Texas A&M’s Defensive Versatility Featuring Myles Garrett

Whether in the NFL or college football, disrupting the quarterback is one of the keys to winning football games. Mark Schofield looks at Texas A&M’s elite rusher Myles Garrett and how his versatility makes him nearly unstoppable. 

As a former quarterback, watching Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett is not an exercise I particularly enjoy. His film brings back painful memories of bruises, hard hits, and long afternoons spent watching the New England autumn sky from the vantage point of the ground, lying on my back. But his immense talent is a spectacle to behold, and the way that the Aggies’ defensive coaching staff employs him – the various ways, in fact – portends difficulties for opposing SEC offenses this fall. Truth be told, given his explosive first step and numerous pass-rushing moves, the coaching staff could simply line him up at 7 technique and let him feast, but his versatility allows them to do much, much more.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]The Garrett We Know

When fans and evaluators picture Garrett, they immediately envision an edge rusher with explosiveness and the ability to run the arc and disrupt the pocket. Basically, this:

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Against Nevada, Garrett (#15) lines up in a wide-9 alignment as the Wolf Pack face a 3rd and 8 on their opening drive. The edge defender is able to beat the left tackle first with speed, beating the LT to the spot. From there, Garrett is able to bend around the edge and arc back to the quarterback, dragging him to the turf for a sack. What is notable about this play is that it takes place at home, and as Inside the Pylon’s Sal Conti pointed out in his article and subsequent podcast appearance, the crowd noise is a factor. Because the home crowd is fired up and making noise for this play to try and disrupt the offense, Garrett cannot try and anticipate the snap count, as some edge defenders (Garrett included) try to do; this sack is pure athleticism and upfield explosiveness.


Here is another example of Garrett running the arc, this time against former Mississippi LT and future first-round draft pick Laremy Tunsil (#78):

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This play gives us a great look at Garrett’s technique, as well as a rep against a very high level of competition. The DE gets a good jump off the line of scrimmage and tries to beat Tunsil around the edge with speed. The LT displays good technique as well with his kick slide and looks to get an initial punch on the defender. Garrett uses his right arm first to prevent the punch from the LT before driving his left arm upward into the tackle’s armpit – a textbook rip move:

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Tunsil is able to still maintain contact with his left arm, using it to bar Garrett from getting to the quarterback. But the edge defender still puts pressure on Chad Kelly (#10) and forces a throw that falls incomplete.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Slid Inside on Passing Downs

Armed with baseline knowledge of what Garrett can do, we can now examine the various ways that the coaches at TAMU move him around up front to create advantages for him or the other defenders. On passing downs, the Aggies love to slide Garrett inside, allowing him to work on the interior linemen, and letting either a linebacker or even a defensive back try to pressure the pocket from the edge. On this snap against South Carolina, the Gamecocks face a 3rd and 11 late in the first half. Rather than take his usual alignment outside the left tackle, Garrett slides down into a 4 technique, head-up on the tackle:

GarrettStill6TAMU also slides the nickelback down onto the edge of the line, over the tight end. In the South Carolina protection scheme on this play, the LT slides outside to block the DB, while Garrett gets to work on the left guard:

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Garrett is able to strike the LG, shed the block, and work toward the quarterback and put a stop to the play quickly.

On this play against the Gamecocks, the offense faces a 3rd and 11, and put trips to the left side of the field. The Aggies have their 4-2-5 nickel defense in the game, and they slide Garrett down and use him as a 3 technique on this play, as he lines up on the outside shoulder of the left guard:

GarrettStill7South Carolina actually rolls the pocket on this play, and looks to catch the Aggies trying to execute a T-EX stunt (tackle / end exchange):

GarrettStill8You’ll notice that the defensive end initially tries to cut behind Garrett to the inside before following the flow of the play. Garrett ends up occupying the center, LG and LT:

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The Gamecocks are able to complete the pass, but this gives you another example of the Aggies sliding their talented edge defender inside on passing situations.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Two-Point Stance Against Short Yardage

In contrast with how they use Garrett in long-yardage situations, the Aggies coaches actually like to slide him to the outside and put him in a two-point stance in short-yardage situations. The reason for this is that, with so many offenses running read option plays in this situation, the hope is that the interior of the defensive line can handle the inside zone run, leaving Garrett on the edge to contain any attempt by the quarterback to keep the football and test the edge. In fact, his presence alone might just force the handoff, should the QB value his health.

On this play against Nevada, the Wolf Pack face a 4th and 1 late in the first quarter on the Aggies’ 31-yard line. TAMU shows a five-man defensive line, and they put Garrett on the edge in a two-point stance:

GarrettStill9Nevada does show read option in the backfield, with the quarterback taking the snap and reading Garrett on the edge, but up front they use a power blocking scheme, pulling the left tackle to the right side. The quarterback has the option to keep the football, but with #15 on the edge, he hands it off:

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The running back is nearly stopped in the backfield, but he is able to bounce this to the outside and actually goes the distance for a Wolf Pack touchdown. While the result is not one the Aggies were looking for, the play serves as an example of how the TAMU defense moves Garrett around up front, even moving him to the outside on short-yardage plays.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]T-EX Stunt

Mentioned previously, the T-EX stunt is another way the Aggies coaches use Garrett up front. While the previously cited play shows Garrett lined up inside and trying to cut to the outside, this defensive stunt is also very effective when he is the outside defender crashing to the A Gap. On this play against Mississippi State, the Bulldogs face a 1st and 10 on their own 31-yard line. They put Dak Prescott (#15) in the shotgun with a single receiver to the left, and a stack slot look to the right with the tight end in the wing:

GarrettStill10The Aggies have their 4-2-5 defense on the field, and they show Cover 1. Garrett is lined up on the right edge, and the defense uses a T-EX stunt. Defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson (#92) lines up as a 3 technique over the left guard’s outside shoulder, but at the snap he crashes into the B Gap, forcing the LG to block toward the outside. This opens up the A Gap for Garrett to cut into behind Henderson and attack inside:

GarrettStill11The stunt works to perfection. Garrett cuts into the A Gap and is able to burst past the late attempt by the center to block him:

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Prescott hands the ball off on the zone read play, and the running back runs straight into the waiting arms of Garrett.

Here’s another example of this stunt, from Texas A&M’s game against South Carolina. The Gamecocks face a 2nd and 11, and put quarterback Perry Orth (#10) in the shotgun and empty the backfield. TAMU lines up with its 4-2-5 nickel defense showing Cover 3 in the secondary. The Aggies employ the T-EX stunt once more, with Henderson crashing into the B Gap and Garrett looking to angle behind him into the A Gap. As you might expect, the offensive line slides its protection toward Garrett:

GarrettStill12

What stands out about this play is the attention the offensive line pays to Garrett after the stunt to the inside. The stunt ends up occupying four members of the offensive line, while Orth is flushed from the pocket by the rest of the defensive line:

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Here’s a good still that shows how devastating this stunt was for the offense:

GarrettStill13The LT and LG are both on the turf after trying to cutblock Henderson when he angled upfield. The center and right guard are both upright, but trying to block Garrett. That leaves the right tackle on the other DT, while Orth is running for his life away from TAMU’s other talented defensive end, Daeshon Hall (#10)

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]3-Man Fronts

What really stands out when watching the Aggies’ defense from last season is how they were so effective at generating pressure when they employed three-man fronts in their defense. This front gives a defense a great deal of flexibility, as they can simply try and generate pressure with three, or use one (or more) of the linebackers as part of a blitz or stunt package to confuse the linemen up front.

On this first example against South Carolina, the Gamecocks face a 3rd and 6 early in the 3rd quarter in a tie game with the football on the Aggies’ 31-yard line. The offense has its QB in the shotgun with 11 personnel on the field, with three receivers to the left side of the formation. TAMU uses its 3-3-5 defense, with one of the linebackers sugaring the A Gap before the snap:

GarrettStill14

The Aggies use a loop/dog package here from their defensive front:

GarrettStill15Garrett cuts inside at the snap toward the B Gap while nose tackle Julien Obioha (#95) loops around behind Garrett and outside the right edge. Hall slants to the inside of the right tackle while linebacker Shaan Washington (#33) blitzes as well, coming right behind Hall but staying to the outside. Fellow LB Claude George (#31) is used to spy the quarterback.

The loop/dog package works to perfection:

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The loop by Henderson, coupled with Garrett cutting inside, occupies the left half of the offensive line as well as the running back. This leaves the right guard and right tackle to try to account for the tandem of Hall and Washington.

But it is not a fair fight.

Hall is able to get between the two linemen right off the snap and is into the pocket before Orth can even finish his drop – and right behind him is Washington. With the two linemen trying (in vain) to slow down Hall, the linebacker has a free run into the backfield. The DE notches the sack, but the linebacker was right there to clean up any mess that was left behind.

On this play against the Gamecocks, the Aggies are able to move the pocket using only the front three defenders of their defense. South Carolina faces a critical 3rd and 11 midway through the fourth quarter, trailing by seven. The Gamecocks align three receivers to the right and put Orth in the shotgun. The Aggies counter with their 3-2-6, and the secondary shows Cover 1:

GarrettStill16

Similarly to the previous play, the defense employs a loop up front, this time using Hall and Obioha:

GarrettStill17

Garrett slants inside at the snap, crashing right into the left guard. Hall crashes inside and occupies the center and right guard, but Obioha is able to loop around the right edge and work past the right tackle:

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Both Garrett and the NT are able to push the pocket, with both defenders crashing toward Orth. This forces the quarterback to get rid of the ball quickly; he’s forced to check the ball down and the pass falls incomplete.

Here is one final example of Texas A&M creating pressure when lined up with a three-man front. On this play against Nevada, the offense faces a 3rd and 11 deep in its own territory and lines up with 11 personnel, with slot formation to the right and a receiver split left, with the tight end using a wing alignment just outside the left tackle. The Aggies use their 3-3-5 defense, and not only do they sugar the A Gap with Washington, but they also bring defensive back Donovan Wilson (#6) down onto the line of scrimmage, just outside Garrett:

GarrettStill18Garrett is lined up as a 5 technique, just outside the left tackle. But at the snap he crashes to the inside while Wilson rushes from the outside:

GarrettStill19This movement allows Wilson to try to beat a slower player using speed while Garrett gets to work against the interior lineman. On the other side, Hall is able to beat the right tackle to the edge while Obioha displays a great swat to beat the center’s attempt at a punch:

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Obioha and Garrett meet at the quarterback, putting an end to the Nevada drive.

Obviously, Myles Garrett is a talented player. But this TAMU defense has a few other players, such as Obioha and Hall, who are talented in their own right. Given the different ways that the Aggies’ coaches can employ Garrett, from sliding him around to different alignments or using stunts, this defense can generate pressure from various points along the offensive line. As the Aggies look to improve upon their 8-5 season, look for the concepts outlined herein to play a big role on how this defense attacks the opposition in 2016.

Follow @MarkSchofield on Twitter.  Buy his book, 17 Drives.  Check out his other work here, such as how Alabama passes to attack the flat, or Tennessee’s use of the double post concept, or how LSU runs play action.

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All film courtesy of DraftBreakdown.

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