By BARRY WILNER
AP Pro Football Writer
Eli Manning went down seven times, EJ Manuel one more than that Sunday. NFL teams are on a near-record sacks pace, and it’s not solely because of what defenses are doing. These spread-out offenses are making quarterbacks more vulnerable than ever.
Heading into Oakland’s visit to Denver on Monday night, there have been 97 sacks in Week 3, five short of the record set in 1986’s 11th week. The New York Jets led the way with eight on Buffalo rookie Manuel.
“You get what’s coming to you when you play the Jets. If you dig a hole, that’s their game,” Bills center Eric Wood said.
The Carolina Panthers got those seven on the Giants’ Manning, including five in the first quarter. FIVE!
“I think the big thing is you have to see how many passes are being thrown, more than anything else,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “It’s funny, but when people are throwing the ball more you are creating more opportunities (for sacks).”
Greg Hardy beat left tackle Will Beatty for three sacks.
“I’ve got one simple job — protect the guy with the ball. That’s my job,” Beatty said. “Do your job, good things are going to happen. I let it get way out of hand by having him go down.”
The sack parade began last Thursday night when Kansas City and Philadelphia combined for 11, including 3½ by Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston, who leads the league with 6½. Houston is on pace for more than 30, which would obliterate Michael Strahan’s record of 22½.
So what gives, other than offensive lines that can’t protect passers?
In part, blame the current trend of more wide-open attacks, particularly when offenses spread out personnel and place the onus on five linemen to handle whatever number of rushers. By getting more skill players out in space on pass plays, there’s also more burden on quarterbacks to get rid of the ball quickly.
They can’t always do that with blitzing linebackers or safeties joining the rush coming from the guys up front. So you get 255 sacks through three weeks, tying the most for that period in league history, set in 1985, with Peyton Manning or Terrelle Pryor yet to take the field.
“You want to do everything you can, obviously, to eliminate that and minimize those sacks,” said Browns first-year coach Rob Chudzinski, who made his mark as an offensive coordinator. “But everybody’s trying to get the chunk plays which you need to score. It’s hard methodically to drive the ball down the field; you have to get that big play.
“So with it comes some of the things you don’t necessarily want.”
Cleveland had plenty of things it wanted against Minnesota, including six sacks. Considering that the Browns were able to minimize Adrian Peterson’s impact in the running game, the sacks almost were a bonus.
Browns rookie linebacker Barkevious Mingo, who got to Christian Ponder once, was drafted No. 6 overall to chase down quarterbacks. Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco was introduced to Mingo quickly — on his first NFL play, he sacked the Baltimore quarterback.
Is the way NFL offenses strategize suited for a guy like him?
“Definitely,” Mingo said, flashing a wide smile. “I think this team is suited for pass defense. Our defensive coordinator (Ray Horton) likes to get after it and cause pressure. We’ve got some guys that can get after the quarterback, and when they try to run we’ve got inside guys that are just gobbling it up, and I think we’ve got the pieces.”
The most sacks in one season are 1,313 in 1984; sacks became an official stat in 1982. The current pace would bring more than 1,400 sacks.
Still, guys like Houston and Hardy, Mingo and Mario Williams and J.J. Watt can dream about smashing Strahan’s single-season mark. And smashing quarterbacks.