Jerry Hughes: Stuntman

The Buffalo Bills hired Rex Ryan with the hopes of challenging the New England Patriots for the AFC East title. Not everything has gone as planned, but there is one defensive player that’s having an impact without putting up big numbers. Brian Filipiak demonstrates how Jerry Hughes excels at disrupting the quarterback.

Buffalo Bills defensive end / outside linebacker Jerry Hughes enters Week 11 with only three sacks this year. But the low total – as compared to the 10 he recorded in each of the past two seasons – is a deceiving figure upon closer inspection. Hughes leads the Bills in QB hurries – just as he did last season – and is still one of the best at his position in pressuring the quarterback. In particular, the defender remains a dynamic weapon on line stunts.

Taking advantage of his change of direction speed and footwork, Buffalo frequently utilizes Hughes on, perhaps, the most common defensive line stunt in football: the defensive-tackle-defensive-end exchange or T-E (or TEX) stunt for short.

The preplanned movement of a T-E stunt has the interior defender go first, often slamming into the offensive guard and/or tackle, drawing blockers his way. This allows the perimeter defender, who will initially present an outside pass rush move by taking a staggered step or two straight upfield, to then cross behind and to the inside of his slanting teammate. When timed properly, this exchange should allow the crossing defender to exploit an open rush lane toward the quarterback.

Get Skinny

In their Week 10 win over the New York Jets, the Bills executed the T-E stunt several times with Hughes disrupting the timing and accuracy of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

On this 3rd and 10 play during New York’s first offensive series of the game, Buffalo uses a four-man stunt-infused pass rush to beat the slide protection and free up Hughes (#55) for a hit on the QB:

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As Hughes initially strides upfield to attack the outside shoulder of right tackle Breno Giacomini (#68), defensive tackle Mario Williams (#94) crashes the B gap, slamming into right guard Brian Winters (#67) before ricocheting into Giacomini. Just as Williams contacts the guard/tackle tandem, Hughes plants his outside foot and explodes toward the inside, crossing tightly behind his teammate and wasting no steps as he shoots for the A gap. With Winters oversetting against the slanting Williams, the guard turns his shoulders, pulling him wide of his gap / zone just long enough for Hughes to exploit it. The defender dips his outside shoulder to get skinny through the open rush lane and forces Fitzpatrick to hurry a throw off his heels for an incompletion.

The other pass rushers involved on a typical T-E stunt work a controlled contain rush as they attempt to constrict the pocket. In the play shown above, the 1 technique defensive tackle Marcell Dareus (#99) hits the opposite side A gap to draw the double-team from the center and left guard and then works back down the line of scrimmage to fill the potential escape lane for the quarterback.

Later in the first quarter, the Bills run the same stunt from the other side of the offensive formation on a 2nd and 8 from the Buffalo 11-yard line. Once again, Hughes gains a free go at the quarterback:

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Starting from a two-point stance this time, Hughes occupies the attention of left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson with his initial steps as the 3 technique defensive tackle Corbin Bryant (#97) pinches the B gap. Bryant pops the off-balance Ferguson in the chest and takes left guard James Carpenter along for a ride. Displaying great timing, quick feet and great burst off his change of direction, Hughes scoops around Bryant and slips through the A gap unimpeded. While Hughes is a fraction of a second late from truly impacting the play, the four-man rush shrinks the pocket around Fitzpatrick enough to slightly throw off his timing for another incomplete pass.

Quick and Strong

Even when an offensive line picks up the T-E stunt, Hughes has the ability to convert his speed off the twist into strength, such as on this play from Week 6 against the Cincinnati Bengals:

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Although center Russell Bodine – as part of the slide protection to the left – is in position to pick up Hughes on the exchange stunt, he is unable to keep the defender from influencing the outcome of the play. Hughes sinks his hips to get low at contact and lifts through the blocker, walking Bodine into the back of quarterback Andy Dalton. The QB scrambles out of pocket, but can only manage a throwaway.

Generating pressure on a quarterback is a central element to any defensive game plan. Blitzes are a common tactic, but come at the cost of weakening numbers in coverage. Augmenting a standard four-man pass rush with defensive line stunts / games can, as shown above, stress the discipline of an offensive line and force gaps in pass protection – much like a blitz – yet keep coverage on the backend of a defense fully intact.

Hughes may not have a head-turning sack total so far this season, but he remains a dangerous pass rush threat fully capable of creating problems in the backfield in a moment’s notice. With a team-leading three sacks and 26 QB hurries through nine games according to Pro Football Focus*, the defenders ability to put heat on the quarterback, especially using his combination of strength and quickness on well-timed stunts, remains a key component within the Buffalo pass rush.

*Premium content

Follow Brian on Twitter @Brian_Filipiak.

Brian Filipiak knows about proper blocking technique, the basics of run defense,  how to defeat an overload, and the point-of-attack.

All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.

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