Line Games Series: Twist Stunt

Washington clinched the NFC East after a 38-24 drubbing of Philadelphia in Week 16 in which their defense recorded five sacks and nine hits on quarterback Sam Bradford. While rookie edge defender Preston Smith won his share of one-on-one matchups with three sacks, Brian Filipiak shows how the Washington defense teamed up on a well-executed twist stunt to takedown the QB.

Implementing line stunts (also referred to as “games”) is a tactic defenses use to augment standard four-man pass rushes and / or blitz packages but can also be used to disrupt running plays. One common line stunt is the twist, or T-T stunt, which has both defensive tackles take an initial step toward center, with one of them – either by pre-snap design or through a post-snap read – looping around and exploiting the opposite side gap for a potential free run at the quarterback.

Some teams change the name of the stunt based on which tackle is penetrating: TAN stunt when the defensive tackle goes first, or NUT stunt when the nose tackle goes first. No matter the terminology, these twist games can cause mayhem against both man and slide pass protections.

When the looping defensive tackle is predetermined, the two-man twist can penetrate the middle of the pocket quickly. The downside is that it also creates potential escape and throwing lanes for the quarterback if the interior offensive line remains disciplined in passing off the stunt. One alternative is a read-based twist stunt that is more gap-control oriented and naturally creates defined pass rush lanes based off the movement of the offensive line – specifically the reaction of the center. The read twist may take slightly longer to develop, but it constricts the pocket more consistently and responds more effectively if faced with a running play.

Here’s a pre-snap look of the typical defensive line movement on a T-T stunt:Twist Design

Defensive tackle Chris Baker (#92) is aligned in the B gap as a 3 technique, with defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois (#99) playing a 2 technique head up over the left guard. At the snap, Baker will slant toward the A gap and penetrate, leaving the loop for Francois toward the opposite side gap. The defensive ends – positioned wide of the offensive tackles – will work upfield with an outside-in contain rush to keep the quarterback from rolling out of the pocket, possibly forcing a step up into the looping Francois.

Now, here’s the post-snap effect that the stunt has on the interior offensive line, with the penetrating defensive tackle opening up a clean pass rush lane:Line Movement

Bakers attempt to split center Jason Kelce (#62) and right guard Matt Tobin (#64) forces both blockers to respond. In particular, Tobin becomes perpendicular to the penetrating defensive tackle, placing him in poor position to retreat back to his area to pick up a potential twist.

Francois, meanwhile, takes a step inside first to hold the attention of the center. The defender bides his time, waiting for Baker to re-set the line of scrimmage before looping around his teammate into the exposed pass rush lane.Pass Rush Lanes

Pass rush lane integrity remains a critical element within the twist stunt as both defensive tackles are responsible for getting to the outside hip of the QB to keep him contained.

As shown above, when the defensive tackles twist, they exchange responsibilities, with Baker becoming responsible for getting to Bradford’s left hip and Francois aiming for the QB’s right hip on the loop.

Heres the tackle-twist stunt in action:

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The uncovered Kelce (#62) pass sets toward Francois as part of the half-slide protection to the left along with left guard Allen Barbre (#76) and left tackle Dennis Kelly (#67). Francois uses an inside-outside stutter step toward the A gap to draw out the center but then slow plays his engagement with Barbre.

Tobin (#64), who is responsible for Baker on the man-side of the protection, pass sets toward the right in anticipation of penetration into the B gap based on the defensive tackles pre-snap alignment. The combination of Kelce blocking away from Baker to start and Tobin initially setting to the right allows the defender to easily split the blockers and gain penetration into the backfield. As Baker charges toward the quarterback, he takes Kelce and – more importantly – Tobin with him.

Francois then takes his cue and pounces, using his hands to fend off Barbre before looping behind Baker to complete the twist into the opposite gap. But, before Francois can get home, Bradford, who sees the apparent open space to work with, bounces slightly to the right and looks for running back Darren Sproles (#43) in the flat. However, the quarterback hesitates, seeing that the running back has yet to turn for the ball – his timing perhaps delayed by defensive end Ryan Kerrigan’s (#91) chip. Bradford instead progresses to his next option over the middle, but his indecision proves costly. While the quarterback has an open wide receiver crossing underneath from each direction, Francois quickly floods the throwing lane and turns a 2nd and 1 into a 3rd and long situation following the sack for a seven-yard loss.

The twist stunt works to pressure the quarterback by first placing pressure on the offensive line to remain disciplined. When interior blockers fail to recognize and adapt to the stunt by passing off the penetrating defender – regardless of the protection scheme – the quarterback will face immediate but often unforeseen pressure up the middle with the edge rushers collapsing in from both sides. A well-timed twist call with proper execution can provide a major boost to a four-man pass rush.

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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