Improved defense makes Texas A&M an SEC West contender
Coming into the season, it looked like a new Texas A&M team (at least on paper) from what we’ve seen in recent years. An explosive offense allowed the Aggies to transition smoothly into the SEC a few years back, but the defense was the clear weakness of the team.
There were signs of life last season as Texas A&M improved to 22nd in our overall defensive grades after ranking 50th in 2014. Credit the young talent along the defensive line for the improvement, but also new defensive coordinator John Chavis who came over from LSU. Now in his second year, Chavis brought a blitz-heavy approach that has turned the Aggies’ defense into a team strength — and it’s the defense that could have them quietly contending in the SEC West. The defensive system was on full display in the opener as they kept UCLA sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen off balance all afternoon.
How the blitz got to Rosen
The stats don’t always tell the story, but in this case they do:
Rosen’s NFL passer rating dropped from 97.9 against traditional rush to 21.9 against the blitz and his grades back up the story as they also dropped from above average to poor. From an evaluation standpoint, Rosen was late and slow to process throughout the game, and a lot of that credit has to go to the Aggies’ scheme.
Early in the game, Texas A&M crowds the line of scrimmage and sends five rushers. They get to Rosen who should have been sacked, but he makes an egregious decision that becomes an interception.
Later in the first half, it’s more of the same as the Aggies send five once again and Rosen is either staring at the rush or simply locked onto his first read far too long. Either way, it’s a sack.
This time, Texas A&M rushes six with man coverage on the back end. It helps to have good pass rushers and DE Myles Garrett and DT Zaycoven Henderson both hit Rosen during the throw to nearly force yet another interception.
Texas A&M blitzed on half of Rosen’s dropbacks and that was the difference in the game.
Myles Garrett lives up to expectations
While schemes are nice, you still need players to carry them out. This is why Texas A&M could field their best team in years. It starts with All-American and future top-five pick Myles Garrett, who lived up to the hype in Week 1 with the nation’s top overall grade among edge rushers as he picked up a sack, three QB hits and seven hurries on his 47 rushes. He got the best of UCLA left tackle Conor McDermott.
Perhaps the biggest difference between this season and just two years ago, however, is that Garrett has help. He was the only significant difference maker that season and only a true freshman, but last year, fellow defensive end Daeshon Hall emerged as a pass rush threat as well. He improved his pass rush grade from 73.1 to 78.0 last season and Henderson made a significant jump as well from 49.2 to 70.8. With Chavis’ aggressive nature plus the pass rushing talent up front, Texas A&M will be harassing opposing quarterbacks all season.
Pressure up front will only help things in the back seven, but there is talent being developed there as well. Safety Donovan Wilson didn’t have his finest game Saturday, but he was excellent all-around last year while fellow safety Armani Watts is solid as well. Linebackers Richard Moore and Otaro Alaka graded well in limited time last season and they turned in strong performances against UCLA, grading at 74.0 and 81.0 respectively. While the back-7 may not be among the nation’s best units, a strong defensive line combined with strong coaching should keep the Aggies in every game and opposing quarterbacks off balance every week, just as they did against Josh Rosen.