Ben Roethlisberger's ability to perform under a heavy pass rush remains critical to Pittsburgh's offensive success.
20 Feb 2013
by Matt Waldman
As a football fan, odds are high that you at least had a brief love affair with professional wrestling. Mine lingered a while. It was an obsession lasting long enough that when I think of defensive ends, they remind me of the ultimate "heels" from professional wrestling promotions: big, bad, freakish athletes capable of putting an end to their opponents with one swift and powerful move.
It’s no coincidence that Bruiser Brody and Superstar Billy Graham, who starred as collegiate defensive ends -- and had brief NFL careers -- fit the mold perfectly. This is because defensive ends embody the essence of what it means to be the "heel." They’re the opponents you love to hate and secretly want to cheer. It's the feeling that you're doing something wrong, which is what also makes it so right.
Florida State’s Bjoern Werner and Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore are two collegiate defensive ends in this draft with the potential to join the ranks of NFL heels. Both juniors are in the range of 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds, both are early-round prospects noted for their athleticism, and both possess the upside to develop into technically capable 4-3 pass rushers and run defenders.
Although regarded among many as one-two in this class of defensive ends, the difference in potential is starker than their standing in most pre-draft positional rankings. The similarities these players share with physical dimensions, roles in scheme, and pre-draft grades also make it worthwhile to profile these two ends side-by-side.
Moore has all the physical traits to develop into an NFL starter, but I prefer both Werner’s current skill and his future upside. Werner can become a special player, and I think it becomes more apparent when using Moore as a foil for comparison.
This play from Moore (1:09 mark until the replay ends at 1:26) against Florida is a good example of Moore's strengths and weaknesses as a pass rusher.
The best part about Moore on this play is his consistent effort and closing speed. Despite getting chipped, losing the battle with the left tackle, and then redirecting to the center, Moore's intensity remains high throughout the play. His closing burst, constant motor, and NFL-caliber physical skills are why Moore has a future in a team's rotation in a 4-3.
Watch the play again and you'll also see some of Moore's flaws. The A&M end isn't the first off the line on this play -- the left defensive tackle wins that honor -- and his not-quite-electric get-off needs improvement. I'd like to see him display a little more anticipation in this area.
At the same time, Moore's first two steps are good enough to get him deeper into the offensive backfield than any of his teammates. The true problem here is his pad level: his shoulders are so high during his first two steps that he presents a great target for the left tackle to deliver a punch and receive a chip from the slot tight end.
The best way to prevent a long-armed offensive tackle from using his hands is to prevent the lineman from having surface area to hit. Moore is knocked backwards after the punch and is forced to redirect his efforts inside. This time Moore uses his hands well enough to ward off the center and chase down the quarterback.
While Moore finishes this play, defensive ends are coveted for their ability to start the trouble by constricting and ultimately collapsing the pocket from the outside. This is where Florida State's Werner demonstrates greater consistency as an edge rusher than Moore. A good example is this play against Wake Forest (2:39 to 2:54).
Werner's get-off is terrific and it's a consistent high point of his game. He's ahead of the line of scrimmage before the rest of his teammates. Like Moore, Werner's pads are higher than you want to see from an edge rusher, but his initial burst is so good that he's forcing the action to the edge and this gives him room to adjust the angle of his rush.
While Moore faced a left tackle and a chip from the tight end in the highlight above, whereas Werner draws a right tackle on an island, the difference in speed is still easy to see. At the 2:50 mark, you can also see Werner display some nice handiwork to swat away the tackle's hands and then bend his hips and pads at a nice angle to get the corner.
His ability to work around and under the lineman on his way to the quarterback and the technique behind it is something that my buddy Jene Bramel does a good job of highlighting in a blog post about Jason Pierre-Paul's edge-rushing technique.
Here's another play showcasing Werner's skill off the edge, this one against a left tackle where he's a step past the line of scrimmage before his teammates have done more than leave their three-point stance (0:35-0:40).
Note how Werner starts high, gets his inside arm into the tackle, and dips under while taking a good angle around the tackle with a bend of his hips. He doesn't reach the quarterback, but the technique is consistent. This is the kind of fast start that I don't see as often from Moore.
Even when I do, Moore's skill to use his hands and work angles aren't as refined as Werner's. This play with Moore over the left tackle from 1:26-1:31 is a good example.
Moore is the first off the line among his teammates and forces the tackle to the edge with a good burst, but he doesn't close the gap on the defender. Instead, he tries to beat the tackle to the quarterback without contact.
When Moore begins his turn, the tackle gets his arms on the end and pushes the defender outside the path to the quarterback. If Moore attacks the defender, he would have taken a sharper angle to the quarterback and it would have accounted for some of the push he would have taken from the tackle during the engagement. Moore could also use his hands to gain leverage and work under the tackle without the opponent disrupting his path.
One of the things I like about Moore is his ability to rush the inside or employ a bull rush. He's a not a huge end, but he's a quick-striker with strength and he often uses these skills to his advantage.
Moore shifts to the inside shoulder of the right tackle before the snap and slants off the line to the guard as the play begins. He strikes the guard and generates a push into the backfield that ends with him crossing the face of the guard and wrapping the quarterback at the legs as his teammate, No. 11, cleans up.
The replay provides a more dramatic view of Moore's initial strike of the guard. You can see Moore lifting the lineman off his feet, which earns him the angle inside to the quarterback.
Werner also does a strong job of using his hands. Here's a stunt from left end that results in a sack where the Seminoles defender's hands are more notable for their coordination than their power.
Whether or not he even deserves credit for a sack here is missing the nuance of what Werner does on this play. The replay provides a nice close-up of Werner alternating the use of his hands to split the guard and fullback while maintaining enough space to move into position to help clean up the play.
It's a finesse play, but he doesn't give either the guard or fullback a direct angle on this stunt. In fact, there's barely any real contact. The reason I show it is that Werner naturally uses his hands to operate in tight quarters in a way that's habitual compared to other ends in this class.
Here's a more traditional display of Werner's handiwork that combines power and finesse against the run.
He does a good job getting his hands inside the defender's pads, generating a push, and then ripping the defender aside to get a downhill angle on the back. While he misses the runner, his angle forces the back to the sideline and out of bounds.
Like Moore, strength will not be an issue. Werner does a solid job of standing up the right tackle on this second-and-3 run against N.C. State that funnels the running back inside.
The punch and drive upward looks like a sled drill. He also promptly sheds the tackle to get inside position if needed.
Werner is smart about using his hands to impede passing lanes. Many linemen will get their hands up when they accept that they can't generate a push on a play. However, Werner knows to throw them up when he's closing on the passer.
Both Moore and Werner offer NFL teams enough talent and skill to eventually break into a defensive rotation. Each player is good at maintaining backside gap principles as run defenders and they are sure tacklers. They have the strength, speed, and motor to succeed as pass rushers.
Moore flashes more potential as a pass rusher on stunts and twists because of the strength of his punch and closing speed. Werner is a better edge rusher because he has a greater arsenal of techniques with his hands and does a better job of bending at his hips to create sharp corners around linemen. I also think Werner has the better burst off the line.
I understand why Werner is considered a first-round prospect. I believe Moore is more of a second- or third-round prospect. I know he can contribute against right tackles, but he might need more time to become a threat against the top bodyguards of most NFL quarterbacks.
In fact, there's a good argument to be made that Moore might be a better fit as a strong side linebacker. When a thought like this works its way into the equation, the difference between No. 1 and No. 2 in the defensive end tier is starker than many realize.
Matt Waldman authors the Rookie Scouting Portfolio, an online publication devoted to play-by-play analysis of offensive skill position prospects. Now in its eighth year of publication, the RSP provides pre- and post-draft rankings, analysis, and stylistic comparisons. Waldman also includes all of his play-by-play notes, grading reports, and a glossary that defines and explains his grading criteria. The RSP is available for download every April 1 and 10 percent of each sale is donated to Darkness to Light, a non-profit devoted to preventing sexual abuse in communities across the country.
14 comments, Last at 21 Feb 2013, 5:52pm by robert ethan