On Pass Rush: My Big Fat Greek Jadeveon Clowney

Jadeveon Clowney didn’t tally a single sack or quarterback hit against the Cardinals, but the defensive line’s best performance firmly belonged to him. He was the main and consistent pressure generator, and often helped spring second level rushers. While his production doesn’t come as a total surprise, the process in which it arrived bodes as positively for the rest of the season as one could hope to prognosticate.

In the previous three weeks, Clowney’s “wins” when pass rushing have come primarily with inside counters or power. And that figures. He is primarily a power rusher. Even so, it helps any edge rusher, no matter their style, to be able to threaten the outside — of which Clowney has had little success doing since becoming a Seahawk — until Sunday in Arizona, that is.

Clowney showed capability in this area as a Texan, despite the infrequency of attempts and success, so we knew it was simply a matter of time before he showed some life doing so in Seattle. Before getting into the good stuff, we have to look at the slightly less good, but still good, stuff. It was the less good stuff that set up the later good stuff, and that process demonstrated Clowney’s ability to adapt his rush plan throughout the game, and hopefully through the season moving forward.

Here is his first attempt at rushing a speed path to the outside, from left end:

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The most significant aspect of this might be that he’s attempting a wide arc speed rush to begin with. As mentioned above, this is something that he hasn’t really been trying, nor does it suit his lower body flexibility issues. His get off does well to beat the tackle’s set off the snap, but the lineman recovers and is able to elongate his path just enough to run Clowney beyond the depth of Kyler Murray’s drop (who is pressured in part by Quinton Jefferson and sees a lane to escape into).

Here is another example of what it looks like when Clowney rushes wide and up field with the intent to blur past the tackle, again from left end:

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The right tackle sets deep and forces a head-up engagement before Clowney transitions to a rip. His rush fulfills the purpose of this called five-man pressure, widening the B-gap that Kendricks blitzes. The only caveat: if this was simply a four-man rush, Murray wouldn’t have dropped deep enough for Clowney to get pressure on him, given the depth at which Jadeveon starts to bend the edge.

Both of the above plays are emblematic of the limits of Clowney’s ability to rush pure speed paths. Last year we saw Frank Clark get a half dozen sacks this way — simply blowing past tackles’ sets with speed dips and inside rip or chop to clear last ditch effort contact. Clowney doesn’t appear to have the bend and raw arc speed to produce in this manner.

But!

Jadeveon adjusted by mixing in footwork to influence pass sets and to open up the outside. He gets the right tackle with a club-rip off of the left edge here:

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Clowney rushes a power path, stutter steps to freeze the tackle and adds one last jab to the inside to keep the tackle’s set narrow and lunging. He transitions to the outside suddenly, showing off his superb lateral quickness, with a heavy club concurrent with severe hip flip to produce the angle he needs and limit wasted steps. Meanwhile, the tackle is stuck like a door turning on its hinge due to the positioning that Clowney’s aforementioned setup forces him into. Clowney dips and rips through to maintain his angle and comes screaming down at Murray, who is forced off of any deeper concepts and hits a shallow route.

Once again from left end, Clowney uses layered footwork to manipulate the tackle into providing angles to corner:

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Jadeveon’s first step is directly upfield, forcing the tackle to kick quickly and hopefully lose balance. He presses back to the inside and the tackle halts his set, preparing for contact. By shooting upfield first, Clowney provides himself with a wider angle so that his hips are facing the quarterback — as opposed to upfield — once he presses the tackle with his jab step. When attempting his transition to the outside previously, Clowney’s first step was often directly into the tackle; once he cleared, his hips were still facing upfield, a less workable angle. This up-in-out procession allows his outside chop move to clear the tackle while making a beeline for the passer.

And it does exactly what it needs to do on a 3rd and 20.

With the caveat that the Cardinals boast one of the lesser pass-protecting lines in the league, these rushes show the progressing process of Clowney. The Rams will see this on tape and know that they can’t “under set” or over play the inside move — they’ll have to set with a more balanced approach — which will pay dividends for Clowney’s rush plan.

The Outside Move Development wasn’t the only the fun thing Clowney put forth this week. He continues to showcase his devastating power and counters.

Here, he sets up the contain blitz from Kendricks, but is able to snatch the tackle after achieving lockout:

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Here, he is smashing the guard on an E-T stunt (end stunts, the tackle loops over):

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Bowling ball.

On the final drive he puts the right tackle on the fritz with a bull into shotput:

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And lastly an in-out cross-chop followed up by an out-in cross-chop combo (is this shit tekken wtf), and it ends with the tackle on the ground once more.

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Murray is flushed and throws it away.

Even in his power-centric moves, Clowney’s bag of tricks continues to grow. He is winning in a multitude of ways; ways he showed in Houston. To see just how far he can leverage his breadth of skill-set into an all encompassing rush plan will be something to watch for.

All in all, this was clearly Jadeveon Clowney’s best game as a Seahawk through four weeks.