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Matchupalooza: Hawks Tackles Vs Packers Ends

Sean Locklear is playing for tomorrow's millions. Some team somewhere is going to offer the Hawks steady right tackle big bucks this offseason, because they think he can make the switch to left tackle, and, moreover, because they're freakin' flush with cash. Last week, Lock took a sack allowed on an edge rush that looked like the Kentucky Derby: 100 furlongs forward, a half circle turn and 100 furlongs back where Matt Hasselbeck was busy chewing his cud in the starting gate. It certainly wasn't Beck's sharpest game, and when he's frustrated, he'll abuse his pass pro, live in the pocket waiting for something downfield to develop and ignore underneath routes. Hustle ends that don't take themselves out of the play and don't quit, are one of Lock's weaknesses. The other, is straight, pedal to the floor, bull rushers.

Aaron Kampman can be that. He hustles, too. He'll give you edge rush in a pinch and isn't bad at run stopping. It's debatable whether Kampman has arrived as one of the league's premier defensive ends, or if he's just in a supremely productive 2 year window. He entered this season like a house on fire, recording 9 sacks in the first 8 contests. Since then he's recorded only 3 sacks, and against less than stellar competition. One was recorded against Brandon Gorin, a mid-season replacement for the Rams. The other two came against the Lions, Mike Martz, George Foster (Oh, he of 11.75 sacks allowed and 9 false starts) or someone presumably behind him on the depth chart. Sacks are a dicey stat. A player can achieve pass rush without creating sacks, and a player achieving consistent pass rush can have his sacks bunch up at times. Not because he's necessarily playing better during that stretch, but because of luck and opportunity. Still, it's a noteworthy drop off.

Walter Jones is still a very good tackle. When a player reaches a certain age, and has been great for a very long time, he'll begin to receive rewards and accolades for the body of his career. For instance, Jones' recent All-Pro nod. The kneejerk counterforce to these plaudits is, of course, healthy skepticism. That can prejudice the skeptic's opinion as much as reputation poisons the traditionalist's opinion. Jones may no longer be as good as Joe Thomas, but that doesn't mean he's still not one of the very best left tackles in all of football. After a slow start to the season, caused by an advisable absence from the preseason, Jones has been steady, an occasional force in the run game, and a well rounded tackle with few weaknesses in pass pro. His worse weakness, though, will be tested this Saturday.

Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila has the explosive first step and cool nickname of a premier edge rusher. And he is a premier edge rusher, but he's not much else. KGB has 9.5 sacks on the season and only 22 solo tackles. This season he's been subbed heavily. Teamed with Cullen Jenkins, KGB's not strictly a third down end or pass rush specialist, but he's not far from it. Jenkins is not, on paper, a player that should give Jones any trouble. But KGB is. Jones is slower around the edge than he once was, and when he meets a defender, less willing to extend his chronically injured left shoulder out and risk re-injury. The Hawks have gone as far as employing pop blocks, moving guard Rob Sims out and Jones in, but that's a troublesome solution. Sims is then at a natural disadvantage to edge rushers who start closer to edge, forcing Sims to catch up before he engages the defender. Further, the space between the tackle and guard created by pop blocks can be exploited by a blitzing linebacker, something Seattle saw all too clearly in its second contest against the Rams.

So how does Seattle account for potential mismatches at both ends of the offensive line? The obvious solution is to avoid third and long. Of course they could just score more points than their opponent while they're at it, since I'm giving out dime store advice. Third and long, at some point, is an eventuality. The Hawks should take an idea from Green Bay's playbook. That is, short routes, backs in the flanks, and an occasional screen, especially to the left, where KGB will be sucked up, and supreme cover linebacker A.J. Hawk is on the opposite side of the field. The other thing that the Packers are smart about is that they are willing to send a receiver on a route short of the first down marker, if they know it's likely to materialize fast enough to allow them to escape excessive pressure or a sack. All those 5 yard gains on 3rd and 7 may net negative DVOA, but they also allow the Pack to have the best adjusted sack rate in football. It's a move a team makes when it trusts its defense; keeps an eye to the bigger picture, where five yards might help your punter pin the team back, or just help your QB avoid a pick or sack. Sometimes, that quick slant, or 5 yard crossing pattern or fullback screen turns into so much more. The Hawks have the talent to beat the Pack at their own game, now will they use it?