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

Word of Muth: Star Wars

Word of Muth: Star Wars
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Ben Muth

In my last column I mentioned that I was going to move on from the Giants and replace them with a playoff contender. Recent events have confirmed for me that I most certainly made the right choice in dumping New York, but I still needed to pick a new team. A bunch of folks made compelling cases for a variety of teams, but ultimately I took the head man's suggestion and went with the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints had won eight straight games and were the hottest team in the league heading into last Sunday. So of course they lose the first game that I'm writing, about because it's been that kind of year for the teams I'm covering. Despite the loss, there were a couple of clear high points -- those high points being right tackle Ryan Ramczyk and center Max Unger.

I'll start with the rookie, Ramczyk, who did a really nice job in pass protection all day. I'm struggling to recall any pressures he gave up. He also more than held his own in the running game. Considering the game that Alvin Kamara had, it really says something that I'm not sure which Saints player was the best rookie on the field on Sunday.

The other Saints lineman I thought played really well was Unger. I have covered Unger before, and I have always been a big fan of his. When he's healthy, he is absolutely as good as any center in the NFL. He was his usual rock-solid self in pass protection against the Rams, but what I have always appreciated most about his game is how athletic he looks in the zone running game.

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If you were to ask me what separates top-flight centers from just steady centers, I'd say it's how often they make this block. How good are you at reaching a shaded nose without any help? The Saints have the right play called at the snap because they have the defense outnumbered in the box. The right guard (Larry Warford, 67) could probably help Unger here because of that numbers advantage, but he doesn't have to because Unger (60) is a stud. Unger does about four things perfectly on a block that lasts three seconds.

  • 1) His first step is great. He gives a little depth (to open up his hips) but still gains some width so he's not stepping underneath himself.
  • 2) His aiming point is right; he's trying to get his facemask on the defender's play-side shoulder.
  • 3) He's so quick out of his stance that he almost overruns the defensive tackle, but his back hand is perfect. He keeps it low and catches the defender right on the bottom of his inside number so he can wheel himself back into the block. Also, you never get called for holding grabbing the bottom of a guy's number.
  • 4) Once he's engaged, he punches that play-side foot and hip up the field to seal the man backside. Once you have him hooked, pretend you have a camera in your ass -- you want a shot of the back running through the hole.

It's such a great block it overshadows the very fine work at right tackle by Ramczyk, who totally covers up his man and widens him a good 5 yards. Kamara does a nice job running with the ball as well, but for me, the star of the play is Unger.

It wasn't just on 70-some-yard touchdowns that Unger looked good. He also performed well on far more mundane plays.

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This play doesn't go for much, but it's a nice job by Unger helping out on the defensive tackle before climbing to the second level. He does a nice job of turning the nose tackle's shoulder completely, giving the guard (Warford) an opening to take over the block. But Unger does it with one arm so he doesn't get too caught up with the down player. He gives himself plenty of time to work up to his linebacker (Alec Ogletree, 52). Also, it's nice to see someone work up to the right linebacker and not the one who happens to cross his path first.

The play fails because left guard Andrus Peat (75) gets beat by Aaron Donald (99). Peat starts off good (good first step, good landmark), but he's not playing with enough power to really widen Donald, and he's not fighting that play-side foot up the field to hook him. Donald is exactly where he wants to be at all points in the play and ends up being part of the stop.

I generally try to focus on what the offensive line is doing, and anything the defense does is pretty secondary for me. But man, Aaron Donald just leaps off the screen when you watch him. He's so good it's impossible not praise him a little bit.

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This is Donald beating Peat again. What's crazy is how active and effective Donald is with his hands. He starts with a strong bull rush that clearly rocks Peat a little. When he feels Peat overcompensate with too much body lean, Donald snatches him (look at him grab the collar and yank him down). This is where 98 percent of defensive linemen would have stopped and tried to finish, because Peat is pretty well beat after the snatch. But Donald's hands are as relentless as he is merciless, so he finishes it all off with a quick club/rip to force a hold for a 10-yard penalty. This is pass-rushing art.

Unfortunately for Peat, it wasn't just Donald who gave him some issues. When he moved out to left tackle to replace an injured Terron Armstead, he also struggled with Robert Quinn.

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Peat was a first-round pick a couple years ago, and the hope was for him to play left tackle. He ended up moving inside to guard where he has been more effective, but this was a good example of why he bumped down in the first place. He has struggled in space at times in the NFL, and he certainly struggled there this past Sunday. That is a really aggressive set to take with no inside help, and Quinn (94) beats him almost instantly and forces another hold. This is a flat overset and as much of a mental error as it is a physical one.

While we're here, look at Ramczyk (71) at right tackle. He's basically blocking the defensive end with just his inside hand, and still has enough power where the guy buckles when he tries to redirect. It's just one game, but the youngster really impressed and seems to play with a natural power that you don't see from many young offensive tackles.

In Peat's defense, the guys he struggled with are both really good players. Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald will make a lot of offensive linemen look bad, and they did Sunday, whether it was Peat or someone else.

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It doesn't look as impressive as the whirling dervish of moves that Donald unleashed earlier, but this is still very good from Quinn. It's just a simple chop/rip move, but he times it well to knock down Armstead's (72) hands, and then he does a great job of turning the corner and finishing the play. A lot of defensive ends get run by when Drew Brees steps up like that, but Quinn plays with enough power and leverage to finish the hoop and get the sack.

And since this is an offensive line column, let's end it with more gushing about the right tackle. Look at the rookie, just mauling the defensive end out there. The technique isn't perfect (he gets too straight-legged, leaning too much) but he's a good enough athlete and strong enough to overcome that. He's completely on an island and the defensive end doesn't even get close to sniffing a hurry. That's kicking someone's ass in the pass game.


14 comments, Last at 25 Feb 2018, 4:00am

1 Re: Film Room: Star Wars

Ramczyk has gone from nowhere a few years ago to starting and playing at a high level in the NFL. Haverstein is starting for the Rams, and my understanding holding his own. Other WI linemen scattered around the league

Not bad

2 Re: Film Room: Star Wars

For the umpteenth time, the Seahawks would have been better off without Graham, and keeping Unger, and good center play is underrated in value. From a fan's perspective, really good center play is fun to watch in isolation. When Birk was in his highly mobile prime, I'd watch a lot of plays two or three times, just to appreciate his work.

9 Re: Film Room: Star Wars

As soon as I saw Muth talking about the Saints, I immediately fell back to regretting that trade.

Graham is a very good tight end, don't get me wrong. But dear sweet football gods, the Seahawks line functioned so much better when Unger was anchoring. That was a dumb trade.

3 Re: Film Room: Star Wars

That second play really needed to be audibled out of. The Rams had TEN in the box, with a huge numerical advantage on the strong side and Aaron Donald on the weak side. It's damn near impossible to win on a run play in that situation.

8 Re: Film Room: Star Wars

True--of course, we don't know what the audible would or could have been, how much time was left on the play clock, etc.
However, at some point, don't you have to trust your players to make a block?

Related note: pass blocking for Brees was better after the first drive had 2 sacks.

4 Re: Film Room: Star Wars

Has anyone ever argued against you the previous umpteenth time? Not here, I wouldn't think. I don't know anybody on this site who liked the move for Seattle when it happened.

Edit: Well, one Seahawks fan did: http://www.footballoutsiders.com/extra-points/2015/breaking-news-saints-seahawks-swing-blockbuster-trade

7 Re: Film Room: Star Wars

After PFF hype, I decided to watch Aaron Donald closely when I could. My conclusion...at a minimum, he's the second best defender I have ever seen. He may end up unseating Watt.

10 Re: Film Room: Star Wars

He's a consistent terror. I hope the Rams are dumb enough to not pay him what he's worth, so the Seahawks can grab him (or the Vikes - I could certainly live with that as well).

13 Re: Word of Muth: Star Wars

Ben- do you have anything to say about the recent trend for defenses putting their best pass rusher against the right tackle, besides "offenses need two good pass blocking tackles these days"?

Maybe it really is that simple, I don't know, but I figure you would :)

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