Palazzolo’s Pitch: Blindsided

As he does, Steve Palazzolo covers some ground in this week's Pitch, touching on one of his favorite subjects along the way.

| 4 years ago

Palazzolo’s Pitch: Blindsided

Pitch-WK02For those of you who kept up with PFF during the summer, I spent an inordinate amount of time studying effect of pressure on the quarterback and perhaps debunking some myths along the way. I may sound like a “left tackles are overrated” spambot at times, but I cringe when hearing that team executives are still making decisions based off what I feel are outdated principles. A recent report that one of the top college offensive tackles may get the dreaded “right tackle only” label prompted this tweet and this subsequent Caddyshack-induced pearl of wisdom. I’m sure Cameron Wake has no issue going up against the slow-footed, not-good-enough-to-play-left-tackle lot of the league, but quarterbacks can’t be too happy with getting “blindsided” by Wake on a weekly basis.

But wait, Wake doesn’t rush off the blindside! Tell that to Brandon Weeden:


Granted, the Browns’ scheme on this 4th-and-2 perhaps deserves another article unto itself as Chris Ogbonnaya is charged with blocking Wake one-on-one on the biggest play of the game while coming across the formation to do so. Poor scheming aside, this play is a fantastic example of the shifting blindside in a given play. Weeden has trips to his left and that’s where his first read will go. He now has the league’s best pass protector, Joe Thomas, protecting his front side while Ogbonnaya ventures backside to try and slow down one of the league’s best pass rushers. Again, forgetting the scheme for a moment, do you trust your slow-footed, “right-tackle only” to block Wake one-on-one while the quarterback goes through his progressions on the other side of the field?

Stick to the new rules: if you don’t trust him at left tackle, why put him on the right? The results can be equally disastrous for your franchise quarterback.

Where’s Sheldon?

Many analysts questioned the Jets’ selection of defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson back in April as the potential Top-10 selection fell to New York at No. 13 overall. Among the criticisms were Richardson’s lack of a scheme fit in the Jets’ 3-4 system and their already using first round picks on defensive linemen the previous two years.

Most analysts saw Richardson as an ideal 3-technique in a 4-3 scheme where his quickness and pass rush ability would be best served to penetrate the backfield against guards. Since most assume that every 3-4 scheme doesn’t have a penetrating 3-technique, but instead incorporates two 5-technique defensive ends charged with holding the point against the run, the Richardson selection seemed curious. Also, with DEs Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples already on the roster, the Jets didn’t “need” another player in a similar mold.

Well, if any of you follow me on twitter during draft season, you’ll know I’m a big proponent of teams picking the best player available. I understand we don’t “know” who the best players really are at the time and we certainly don’t know who the best players are on each team’s board (save for a new tradition started by the Cowboys), but my main contention is to refrain from judging a draft based a team filling its perceived needs.

The Giants certainly weren’t in need of a defensive end a few years back when they selected Jason Pierre-Paul with Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck currently on the roster and in their respective primes and similarly the Lions were loaded at defensive tackle in 2011 when Nick Fairley fell to them and they pulled the trigger. While both picks may have been lauded for adding value, there were some criticisms that neither selection “filled a need.”

I’m of the opinion that perceived needs change almost daily (did the Patriots “need” a tight end back in April?), and for the most part, the best players should be selected if long-term success is the goal. The Jets, as well as many draft followers, felt Richardson was the best player on the board at the time, so why criticize drafting a perceived good player just because there are similarly talented players already on the roster?

As for the scheme issue, the Jets’ 3-4 is anything but traditional as they use a number of 4-3 principles. Any scheme-fit concerns for Richardson should be eased after Sunday’s game that saw him line up all over the defensive line. Take a look:

richardson table

Richardson played half of his snaps at 3-technique and was essentially asked to do what most draftniks wanted him to do: penetrate the backfield. The Jets used him at a number of positions, including standing him up at linebacker as he did at times in college at Missouri.

The expectation for Richardson coming out was that he’d provide an instant boost as a pass rusher, but had some work to do against the run. The opposite has been true to this point, both in preseason and in Week 1, as he’s shown extremely well against the run while struggling to get to the quarterback. On Sunday he graded at +4.5 against the run while failing to notch any pressure on his 33 rushes. He did a nice job getting into the backfield as he notched four stops in the ground game and despite not having instant success as a rusher, the Jets will continue to move him around to find favorable matchups. Keep an eye on where he lines up against the Patriots Thursday night.

And Kenny, Where’s he?

Sticking with the theme of versatile rookies, the Saints used their first round pick, Kenny Vaccaro at a number of spots against the Atlanta Falcons. Vaccaro is listed as a safety, but he spent extensive time covering the slot at Texas and it looks like he’ll continue in a similar role for the Saints. On Sunday, they gave tight end Tony Gonzalez some extra attention and Vaccaro often found himself playing directly over the future Hall of Famer in more of a rush linebacker type position.

The results were mixed as Vaccaro was easily moved by Gonzalez a couple times in the running game, not exactly Gonzalez’ strength after grading at -17.1 as a run blocker last season, second-worst among tight ends. Vaccaro showed well in coverage, though, as he spent a lot of time following Gonzalez around the field, both in single coverage or as the help man in a double.

That’s what we saw on the Falcons’ last offensive play as Vaccaro dropped down to take away any in-breaking routes on Gonzalez while fellow safety Roman Harper worked the outside. QB Matt Ryan forced the throw, as he’s done many times given Gonzalez’ elite ball skills, but this time Vaccaro made a great play on the ball, tipped it in the air, and Harper made the catch for the game-sealing interception. Week 1 was a great display of how the Saints will use Vaccaro’s versatility to stifle opposing tight ends.


News and Notes

Revis Watch

Despite running a different defensive system compared to the Jets, the Buccaneers are wise to take advantage of Darrelle Revis’ skill set by having him track opposing wide receivers to both side of the field. He played 25 snaps at LCB and 29 snaps at RCB last week as he spent much of his time following WR Santonio Holmes. Targeted four times, gave up one reception for 13 yards and deflected two passes. He seems ok.

Rare Sight

Really? A weekly occurrence for some, that’s quite a stretch of time to go without.

Quiet night for J.J.Watt?

Nope. For the night, Watt “quietly” graded at +7.2 with three pressures (two hits, one hurry), three stops in the running game, and a batted pass. Yawn.

Some receiving bits from the PFF Signature Stats:

•  Last season, Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald was targeted 26 times on deep routes and only two were deemed catchable. He’s halfway to his 2012 total as his one 24-yard target was caught for a touchdown Sunday.

•  Bengals WR A.J. Green caught all three of his deep targets for 108 yards and a touchdown.

•  Broncos TE Julius Thomas caught five passes for 110 yards out of the slot.

Around the site this week:

•  All 16 Week 1 games Re-Focused.

•  Sam Monson with his weekly must-read Analysis Notebook, this time breaking down the pluses and minuses to Reggie Bush’s game.

•  It’s never too early to track the Race for Rookie of the Year.

•  Nathan Jahnke with a note per team in his weekly 32 Observations.

•  The Good and the Bad from Week 1.



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| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

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