On Pass Rush: Getting Other Coaches Fired Edition

The Vikings visited Seattle this week with their offense burdened by one of the league’s worst offensive lines. This happens to be a terrible marriage for a quarterback who, save for that one time in week 9 of the 2017 season, wilts under pressure.

On Monday night, the Seahawks didn’t quite put the hurt on a battered and paltry offensive line as you would hope. The fun stuff was a bit thin. Nonetheless, the 2 sack, 7 quarterback hit night from the front 7 was sufficient to get Kirk Cousins uncomfortable and hesitant enough to help the coverage put clamps on the Vikings’ offense.

The biggest individual performances came from the Edge. As always, Frank Clark put forth a display of his raw talent, tallying another digit in the sack column. Monday night’s kill came on this T-E (tackle-end) stunt:

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Quinton Jefferson sets over the right guard, in a wide 3-technique or even close to a 4i-technique alignment. Out of stance, he rushes wide to set up space for Clark’s inside loop over the top from a stand-up 9-technique. But instead of smashing the right tackle, as is customary for most T-E stunts, Jefferson’s body language is geared toward the interior. This obliges the guard to stick with his initial set just long enough to come off the double a bit late to pick up the looping Clark. Frank scrapes over the top, screaming with explosive power, and lowers his shoulder into the recovering Remmers, who is off-balanced and unable to deal with Clark’s conversion to power. The result is decimation.

Clark played good football, and a had number of plays in the run game outside of that. There was not much beyond his sack in terms of pressure, though.

Here he is able to fight through and around the left tackle for a rush that may not register as a “hurry” but definitely would be graded in the green and considered a solid “win” against the man he was rushing.

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Clark takes three up-field steps, exploding off the line. He is able to get the tackle to open his hips up for a fairly flat set, but immediately reads that he is unable to get the jump on the tackle similar to his many kerfuffles against Andrew Whitworth. Knowing he isn’t going to be able to rely on pure speed to bend the edge, Clark plants his right foot, and angles his entire path into the lineman, shortening the tackle’s drop and forcing an early engagement as opposed to stubbornly committing to a speed rush that may have seen him run off the arc. From here, Clark drops his pads and presses the tackle, Riley Reiff, to open up the outside and clears the tackle’s outside, upfield arm for a good shot at Cousins. Had this been one of the many plays where Cousins held onto the ball, this surely would’ve been enough work and effort from Clark to earn another sack.

The on-the-fly tailoring of Clark’s rush to the situation is another shining example of the continued development of his rush toolkit. Many of his early-career moves, even the successful ones, seemed predetermined. Clark is entering the stage of being able to manipulate tackle’s pass protection sets to optimize angles prior to engagement. From there, his hand fighting is so much more effective this year (even if not nuanced) to help procure edges that his excellent bend can, well, bend.

Here Clark just destroys the right tackle on this bull-rush. This is not even a speed-to-power conversion. He comes out of his stance at either 5 or 7-technique (so not as much distance to build up speed from 9-technique) and does not rush up-field to get the tackle off-balance. He rushes straight for him:

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He puts the right tackle on skates, sliding him into Cousins, forcing the quarterback to move early in the snap. Reed reads this, rolls over the top, and flushes him out of the pocket for good, which results in a play-killing throwaway.

Clark’s third down partner in crime, Jacob Martin, also had himself a night. I noted three rushes of his that were clean defeats of the right tackle — one resulting in a sack.

While his sack sealed the game, the snap prior featured his best rush of the night, running a speed dip off of left edge:

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Aligned at left 9-technique, Martin explodes out of his stance and eats up ground quickly. This gets the tackle opened all the way up early and unable to settle into a comfortable set. While Martin’s path is clearly declaring to the outside throughout the entire rush, his aiming point is the tackle’s upfield shoulder, which keeps him from expanding too deep and cutting off an otherwise ideal angle to the quarterback.

This differs from a year one, year two, and year three Frank Clark whose explosion and ankle bend afforded him rushing directly up-field and worrying about bending it back once he left the tackle in the dust. His college tape even saw clean 90 degree angles. While fast, Martin does not possess those traits to the extent Clark does. His savvy and keen deliberations in setting up his rush will do him well as time goes on.

With that digression out of the way, Martin expands his angle at the very last second with an elongated sidestep to gain width on the tackle and set up his dip, reducing enough hitting surface to get underneath for a clean path and shot at Cousins.

His sack on the following snap was a product of similar work.

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Martin again comes off the line from the same alignment with the same rush path, aiming for the outside half of the tackle. He is able to get skinny on the releasing back who could have given chip help to the tackle who is trying to keep up and gets underneath him again by reducing his surface with serious lean. He flushes Cousins and pursuit takes care of the rest.

Martin has also been working on his cross-chop combination move. Aligned again wide at left edge, he absorbs the chip block and rushes a power path directly at the right tackle, who has set deep and wide, putting himself on an island essentially daring Martin to run around the world or force him to attempt to corner tightly on him. He does just that:

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Martin’s power path keeps the lineman in place and draws out his hands. Right before engaging, Martin, simultaneous to taking his width-expansion step to the outside, uses his inside arm to chop down the lineman’s hands and clubs his outside arm away to turn the corner for a clean victory on the rep.

On the last drive, Martin attempts this again but the chop is not powerful enough and is canceled.

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Impressive though, is his ability to replace his hands on the tackle’s chest and leverage his positioning into a long-arm stab move, managing some knock-back on him. This opens up the inside for Martin, but Cousins is off and running. Jacob isn’t quite able to disengage.

While speed is an inherent, necessary element to Martin’s rush process, what secures the win for many of his rushes has been his understanding of pass-sets and hand fighting, both very promising signs from a rookie pass rusher.

While that was about it by way of highlight reel impact pressures, save for some creative blitzes from the secondary drawn up by Ken Norton, Poona Ford, Dion Jordan, and Shamar Stephen were still able to show some things.

Here is a two play selection of Ford’s bull-rush showing its potency (the second play shows two different sky-cam angles). He gets underneath the blocker on both occasions and is able to help flush a hesitant and searching Cousins.

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Dion Jordan hasn’t been showing a lot this year in his pass rush (while his run defense has been superb). It is unclear if his knee is still inhibiting his explosion and suddenness. Fortunately, his full-stride speed and grace as an athlete are ever present. Here he side steps the RB-pick-up and chases Cousins, who wants no part of him, to the sideline:

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Last but not least, Shamar Stephen:

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Shamar is able to stack up the guard, pull the pads toward him and rip through, leaving the lineman to the turf. Had the back not been in protection, Cousins would’ve been eaten on live television.

All in all it was a decent night of pressure. It would have been nice to see a bit more production given the quality of offensive line that was being competed against. We’ll see if the defensive line will have an encore performance against the 49ers this week to complement the dismantlement in Seattle led by Jarran Reed just two weeks ago. Jarran awaits them.

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