Justin Pugh is eminently correct in that sack totals are a flawed way to measure pass protection.
On Sunday, for example, Kyler Murray’s two sacks came first on a rollout where he could have thrown the ball away and then when he slid one yard behind the line of scrimmage on a scramble.
There were also times when the second-year quarterback bailed the offensive line out, evading pressure by throwing the ball or scampering away from defenders.
“Kyler is going to get us out of some traditional sacks that probably most quarterbacks couldn’t, and sometimes things are going to happen and he slides down on a play,” said Pugh, who earned the second-best pass-blocking grade in the NFL from Pro Football Focus in Week 1. “It doesn’t really matter. We’re not going to look at that.”
A better judgment may be ESPN’s pass-block win-rate metric, which calculates how often a blocker keeps a pass-rusher at bay for 2.5 seconds.
The Cardinals fared exceedingly well in that regard in Sunday’s upset of the 49ers, finishing with the third-best win-rate of any NFL team at 74.1 percent despite facing one of the fiercest defensive fronts in the NFL.
The offensive line will face a second straight tough test in Week 2 against Washington. Even though its pass-rush win-rate numbers didn’t stand out – 32.4 percent, 26th in the NFL – Washington made Carson Wentz pay for holding onto the ball too long on Sunday by accumulating eight sacks and three forced fumbles, sparking an upset win.
No. 2 overall pick Chase Young and veteran Ryan Kerrigan are among several players with pedigree on the Washington defensive line.
“They have a great front, there’s no doubt,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “It was pretty nerve-wracking watching their film.”
The Cardinals neutralized San Francisco’s pass-rush in a few ways. Kingsbury called plenty of quick passes, especially early when the 49ers were fresh. The game was always close, so the offense was rarely predictable. And when Nick Bosa or another pass-rusher did break through, Murray put on his cape.
“Kyler is very special, so I know that if we don’t let anybody come at him head-on, he’s going to make that first guy miss,” Pugh said. “Not many people can go zero to 100 like him, and there’s not a D-lineman that can catch him if he’s at full speed.”