I was watching video on the upcoming Seattle Seahawks. While I sat there, running the video back and forth and watching the Seahawks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, a memory formed in my head.
It was one of those National Geographic, or Wild Kingdom shows, or maybe something from “Shark Week.”
It showed (from a drone’s eye view) a streaking Tiger Shark swimming through a bluish lagoon at a rate that was nothing short of amazing. Hard angle turns to the right or left were a part of the shark’s swimming mastery, as it pursued its prey. After a couple of hi-speed turns, dinner was on.
So yeah, long story short, it reminded me (metaphorically speaking) of Clowney. And his exceptional athleticism.
Hear me now, and believe me later, this guy is potentially more explosive than a lit match in a fireworks factory.
He stands 6-foot-3 and carries 255 pounds of quivering quake and bake fast-twitch muscle fibers. To say he’s fast is an understatement. I’ve only experienced his speed while riding in a car.
Clowney has the strength to hold the point against the run, or hit the retro rockets and get on the hunt after the quarterback on a pass rush.
(Though Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton is no track star, Clowney ran him down from behind easily in the Seahawks season opener when it got too hot in the kitchen and Dalton made a run for it).
Clowney lines up on both sides as a defensive end. Matt Feiler and Al Villanueva are two of the Steelers linemen that should have the opportunity to have a go with Clowney. But they won’t be alone.
Clowney sometimes will standup as a linebacker over one of the guards as well in obvious passing situations.
Primarily, Clowney lines up as a “wide 9” (three or four yards outside the tackle) in a four-point track stance as a defensive end. His go-to rush seems to be a wicked three-step takeoff, with a hard break to the inside shoulder of the tackle, finishing with an arm-over technique called “a swim”.
Clowney is an “all-in” pass rusher. He doesn’t hold back in the least. He will crash and burn if he gets caught in the middle of a move. But he doesn’t let that possibility slow him down.
Interestingly enough, though, he has a good bull rush and certainly has the speed to rush up the field. Most of his rushes take him inside of the tackle, trying to split the guard-tackle gap.
Both Villanueva and Feiler will need good kick-steps off the line of scrimmage, timing him as they move backwards in pass protection.
However, both tackles need to be cautious so as to not “bailout” or move backwards so fast they leave the inside route to the QB open.
Clowney will occasionally “hypnotic eye” or head fake, club the tackle with his inside arm, and then swim to the inside. And if the door gets slammed shut on him when he rushes to the inside, Clowney will grind away and finish off the inside rush with an uppercut Joe Frazier would be proud of.
With that in mind, when Clowney head fakes on a pass rush, Steelers linemen can help themselves by taking a step back to change the personal confrontation space. They can then sit heavy on the club. Villanueva, Feiler and others can use their advantage of size, arm length (Villanueva) and strength (Feiler) to maximum usage.
Because Clowney can carry speed to power in his bull rush straight into the tackle, he can set them back on their heels. Once Clowney gets them moving backwards, he will then try to lift the arms of the tackle by grabbing his wrists and lifting them up, off balancing them even more.
Both Feiler and Villanueva have to let their hands go and punch. That third step with a hard inside break is a golden opportunity to punch Clowney when he exposes his chest area as he raises his arm to swim over the tackles.
Run blocking Clowney is a matter of Feiler and Villanueva getting into his body and using their gifts of size, strength and weight and staying after him. It won’t be easy.
Clowney plays with a low pad level, and is so quick, I have actually seen him cross the face of a tackle, hit the inside gap and then be quick enough to back door the tackle and make a hit on a RB on the outside.
Adding a chip (a running back helping the tackle to block in pass) or using the tight end also can be very useful, and create a little indecision, and slow Clowney down a little.
But make no mistake about it.
If the Steelers are to win on Sunday, and keep Big Ben upright, the offensive line in general, and Matt Feiler and Al Villanueva, in particular, have to play to their utmost abilities.
They are this week’s meat-eater matchup.