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Critique of a Simmons Critique

NFL: Arizona Cardinals OTA Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Jackson Krueger Sports recently posted a video on YouTube titled “it Might be Time to Give up on Isaiah Simmons for the Arizona Cardinals (as a LB)”.

We at ROTB have been debating whether Isaiah Simmons is better suited to play OLB or S than at ILB. But, what I think we can all agree on is that Simmons’ versatility and superior athleticism are what make him special.

Therefore, I would like to comment on the first three plays that Jackson Krueger Sports has singled out:

Play 1: Covering the Flex TE vs. the Bears

3rd and 6: Cardinals are in their dime package man-to-man defense, with Budda Baker playing the FS.

Isaiah is assigned to the flexed TE —- which is a very good matchup for the Cardinals (despite the JKS commentary).

What Simmons does off the snap is keep “inside leverage” on the TE to try to prevent him from crossing his face into the middle.

Simmons plays a “trail technique” where he gives the TE a step on him but now can use his speed and length to react to the TE’s cut.

Simmons clearly knows that his primary help is to the outside of the Bears’ 3 receiver side to the right where Budda Baker is playing over the top.

Simmons is slightly pushed by the TE on the TE’s cut to the right, but then Simmons goes quickly into recovery mode. JKS describes this as Simmons giving up a “huge window.” Do you see a “huge window” there?

The TE was running a “deep curl” or “stop” pattern, which Simmons made all the more difficult.

What Simmons didn’t do was guess as to which way the TE was going to cut —- which is a smart decision. He also did a good job of maintaining his inside leverage to try to prevent the TE from beating him on a post or on a deep dig or crossing route (where Simmons knew he didn’t have the optimum help behind him).

As Simmons runs to close the window on the TE, his help, Budda Baker makes a superb break on the ball and is when the pass goes a tad awry Budda is able to pick off the ball and take it back for a 68 yard return.

It’s curious as to why JKS picked this play, seeing as Simmons did what he was coached to do. Sure, he gave up a moment’s window (as most defenders do), but the defenders closed the window in a hurry.

JKS described Simmons as making a lot of mental mistakes on this play —- but it isn’t it just the opposite?

Play 2: Goal Line Defense

Isaiah is lined up “uncovered” over the tackle (not the guard), which JKS concedes the OL has the advantage.

The Bears’ OL does a very good job off the snap sliding to their left in their zone blocking scheme. When Simmons’ tackle slid toward the center, it gave Simmons no clear angle to attack the A gap. Mike ILB Zaven Collins was assigned to the opposite A gap, where the Bears wanted the Cardinals to think the play was going, but the RB cut back through the other A gap that was opened when the RT slid down to be able to prevent Simmons from attacking that inside gap and when the RG by sliding down was successful in influencing the DT in the A gap (#94 Zach Allen) to move in the direction of the slide, thus creating the hole that the RB easily ran through.

In retrospect, had Zach Allen stormed the A gap off of the snap he could have disrupted the timing of the play and kept the RB to the left side of the formation. Storming the gap is what Zach Allen is good at. Otherwise, you’d want a more classic DT or NT to be lined up in that A gap.

Simmons should have attacked the blocker (RT) with greater force, but in this formation, if the Cardinals were in man defense, his man was the RB —- and if the Cardinals were in zone coverage, Simmons had to be ready to drop into coverage if the QB fakes the handoff. But the Bears OL by sliding to their left created a wall that made it difficult for Simmons to see over and to adjust to. This is the toughest thing about playing short yardage defense —- making the quick run or pass reads, and knowing when to sell out versus the run and when to favor the play action pass.

Play 3: Simmons Playing the Hook Zone in Coverage

JKS felt like this was an awful play from Simmons, but when you look closely at the play, Simmons actually played this superbly, except for getting stiff-armed and not finishing the tackle —- but there is a good reason why. Stay tuned.

Simmons first job is to defend the hook zone up the seam, which he does flawlessly. Simmons essentially took away the QB’s #1 option.

Then, when the QB checks down to the RB in the flat, Simmons, while the pass is in the air, runs on a dime to get to the RB before the RB can bolt upfield.

This play highlights Simmons extraordinary athleticism and recovery speed.

No zone defender on the planet is humanly capable of covering both the hook zone and the flat at the same time.

This play is a classic example of a QB taking what the defense is giving him. The Cardinals have no defender in the flat and yet because of Isaiah Simmons’ ability to get to the ball in a hurry, he bought time for the deep third safety (#34 Jalen Thompson) to clean up on the tackle —- all for what amounted as a what, 3 yard gain?

One other key point (why to stay tuned) —- while Simmons did not finish the tackle, his angle to the football was outstanding, because he prevented the RB from bolting into the middle where Simmons had vacated the zone.

Just as Simmons knew he had the strongest help from Budda behind him on play 1, Simmons knew he had the best help with Jalen Thompson to his right, so by preventing the RB’s cut back into the middle, Simmons funneled the RB Thompson’s way.

These are the key techniques (keeping an inside out angle to funnel the ball to where the help is) —- these are the very details —- that players work hard to perfect —- and that help team win games.

With Isaiah Simmons the Cardinals have a well trained athlete who can do what most players can’t —- in being a physical, speedy dynamo on all three levels of the field, most especially in covering and chasing down a variety of receivers in open spaces of grass.