If all goes well in Chicago, Kyle Long will match up with Ndamukong Suh frequently over the coming years. But how does Chicago’s newest first-round selection match up with Suh and other NFC North foes?
The Bears expect their 2013 first-round draft pick to be the team’s starting right guard this season, and for many more to come. The Oregon product will have to be a quick learner to find success against opposing NFC North interior linemen.
For the sake of this article, let's go ahead and assume that Long will win the starting right guard competition and evaluate how his skill set matches up with those of the NFC North’s best defensive tackles.
Suh is the best-known opponent Kyle Long will face this season and the defensive tackle’s celebrity is well deserved. Suh is dominant as a pass-rusher. The athleticism Suh possesses may be the most dynamic of anyone in the NFL at his position. His quick, explosive movements dictate the movements of his opponent, which allows him to vertically attack the quarterback.
When matched up across from Suh, it is of paramount importance to keep low to the ground. He will try to stand you up and use his speed to swim past his opponents. Below in a 2012 matchup against Chicago, look at how Suh stands up the right guard. Once he gets his opponent upright, he is able to swim left and reach the quarterback. On this play he forced Cutler to throw the ball away.
On paper, this matchup is compatible with the skill set Long possesses. Both Long and Suh are more physical than technical. The greatest criticism of Long is his lack of experience, as he played just one season of Division I football. But against Suh, Long can rely on his athleticism and shadow Suh’s movements. After all, Long is at his best when he is reacting. If Long can stay low he can find success against Suh, who is always looking to get vertical.
When Fairley plays he is an active and destructive force, disrupting both the pass and run. Fairley is more versatile than Suh, as he is a more balanced defender. Suh’s vertical aggression finds him out of place on draws and counters.
However, Fairley certainly has weaknesses. He only played 57.6 percent of Detroit’s snaps last season, whereas Suh played 85 percent. Further, Fairley accrued 11 penalties to Suh’s four, and when you consider Suh played 400 more snaps that number is troubling.
Fairley will be a tough matchup for Long. Long can’t rely on his foot speed against Fairley as the Auburn product doesn’t move horizontally. Instead, Fairley employs his powerful initial punch to push his opponent back. Long will have to get better at absorbing initial contact if he wants to find success against Fairley.
Raji lines up at all three defensive line positions for Green Bay, so Long will certainly face him. Long will see a lot of Raji when the defensemen is lined up on the side of the blitzing OLB. He had zero sacks in 2012, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t interrupt offenses. Raji relies on his quick feet to initiate the trajectory of his opponent. He tries to dictate where the offensive lineman ends up, which by result clogs up the running lanes.
Long’s athleticism makes him a strong matchup. Long is quicker than Raji, so the defensive tackles’ strongest element is rendered less effective when he matches up against Long. Long will try to drive Raji towards the outside, so that he clogs up the blitzer’s path to the quarterback, rather than center of the pocket or the running lane.
Pickett will be a challenge for Long. Pickett lacks athleticism but more than compensates in technique, something Long lacks. Pickett does a fantastic job of staying on his opponent's play-side shoulder. Look at how he attacks the left shoulder of his opponent below.
By getting on the guards left shoulder, Pickett is then able to shed the block and blow up the hole. On this play he did just that, bringing down the ball carrier after a short gain.
Pickett’s technique forces opponents to anticipate his movements and beat him to the point of impact. Pickett’s strong, massive frame is difficult to move once he gets position on you.
Pickett will certainly attempt to expose Long’s lack of experience when the two match up.
Kevin Williams lacks Suh’s physical tools, but the two’s energetic style of play is quite similar. Williams’ game has a more cerebral component to it, as he does a fantastic job of masking his moves by compounding them in two steps. On this play against the Washington Redskins Williams does just that, as he employs a double move against his opponent.
He initially attacks vertically by both pushing the guard backwards and, like Suh, standing his opponent up. Once he has the guard in a vulnerable position, he uses his powerful arms to swim into the hole and blow up the run.
If Williams would have initially attacked towards the trajectory of the run, he would have faced more resistance. But by masking his primary move, he is able to reach the hole freely and make the tackle.
Long is a good match up for Williams as Long’s excellent foot speed will help him recover against Williams’ double moves.
Overall, Fairley and Pickett will cause Long the most problems. They will force the athletic Long to anticipate, rather than to do what he does best, which is to react. Suh, Williams and Raji won’t have the athletic advantage they typically possess against offensive lineman, which will allow Long to attack their weaknesses.
Given the skill sets of Long's divisional opponents, it is easy to see why the Bears fell in love him during the scouting process.