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What if Arden Key converted more pressures into sacks during rookie campaign?

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NFL: Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

To go along with the “What If” theme at SB Nation, let’s look back at Arden Key’s 2018 season to review his “almost” sacks. It has been well reported that Arden Key failed to convert many of his pressures into actual sacks. New Raider’s defensive line coach Brentson Buckner actually made a highlight reel of 13 plays where Arden Key should have had a sack but failed for whatever reason.

Key has bulked up this off-season and many are hoping the extra weight and strength materializes into more sacks in the stat sheet. Key doesn’t only need to gain strength but also technique in order to maximize his considerable talent as a long limbed speed rusher. Here’s a few plays he likely wants back from 2018.

There were a few of these pressures in 2018 where Key just arrives a fraction of a second too late. Lined up on the right side of the screen, Key loops inside on a stunt. Instead of staying tight on the hip of the right guard when turning the corner, he comes a little wider running into the center on his way to the quarterback. This speed bump is enough to slow the rookie down for a fraction of second before hitting Tannehill.

Then there’s the plays where Key just looked like a very young NFL player. Again lined up on the right side of the screen, Key reads run first before peeling back towards the quarterback who is rolling out of the pocket. Key is twice as athletic as Josh Rosen and this should be an easy win in the open field. Instead Rosen uses a pump fake and when Key leaves his feet to attempt to bat the pass, he loses his footing when landing and allows the quarterback to get away again.

This is an example the officials taking a sack away from Key. Lined up on the left side of the screen the rookie pass rusher uses a speed rush to get around the tackle before lowering his center of gravity and doing an impressive job of turning the corner. Officially this pressure goes down as an incomplete pass but the replay clearly shows Key’s hand knocking the ball loose before the Pittsburg quarterback completes the throwing motion. This should have been a strip sack for Key, luckily the Raiders get an interception on the very next play.

Now there are definitely times when Key’s lack of strength showed it affected his ability to get off pass blockers and bring the quarterback down. Key is lined up on the left side of the screen and again is called upon to loop inside on a stunt. He can improve his technique here when choosing to go opposite A gap vs the center who slides his way in protection. But when Keenum climbs the pocket we see Key struggle to disengage from his blocker. He does manage to get off in time to get a hand on Keenum but can’t hold on.

Key probably thinks about this play often. He has the eventual NFL MVP dead to rights but can’t get him down in time to notch a sack. The offense is in a 5 man protection and the tackle has to allow Arden Key to come free to protect inside first. In this scheme it’s on the quarterback to account for the free rusher. Key needs to prove he’s the type of player that will punish teams for running this type of play.

I couldn’t quite find 13 clear cut examples of a play where Key should have had a sack, but it’s obvious the player is capable of creating pressure on the passer. Even if he were just able to turn the above clips into sacks that would have upped his sack total to 6 on the season. Key’s stature and explosion makes him a perfect 4-3 end in Paul Guenther’s scheme. If he gains some strength and better technique he should be poised for a break out season in 2019 and silence his doubters.