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How I Learned to Stop Worrying About DE Depth and Learned to Love the DTs

Cliff's Notes Version: Missouri's DTs are probably better than you think.

The Pocket
The Pocket

As soon as I saw the email from Bill a few weeks back about getting something in for walkthroughs, my mind went right to the young backup DEs. How will they fare? What's their upside?

Of course my thinking about it did not result in a single written word until after the series, but for whatever it's worth I am ready to share the results of my painstaking analysis.

Drum roll...

The DEs will be fine, given health (knock wood). So there.

In YodaSpeak: In the Kulo, trust you must. As simple as that it is.

I think Missouri has arguably the best DT rotation in the conference. (I'm hedging a bit considering that Alabama plays a base 3-4.) Messrs. Hoch, Vincent, Augusta, and Hatley excel at making defensive ends look really, really good. I see no reason why that should not continue.

Take absolutely nothing away from Missouri's phenomenal 2013 DEs, but have you noticed how sooooo many of their highlight reel plays looked virtually identical?

Stop me when this sounds familiar.

QB receives shotgun snap. Almost immediately one (or more) of Ealy, Golden, Ray, or Sam turns a short corner against an overmatched offensive tackle. Or, one of the ends hits a gap between the tackle and guard as the guard is looking to help inside. QB is now in full retreat backwards and/or to the sideline. The play effectively over, the QB is sometimes able to escape. Sometimes notWashRinseRepeat.

Obviously, it takes talented ends to turn a short corner, chase plays down, and generally wreak havoc. What may be less obvious is how much talent it takes to consistently create short corners.

So when I see Missouri's tackles described as "solid" I think, "that's not exactly wrong, but it misses a crucial subtlety." They are more than mere space eaters. They're space creators.

They consistently create space on the edge by re-setting the offensive interior back closer to the QB. Consider their games against Tennessee, Texas A&M, and South Carolina. Those offensive lines were big and littered with draftable pros.

So how did Missouri's DTs create so much consistent space for the DEs? Really good DTs can create space by flattening the pocket, sharpening it, or both. The kind of all-day-long edge pressure Missouri showed in 2013 really could not come exclusively from winning one-on-one matchups at the edge. Strong interior play creates space for playmakers to make plays. That mostly happens two ways.

  • Flattening the pocket - when DTs can re-set the offensive line back towards the QB, he likely has no room to "climb the pocket" to escape edge pressure. In the worst case scenario, the C, G, and T are basically standing shoulder-to-shoulder. If you watched Super Bowl 48 you saw a lot of flat pockets for Peyton Manning and a lot of short corners for Seattle's DEs Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. Seattle sports personality (and former Manning backup) Brock Huard said in his pre-game analysis, that the owner of the 5 yards of real estate between Manning in the shotgun and his center would win the game. Welp. Seattle ended the game with only one sack, but Manning had his C and Gs sitting in his lap on virtually every throw.
  • Sharpening the pocket - when DTs can force C/G double teams, or even just cause Gs to be inside-conscious, it can result in OTs setting up too far back from the line of scrimmage and/or Gs setting up too close. The point is that when G/T spatial integrity is threatened, the pocket can take on a "V" shape instead of a "U" shape. A V-shape creates an exploitable gap between the G and T. The QB may have a wee bit more room to climb the pocket but the DE has room to cut inside/underneath the T's block.

I must admit that I was surprised in 2013 at how often Vincent and Hoch re-set the line of scrimmage and drew enough attention to create short corners and gaps for the DEs to exploit. That's not a flash in the pan skill. It's repeatable. As long as Missouri has DTs that can flatten and sharpen the pocket the DEs will be fine.

We can worry next year, when Vincent and Hoch are gone.