen after 3+ seconds can skew this number.

Still, the change in time between average release and average hit seems to be important, mostly due to the results from the Oklahoma State defense and the Ohio State offense. Intuitively, we can say that an identical time for average release and average hit means that on average, the quarterback is getting hit every play. Of course, the offense might get a couple of throws off (it is only an average after all), but this would be relentless pressure. On the other hand, if the average time to hit the quarterback is 3 seconds longer than the average release time, the quarterback should have all day to throw, as the only hits taken are on excessively long developing plays. This difference is the amount of time between releasing the ball and getting hit, or, put another way, the extra time a quarterback has on an average play. Stroud could rely on extra protection, while Oklahoma State’s opponents couldn’t hold on to the ball for too long past a certain point. The fact that the 2021 Ohio State defense had the least amount of excess time between release and hit is remarkable, and it may be a sign of what this unit can be capable of given more time due to improved coverage and schematic diversity. I wouldn’t expect that average hit time number to hold; the schematic diversity will allow for longer sacks and thus a longer average hit time. Still, this feels fairly accurate. For those who watched closely, think about all the times last year where Zach Harrison was one step too slow to sack the quarterback. It felt like he was constantly just a little late. To most fans/pundits, the common refrain was that he just wasn’t finishing plays. After doing this analysis, I am now convinced that he wasn’t given enough time to finish plays. Quarterbacks were getting the ball out of their hand at an unusually rapid pace, leaving few opportunities for defensive line disruption. An improved secondary in 2022 will likely increase the average hit time, as pass rushers will get to the QB later on in a pass play than they would have been able to in 2021. 

I rarely feel comfortable in predicting stats, but after looking at all this tape, I can say with confidence that I expect Ohio State to finish in the top 5 in sacks per game, potentially even leading the nation. They got to the quarterback very quickly last year and were it not for the quick throws enabled by a simplistic defensive scheme and lackluster coverage at times, this defensive line would have racked up huge numbers. A guy like Harrison, who already had more sacks called back last year than he had the entire season, would benefit from this the most, as he was constantly applying pressure. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him reach double digit sacks this year just based on last year’s performance alone. Instead, the defensive line is the most underrated position group at Ohio State coming into the year, and they should have a season for the ages.

This is a forum post from a site member. It does not represent the views of Eleven Warriors unless otherwise noted.

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