Word of Muth
Dive into the details of offensive line play with a former all-PAC-10 left tackle

Word of Muth: From the Ashes

Word of Muth: From the Ashes
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Ben Muth

When I was picking teams to cover this year, the Falcons' offensive line was supposed to be a bit of a failsafe. It was a veteran group on a team that should have been in the playoff hunt. But at 4-4 and looking up at two teams in the division, Atlanta is on the verge of falling out of contention. They've had a banged up offensive line (left guard Andy Levitre will miss the rest of the year) that hasn't been nearly as solid as I was hoping it would be.

But this past Sunday, I saw the Falcons offense I was hoping for at the beginning of the season. They ran it effectively. They kept Matt Ryan really well protected. And Ryan found plenty of open receivers down the field. It was an explosive performance and has me looking forward to watching Atlanta the rest of the year.

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This was my favorite play of what was a really strong performance from the Falcons offensive line. This was actually the second long screen for a touchdown of the game for Atlanta. By this point in the game Atlanta had already moved the ball consistently on the ground and they were up big, so Washington was definitely geared up to stop the run. So this is a fun screen that was called at the perfect time.

Obviously Jake Matthews (70) at left tackle is the star here. He sells the run away, reverses course, and absolutely steamrolls Washington cornerback Josh Norman (24). Just a total bug-on-a-windshield situation. I know I always say to never block corners, but there are exceptions, and if you're going to block them there's no rule that says you cannot destroy them. Plays like this almost make up for every time a corner claps like he did something great when a quarterback overthrows an open receiver.

Left guard Wes Schweitzer's (71) block is less impressive, but when you have playmakers on the outside, getting in the way can be enough a lot of the time. Schweitzer also made a nice block on the Falcons' first screen where he threw a cut block on the safety. He didn't get him on the ground, but he made the defensive back jump out of the way and gave the runner a big lane to hit.

Two long touchdowns on screens are great for the game you're playing, but I think what might be most encouraging for the Falcons is how well they did just running their offense. It seemed like everything Atlanta did against Washington worked. In particular, I really think the Falcons' front five did a fine job picking up Redskins blitzes.

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The Redskins are playing games with the linebacker alignment to try to throw off the back's read. That's why I love what center Alex Mack (51) does. He does a great job of creating distance from the walked-up linebacker and making him declare a rush lane. A lot of guys will slow-play that linebacker thinking that they'll slow him down if he's coming straight ahead and make the back's block easier. But by messing around with a linebacker who might not be your man, you just make it harder for the running back (Tevin Coleman, 26) to tell who to block.

Here, Mack sets back and away and forces the linebacker to obviously declare what gap he's rushing (which turns out to be the gap that Mack is responsible for), and that makes Coleman's read crystal-clear. It may seem risky to move away from the guy you end up blocking, but Mack has been around long enough to know that defenses are coordinated and they aren't going to send both linebackers through the same gap. Great discipline by Mack (and Coleman stepping up and delivering a nice block) set up a big gain down the field.

via Gfycat

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Even when the Falcons weren't perfect in blitz protection, they bought just enough time to hurt the Redskins. This is what offensive line coaches call a dick'em stunt because it really screws up the protection the Falcons have here. The Falcons are in a half-slide and the Redskins run a game where they twist the defensive tackle on the man side of the protection (Jonathan Allen, 93) and the inside linebacker to the slide side (Josh Harvey-Clemons, 40). So the man side and zone side are forced to try to pass stuff off, which usually goes poorly. In fact, the looping linebacker will probably go unblocked 75 percent of the time with this blitz vs. this protection like he does here.

But look at how long he takes to get there. He starts deep so he doesn't give away the stunt pre-snap. He runs at the slide-side A-gap and Mack first to occupy Mack's attention so he can't bump the left guard off sooner. Then, he has to loop all the way back to the opposite B-gap. Everyone thinks of blitz pickups as blocking everyone forever, but a lot of the time that's just not feasible. People see six blockers for six rushers and are baffled how there can be a free rusher, but if you are strong in the five guys you do pickup and the unblocked guy is going to be the one with the longest path to the quarterback, you have a great shot to get the ball out. That's exactly what Ryan does here for a big gain.

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The blitz pickups were great, but the Falcons' running game was just about as good. I really liked Atlanta's use of motion throughout the game to out-leverage Washington's defense. Here, when they bring Julio Jones (11) across the formation, they get an extra blocker but Washington doesn't move their linebackers over. They roll their defensive backs, but they still just don't have enough bodies. This is a basic man-blocking play where the Falcons have three guys (left guard, left tackle, and tight end) to block three guys (defensive end, defensive tackle, linebacker) and they have better angles. Matthews and Schweitzer do a nice job on the double-team and Jones does a great job of folding inside to block the C-gap defensive back (Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, 20). Just a good football play.

via Gfycat

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The Falcons' ground success wasn't all good blocking, I thought the Redskins' gap integrity was shaky at times as well. In this case I'm not sure if linebacker Mason Foster (54) or Allen at nose tackle is screwed up, but they both seem to be playing the same A-gap. If Allen slants like that, Foster has to get to the opposite A-gap way quicker.

It doesn't help when you combine that mental error with getting beat at defensive end. The defensive end (Preston Smith, 94) and linebacker at least seem to be on the same page; one slants, the other fills the gap the first guy vacated. But Matthews does a great job of redirecting upfield and cutting off Smith before he can get into the B-gap. So now the Redskins are without anyone in the A- or B-gap to the offense's left, and that's a recipe for an easy 16-yard run.


4 comments, Last at 10 Jan 2019, 3:39am

1 Re: Word of Muth: From the Ashes

Always a pleasure and an education to read your stuff.
I'm curious as to your opinion about the role coaching plays when it comes to individual player performance, especially now with less prep time and players coming out of college trained for different roles. Who do you think the best coaches are for developing individual talent?

3 Re: Word of Muth: From the Ashes

I always say to never block corners, but there are exceptions

I assume that the exceptions mainly involve plays where the ballcarrier isn't considerably bigger/stronger than the CB in question. So, if there's a 230lb RB with a full head of steam, leaving a 190lb CB unblocked is probably fine, but a 200lb WR might need some help getting through. And I assume that another exception is when a CB is a blitzer. Are there any other big exceptions to that rule?

4 Re: Word of Muth: From the Ashes

Late to the party, but corner blitzes are usually on the RB to pick up, or the QB to throw "hot" at whatever hole just opened up in coverage. If you drop the end of the line (4-3 DE, 3-4 OLB) usually your best pass rusher, the OT will have nothing to do but widen the CB blitz. He might not be fleet of foot enough to fully block him, but he can widen him enough to buy time for the slot or TE to get open vs a dropping lineman. That's why almost every CB blitz involves an "overload" - a standard pass rush will occupy the OT, and the CB hopes to sneak past without either the QB or RB noticing. Usually they compensate by shifting the zone around towards the blitzer, and drop the **opposite** typical pass rusher.

TLDR O-linemen don't block corner blitzes.