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

Word of Muth: Low Voltage

Word of Muth: Low Voltage
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Ben Muth

The Chargers beat the Browns this past Sunday. That isn't really news because the Los Angeles Chargers are a professional football team that had Cleveland on the schedule, so a win was pretty much guaranteed. The big news to come out of L.A. on Sunday was that they got to 6-6 and pulled even with the Raiders and the stumbling Chiefs for a first-place tie in the AFC West. Los Angeles is in a dead heat for a division title, which is something that seemed unthinkable when they started the season 0-4.

Los Angeles won the game on Sunday, but didn't dominate it. Up front they did some things well and struggled in other areas. One area I thought they shined was in pass protection. They did a good job of protecting Philip Rivers most of the game.

Here is a third-and-long in the second quarter that the Chargers picked up. Cleveland isn't blitzing here, but they are running a stunt on both sides, and L.A. picks it up with no issue. The left side of the line does their job, but they're sliding into the twist, so they have it outnumbered 3- to-2. They should pick that up easily, but the right side has a hard job and handles it beautifully.

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The key to stopping any defensive line stunt is to blunt the penetrator first and hope you can recover on the looper. Here, the defensive end (Carl Nassib, 94) is the penetrator, and right tackle Joseph Barksdale (72) does a really nice job of flattening him and delivering him into right guard Kenny Wiggins' (79) lap. I don't love Barksdale's technique here -- the footwork looks a little goofy -- but Barksdale has always been a big, strong dude, and he shows it here. Afterwards, he does a nice job of getting back outside and gathering up the looping defensive tackle. Nice play.

Los Angeles wasn't as good in the running game on Sunday. They had some success in the first half on the ground, but a lot of it was their backs making some plays after contact. In the second half, yards on the ground dried up.

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This is from the first half, and was one of L.A.'s best runs of the game. Melvin Gordon does a great job of running through a tackle at the line of scrimmage. The reason that Gordon has to run through a tackle is that Wiggins isn't able to cut off the nose tackle (Danny Shelton, 55).

Wiggins makes a couple of mistakes that proved to be too much to overcome. First, he takes a really wide split. I'm not sure if Rivers checked to this play, but if he didn't, this is just a bad job of putting yourself in position to make a block. You don't have to make it super obvious, but it's never a bad idea to steal 6 inches and line up a little closer to the center if you think you might have to cut off a back-side nose tackle. Second, if you are going to take a split that wide, you probably need to throw a cut block here. It's not realistic to think you're going to hook a guy who lines up that far inside of you.

In Wiggins' defense, he doesn't get much help from his center Spencer Pulley here. Maybe it's because Pulley thought Wiggins was going to throw a cut and didn't want to get called for a chop block, but you can almost always throw at least a stiff arm on your way up to the linebacker. Pulley (who I didn't think played very well and hasn't been great all year) hangs Wiggins out to dry so he can climb quickly and make an admittedly effective block on the linebacker (Joe Schobert, 53).

The back side isn't great here, but the front side is pretty damn good. Russell Okung at left tackle does a great job of pinning the defensive tackle (Trevon Coley, 93) inside without allowing any penetration. Left guard Dan Feeney pulls and kicks out the defensive end (Myles Garrett, 95) to create the hole. I thought both Okung and Feeney were good on Sunday and have both been good all year (Feeney since he has replaced Matt Slauson at least). Hunter Henry at tight end also gets a nice block. The front side of this play was nicely done, and when you add that with Gordon breaking a tackle, you are going to get a big gain.

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Unfortunately you can't expect your running back to break tackles in the backfield every play. Pulley gets his butt whipped at center. This is a hard block because he's all by himself. The guard gets called into a combo with the left tackle because teams tend to slant inside the 5 (like Cleveland did here) so you want to guard against that.

It's a tough look with the defensive tackle (65, Larry Ogunjobi) lined up in a 2I (inside shoulder of the guard). You aren't expecting a dominating block from your center here (though there are some guys who can hook a 2I without help) but you need a stalemate. If the defensive tackle slants inside, be athletic enough to wheel back on him; if he doesn't, just keep him at the line of scrimmage and widen him as far as he wants to go. The defensive tackle didn't slant, and Pulley gives up a ton of penetration. It's a shame too, because the rest of this play is blocked well enough for a touchdown.

Before we go, I do want to point out a great play call that should have been a walk-in touchdown, just because I was so excited as the play developed and then so bummed when it ended.

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There were two of you -- how do you let him split you?! This was on a second-and-short and the play-action wide receiver tunnel screen is there, man. Okung gets out first, and while he misses his guy, he throws at the play-side knee, and he makes the defensive back stop his feet and run around the block. Ninety percent of the time that's enough to spring a screen. Nice job by him.

But then Pulley and Feeney both miss the safety and let him make the play. Pulley is really at fault here since Feeney seems to be looking inside for the pursuit, but man, how do you let the guy split you and make the tackle? This should've been an easy touchdown.

That does it for this week. Come back next week as we recap the Packers' matchup against the Browns, because this is now a Cleveland-focused column.


4 comments, Last at 25 Feb 2018, 3:07am

2 Re: Word of Muth: Low Voltage

>The Chargers beat the Browns this past Sunday. That isn't really news because the Los Angeles Chargers are a professional football team that had Cleveland on the schedule, so a win was pretty much guaranteed.

Don't count out the Chargers! They were the 1 in Cleveland's 1-15 last season.

3 Gif usability issues


I love reading your columns, they're one of the best things on the site.
But I have a real problem following the action in the gifs, to the point that I can't see a lot of the stuff you're describing, even staring at the gif over and over. For example, in the first gif in this article, the running back (30) just seems to disappear. My best guess is that he's helping the RG/RT pick up that stunt you describe as well-handled by the two of them, but he literally looks to me like he dove into the line and got transported somewhere else.

I think it's a combination of too low a frame rate and no ability to slow it down. I would also prefer that many of the gifs continued for another few seconds. I'm not sure what FO's constraints are with respect to data storage / hosting costs, but that being the reason would surprise me. There were some other gifs on FO that provided a context menu for 1/2-speed viewing, and even freeze-frame. Sorry, I'd have to struggle to hunt them down. That would help a lot, as would say a doubling of the frame sample rate so the action was a bit more continuous to view.

You've been looking at football film professionally forever. I expect much of your audience hasn't. If it's just me, well, carry on. But if this is something that wouldn't be hard to improve, I think it would really help.


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