by Ben Muth
Welcome back to Word of Muth. Last week we looked at a couple of different pass rush moves and how they beat offensive linemen. Because that went so well, we’re doing the exact same thing this week. Let’s start with Von Miller.
Last week, I said that I thought get-off was a little overrated for pass rushers, like straight-ahead speed for running backs. I think you need to be above a certain threshold, but that there isn’t much difference between the eighth-fastest running back and the 38th. That being said, there are a few guys that are so fast that it completely changes the dynamic of the game for them, and Miller’s get-off is the pass-rush equivalent of functional 4.2 speed.
That’s from the TV tape, and it illustrates how Miller is moving at a different speed than the rest of the game. In the first shot, you can see that Miller is already crossing the line of scrimmage before Philip Rivers even has the ball. He’s the only Denver defensive lineman to have done so that quickly.
In the second picture, Miller has stopped to give a head-fake inside against Jeromey Clary. He’s already four yards past the line of scrimmage. That’s obviously further than any Broncos defensive lineman, but since they’re just rushing defensive tackles, it’s not that impressive. But look at the Chargers wide receivers.
San Diego’s wideouts have to look at the ball for the cadence just like Miller, and none of them have moved more than two yards in the time that Miller has moved five. They are all right on the line of scrimmage while Miller is deep in the backfield. That’s what "exploding off the ball" looks like, now let’s see what it does to an offensive tackle.
This is the coaches film from the same play. I do not know why the first frame is so much brighter than the rest. In the first frame, we take up just where we left off from the TV copy, with Miller head-faking Clary inside.
When you play against a guy like Miller, you have to sell out to stop his speed rush. He consistently gets off the ball so well that if you aren’t kicking back as hard as possible, he’s going to simply run around you for a couple of sacks. So, that’s what Clary is doing, he’s kicking back at Warp 10 and does a nice job of cutting Miller off.
When Miller gives just the slightest head-fake, things go south for the tackle. Clary has to try to stop all of his backward momentum and close down on an inside move. He actually does this as well, but now there’s a problem: both men are essentially stopped in their tracks at the top of the rush, and whoever can get restarted quicker is going win.
When Miller starts going upfield again, Clary’s feet just can’t get going. The tackle has gone from full-speed backwards to a dead stop, and his feet just can’t handle another command from his brain right now. They lock up and stick in the ground. All Clary can do now is reach for Miller and hope he can grab hold of him until his feet can catch up to him.
As Clary reaches (slowly mind you), Miller simply clubs his hands down. It’s not a violent or sudden club, but it doesn’t matter. Because Clary hasn’t been able to move his feet, he has zero balance. When he misses Miller, he falls flat on his face. All he can do now is watch as Miller sack Rivers and forces a fumble in the process.
Technically, the move that won for Miller was clubbing Clary’s hands down. But really it was his get-off that made the whole thing work. I guess sometimes speed really does kill. (/Puts on sunglasses. YEAHHHHHH!)
Moving on, we stay with another member of the 2011 draft class, J.J. Watt. (Side note: that 2011 defensive class looks pretty strong with Watt, Miller, Aldon Smith, Patrick Peterson, and Richard Sherman, no?) Watt is the first guy featured that I would consider an interior rusher. He plays defensive end, but never gets wider than a slight outside shade on an offensive tackle. In fact, that’s where he’s lined up in the play I want to look at.
Watt beats Jeff Linkenbach with a jab/swim move here. Before we get into the specifics of this particular jab/swim, I want to briefly acknowledge the master, John Randle. I had a coach that had a Randle highlight tape, and it was just sack after sack of Randle killing guys with this move. I wanted to find a clip of Randle doing it for the column, but alas the internet isn't so great at finding past video yet. Still, Watt’s is pretty damn good here.
Linkenbach takes a very small step with his outside foot first. That’s what you usually do against a guy lined up just outside of you, but with the linebacker creeping down like he was going to blitz, it may have been smarter for Linkenbach to set inside.
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Because Linkenbach a) set outside, and b) isn’t very good, he has a hard time adjusting to Watt’s hard inside step. Notice that his knee is outside of his foot in the second frame. Because his knee is so wide, his foot is going to have to swing back outside of it, like a pendulum. This is called "rolling over your foot," and means you are about to take a very long and very slow step inside.
Look at how wide Linkenbach’s base is in the third frame. It’s not good. With a base that wide, you just can’t move effectively. Since he can’t move his feet, he has to lean out and reach for Watt just like Clary tried to reach for Miller.
Because Linkenbach is leaning forward as he’s reaching (and because of Watt's long arms), Watt is able to grab the back of the tackle's shoulder pad. That’s the death blow. If a defensive lineman ever gets the back of your pads you’re done. It’s why offensive linemen work so hard to keep an uncomfortable arch in the back and neck as the pass set, and why arm length is so important at the combine. You have to keep distance between the defender and your shoulders.
Once Watt gets the back of the shoulder, he just swims and pulls himself through, and there’s nothing Linkenbach can do. It looks like the Colts may luck out here in the sense that Vick Ballard is coming to pick up the blitzing linebacker and runs into Watt on the way. On top of that, since Watt seems to be freelancing, the Texans have two rushers in the same hole, so Linkenbach falls into the linebacker after he’s beat by Watt.
The first two sacks showed how defenders can take advantage of their own natural quickness and the lack of agility shared by a lot of offensive linemen. A lot of sacks are the result of a defensive linemen tying up an offensive linemen’s feet. But the best way to get a sack doesn’t require physically beating some 320-pound guy. Let’s go to the tape to see Jason Pierre-Paul show us how it’s done.
The key is to have someone blocking you that doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing. (No surprise, this is usually a "skill" guy.) Here, Pierre-Paul is matched up with Niles Paul, a backup tight end. The Redskins are running a heavy run-action play-fake, and Paul is the only guy blocking to the backside.
For some reason, young "skill" guys have a hard time grasping the concept that they should prepare for the worst-case scenario. In this case, that’s Pierre-Paul not biting on the run fake at all and flying upfield towards Robert Griffin. Paul takes an angle that suggests he assumed JPP would bite hard on the play-fake and be very shallow when Paul got there. Really, assumptions like this are responsible for about half* of all sacks.
The worst-case scenario happened. Pierre-Paul rushed straight upfield, Paul tried to throw a laughable cut at Pierre-Paul in desperation, and the result was a sack and a terrible dance. I feel like doing a dance after going essentially unblocked should be a fineable offense. That's like basketball players screaming and pounding their chests after making a free throw. If the dance is based off an internet meme, the fine should automatically double.
Since I’m not the commissioner, I can’t hurt JPP’s wallet. But I can hurt his pride! That’s why I’m taking particular glee in this week’s X of Great Shame.
*-This is a rough estimate based on trying to discredit defensive linemen.