How NFL Teams Can Psyche Out Their Opponents on Defense

BJ KisselContributor IAugust 1, 2013

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 05:  J.J. Watt #99 of the Houston Texans waits between plays against the Cincinnati Bengals during their AFC Wild Card Playoff Game at Reliant Stadium on January 5, 2013 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

There is no easier way to psyche out your opponent than to continually harass their quarterback.  

If the quarterback is getting pressured, feeling pressured and ideally ending up on the ground on a regular basis, things are most likely going well for you. Offenses don't work if there is constant pressure coming from the defense. That's how you psyche out your opponent. 

But let's be honest from the beginning, the idea of 'psyching someone out' is completely subjective. We don't ever know what's going on in the heads of these players. We can make educated guesses and state our cases, but there's always another side to the argument.

We'll take a look at a couple of different scenarios in this article in which 'psyching out' may, or may not, have taken place. 

The first one is an easy one to understand. 

When your team is facing a premier pass-rusher like the Houston Texans' J.J. Watt, it's not like he comes up and surprises you on game day. Teams spend all week trying to game plan a way to stop Watt from terrorizing their quarterback last season and nobody ever really seemed to figure it out. 

He was the NFL's most dominating player on the defensive side of the ball. 

During the season, quarterbacks spend all week watching film, studying their opponent and figuring out ways to neutralize this kind of player. When they spend all that time and it still doesn't matter, he's still chasing you out of the pocket and bringing you down on game day. There's a certain level of frustration and helplessness that goes along with facing a premier player like this. 

This play below shows a little bit of why teams might feel pretty helpless when facing the Houston Texans and J.J. Watt. 


The Houston Texans are taking on the Cincinnati Bengals and they're running a zone blitz on this particular play. The Texans blitz their MIKE backer right through the hole currently in front of Watt. 


The outside linebacker lined up on the weak side of the formation, Connor Barwin, drops into coverage after showing blitz. 


This next shot gives you an initial look at the pocket that quarterback Andy Dalton is working with when he drops back to pass. The MIKE backer looks to have a pretty decent-sized crease to run through on the right side of the center. 

The fullback looks to be attempting to come over and cut the linebacker off in the hole. You can start to see Watt coming across the face of the center and make his way to the A-gap on the left side of the center, currently occupied by the fullback. 

All in all, this is a pretty good start to a pocket on a pass play where there were five men coming after the quarterback. 


In this shot you can see that Dalton initially thinks he has a little time in the pocket. If he didn't know that, which in hindsight he might of wish he had, one of the slot receivers has a small window to receive a pass. Indicated by the thin red line, the defender in zone coverage would have hopped onto this route if the timing hadn't of been perfect. 

If the play had more time like Dalton thought it did, tight end Jermaine Gresham coming across the field would have had a couple of different windows open to catch a pass. The bottom receiver cleared out the cornerback with deep 1/3 responsibility on that side of the field.

But in the end, J.J. Watt makes a great individual play to get to the quarterback.  It's plays like this that can really frustrate a quarterback: One player owns his opponent and single-handedly makes a difference.


Another psyche-out that we might have seen last year involved one of the games best quarterbacks.

Tom Brady had issues with the NFC West division last season. Brady and the New England Patriots went 1-3 against this division and he threw five of his eight interceptions on the season in losses to Arizona, Seattle and San Francisco. 


The most popular was against the Seattle Seahawks. There was a well talked-about feud between Brady and standout cornerback, Richard Sherman, after the game. The famous meme's that circulated throughout social media after the game would simply define it as the 'U Mad Bro?' game. It put Sherman on the map as well. 

When the New England Patriots were leading 20-10 mid-way through the third quarter, Brady attempted a pass that was picked off by Sherman. It gave the Seahawks some life and they ultimately came back and won the game, triggered by the interception from Sherman. 

The ill-advised throw from Brady is shown here below in screenshots one through five. Brady simply forced the throw down the field when Sherman had perfect position and it led to the interception. 

After this play, Brady went 9/19 for 113 yards and an interception for the rest of the game. It sure looked like Sherman got the best of Brady after the interception, and Brady's play afterward only reiterated the idea that Brady had gotten outside himself and wasn't playing his best football. 

Brady ultimately bounced back because the Patriots won their next seven games. Brady threw 19 touchdowns and just one interception over that time. 

While we'll never know for sure if a player was officially 'psyched out', the game has a way of figuring things out. When a great player continuously shows why he is so special and frustrates his opponents tirelessly, there is a clear effect on the outcome of the game. That's just one of the many reasons it's the most popular sport in the country. 

You can follow BJ on twitter at @bkissel7.