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The Film Room: How Cliff Avril disrupted the Falcons’ offense

Atlanta Falcons v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks played in another wild one on Sunday, blowing a 14-point halftime lead before rumbling back for a 26-24 victory over the red hot Atlanta Falcons. The first half was a defensive domination by the Seahawks with much of the pressure on quarterback Matt Ryan created by defensive end Cliff Avril.

He finished the game with two sacks and one tackle for a loss. How did he do it?

Avril’s first sack came with just over two minutes left in the first quarter. Seattle rushed four, while the Falcons left six to protect Ryan. Avril rushes from the 9-technique well outside the right tackle.

Notice pre-snap how linebacker (54) Bobby Wagner stands in the A-gap between the center and the right guard. This simple positioning gives the Seahawks a one-on-one match-up with Avril versus right tackle Ryan Schraeder. Running back Tevin Coleman stays in the middle of the pocket to protect against the potential blitz.

After the snap, he explodes off the line of scrimmage aiming to speed rush around his blocker. Schraeder is actually late to engage with Avril opening a window for the pass rusher to execute a rip move to round the corner.

Now pay close attention to how Avril masterfully turns his body to not get widened too far outside his intended path. This is the key as not many pass rushers have the flexibility required to make this turn.

After making the turn, Avril dives at Ryan from behind, stripping the football from his throwing arm in the process. Avril has become a master at the strip sack over the course of his career, forcing 27 fumbles since 2008. The Seahawks recovered and would score on the very next play with a nine-yard run by Christine Michael.

But that was just the beginning.

The second sack was on the next drive, still in the first quarter. This play came at the 1:40 mark on 1st-and-10. Seattle sends a five-man pressure package with strong safety (33) Kelcie McCray rushing from around Schraeder. With five men and a running back blocking, the Falcons should be able to protect Ryan easily. The issue, however, is that when Ryan originally set the pass protection, he didn’t account for McCray sneaking up into the box.

After the snap, the entire defensive line angles their pass rush to the right. This opens a hole between the right guard and the right tackle. Since McCray rushes around the edge, the right tackle shifts from Avril to McCray correctly assuming that the running back will be able to take the free rusher through the B-gap.

This blitz does exactly what is planned. Avril gets into the backfield in a two-on-one situation while the running back can’t block Avril in time. The immediate pressure forces Ryan to give up on the play throwing himself to the ground allowing the sack.

Not only was Avril effective in the pass game, he was also strong in run defense. He had two run stops in the first half. The first came with 9:04 left in the first quarter when Atlanta ran a stretch run to the left.

Avril does a great job anchoring against tight end (80) Levine Toilolo, not allowing him to create a running lane for Devonta Freeman.

The second run stop happened with 11:32 left in the 2nd quarter. Avril is once again blocked by Toilolo. This time Avril reaches out with his outside arm and then creates leverage on the blocker throwing his outside shoulder into his chestplate. This creates the penetration necessary to wrestle Coleman to the ground for a 0-yard gain.

Edit: I originally thought this was a “forearm-shoulder” technique. Avril actually corrected me and claimed it was poor technique, but it worked anyways.

The Seahawks’ luck diminished in the third quarter as Ryan consistently took advantage of the secondary’s miscommunications, allowing multiple deep passes down the field. Seattle narrowly escaped with a victory on a controversial no-call pass interference on Richard Sherman that will certainly have many riled up as they discuss this game.

The Seahawks face the Arizona Cardinals next week; Look for Avril and the rest of the defensive line to try and stop David Johnson while applying pressure to Carson Palmer. While Avril’s good buddy Michael Bennett left this game with an ugly knee injury in the third quarter, it appears as though he’ll be ready to return for next week’s primetime NFC West matchup on Sunday night.

If you need a refresher of what Cliff Avril brings to the Seahawks’ defense, make sure you check out the video breakdown I did of him earlier this summer. Also, here is the accompanying article.

Even Avril agrees with me that you should watch the video too!