The Steelers come into this week's game sporting a gaudy 160-yard rushing average over the last four weeks. To continue this streak of a revamped rushing juggernaut, there will need to be a concerted effort to contain this week's Classic Jurassic Meat-Eater Matchup, the Falcons' Grady Jarrett versus the entire Steelers offensive line.
Jarrett will line up anywhere from over the left tackle to right tackle and all points in between. So, theoretically, everyone in the trenches will have a crack at Jarrett sooner or later.
Jarrett "only" stands 6-foot and weighs in at 305 pounds. He is distinctly undersized compared to the behemoths that tend to dominate the trenches. However, when you take a gander at his stats, they tend to make you pay attention and sit up straighter in your chair.
Jarrett has registered 44 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 13 quarterback hits. Add in 5.5 sacks and 3 passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage, and you begin to understand he's not your average run-of-the-mill trench predator.
When you turn on the tape and watch Jarrett, the first thing that jumps off the screen is his quickness. Jarrett has 6 tackles for loss in his past 6 home games, and this weekend represents his 4th game in a row at home with another opportunity to corral an opponent behind the line of scrimmage. Why the at-home advantage? The crowd noise.
Because Jarrett plays both three techniques and occasionally lines up over the center (and a 4 or 5 technique too), he has his grille near the ball. He's got a front row seat to the snap of the ball. His "see-do," as in he "sees it, then he do's it" (reaction time) is outstanding. And it makes him a real pain in the neck for the offensive lines he plays against.
Jarrett is strong at the point of attack. Double-teaming him is no easy feat, both because of his lack of height and his overall body strength.
He's got a natural low pad level, and running into him is something akin to hitting a fire hydrant on two feet. When Mason Cole needs to block back on a three, four or five technique lined up Jarrett because one of the guards pulled, he better be low and prepared for quick penetration. And Mason should try to get his head in front.
The backside tackle, who most likely will step down inside to help Cole keep Jarrett from penetrating, will need to do more than just lay a hand on him, in what we used to call a "genius" block. It is so called because we would try to seal three backside defenders from penetrating with two linemen. You're a genius if you can pull it off!
Jarrett runs well for a big man. He will be both the penetrator on a pass rush twist, and the trailer, running along behind the penetrator. He has a nice uppercut that is similar to the James Harrison "rip, no dip" needed because he is short and the opposing linemen have to bend to get to his level.
Most defensive rushers have to dip because they are tall and have no leverage. Grady Jarret is all leverage, quickness and power.
From the backside on a run play, Jarrett will fight to keep his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage, and squeeze to the ball.
Besides the uppercut, Jarrett has a powerful one-arm stab he uses effectively on a pass rush. Because he's short, the leverage he's able to deliver in an upward fashion provides a powerful fulcrum from which to overpower an opponent.
Jarrett will take on the double-team, try to split it with strength from his upper body to stuff the post-man, as is standard procedure in the NFL, and throw his hip into the drive man. He will fight like crazy to split the double team if he senses a crack in the shoulder-to-shoulder blockers.
When an opposing lineman tries to hook Jarrett at the line of scrimmage on an outside run play, Jarrett will push back into the opponent, trying mightily to neutralize the hook block, rather than running around the backdoor. And even when he gets knocked down, he will quickly get back to his feet and use his motor to get back on the hunt.
If the Steelers are to be successful on the ground, neutralizing Grady Jarrett will be a big part of that.