New England Patriots @ Miami Dolphins (9/12/11)
Welcome to the first (hopefully of many) "Positional Clinics and Matchup" threads. These threads should provide a nice little breakdown of key matchups that the Patriots will encounter on a week to week basis. There are numerous posters in BBtL that have expansive football comprehension and experience, and this can be a fun way to tap into some of those people's knowledge and learn some really cool things about football.
Each week, we should be able to break different key positions down to a fundamental level and explain some of the finer nuances of those positions. After we walk through some of the finer points of a position, we can expand our focus to the matchup of the week. After putting about two and a half minutes of thoughts into it, this week's focus will be on… Left Tackle
Commander Shears made a solid point in the Organizational thread that Rev had posted at the end of last week. One of Miami's best players is a LT (Jake Long) and many consider it the most important position on the offensive line. Also, a lot of people have already been focusing on LT for much of the preseason in order to watch Nate Solder, so people should be able to hop right into this conversation and contribute. You can also argue that breaking down a 3-4 DE (Miami) and
a 4-3 DE (New England) could be pretty tedious and time consuming. So with all that being said, let's get right down to it! (Note: Depending on your football IQ, some of this information might just boring for you to read through. Apologies in advance!) Technique
Before getting into any reads, play designs, or assignments, it probably makes more sense to make sure people understand the basic fundamentals of a left tackle's technique. Footwork/positioning as a pass blocker
—You hear about it all the time, but what is footwork and why is it so important? As a LT, it's their duty to protect the blindside of the quarterback. Sometimes the LT will be squared up with a 320 pound lineman. Sometimes it'll be against a 240 pound linebacker. Other times it could be against a 195 pound blitzing safety. Against each one of these players, footwork is integral in making sure the QB's jersey stays clean.
A LT's job during the pass--in its most basic and simplistic form--is to buy the QB time. That starts with sealing off the inside lane. Letting any player come across your body and dart inside drastically cuts down the time it takes for a defensive end to get from point A (initial stance) to point B (QB). Any person who has played LT (or either tackle for that matter) will tell you that forcing a DE to the outside is one of the first things they learn while playing the position.
When a LT forces his man outside (and it should happen almost every time), footwork becomes vital. If the LT is matched up against a lineman, the LT will be getting pushed back by someone who weighs around 300 pounds. It is physically impossible to simply stand your ground. A LT must be able to carefully backpedal into the proper position (not straight back, he needs to form a pocket for the QB to stand in) while trying to maintain leverage, speed, and positioning on a 300 pound man.
A LT must also be able to shuffle and slide his feet to make sure he stays in front of his man. That job becomes increasingly difficult when trying to slow down a fast outside linebacker or a cornerback/safety that has (near) Olympic speed. The only way a LT can make sure nobody gets around him by simply turning on the jets is with good shuffling/sliding. LT's will never cross their feet while in pass protection. They must shuffle/slide their feet.
Crossing your feet leaves you completely unbalanced as a blocker. balance as a pass blocker
—which leads us nicely into balance as a pass blocker. Let's start from the bottom and work our way up. In order for a LT to maintain proper balance, they need to have a good solid base. Their feet should be a little wider then shoulder width apart.
They should be playing "on their toes". If a player plays too much on their heels (easy to do since you're constantly being shoved backwards), they lose their balance and ability to maintain control of the man in front of them. With that being said, they can't be playing too much on their toes. A common technique for youth league coaches is to put their lineman into a 3 point stance, and walk down the line kicking the planted hand out from the grass. If the player falls over, he's unbalanced and putting too much weight forward. If they shove the helmet and the player falls backwards, he's not putting enough weight onto his toes. There needs to be a Zen like balance for LT's because they face the gauntlet when it comes to pass protection.
LT's are told to "put your ass in the seat". In other words, they have to bend their knees and stick their ass out into the proper angles. It's awkward, uncomfortable, and not easy…but it's vital for a LT because when aligned properly, it builds "power angles" and allows the LT to use their entire body (from their calves to their shoulders) while maintaining balance. I heard recently that John Hannah—one of the best lineman to ever play the game—used to show up to preseason practices early, and spend 20-30 minutes simply "getting out of his stance". He'd get onto the field early, get into his three point stance, and spend 30 minutes making his initial "power angles". The positions were so uncomfortable, even to one of the greatest players to ever play the game, that he had to relearn the technique every year. It isn't like riding a bike, and it's not something you can easily pick up. balance as a run blocker
—A little different then balance as a pass blocker. As a pass blocker, a LT is not going up field. He's taking a step back and building a pocket for the QB. When run blocking, the LT is working his way up field and trying to gain ground against the defense.
When learning to block up field, LT's are instructed to run with their chin leading the way. It keeps the LT on his toes, and leads his facemask right into a defenders chest. They can then engage the defender properly and use good leverage to finish his block. leverage as a run blocker
—Leverage as a run blocker differs greatly then leverage as a pass blocker. When blocking against the run, the main purpose for a LT is to gain ground against the defense and push his man up field. The best way to accomplish this is for the LT to put his facemask into the defenders chest/neck, put his hands under the shoulder pads (starts around the nipple) or into the armpits, and drive the player backwards while maintaining proper balance and power angles. leverage as a pass blocker
—Space is a LT best friend. As a pass blocker, the LT wants to keep his power angles and extend/punch his arms into the oncoming defender. If the LT gets a good enough pop into the defender, it should slow them considerably and allow the LT to steer/control his man long enough to allow the QB to comfortably get his pass off. Again, the key here is to create separation and space to work with. If a defender gets inside on a LT, the LT loses all control of his man. The defender can simply bulrush the LT backwards and destroy the pocket, he can "dip and rip" through the LT's inside shoulder, he can spin through the tackles inside/outside shoulder, he can swim through the tackles inside/outside shoulder…in other words, the LT is fucked and has lost control of his man. Assignments
With all of that out of the way, let's get into some of the more basic "assignments" that a left tackle should be making. Keep in mind when discussing "weak side" and "strong side", whichever side of the offensive line has more personnel on it usually is the strong side. Weak side running play assignments
—The tackle position can often times be feast or famine during running plays. If a play goes to the right side C gap or outside edge
, the LT is far enough away from the play to essentially be nullified.
On these occasions, the LT will step inside quickly with some depth and take a cursory glance to make sure nobody (slanting defensive tackle, blitzing linebacker/safety) is sprinting through the backside B gap. After that, he'll either make his way up to the second level and try to engage either the weakside LB or the middle linebacker, or simply engage the backside defensive end. Usually the play has developed enough at this point where the LT role is essentially over once covering the backside B gap.
If a play goes into the right side A gap, the LT responsibility is to—again—make sure the backside B gap is not being rushed. If the backside B gap is covered, the LT turns his attention onto the weak side defensive end. Weak side exceptions
--If the weak side guard is pulling (quick step behind the line and sprinting to the right side of the line to help block), the LT responsibility becomes the right defensive tackle.
If a play is designed with a fullback, sometimes the fullback can cover the weak side responsibilities (weak side B gap, then weak side defensive end). If a play is designed this way, then the LT immediately crashes to the second line of defense on the snap. Often times it is left up to the discretion of the LT to decide which LB to engage. If he gets to the MLB in time, he will engage him first as he will be closer to the play. If he can't reach the MLB, he will turn his attention to the weak side linebacker. Strong side running play reads
—When the left side of the line is the strong side, it generally means the LT has some help on his outside shoulder (the tight end). This opens up a lot of possibilities for the linemen on the strong side. Unlike weak side blocking assignments, blocking assignments on the strong side vary based on how the defense aligns itself. Telling a LT to "double team the DT" sounds like a good idea, but what happens when the linebackers show blitz or the defensive line shifts to the strong side and now the DT is lined up in a 4-technique (head up with the LT)? The LT needs to be able to think on his feet and make sure the play doesn't get blown up.
For example, often times the Center and strong side guard will double team the strong side nose guard on plays into the A gap. If the defensive alignment still allows the center/guard double team
, then the LT will
A.)Double team the defensive end with the TE
B.) Block the defensive end on his own while the TE crashes to the second level
C.)Chip the defensive end and move onto the second level
Tackles will only do C if they're confident the TE has control. Runs into the strong side A gap develop quickly, so if the TE can steer the DE outside, the LT is free to go up field. Tackles tend to spend more time at the second level than any other lineman. (For what it's worth, guards tend to pull more than any other lineman.)
If there's a run into the A gap and the defense sets itself so there can be no C/G double team, usually the center will have line assignments and pass them out while assessing the defensive front. This doesn't always happen. Sometimes the scheme called in the huddle will work. Sometimes there is cohesion on a unit and orders don't need to be barked out. But if there's an unexpected shift on the line, the center will act accordingly. For example…
(Strong side is the right side in this photo, but the same premise applies.) Against the 4-3 over, the center would need to seal the strong side A gap from the NT. That means the strong side tackle will either...
A.) Double the DT (most likely)
B.) Crash to the second level and meet a LB
C.)Double the DE
If there is a fullback in this formation, he will lead the way through the A gap and pick up the first LB into the gap. If the formation were a 4-3 under...The C/G could would double team the NT, and it would leave the strong side tackle to either solo block the DE (if the TE goes to the second level) or crash to the second level.
As you can tell, there are numerous options for every play to the strong side. Protection to the strong side is different based on the play (is there a fullback? Did you bring an extra lineman to one side of the line?) and the defensive formation. There's no real value in going over each gap assignment against certain formations and defensive line alignments, but it is important to emphasize that blocking technique for LT's vary wildly from snap to snap. Pass blocking assignment
—Pass blocking assignments are similarly tricky for LT's. But to be overly simplistic…in standard formations, it is a LT duty to seal the pocket and make sure the RDE or ROLB (usually the best pass rushers on the team) does not disrupt the QB. If the defense shows blitz, the offensive line will communicate and shift blocking assignments along the line. Often times this will leave the LT either protecting the B gap from a blitzing linebacker or maintaining his block on the RDE/ROLB. All of this is dependent on other variables (is a RB staying in to block, is a TE staying in to block, what are the WR sight adjustments, etc.) Player Composition
I know there are people in this forum who can analyze film and technique with the best of them. I'll gladly defer to the more knowledgeable on those film breakdowns and player compositions. I'm writing this just to get the ball rolling as I assume many of you can break down players' tendencies and technique just as well or better than I can. Matt Light, Patriots
—Matt Light has been a consistently above average tackle on this team for the past decade. Unfortunately, age is slowly eroding away Light's ability to keep up with the faster defensive ends and ROLB. His first step was never the fastest, but he no longer has the strength to be able to ride some of the better DE/ROLB out of the play with the left side of his body. He can definitely be beaten with speed, but he's smart under the blitz, knows all the assignments, and still can make all the routine plays. Jake Long, Dolphins
—Long is big (6'7, 310), strong, and has a nasty streak. He's one of the best players on the Dolphins, and one of the best LT in football to boot. The Dolphins feel completely comfortable leaving Long on an island because they know he can handle it. "He allowed only 4 sacks last year. Two in the 4th
quarter of a blowout against the Panthers, a Rob Ninkovich, and a sack to Jared Allen on a blown play by Vernon Carey." Source
Suffice to say, Long's pretty good.
Edited by Kenny F'ing Powers, 05 September 2011 - 08:23 PM.