Quarterbacks at Risk Against Unrelenting Defenses

So what's goin' down, man, in the first month of the NFL season?

Quarterbacks.

And they're hitting the deck at an alarming rate.

Through the first three weeks of the 2006 campaign, defenses have stormed the pocket mercilessly, pillaging punch-drunk passers at a near-record pace.

And while the savage sack attack hasn't knocked out many quarterbacks -- the severe concussion sustained by Kansas City's Trent Green came while he was out of the pocket, and no one can really identify the precise hit that left Tampa Bay's Chris Simms with a ruptured spleen -- some league observers fear that the bludgeoning, if unabated, will eventually take its toll on the game's highest-profile position.

"Guys are definitely getting sacked at a pretty scary rate," conceded Detroit quarterback Jon Kitna, who had been sacked an average of 30.2 times in his five previous seasons as a starter, but who is now on pace to go down 48 times in 2006.

How scary? Through three weeks, a stretch that includes 46 games, defenses have rung up 227 sacks, or an average of 4.93 sacks per contest. That's a 7.6 percent increase over the first three weeks of the 2005 season. Project those numbers over the course of the '06 season, and it would total 1,263 sacks, or 67 more than the highest number recorded since the league adopted a 256-game schedule in 2002.

Fittingly, that was the season in which the expansion Houston Texans, a franchise that has surrendered a mind-blowing 2.91 sacks per game in its brief but badly bruised history, entered the league. The Texans list their official colors as "deep steel blue, battle red and liberty white," but try convincing an embattled David Carr, who has been sacked 10 times in three games, that they aren't simply black and blue.

"If we can't [protect Charlie Frye] any better," acknowledged Cleveland Browns coach Romeo Crennel, whose young starter has been sacked a dozen times in three outings, "we will be talking about another quarterback [soon]."

At least in the second game of the season, a Sept. 17 defeat at Cincinnati, Frye got a break, as the Bengals failed to sack the second-year veteran even once. But sandwiched around that one-week respite were games in which Frye was sacked five times (versus New Orleans) and seven times (against Baltimore). Dating back to 2005, Frye has been sacked 34 times in the first eight starts of his career.

His tough hide aside, that's not the kind of "Survivor" game in which Frye, or any other quarterback for that matter, wants to be an unwitting and unprotected contestant. But unless offensive coordinators soon devise a way to staunch the pass-rush schemes their units have faced in the first three weeks, there might not be many able-bodied guys left on the NFL island to play quarterback.

Take that many hits, and bloodied eventually leads to bowed, and bowed translates into substandard play at a position whose performance is generally the most essential component to success. Historically, in most wars of attrition, it is characteristically the party under siege that runs up the white flag. The banner for NFL quarterbacks in 2006 might be a white flag with a red cross sewn on it.

Embroidered with the exacting handiwork of surgical stitches.

At the current pace, this will be the most sack-happy season since 2000, when the league averaged 4.97 sacks per contest.

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