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07 Nov 2013

Word of Muth: Kryptonite X of Great Shame

by Ben Muth

Welcome back to another edition of Word of Muth. Regular readers may have noticed that this column was absent from the rotation last week -- I apologize, sometimes these things happen. I’ll try to make that the last miss of the season. This week we'll take another look at the Bengals, examining what went right and what went wrong against the Dolphins last Thursday night.

The Bengals offensive line played pretty well. Cameron Wake gave the right side of their line problems in pass protection, but for the most part I would say Cincinnati won the battle up front. It wasn’t the sharpest game I’ve seen them play, but the Bengals probably would have won if not for some costly turnovers. Really though, I came away with three main takeaways.

1. The Bengals have three serviceable tackles ranging from "really good" to "above-average"

This may not seem like a big deal, but in a league where there are about 40 tackles that seem to be good at their jobs, one team having three is a minor miracle. Most people reading this column are probably aware that Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith are both good players. They're probably the best tackle tandem in the league this year now that Sebastian Vollmer’s season is done. So instead I want to focus on Cincinnati’s third tackle, Anthony Collins.

Collins is a sixth-year pro from Kansas who has been with Cincinnati since they drafted him in the fourth round of the 2008 draft. He has turned into a very effective tackle -- particularly as a pass blocker -- despite never being a full time starter. His game kind of reminds of me Kansas City’s Branden Albert. Both are athletic, but in kind of awkward-looking ways. You watch them play, and after a couple of quarters you can’t believe they haven’t been beaten more. It seems like they constantly put themselves in bad positions only to re-position themselves at the last moment and make the block. Here’s an example from last Thursday’s game.

At the snap, Collins gets a good initial set. He’s well-balanced and has created distance so he can react to the defender. His hands are too low (which is probably his worst habit as a pass blocker) but overall he’s in good shape off the ball.
Where he gets in trouble is when the rusher makes a hard inside move. You can see in the third frame that Collins' feet are too close together, he’s leading with his head, and he has absolutely zero separation. It’s a terrible position to be in, especially considering the rest of the line was sliding away from him.

But somehow Collins repositions his outside hand right under the defender's armpit and just lifts him off-balance and into a pile inside. It doesn’t look that great in stills, but it was impressive on tape. He’s really in bad shape in that third frame, Half a second later he’s throwing the rusher ass-over-teakettle. It’s one of those plays that you want to credit to luck, but he recovers like this often enough where you have to just concede it as a skill, like a bad ball hitter in baseball or Shawn Marion’s runner in basketball. It’s ugly, and it makes you shake your head, but it gets the job done.

It'll be interesting to see what kind of interest Collins gets on the open market. He’s set to be a free agent at the end of the year and I imagine there are enough teams out there with a need at left tackle that he will be an attractive target. I could certainly see him getting something like a four-year, $15 million dollar deal. That would be tough for Cincinnati to match for a third tackle.

2. Kevin Zeitler’s punch has become a problem

I’m still a big fan of Kevin Zeitler. He can flat-out move people in the running game. For me, if there’s one thing that separates the really good guards from the serviceable ones, it's the ability to move a 325-pound man backwards against his will. Zeitler can still do that. His problem is that he hardly ever punches in pass protection.

When it comes to his pass set, Zeitler far too often will lunge with the crown of his helmet and leave himself vulnerable to quick lateral moves or arm-overs. It’s something I’ve mentioned in the past. I chalked it up simply as a young guy being over-aggressive at the time. My concern now is that he has stopped lunging at guys with his head, but he still isn’t using his hands. Now, instead of firing out too much, he’s overcorrected. He is playing too far back on his heels and is catching everything.

This is from the game-deciding safety. Look at how high Zeitler is when he makes contact with Wake. Notice how far off the ground his outside foot is in that second frame. This is just about as close to being literally on your heels as you’ll see for an offensive lineman. He’s in trouble right away because he’s too high to generate any power from his legs, so when he catches rather than punches, he has no chance. If you can’t anchor because you’re straight-legged, and you can’t shock a defender because you don’t punch, you really are just kind of standing in the way.

Any separation being created here is coming from Wake. Look at where Wake's hand is: right in Zeitler’s arm pit. That’s great hand placement by Wake in frame three, and terrible hand use by Zeitler. The only way Zeitler is using his hands at all is illegally to Wake’s face.

Wake continued to lift Zeitler’s inside arm from the pit and all Zeitler could do was lean on him like a drunk on a lamp post. Unfortunately, Wake is much quicker than your standard lamp post, so Zeitler ends up doing his Superman impersonation. That led him right into the first ever Kryptonite Green X of Great Shame.

Down the line, though, you'll see another example of Collins recovering late on the edge. In the third frame he’s in terrible shape: he’s completely straight-legged and his arms are outside the defender’s frame. (Some of Cincinnati's straight-leg issues can likely be attributed to fatigue, given it was an overtime game on Thursday.) But if you look in the fourth frame you can see Collins replaced his hand on the defender’s elbow. Collins then lifts the rusher’s arm up and ends up holding his point just short of Andy Dalton. It wasn’t ideal, but he did enough to keep Dalton clean had Cameron Wake not been there.

3. Giovani Bernard is electric

By now I assume most of you have seen Giovani Bernard's touchdown run in the third quarter. The one where he takes a toss, reverses his field, and makes just about every single Miami defender miss at some point. On that play, A.J. Green missed a block at the point of attack, Tyler Eifert missed a block on the same guy Green missed, also at the point of attack. (I think Green tried to block the wrong guy.) Nobody even tried to block the middle linebacker. Really, just about everything that could go wrong for the Bengals, went wrong. And they ended up with a long touchdown run because Bernard treated the Dolphins like a bunch of high schoolers. I know this isn’t exactly the nuanced analysis I typically aim to provide, but the fact that Bernard isn’t getting 75 percent of the snaps at running back is dumb enough that I had to check and make sure Todd Haley wasn’t involved.

That does it for this week. Next week, we'll be doing something different, looking at a unit that isn’t one of the three teams I regularly cover here. It’s an offensive line that went from being horrendous in 2012 to being monstrous midway through 2013 and I’m looking forward to examining some reasons why.

Follow Ben on Twitter at @FO_WordOfMuth

Posted by: Ben Muth on 07 Nov 2013

9 comments, Last at 14 Nov 2013, 6:59pm by theslothook

Comments

1
by Crunch (not verified) :: Thu, 11/07/2013 - 2:52pm

Ben, I would be very interested to hear your opinion on Jonathan Martin of the Dolphins as a player. How good is this kid?

2
by dryheat :: Thu, 11/07/2013 - 4:20pm

"It’s an offensive line that went from being horrendous in 2012 to being monstrous midway through 2013"

That could explain the Bears of the Chargers (the clever wordplay suggests the former), and in both cases I suspect a better scheme is the reason. Either way, I can't wait to read.

3
by theslothook :: Thu, 11/07/2013 - 4:25pm

I actually would like ben in one or two stills to show us the proper blocking technique from a guard when its strictly one on one. I can't tell if a guard should give up ground and then be in catching mode...should they fire right at the guy in front or some combination?

6
by Eric (not verified) :: Fri, 11/08/2013 - 3:20pm

I didn't play guard but I'll take a shot at your question. You really don't want to go in with a plan of catching someone. If that's your plan, you are going to get bullrushed (and guards get bullrushed more then tackles do). As a guard you generally have less verticle flexibility then a tackle - if you give much ground your own butt is going to move the QB off his spot. On the other hand, your opponent has a lot less horizontal flexibility for swim or spin moves before he gets in his teammates way or runs into the center or something. If you fire out and miss on a swim move, being in the middle of the line gives you a bit more latitude to grab the defender. Also, going against a DT vs a DE means you are less likely to get scorched by a slick move on first contact. Your man is playing run first on all but the most obvious passing downs. So those two factors combine to make it a bit more permissible to fire out a little bit more then a tackle does. You don't want to over do it. Basically the fundamentals are the same (butt down two hand punch inside) but it's less of a stylized dance and more two fat kids mugging each other in a phone booth.

8
by MJ_Halevi (not verified) :: Mon, 11/11/2013 - 6:45pm

On Blocking as a Guard: I played guard and center at an FCS level school.

Whether you're a tackle, guard, or center, in pass blocking, the trick is moving backward to buy space while being able to set your feet and punch when the defender gets to you. I will break it down into 2 parts (the answer to your Q at the end)

Moving backward:
A lineman has a back foot (kick foot) and a front foot (post foot)--the front foot is always the inside foot (the foot nearest the center--a center has some leeway to choose which way foot he wishes to have as his kick foot, which doesn't compensate for starting the play with his hand b/t his legs). In general the feet are shoulder width apart with the post foot about a foot or two in front of the kick foot. If a guard's post foot drops behind the back foot, he's dead and will earn a Green X of shame as above. A good set usually involved 'kicking' back with the back foot and then moving the post foot back to the same position. If a rusher is lined up inside the lineman, he will often take a lateral post step to start the play paired with an earlier punch.
Which brings us to:

Punching (or striking):
The real skill of O-Line passblocking is in being able to move backwards and laterally fast enough, mirroring the guy in front of you followed by deliver a big strike or punch to stop his momentum. Good technique has the OLineman's hands starting about chest level, and around his numbers. At the proper time you punch out towards the other guys chest (one hand under each arm, just outside each number for a pure textbook punch) followed by using that momentum to get separation as you sit back in your stance and lock the defender down. When the guy across from you is the strength of a Sheldon Richardson or a speedy Geno Atkins, this is a very tall order.
The real key to any kind of passable punch is getting both feet set(at least the back foot) followed by hitting the defender anywhere in the side or chest with enough momentum to knock him off his trajectory towards your QB.
Sometimes guys will 'catch' the guy. This is bad, its when instead of delivering a punch that knocks him off course, your hands are (often) in the right place but without any force at all, its kinda like catching a human size baseball. A really huge OLineman with athletic feet can get away this on occassion if the other guy isn't good, but 'catching' all to often = QB getting hit. If an Olineman starts with his hands too far outside his body (as in frame 2 above), or too low, it makes it harder to deliver a good punch.

As a guard:
As a guard there is alot less space to work with than a tackle. The benefit is that you don't need to worry about wide speed rushers, and the tight space helps neutralize certain talents (e.g. Von Miller or Aldon Smith running at WR speed). The disadvantage is that when you lose you're right next to the QB, and if the D has their druthers, the guy a guard/center is up against will likely be stronger and good at power moves (and likely fast off the ball, see Cian Fahey's film room on Calais Campbell). Even when a guard stops a guy, if he gives up too much space, the pocket will not be clean (making a good punch key). Guards almost never have the option that tackles do of turning/shotputting edge guys out of the screen past the QB, due to space; when you're a guard, the guy in front of you needs to stay in front of you.
In Zeitler's case, as a powerful guard blocking a very quick Cameron Wake in a short space, he needs to take a quick 2 steps back to set his feet (his first step towards the defenders alignment, the second mirroring the defenders first move). And then, with his feet planted, a bit back from the ball PUNCH Mr. Wake to shock him off his trajectory. For a guy as buff as Zeitler, the difference between a catch (where he just gets in the way, but doesn't strike him) and a punch, is the difference between being Cameron Wake taking a hit with Mike Tyson force or Andy Dalton being smoked by Cameron Wake. With mediocre hand placement, or mediocre feet placement, a powerful punch can often buy enough time to get off a play by sheer force of stopping/changing the DL's momentum.

9
by theslothook :: Thu, 11/14/2013 - 6:59pm

Thanks, this was great and very helpful.

4
by Oak (not verified) :: Thu, 11/07/2013 - 4:35pm

"It’s an offensive line that went from being horrendous in 2012 to being monstrous midway through 2013 and I’m looking forward to examining some reasons why."

Niiiiiice.

5
by Neffarias_Bredd :: Thu, 11/07/2013 - 5:37pm

Maybe we get to find out why FO considers Kyle Long OROY through the first half of the season.

7
by Jimmy :: Sat, 11/09/2013 - 12:09pm

I love me some Word of Muth, I really do but the question of why the Bears line has improved is less interesting than it could have been. They swapped four of the linemen, the TE and the FB, along with replacing the head coach, offensive scheme and the offensive coordinator (and line coach). That is a fairly traditional route to improvement; it isn't as though they coached up Webb, Racial, Louis and Kellen Davis, they got better players and coaches all across the board.