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Run Blocking Technique

NFL: Preseason-Oakland Raiders at Arizona Cardinals Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Here are two of the Cardinals failed running plays versus DT Derrick Brown and the Panthers that can give us a sense of why the Cardinals’ line blocking technique needs improvement.

First of all, let’s be clear that DT Derrick Brown (6-5, 325) was the 2019 SEC Defensive Player of the Year and the #7 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft for good reasons. He is a load to handle for any guard or center, one on one.

But—-just as having a magnetic personality can more than compensate for someone’s average looks, proper blocking technique can often compensate for an offensive lineman’s average size and strength.

Secondly, the art of run blocking, technique-wise has morphed into some widely debated concepts—-such as what happens in this case when on both occasions the Cardinals’ C Mason Cole is assigned to block Derrick Brown who is lined up inside Cole’s left shoulder in the left side B gap.

One of the reasons why run blocking techniques have been altered and modified over the past decade or so is that offenses like to confuse the linebackers by standing up on the snap as if they are run blocking. In other words, offenses feel that today’s linebackers are too quick to fill gaps when the OL technique makes it clear on the snap that it is a running play.

In the old days, an OL coach would tell Mason Cole how big this play is going to be because Brown is lined up in the A gap opposite of where the play is intended to go—-and thus—-Cole would be taught that off the snap (where he has the advantage for knowing the snap count) he would lead hard with his right foot on a 30 degree angle to his left, where he then could plant his hands and face mask in the midsection of the defender, and just like OL do on a blocking sled, he can keep his feet chugging and drive the DT far wide of the hole.

The problem with offensive linemen standing up oj the snap as all of the Cardinals’ OL do on these plays, is that they lose the power advantage they could have with their legs. Yes, the LBers could think it’s a pass play, but now the blocks become a battle of upper body strengths and slap fights.

On these plays, what Cole is trying to do is drop step with his left foot to try to influence Brown up the B gap, but Brown does not take the bait. Instead, Brown’s searching for the ball while squaring up on Cole, and now that Brown has Cole’s shoulders where he wants them, he tosses Cole aside and thunders in on RB Kenyan Drake before Drake can even get to the play side A gap.

The technique some other coaches would compensate with involves the center maintaining the bend in his knees and getting his left hand inside the DT’s numbers and his right hand on the DT’s midsection to be in a position to drive the DT off of his spot—-much the way the Eagles C #62 Jason Kelce does at the 1:04 mark of this video—-go and compare Cole’s technique with Kelce’s and you will see why Kelce is an All Pro. Notice too how LG #64 Evan Mathis keeps square and his knees bent in blocking the OLB (which we will compare to Justin Pugh’s attempt to block the Panthers’ OLB on the first play of the 2 play video).

The best offensive linemen understand the critical importance of knee bends, foot pistons and hip rolls when it comes to drive blocking and maintaining proper leverage.

The other thing to watch on the failed two Cardinals plays is the double team of DT Kawaan Short by #64 RG J.R. Sweezy and #68 RT Kelvin Beachum. Again, by both of them standing up off the snap, they lose the power of their legs, and thus they fail to drive Short too far off his spot. By standing the Cardinals’ offensive linemen up, the Panthers’ DTs are getting what they want, an easier chance to hold their spots and a quicker opportunity to read the play—-so as to ultimately make the play or make it easier for one of their LBers to make the play.

On the first play, Sweezy is supposed to pop the double team on Short and then scrape off to block the MLB. But, he doesn’t disengage from the double team quickly enough and by then Brown has tackled Drake anyway. Notice too that LG Justin Pugh is free to go block the OLB, but again he is too upright and the OLB is able to swim around him. Check his blocking technique on the OLB with Evan Mathis’ in the video above.

It’s too bad that Cole wasn’t able to win his block on the 2nd play because the MIKE ILB was off-set to the left and keying on the left side B gap, and if Drake hits that hole with a bang all he had was green grass and the FS to beat.

How tantalizing it often is for the coaches and players to watch the tape and know that they were one block away from a potential chuck yard TD play.

The question that often comes up after watching running plays like this is whether it would be better to run them off a direct snap. Handoffs to the RBs out of the shotgun are slower developing runs and in the NFL the run creases are usually only there for a a few split seconds.

I would like to see the Cardinals run more direct snaps because I would like to see our RBs get a head start toward the holes—-and i would fascinate to see Kyler running the bootleg options off of play action.