Glossary Entry: Finishing

The term “finishing” gets thrown around a lot in football discussions, specifically regarding offensive line play, but it has become a bit obscure and hard to define. The aim here is to utilize examples from the game film of what “finishing” looks like from a few different perspectives to help show what it should look like when done at a high level.

If you go to any quality high school, college, or pro offensive line room in the country the term “finishing” will be used frequently and the importance stressed continually. This is because life in the trenches, more than any other position, is a battle of the will,especially the running game.The ability to be a quality “finisher” has value at other positions, such as a receiver carrying out a block, a defender bringing down a ball-carrier, or a running back fighting for extra yardage, but offensive line requires a special degree of physicality in showdowns between the biggest men on the field.

Being an effective finisher comes down to a mindset that consists of three elements; attitude, effort, and consistency.

These traits are usually apparent on film in how consistent a player is at executing his assignment through the whistle. It doesn’t always mean a blocker buries a defender into the ground or a defender delivers a bone-jarring hit; it means that that blocker fights to sustain through the whistle and the defender makes the tackle, regardless of style points.

To help illustrate what this looks like on the field, we’ll be going into the trenches for some examples.

Context: Week 2 of the 2018 season with the Iowa Hawkeyes hosting the Iowa State Cyclones. The Hawkeyes offense has the ball in the 2nd quarter on the opponents 12-yard line facing a 3rd and 4, down 3-0. The offense runs weakside zone to the boundary side of the field out of 12 personnel.

We’re focusing on true sophomore right tackle Tristan Wirfs (#74) who is tasked with opening up his side of the formation. Despite the run only gaining about a yard, Wirfs lines up and latches on to the defender’s frame with overwhelming strength and power. While the ball-carrier is being tackled behind him, Wirfs continues to own his angle, drive his feet, and finish his man into the ground nearly 11 yards past initial contact.

Yes, Wirf’s size, strength, and power are dominant, but without the mindset of finishing his assignment regardless of circumstance, those traits wouldn’t have been put on display like they were in this clip. Finishing is a mindset. There has to be an intentional decision made, before each play, that the task at hand will be completed at any cost.

Context: Week 12 of the 2014 season with the Washington Redskins at the San Francisco 49ers. The Redskins offense has the ball on the 49ers’ 13-yard line facing a 1st and 10 down 7-0 in the 2nd quarter. The offense runs a toss play to their left out of 21 personnel, with an outside zone blocking concept up front.

The focus is on Redskins left guard Shawn Lauvao (#77). Lauvao is uncovered, initially working outside-in., The backside linebacker Chris Borland (#50) is tightly aligned pre-snap, so Lauvao is able to get over the top quickly. Lauvao does a nice job lining him up and delivering power at the point of attack with his hands, knocking him back into safety Eric Reid (#35).

From there Lauvao pins Borland’s hip and secures the block before shifting his eyes to running back Alfred Morris (#46), followed by an immediate track upfield to look for more work. Notice the sense of urgency Lauvao is executing his movements with, never hesitating or slowing down despite being behind the ball.

Through his effort and desire to finish through the whistle, Lauvao “cleans up the pile” by diving over the top and knocking safety Antoine Bethea (#41) on his back, ending with an impressive finish.

This is the sort of attitude and effort that makes a player a top-notch finisher:

Context: Week 5 of the 2018 season with the Indianapolis Colts visiting the New England Patriots on on Thursday Night Football. The Colts offense has the ball in the 3rd quarter down 24-10 facing a 1st and 10. Indianapolis runs a power play to their left out of 11 personnel with a 6th offensive linemen outside of the left tackle.

The spotlight is on All-Pro rookie left guard Quenton Nelson (#56). This play doesn’t showcase Nelson’s ability to maul defenders into the ground, but it demonstrates his rare consistency to always finish blocks regardless of the situation.

Nelson’s responsibility here is to block down and 3-technique defensive tackle Lawrence Guy’s (#93) gap exchange to the A-gap plays into his favor. Guy doesn’t go away easily after initially being pinned outside, working hard to pursue the ball back inside.

Nelson is able to control and sustain this block because of how hard he fights to maintain his grip strength, never stopping his feet, and giving great effort to finish with his body between his man and the ball:

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