SB Analysis Notebook: Wide Rush

| January 31, 2014

AN-SBXLVIII-3Denver brought over right guard Louis Vasquez in free agency from San Diego as part of their rebuilding process on the O-line and without doubt it was a hugely successful move. Vasquez in particular will face his sternest test in the biggest game of the season this Sunday.

Vasquez didn’t allow a sack all season and surrendered just 14 total pressures in the regular season, fewer than one per game. He has played 155 snaps in the playoffs and hasn’t added to that tally with a single pressure surrendered.

Only Josh Sitton had a better Pass Blocking Efficiency this season than Vasquez did when you look at the pressure surrendered per snap pass protecting. Unquestionably he had a great first year in Denver.

There is equally no doubt that his season was helped hugely by Peyton Manning; a quarterback that mitigates pressure from his offensive line better than any other passer in football.

The term ‘pocket presence’ seems to have fallen a little out of favor in recent years but Manning’s is unrivaled and a little different from the traditional idea. Manning does move and slide in the pocket to avoid pressure, but where he separates himself from the rest is how he responds when pressure becomes inevitable.

Manning has an incredible ability to feel when a part of his protection is beaten and instantly get rid of the football, pulling the red rag away from the charging bull like a matador before he has a chance to make a play. This is a big bonus to an offensive lineman protecting Manning. Even when you’re beaten there’s a good chance it’ll never become pressure given how quickly he can recognize it and deliver the football to a receiver.

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The Broncos’ QB also has the ball in his hands on average less than any other passer. The average time to throw from Manning this season was just 2.36 seconds, the lowest mark in the league by some margin. By contrast, that average mark for the other quarterback in the Super Bowl, Russell Wilson, is 3.18 seconds. That difference is huge for pass rush and pass protection alike.

So why will this game be an especially tough test for Vasquez? For two reasons. Firstly, the Seahawks have the kind of aggressive coverage that increases that average time to throw. The average length of time the opposing quarterback had the ball in his hands against them was 2.77 seconds, almost half a second per play on average longer than Manning this season. If the Seahawks can have that kind of impact on Manning in this game, they buy their pass-rushers extra time to cause havoc.

When they met in the preseason Manning’s average time to throw was 2.86 seconds compared to 2.36 again in all his other preseason throws. The Seattle D, if nothing else, creates a hesitation in Manning’s game.

Vasquez will likely be tasked with holding his block for longer than he has had to before this season, but he is also going to face an unusual looking pass rush.

The Seahawks have a platoon of edge-rushers they can deploy to bring the heat but in Michael Bennett they also have a defensive end who they align inside in a four-man line to ply his trade as a defensive tackle. There’s nothing unusual about this in today’s NFL – it’s a trend that multiple teams employ – but the Seahawks don’t actually line Bennett up inside.

Take a look at this picture:

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Bennett is lined up all the way over the right tackle, actually shaded a hair to his outside. He’s lining up a full player further outside than the guy who is tasked with blocking him, RG Alex Boone in this case, or Louis Vasquez on Sunday. The Seahawks will attack the tackles with speed around the edge from wide alignments, but it’s the way they line Bennett up abnormally wide and exploit that width that is unusual, and effectively turns the RG into an extra right tackle on the play.

Vasquez was actually asked to kick out to right tackle this season when Denver was hit by injuries. Against the Colts in Week 7 he allowed just a single pressure from his snaps on the edge. As impressive as that was, however, Michael Bennett is a tougher proposition than Erik Walden.

While left guards are usually the guards that have help from the center, in this case combining to block Clinton McDonald at the other DT spot, the right guard is often on an island against an interior rusher. The width that the Seahawks attack with puts that guard on an island in far more space than they are used to dealing with. It effectively creates an extra edge rusher from just a four-man rush.

Of course the down side to using all of this extra space is leaving a big hole up the middle.

ANWideRush2

Against Colin Kaepernick this can be a big issue, and we saw him take off for several big gains over the course of the NFC Championship game. Against Peyton Manning? Not so much. Manning this season scrambled on zero occasions – not once. You could part the red seas of defense in front of him all the way to the end zone and he’d be looking for a crossing pattern to hit. The Seahawks can afford to rush to the perimeter and abandon the middle of the field safe in the knowledge Manning won’t exploit the gap it leaves up the gut.

So while Louis Vasquez was undoubtedly a fantastic signing for Denver in the offseason, he is going to get tested in a way he hasn’t been tested all season, and will have to bring all his pass protecting skills to bear against Michael Bennett and the Seahawks.

 

Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam 

  • Mylegacy

    I just posted the following on the “Manning” thread – and having just after that read this “thread” I realize it fits here as well – with apologies to all for being a lazy poster – I shall just copy it as follows:

    I am a huge Manning fan. That this guy, with a fused neck and a wonky
    ankle, can even play as a regular at QB for an NFL Championship caliber
    team should warrant considerable praise. That he can – in his present
    physical state – command an unmatched season for the ages is almost
    beyond comprehension. I love the guy!

    However, I love the Seahawks more. Were I consulted by Coach Carroll
    (which to date I have not been – his loss I conjecture) as to how to
    defend the Indefensible Mr. Manning my answer would be short.

    Pete, may I call you Pete? Pete, we have the greatest defense at
    least since the 1950′s – trust them. Don’t change anything. Do not be
    overly concerned the way Manning gets his passes off in a record short
    time. Ignore that. Instead trust that our corners can be lock down and
    that our line backers and Chancellor (bigger than most linebackers) can
    dramatically reduce YAC and physically so intimidate their over the
    middle route runners that by the second half they’ll be gun shy. Like
    that “mediocre” Crabtree was when he clearly shied away from from
    catching a crucial 3rd down throw in his final game of this season.

    The KEY however is for our pass rushers (The Magnificent Seven) to
    rush exactly as they did against Brees (and every other QB this year)
    and by doing so do not allow Manning time to throw DEEP. Manning will be
    the least dangerous QB (when he tries to throw deep) that Seattle has
    faced this year – he is (no disrespect intended) a “statue” who throws
    accurately “ducks.” Long “ducks” by a hurried QB when defended by the
    best D in the land spell turnovers for the Hawks.

    The Magnificent Seven, the most underrated linebackers and the Legion
    will win this game – with a little help from their friends in a very
    underrated law firm: “DaBeast, DangeRuss, Havin and Associates.”

    • seahawks

      This guy called it.