by Ben Muth
The past two weeks I’ve broken down a few different pass rush moves. I looked at how they give offensive linemen trouble, and what the linemen could’ve done differently to stop them. It was really fun, and I thought both columns turned out well, but there was just too much defensive success for my taste. So, this week, rather than tell you how an offensive lineman can win, I’m going to show you.
I watched the Week 16 game between the Broncos and Browns figuring that between Joe Thomas and Ryan Clady, I would have plenty of plays to choose from. It didn’t take long for me to find a play with Clady putting on a pass-blocking clinic.
The Broncos scored on their opening drive when Peyton Manning found Demaryius Thomas for a 22-yard touchdown. Denver lined up with Manning in the shotgun and no backs in the backfield. The Cleveland defensive line had to know that they were passing, and could probably guess it wasn’t going to be a roll-out. Basically: the Browns defense had to be in full pass-rush mode.
Clady is arrowed in the first frame. The left guard and center are working together on the defensive tackle, so Clady is matched up one-on-one with defensive end Billy Winn.
The first thing that jumps out is how quickly Clady kicks wide to Winn in the second frame. Look at the distance Clady has put between himself and Manning since the snap. Because of his quickness, Clady is able to kick wider and flatter than most offensive tackles without worrying about rushers beating him around the edge.
Also, notice Clady’s hand position in the second frame. They’re not down by his waist, they’re up by his chest and ready to punch as soon Winn gets in range. When you combine that with good knee-bend and a perfect inside-out relationship, Clady has set himself up for success right from the start.
In the third frame you can see Winn start his pass-rush move. He’s going with a swipe/arm-over move. That means he wants to come across his body with his outside arm in a clubbing motion, then follow it with a quick miniature swim move with his inside arm to finish through the blocker.
Because Clady’s initial set was great, Clady’s punch is quick, straight, and lands right in Winn’s chest before Winn can swipe Clady’s hands away. What I love is how much speed and force Clady delivers without any windup. His hands shot straight out from his chest like two cobras striking. Be sure to note Clady’s base: it is wide enough to give him an anchor to punch from, but not too wide that he won’t be able to move after the punch. Really, I just love everything about Clady in frames two and three. Yes, I said love, don’t make it weird.
Winn may not be a household name, but he is an NFL player and isn’t going to curl into the fetal position just because he got stuck in his numbers with a punch. He continues his swipe in frame four and succeeds in knocking Clady’s hands off him.
Still, Clady’s in great shape. He got a nice wide set initially and his punch knocked Winn even wider off his course to Manning. Even though Winn knocked his hands down, Clady has plenty of space to recover. With the initial move stopped, it becomes a race to get your hands on the defender again.
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Clady does that well by using a one-handed punch with his outside arm. It’s obviously not going to be as powerful as a two-handed punch, but it’s quicker and is generally more accurate, which is exactly what you want when you’re replacing your hands after they were knocked down. Clady lands his one hand right on the shoulder pad to try and raise Winn up, so the defender can’t lean into pass rush and shorten the edge.
In frame three, Winn feels that and tries to rip through Clady’s arm so he can keep leaning into him to turn the corner. Clady responds by putting his right hand on Winn’s back so he can turn and drive block him past the quarterback. This is the first time Clady’s head has been past his feet in the duration of this play, which is once again exactly what you want from an offensive tackle.
By the time Manning is releasing the ball in frame four, Winn is two yards deeper than he was in frame three, and Manning has stepped up further into the pocket. Winn tries to spin back inside hoping to get a late pressure on Manning. Like Winn, Clady can’t see Manning throwing the ball, so he has to keep blocking.
When Clady feels Winn stop to spin inside, he continues the clinic. He re-sinks his hips, gets his head out of the block, and bench presses Winn away from his body. Once again, this gives him space so that he can mirror Winn’s move back inside.
It’s a great job by Clady on what turned out to be a long touchdown for the Broncos. Writing about plays like this are why I enjoy working with Football Outsiders so much. Manning’s throw was great, and Thomas’ catch was great, but instead I get to focus exclusively on Ryan Clady’s pass-block technique, which really was just as great. Not every website’s readers have as much appreciation for some of the finer details of the game.
And that’s going to wrap up this week’s column. I’m thinking this is what the column will be like for the rest of the offseason: I’ll pick one or two plays a week and give them an in-depth breakdown. Sometimes it will be individual pass blocking or rushing, other times it will be blitzes or blitz pickups. The goal will just be to just find good football from all around the league. If you have any suggestions for plays, please leave them in the comments, shoot me an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), or tweet them at me.