Evan Mathis: O-Line Insight

| February 22, 2012

A guest contribution by Evan Mathis, Guard, Philadelphia Eagles

When PFF reached out to me with the unique request for an article, I thought it would be a good opportunity to give the football fan base some insight into the world of offensive line play. They also told me I would have to do this or they would go back to calling Carl Nicks the best guard in football.

The journey to fully understanding football is a tedious one. It’s very easy to turn on a game, eat a meal, tweet, text, talk, and more … all while watching. After seeing a game one time, people are fully ready to provide their opinion as if it’s concretely true. They then get into a debate with another person who watched another game about who is the best left tackle in the NFL. Their opinions are formed from various methods, but rarely from actually watching every game, every player, and every play. Who in their right mind would do such a thing? 

 

Student of the Game

I was first and foremost a fan of the game of football. I just casually watched as many kids do and never paid much attention to everything that was happening. It was easy to hear the announcer’s opinions, follow the football, and read stats. What looked so simple on TV to a young kid was actually an intricate machine of moving parts and interchangeable cogs that would take me years to fully understand. The evolutionary process from casual fan to student of the game unveils what a true art the sport of football is.

Basic understanding of football can come from watching games, reading stats, and getting on the Internet, but how do you effectively talk about a position that has no common stats and takes an above average understanding of the game to comprehend?

If you frequent PFF, it’s likely that you are a student of the game and understand that it’s no simple task to watch 22 players at a time on each play. That rewind button on your remote can be your best friend when studying a football game. In fact, a football diet lacking sufficient rewinding may result in the following side effects:

● Using announcers’ opinions as your own.

● Seeing one replay of a tackle giving up a sack and saying he had a bad game.

● Thinking a back that ran for 150 yards guarantees the OL played well.

● Thinking a back that ran for 40 yards guarantees the OL played terribly.

● Assuming the running back is always running where he is supposed to run.

● Using tattoos and hair length to determine which linemen are good.

 

An Underlying Complexity

So let’s say you are ready to commit to using that rewind button and watching the offensive line. At first, you may have no idea what you are looking at, but it should start to make sense in time. The most complicated part of understanding offensive line play is determining what any given player’s assignment is on a play–it’s not as simple as ‘block the guy in front of you’ or ‘block whoever comes to you’.

The offensive line is a unit and an adjustment made by the left tackle can affect the right tackle’s responsibility. Before making an assumption about who was supposed to block the linebacker that came free and leveled the quarterback, try to see what everybody else did during the play.

If you piece together assignments, you can make a better judgment on the situation. Keep in mind that not every defensive player is always accounted for. If the defense rushes six guys, that sixth man can belong to the running back, tight end, or the quarterback needing to throw hot. In the case of the quarterback throwing hot, it usually requires a receiver to recognize a blitz and change their route to adjust for a quicker throw. If they don’t adjust, it could result in the quarterback taking a hit from a guy who rushed between C and RG. The casual fan would blame this on the offensive line, but the C and RG could have been doing their jobs even if one of them was blocking nobody.

If you see the aforementioned scenario occur, it means that the offensive line’s responsibility was likely set to pick up a specific five guys and the sixth defender was to be accounted for by the QB and either a WR, TE, or RB. A communication error on the offense could result in a busted play, because it could easily result in a defender getting a free lane to the quarterback.

 

Run Game Clues

For a better understanding of the run game, pay attention to who each guy is blocking or trying to block. Simply by the process of elimination you can get a better idea of everyone’s responsibility. If you see the guard and the tackle double-team blocking a defensive lineman and a linebacker comes right by them to make a tackle, it may or may not have been their responsibility to block that LB.

You must also account for what the fullback and tight end are doing. If the FB was headed in that direction and ended up on nobody, that may have been his man that made the play and the G and T were responsible for the next backer backside. If you aren’t too sure who a player was intending to block, pay attention to where they appear to be looking. If they are supposed to start a double team, they will often look at the second part of their assignment while doing the first part.

Sometimes guys are just flat out wrong and it can make it tough to understand what was actually happening, but this is less than 5% of the time. These types of breakdowns can occur with a lack of focus, but most often from a failure to communicate, Cool Hand Luke style. The absolute best way to keep this from happening is to watch film, lots of film.

 

If you’re a student of the game or just like watching offensive line play, then I hope you gain something from this article. If you think offensive line play is boring, that’s fine, I think you should get a cookie for reading this far.

If you have any football questions or a passion for amateur comedy, then follow me on Twitter: @EvanMathis69

 

 

  • motorcycle

    Fire all PFF staff and replace them with o-linemen ;) Thanks for an interesting article.

  • thadjw

    This is pretty great. I want to challenge Mathis and say that wasn’t really him writing that!

    Just kidding … maybe. Good to hear some of the real scheme language and it would be even better if the site posted a YouTube friendly video of you guys (and even better, real offensive linemen) breaking down what you are seeing on audio while we watch the play go back and forward three or four times … so we can hear what you are thinking as the replay goes through. Please let us see that at some time in the future.

    This site’s the best. I’ll renew on the spot if you can get a GM to go through his draft decisions the way Mathis goes through specifics of a play.

    Thanks and keep it up!

  • FootballFan

    Check out Evans before and after pictures in the preseason, it makes you wonder why more linemen don’t commit like that with such a small career window and so much money on the line.

    Personally I’d like to know how his comparatively low weight affected his play or if it ever came into effect, if you listen to draftniks enough you get the general feeling that a 6’5″ guard would need to be 50lb heavier to be effective in a power blocking scheme.

  • http://www.profootballfocus.com Sam Monson

    He played at around 300, which isn’t a particularly low weight when you consider the muscle he just put on. The 8 weeks of that before/after training was just to lose the fat and get down to a base to then build back up from.

    Obviously he’s not built like a 330lb monster, but it’s not that far off a guy like Steve Hutchinson either (313)