It was only a matter of time before left tackle D'Anthony Batiste was replaced. His performances have been awful week in, week out. Coming into yesterday's game he had surrendered a total of 51 quarterback pressures—12 of them were quarterback sacks, five were quarterback hits and 34 were quarterback hurries.
He was also penalized eight times through the Cardinals' first eight games. Pro Football Focus has graded 69 offensive tackles this season and Batiste, by far, has received their worst grade. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt finally reached his boiling point at the end of the first quarter yesterday and decided to pull Batiste in favor of rookie Nate Potter.
Potter had only played one offensive snap prior to his entry at left tackle, but had plenty of work leading up to yesterday's game. Whisenhunt got him plenty of reps during practice at left tackle, so it was evident the change was coming eventually.
He ended playing 50 offensive snaps and held his own quite well. Seven of his 50 offensive snaps came against Clay Matthews one-on-one—most came in the second quarter because Matthews sat out a majority of the second half with a bum hamstring. Dezman Moses then became Potter's main matchup for the rest of the day.
Regardless of the matchup, the rookie left tackle fared quite well. By my count, he only allowed four quarterback hurries and one quarterback hit. It's hard to argue with that kind of production considering Batiste was allowing almost seven pressures a game. In seven of the first eight games he allowed at least one sack.
Despite being a seventh-round pick, many would argue that Potter could end up being a better tackle than his rookie counterpart Bobby Massie. Massie has played almost as poorly as Batiste through the first half of the season. He has allowed 13 sacks, two hits and 34 hurries.
I asked Benjamin Allbright of NFLDraftMonster.com if he thought Potter had more upside than Massie. He thought it was a tough question, but thought Massie could turn into a good tackle if he ever got out of his own head. Playing football is just as much mental as it is physical—he just needs to start believing in his own ability.
It definitely appeared as if the rookie left tackle believed in his own abilities and got better as the game went on. Here are three examples of different maneuvers Potter used against opposing outside linebackers in pass protection.
Play No. 1
Matthews was coming strong on the outside with a wide speed rush around the corner that initially beats the rookie, but look how well he recovers right at the last moment. He knows he is beat, so what does he do? He doesn't hold like a lot of tackles when they are beat, he forces Matthews to the ground.
By forcing Matthews to the ground, it ensures quarterback John Skelton will at least get the throw off. If Potter allowed Matthews to stay in Skelton's throwing lane, the pass could have easily been knocked down or thrown off-target. Instead, he gets the throw off with ease and Arizona advances the ball nine yards down the field.
Play No. 2
Stonewalling one of the best pass-rushing outside linebackers in the game is never easy to do, yet that is exactly what Potter accomplished more than once yesterday. Matthews is again coming hard off the edge, but the rookie had a great wide-base stance that enabled him to stop No. 52 in his tracks.
His lower-body movement was above average all game long. He has quicker feet than Batiste and is definitely more athletic. Against today's breed of outside linebackers and defensive ends it is essential to have strong recovery skills.
Play No. 3
The third screenshot is of Potter's protection on Larry Fitzgerald's 31-yard touchdown reception. He is squaring off against outside linebacker Brad Jones on this play. Like Matthews on the first play, Jones starts wide in an attempt to get around the rookie with a speed rush. And even though he almost turns the corner, Potter cuts him off right at the last second and pushes him out of arm's reach of Skelton.
Credit Skelton as well—he slid up a bit in the pocket. Hypothetically speaking, if Jones were indeed to hit the ball or even Skelton's arm, this touchdown never happens. Granted, Fitzgerald made plenty of moves after the catch; he would have never gotten the opportunity if Potter wouldn't have forced Jones out of the play.
Yesterday's performance was not necessarily Pro Bowl-worthy, but it was better than anything offensive line coach Russ Grimm had previously seen out of Batiste. The technique and physical attributes jumped out at you on more than one occasion.
Sure, he also had a couple of bad plays from time-to-time. Fortunately for the Cards, the good plays outweighed the bad more often than not. Even Coach Whisenhunt was impressed by the rookie left tackle.
Arizona has a bye this week and will head to the Georgia Dome in Week 11. Let's see if two weeks' preparation will be enough to keep John Abraham at bay.
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