NFL Studyhall: An X's & O's Guide to Terrorizing NFL Quarterbacks

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NFL Studyhall: An X's & O's Guide to Terrorizing NFL Quarterbacks
Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

With a little help from NFL rewind, we're going to take a detailed look at one specific play from the Houston Texans defense last season.

Many times fans will just take a quick look at a box score after a game and use that to give credit or assign blame. Sure, it's never a bad thing when a player brings down the quarterback and gets credit for the sack. But that doesn't necessarily mean the other 10 players out on the field aren't doing their jobs. Many times, it's actually the exact opposite. 

The play we're going to look at is in Week 13 of last season when the Texans were taking on the Tennessee Titans. The Texans sacked Titans quarterback Jake Locker six times in this game. They did it in a variety of ways, and when you have the NFL Defensive Player of the Year on your team in J.J. Watt, offenses have to account for him on every play.

Just his presence can cause issues for an offense and open things up for his teammates. 

This first screen shot is a look at the alignments for both teams before the snap. It's 3rd-and-12 in the middle of the third quarter. 

After the snap, you'll notice that both players lined up at defensive end, which would be J.J. Watt on the right of the screen and Whitney Mercilus on the left side, plant their outside foot on their third step and then shoot inside to occupy the tackle on their side of the line.

You can also notice the two defensive tackles beginning their stunt.

Make sure to notice the balance of the two offensive tackles. The Titans lost their regular right tackle, David Stewart, early in this game with a broken leg. You can see that his replacement, Mike Otto, was leaning heavy on his right leg when Watt broke to the inside. On the other side, left tackle Michael Roos showed good balance when Mercilus made his move to the inside. 

You'll notice that tight end Jared Cook had been lined up in the backfield to Locker's right while they were in the shotgun and had the responsibility to "chip" Watt before he went down the field. When Watt flashed to the inside, Cook didn't have a chance to put a shoulder into him, so he just went into his route. 

As Watt goes to the inside, Otto has to overcompensate for his lack of balance and redirect to the inside—causing him to lose all balance heading back to his left. You can see how this opens up a lane for the defensive tackle, which was Antonio Smith, to stunt around to the outside and get a free lane to the quarterback.

You'll notice again the difference on the left side of the offensive line and the good position that Roos has with his feet. 

This play was designed to get the "stunters" a free shot to the quarterback as they peel around the defensive ends attempting to clear out the tackles. Smith initially went underneath first on the stunt as the player who would be coming on the quarterback's front side. 

Once Smith gets the corner and has a straight line to Locker, you can see that there's good coverage down the field. The first read was Cook, and he hadn't yet turned his head to look for the ball, so Locker moved his eyes down the field. The defensive backs did their job in sticking close to their receivers and not giving Locker a chance to deliver a pass. 

As Locker goes through his progressions and the pocket begins to collapse, you'll see his athleticism allows him to manipulate the pocket and look for Chris Johnson in the middle of the field. Smith just misses Locker as he came around the edge.

Otto, the right tackle, had dived back upfield to try and shove Smith up the field and out of the play as he lost balance for the third time on this play. Mercilus and Watt aren't allowing Locker to get the ball out quickly to Johnson as they throw their hands up looking to bat down any pass across the middle. 

That's when the linebackers have become part of this equation.

Texans linebacker Tim Dobbins did a good job of playing zone coverage on this play. You will notice in a few of the first pictures above that he's head-up with running back Chris Johnson in coverage.

What's great about what Dobbins did on this play is that he didn't follow Chris Johnson across the field as he crossed his face and came across the middle. He could see Cook coming back across the middle from the other direction and was disciplined enough to not only stay at home, but maintain his balance as he stayed home.

You can tell from the still frame just above that Dobbins sees Cook coming and he's balanced. It wouldn't have taken even two steps for Dobbins heading to his left in following Johnson to allow Cook a chance to get past him going the other way and make a nice easy pass for Locker as the pocket broke down. 

Locker eventually gets outside the pocket and is chased down and sacked by Whitney Mercilus. While Mercilus gets credit for the sack, it's easy to see how everyone else doing their job made this play even possible. 

This is all three levels of the defense doing their jobs to help get the sack on the quarterback. If a defensive back had given too much cushion or if Dobbins had overplayed Johnson coming across the middle, or even if Watt and Mercilus hadn't thrown their hands in the air when Johnson came free across the middle, it could have been an easy completion and first down. 

The saying "you're only as strong as your weakest link" is illustrated nicely on this play in regards to team defense. This is also a good example of many things going on in the game that don't end up in a box score. So be careful next time you want to make a judgement about someone's performance strictly by looking at a box score. They just might have been doing their job. 

The still frames in this article were used thanks to NFL rewind which you can get at NFL.com

You can follow BJ Kissel on Twitter and get Photoshop lessons at @bkissel7.

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