*Includes all games minus Week 10, Divisional Round and the second half of Week 3 and the first half of week 1.
What the numbers don't say about Patrick Kerney is just how aware he is. No play better defined this than on Tampa's fifth play of their second drive. The Bucs have just entered the red zone, 3rd and 2, Seattle's aligned in a base package with Kerney and Darryl Tapp at the ends. After the snap Rocky Bernard barrels in getting some good inside rush, Tapp runs a very wide pass rush and looks to be largely out of the play, but never stops fighting. Jeff Garcia makes a very bad pocket read, sensing the inside pressure he incorrectly rolls out, exposing himself to Kerney—now unblocked. That mistake is the key, Kerney didn't strip his blocker, he just held back and watched Garcia, when Garcia incorrectly chose to role out to the right he escaped his own pocket and left himself exposed to a suddenly free Kerney. Kerney sees Tapp still chugging out and behind Garcia and instead of rushing right at Garcia he shadows him, shutting down Garcia's rushing lane and passing lane. Tapp, now free, runs up Garcia's backside and the Bucs Qb, with no other option, runs, getting sandwiched between Tapp and the now charging Kerney. Kerney makes every right decision on this play and the result is a three yard sack on a critical third down.
Kerney had another nice game. His sack on the Rams first play of their second drive is a great example of how sometimes, very rarely, one player makes the play essentially on his own. Tapp is out with a busted up hand, subbed in is Atkins aligned at right end. Pre-snap, the Hawks three down linemen minus Kerney slide right, Kerney in turn slides slightly out left. At the snap, Terrill and Mebane crash into the center of the pile, Atkins stays in the blocks (duh.) and Kerney puts a "you don't belong here" bull-rush on Milford Brown. Brown is walked, no, jogged back, Kerney gets in under Brown's pads, pushes off and wraps Bulger up in a you-never-had-a-shot kind of sack.
Bears on the Hawk 42 with a little under 6 left to play. This is the play of the game. Hawks set up in a base defensive package. The Bears: 2 wide right, I-back with a single tight end. At the snap Chicago runs a little play action, Grossman runs one of the lazier PAs in the NFL and no one looks to be fooled, looks down field and then scrambles left. Enter our hero, Patrick Kerney. Kerney explodes off the snap, gives Fred Miller a hell of a push, but has no clear angle to Grossman. Roberto Garza disengages from the scrum and gives Kerney a glancing block from the side. Kerney, unlike the Bears right side, decides the play is not over, splits the two blockers, runs Grossman down from behind and delivers the strip.
Here's your blitz package of the game. Run out of my favorite formation, the 3-3 Nickel. It led to the Julian Peterson INT, but, really, Pete did little more than let the ball into his hands. The superstar of this blitz is Patrick Kerney, who's won me over. You? The other 4 rushers are primarily decoys, designed to open a center channel for Kerney to zip through, unabated to the quarterback - but in a legal way. For that to work, Kerney must not only be quick, he must be quick off the snap, take just the right angle to the gap, and then explode through it before Feeley can adjust. Blitz accomplished.
In 17 of 67 plays, Kerney broke free from his blocker or blockers and had an open lane to the ball carrier behind the line of scrimmage. That forces incompletions, interceptions, causes rushers to cut against their rush lanes and, all around, disrupts an opponent's offense. Kerney isn't blindingly fast along the edge, he gets most of his sacks by way of a good burst off the snap, a great push move that gets him separation, clean lines to the quarterback, but above all, hustle. What has to frighten Cardinals fans is that Kerney made such a mockery of Levi Brown mostly by way of speed rushing the outside. Kerney's quick, but he's not elite or otherworldly. No, Brown is just very, very slow - or, rather, inagile.
The front office and I were of mind about Kerney and Tapp, dedicating their first round pick to a defensive end. Specifically. Next week we’ll start community projections. Football defies the cool, quantifiable nature of baseball. We’ll need to work in something more analog. The Hawks don’t need Kerney to repeat yesteryear’s weekly beatdown, but a late career Wistrom-like collapse could be disastrous. Age is against him. Bernard’s age and injury history are against him. Depth, coverage, Tru’s run tackling, Leroy Hill’s development, Red Bryant, DE rotation-mate Lawrence Jackson and Kerney’s own dedication to fitness are on his side. Age still might win. Because age, like Tony Jaa, is an insatiable ass-kicker.