Super Bowl XLIX Recap: The Dont’a Hightower Tackle

Malcolm Butler’s interception has been examined from every angle; as the play that sealed the victory in Super Bowl XLIX for the New England Patriots over the Seattle Seahawks, it got the attention it deserved. However, Butler was in position to make that play because of an extraordinary effort by Dont’a Hightower on the penultimate play of the game.

Forty-six seconds before the interception that shocked the world, New England Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower secured the team’s most important tackle of the year.

With the Seattle Seahawks five yards from the end zone and a game-winning touchdown, running back Marshawn Lynch took the handoff, watched his blocks develop and looked to punch in the go-ahead score. As Lynch approached the line of scrimmage, the size of his running lane appeared to expand while the hopes of a fourth Super Bowl title in franchise history for the Patriots dwindled away. See for yourself:

Hightower Photo 1

However, the New England defense would live to play another down. Through proper technique and perseverance, Hightower, who played the game with a torn labrum, managed to trip up Lynch at the one-yard line, setting up cornerback Malcolm Butler’s dramatic interception.

Hightower Shedding The High Block

Looking to capitalize on wide receiver Jermaine Kearse’s miraculous catch at the five-yard line, the Seahawks turned to their power run game and Lynch, the league’s hardest running back, to bring down with 88 forced missed or broken tackles this season, according to Pro Football Focus.

Using 21 personnel and working out of the i-formation, Seattle runs the outside zone/stretch play toward the strong side, with fullback Will Tukuafu leading the way. Anticipating run, the Patriots stick with their base defense, crowding the box with nine defenders:

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At the snap, tight end Luke Willson kicks out the edge defender in linebacker Akeem Ayers while safety Patrick Chung takes a crunching block from Tukuafu. On the inside, left tackle Russell Okung (#76) and left guard James Carpenter (#77) double-team defensive end Chandler Jones, and then Okung quickly peels off to meet Hightower at the second level.

Although defensive tackle Sealver Siliga manages to disengage from his block, the defender’s pursuit from the backside falls short of the ball carrier. As Lynch crosses the line of scrimmage, the only obstacle remaining between him and the goal line is the seemingly blocked Hightower.

But the linebacker displays strong technique as Okung approaches. He aligns his feet with the shoulders of the blocker before extending both arms for maximum power. By punching his hands high to Okung’s shoulders, Hightower shunts the momentum of the blocker and avoids engagement, thus locking out the left tackle’s block attempt.

With Lynch pressing outside, Hightower fully disengages by driving low through the hip of Okung and, in one fluid motion, cuts out the legs of Lynch, crumbling the running back to the ground just feet short of a legendary touchdown.

Hightower, who hurt his shoulder Week 13 against the Green Bay Packers, played the final two months with the injury, which will require surgery in the off-season. Accumulating over 100 combined tackles during the course of the season including the playoffs, Hightower’s last tackle ‒ executed with one healthy arm ‒ turned out to be his most meaningful stop.

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 the NFL and NFL Game Rewind.

All video and images courtesy the NFL and NFL Game Rewind.

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