The Detroit Lions (7-3) visit the New England Patriots (8-2) in a matchup of NFL division leaders, bringing with them the NFL’s stingiest defense. The Detroit pass rush has the Lions at the top of the league in fewest rushing yards allowed and sacks recorded. Mark Schofield looks at how the Lions front four has been so successful.
Having discussed how Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin uses alignment, stunts, and blitzes to collapse pockets, we turn to how the defensive coordinator combines some or all of these elements with the Detroit pass rush to truly create confusion for an offense.
Alignment Plus Blitz
On this play from last week, the defense uses a creative alignment and a blitz to force a quick throw from Drew Stanton. The QB is in the shotgun and Arizona has 11 personnel on the field. Detroit counters with nickel personnel and shifts three defensive linemen to the right of the offense:
Jason Jones lines up in the A-Gap with Ndamukong Suh to the outside shoulder of the right tackle. Defensive end Darryl Tapp uses a wide 9 alignment to the outside of the TE. On the other side of the formation DE Devin Taylor is the only lineman, but inside linebacker Tahir Whitehead (circled in black) will come on the blitz:
With the overload to the other side, the left tackle and left guard should be able to handle Taylor and Whitehead. The linebacker’s blitz, though, draws the attention of both guard Ted Larsen and tackle Jared Veldheer:
Stranger still is that Taylor is unblocked, but inexplicably follows the LT inside before realizing his sudden good fortune. Stanton realizes his predicament and gets the ball out quickly before disaster strikes, but only just.
Alignment Plus Stunt
On this play against Atlanta the Lions utilize their double-cross stunt from a slightly different alignment. The Falcons have Matt Ryan in the shotgun with 10 personnel on the field. Detroit counters with a dime package:
Both interior players use a 1 technique on this play, with Nick Fairley to the inside shoulder of the left guard and Suh to the inside shoulder of the right guard. The Lions run their double-cross stunt with Ansah crashing inside while Fairley loops behind him on the left. Defensive end Jones angles inside from the right while Suh circles behind him:
The two interior players beat their blockers and meet at the quarterback:
Ryan throws under extreme duress and the pass falls incomplete.
Bringing the House
Finally, Austin combines all three elements to obliterate the pocket and create a fumble. Detroit has their nickel personnel on the field and the defensive line implements a wide alignment across the board. On the left of the defense, Suh lines up in the B Gap between the right guard and the right tackle while defensive end George Johnson is well outside the right tackle in his wide 9 alignment. On the right of the defense DE Jones lines up in the B Gap while Ansah uses the wide 9 alignment:
On the second level Tahir Whitehead (#59) is over the ball and he’s coming. He and Suh cross when the play begins:
If there is a dictionary entry for the term “collapsed pocket,” this picture should be used:
The twist from Suh and Whitehead caves in the right side of the line. Adding insult to injury is Ansah beating the left tackle one-on-one:
While the BYU product gets to Ryan first and causes the fumble, all of the pass rushers were in great position on this play – every one of them.
With tremendous talent at his disposal, Austin can play the role of mad scientist. Combining blitzes, stunts and alignments he puts the Detroit pass rush in position to wreak havoc on every snap. For New England to win on Sunday, the offensive line needs to be prepared for each – or, indeed, all – of these elements from the defense on any given play.
All video and images courtesy NFL.com and NFL Game Rewind.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.