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Why Geno Smith’s sack rate is so low despite being one of the most pressured quarterbacks

No, Geno isn’t getting sacked nearly as often as you think.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Conor Courtney/Getty Images

As is almost a rite of passage for Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks, Geno Smith has been under siege all season. It has generally not mattered who’s been in the lineup on the offensive line.

By the way, notice the other teams ranked 26th and worse in Ben’s tweet? They’re all in the bottom six in points scored and points per drive, whereas the Seahawks are 17th in points scored and 11th in points per drive.

And yet, in a change from 2022 and really a major departure from almost the entirety of the Russell Wilson era, Geno’s sack rate is in the bottom-half of the NFL.

One of the persistent myths I’ve seen among some Seahawks fans (usually on social media, but occasionally in our comments section) is that Geno takes too many sacks and doesn’t move well in the pocket. Geno has taken untimely sacks (see: Steelers and Bengals games), comically bad sacks (see: Lions game), and some sacks where he’s held onto the ball too long, but he’s been a lot better than you may think in this department.

Pressure stats are a bit wonky because they clearly are charted differently across different statistical outlets, but for the sake of simplicity let’s use PFF.

Of the 24 quarterbacks with at least 12 starts this season, Smith has the fourth-highest pressure rate at 40.2%. The three quarterbacks ahead of him are Justin Fields, Zach Wilson, and Russell Wilson. Smith has only been sacked 31 times out of 210 pressures, which is a pressure-to-sack rate of 14.8%. The only QBs better in this department are Jalen Hurts, Brock Purdy, Jared Goff, Patrick Mahomes, and Josh Allen. Meanwhile, Russ and Zach are both above 20% in the same metric, while Fields sits at 18.3%. If you want to parse the data further, 14 of Geno’s 31 sacks came in the losses to the 49ers, Ravens, and Bengals, a pair of elite defenses and (in the case of the Bengals) a standout front four.

In terms of regular ol’ sack rate, Smith sits at 6.2% across all dropbacks, below the league-wide average of 7.1%, which is also the highest league-wide sack rate since 1998. The last time the Seahawks had any quarterback under league-average in sack rate was Matt Hasselbeck in 2007, which happened to be the last healthy season of Walter Jones’ career.

Smith’s average time-to-throw is 2.73 seconds, which among all starting quarterbacks is on the quicker side, albeit not especially quick.

Lastly, you might be wondering if Geno is inviting a lot of his own pressure. That does not appear to be the case. Smith is near the bottom of the NFL in percentage of QB-caused pressures.

So what’s the secret sauce when a quarterback who doesn’t have the dynamic athleticism of Lamar Jackson is dealing with a banged up, bad offensive line that gives up a ton of pressures?

Normal quarterback stuff. The type of hallmark of good quarterbacks! Movement within the pocket and getting the ball out on time to receivers! These clips will show he’s done this all season.

The emphasis from Pete Carroll (and therefore offensive coordinator Shane Waldron) on getting the ball out even more quickly since the 49ers loss has paid dividends. He is playing his best football at a time when the defense is playing at its absolute worst.

There is a natural inclination to view Geno Smith through the prism of Russell Wilson. After all, he was this team’s quarterback for a decade and the results were mostly excellent. Wilson’s primary way of dealing with bad offensive line play was to create the world’s most exciting scramble drills, whether to run for first downs, complete a pass on an off-script play, or just throw it out of bounds. Moments like these were incredible to watch.

russ

But as we’ve seen with late-career Wilson, it’s not sustainable. His P2S% has been among the highest in the NFL for three straight seasons. The magical plays that used to prevent sacks are now usually just sacks, for a quarterback whose sack rate was been consistently high for his entire career.

Geno represents a different style of quarterbacking. Just because his maneuvering in the pocket isn’t as flashy doesn’t mean it hasn’t been highly effective and often times play-salvaging. There’s no question that Seattle’s offense has had major hiccups throughout the season, particularly in the red zone and on 3rd down, that have hurt the team’s chances of making the playoffs. Geno has had issues with bad/missed reads and chancy passes that have led to turnovers, so I’m not completely absolving him of blame as if he hasn’t had bad plays, moments, or games. What I will fervently push back against is the idea that he takes too many sacks and that he can’t navigate a pocket. The tape and the advanced stats show overwhelming evidence to the contrary.