Good Coverage: 3
Broken Tackles: 5
Blown Coverage 1
*Includes all games minus Week 10, Divisional Round and the second half of Week 3 and the first half of week 1.
Next play, Bears at their fifteen. Hawks, quite fortunately in retrospect, stay in their base package. Seattle rushes 6, but the Bears counter with a perfect play call: Screen. All but Leroy Hill are sucked up on the play, and the secondary is dropped deep. Benson sets, has two blockers in front and should at the very least put Chicago back into a manageable second down. Instead, Hill comes flying from nowhere, splits the blockers and blows Benson up for a loss of two. Hill tends to be the odd one out when people talk about our linebackers, but the guy's a beast. At the time, a drive and maybe game changing play.
11/26/07 9th play, now from the 2. Rams rush Steven Jackson, Russell comes in for the fill, bounces a bit off to the side, but stalls Jackson's progress. Leroy Hill grasps Jackson's legs and the two combine for the stop. Each play was essential to the Hawks winning. Kudos, guys.
Finally, a blitz: I know we haven't talked about Kerney much, he had a good game and we'll get to him in time. He plays a bit part in this blitz, but Leroy Hill is the star and Lofa Tatupu the mastermind.
Tapp rushes straight ahead. Terrill, rushes hard right. Kerney drops into a short zone. Hill runs up behind Tapp and lets the play develop. Here's the meat: Tatupu engages his man, but stops attempting to rush the quarterback. Instead, he turns right and moves his blocker into the pile. That allows a lane to open for Peterson and eventually Hill. And the gravy: Pete ends up blocked out of the play, but Hill charges into Mike Sellers, pushes him into Collins, jumps above the staggered Sellers, grabs Collins by the jersey and curls him to the ground. That's a play for the highlight reel. From Tats unselfish execution to Hill's freakish strength and agility, an impressive display of team defense.
Leroy Hill can't cover anyone--who knew? Oh yeah, everyone.
Fourth play, second Saints drive: The Hawks are in a 3-3 Nickel, my favorite formation. Seattle has beat the Saints into 3rd and 10, Seattle covers the downfield receivers and the pocket is breaking down. Bush slides free short left, with Peterson just a half a yard right of him and Leroy Hill well left. Brees passes it to Bush, Peterson attempts a futile arm tackle and then Hill inexplicably runs right at the much faster Bush. It's a horrendously misguided angle and when Bush whips past him, Hill goes from containing the outside left to completely out of the play. Bush gets 11 and the first down.
It's arguable that Hill has already taken that step. Quietly, perhaps, but what we should see consistently in 2008 was forged in 2007. The step I speak of is from good, even very good, linebacker to great linebacker. Hill is already the best tackler on the Hawks roster, as can be seen with his scant 5 blown tackles on the season (wait until you see what Lofa Tatupu posted), he already has the best straight line speed in the Hawks front 7 and is an excellent blitzer, but over the regular 16 and the bonus 2, Hill added another skill: coverage. Hill pulled himself up from the failed experiment "Leroy Hill coverage linebacker" of 2006 to become a competent coverage backer with a TNT pop in the open field. His forced fumble on Ryan Grant in the Divisional Round was the culmination of a lengthy and often arduous on the job lesson in playing the short zone. But the once clueless Hill has learned to diagnose routes and close on receivers, creating the ability to break up receptions, put a little fear in opposing backs, tight ends and slot receivers and force fumbles in the open field. Watch for Hill to consolidate his skills, inherent and learned, and explode on the league in 2008.