The 2nd & 3rd Level
Of course the Hawks aren't going to be able to stop every rush in the first level, so when the Redskins win the initial matchup, what then must Seattle do to limit the damage of rushes that enter the 2nd level? And how do Washington's two rushers differ? Let's rip into this.
Lofa Tatupu, Leroy Hill, Julian Peterson, Marcus Trufant and Deon Grant
Clinton Portis, Ladell Betts, Mike Sellers, Pete Kendall and Jason Fabini
Let's start with a brief explanation of Washington's 2 chief rushers.
Given his Madden stats and general reputation, you might be surprised to hear that Portis is not an explosive, speed rusher. Nope, he's more like a picker, somewhat in the Shaun Alexander mold. He doesn't hit the whole especially fast, but his 1st and 2nd gears are seamless, his feet are tremendous and above all, he's excellent at "getting small". Portis moves relatively slow behind the line of scrimmage, some is natural ability and some is Al Saunders' slow developing, pull-centric, run plays. His feet are such, though, that he can accelerate very quickly when needed. That's a big part of him being able to shoot into a hole, slow down to allow his blockers to set up and then explode again through a developing seam. Explode's not really the right word, lets just say accelerate. Portis, who earned his reputation in Denver as a speed back, is much more of a patient picker or weaver, now. Those who haven't kept up with P-Funk might be surprised to learn he hasn't broken a rush of more than 50 yards in over three seasons. His best skill, though, is what is sometimes called "getting small". That cute little bit of jargon means that Portis is able to slide through cracks and seams, and pick his way forward without the benefit of a true hole. Portis doesn't break tackles with might, but his feet are hard to grab, and he's tremendously agile in the open field. A highly successful Portis rush might look like this. The arrows each represent some constant, but undefined set of time. So a longer arrow implies greater speed.
Betts is the explosive rusher. His 1st gear is excellent, though he too often hard charges into his blockers. He's much more of a straight line rusher, without the overall skill of Portis. Betts, though explosive, maxes out very quickly. He's through 1st gear and into his high-end 2nd gear in a second, allowing him to play a bit like a power back, but in the open field that 2nd gear never transforms into a 3rd gear. It's just not there. A highly successful Betts' rush might look like this:
Rushing Inside Out
As demonstrated in the previous post, the Redskins run a lot of complex, slow developing run plays that almost always involve a pulling guard. That pulling guard is as likely to work in the 2nd level as seal off the edge. It's an interesting system that could confuse opposing defenses, but generally just looks like a lot of wasted motion. An outside rush develops inside, where the left guard pulls right, or visa versa, and then blocks into the 2nd level or seals off the opposite edge.
Tatupu, Hill or Peterson Vs Sellers, Fabini or Kendall
The paramount matchup in the 2nd level is the Hawks middle linebacker versus whoever the Skins employ as the primary pull blocker. Depending on the play, that could be fullback Sellers, guard Fabini or Kendall, or Sellers and Fabini or Kendall. The final is a true worst case scenario for the Hawks, as it requires Seattle to shutdown two lead blockers AND tackle Portis or Betts. Because that is both unlikely, and equally unlikely to end positively for Seattle, I'll concentrate on rushes with a single lead blocker reaching the 2nd level. Let's use our handy-dandy run play from the previous post, make a minor tweak so it's run between the guard and tackle rather than off the end and show how Seattle could counteract it. I put in a little artificial space between the tackle and guard for the sake of clarity.
|We see the defensive line has been neutralized. The key for the linebackers is that the outside linebacker is able to hit and drive back the lead blocker in the hole. Tatupu must then surge to the stalled ball carrier and convert the tackle.
The Hawks have been doing this all year, so it's not a stretch to say they can and will do it again. Hill and Peterson are both capable of hammering the lead blocker back into the hole, be that blocker Kendall, Fabini or oversized former TE Mike Sellers. On a run up the gut, the pulling guard would likely seal off the outside and Sellers would lead block up the middle. In this scenario, Tats is responsible for picking off Sellers, and Hill or Peterson must then surge to the ball carrier.
That's all neat and tidy, but what if the rusher gets behind the linebackers?
Let's run the same play, but have the outside linebacker not be able to meet the lead blocker in the hole. That allows the rusher, we'll say Portis, to evade Tatupu outside and enter the figurative 3rd level. If Deon Grant is walked up to the line, he must immediately recognize the play and move in.
If he moves out, the rusher is gone. We've seen this happen a few times, eh?
If Grant is walked off the line, he must only make an open field tackle. The rush is more likely to go 6-20 yards, but much less likely to go the distance. Of course, a missed tackle here is deadly.
The Hawks can and should dominate on the 1st level. If and when the Redskins enter the 2nd level, the Hawks linebackers must be able to reach the lead blocker in the hole so that Portis or Betts is bottled up. If the Hawks cannot reach the lead blocker in the hole, Portis or Betts will have a chance to run away from the free linebacker and enter into the 3rd level. If Grant or Russell is walked up to the line, they must be able to correctly judge where the rush is going, or allow the rusher untouched into the 3rd level with only the corners and deep safety to stop them. If Grant or Russell is shaded back, the rush is more likely to go 6-20 yards, but much less likely to go the distance. The Hawks must win in the 1st level to minimize the chance of a play making the 2nd level, and must win in the 2nd level, minimizing the chance a rush can get into the 3rd level, and potentially go the distance.