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Building a team from the "inside out"

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  1. mayoclinic

    mayoclinic PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    Most people are familiar with the concept of building a football team around the offensive and defensive lines. Win the battle in the trenches, and you have a decisive advantage. I think many people realize the folly of trying to build a team around the "skill players" without having talent in the trenches.

    Off the Grid has repeatedly advanced a version of this approach which emphasizes not only the importance of players who are closer to the LOS, but also players who are more closely clustered around the football - i.e., in the center of the field. This includes defensive tackles, "midfielders" and interior offensive linemen. Grid's formulation of this concept is the clear straightward: a player's value diminishes in rough proportion to his proximity to the football, thus players who are more peripheral to the ball are less valuable than players who are more centrally located. I call this approach building from the "inside out". It is extremely contrary to the current vogue in the NFL, which has pushed the action more and more to the periphery. Edge rushers, outside tackles, wideouts and outside cornerbacks are the most coveted positions after QB. Just look at the free agent feeding frenzy this year for cornerbacks (Cortland Finnegan and Brandon Carr getting $50M deals), pass rushers (Mario Williams, Mark Anderson and others), and wide receivers.

    The reason for bringing all this up is an interesting article by Jason Cole at Yahoo.com, which proposes that the left tackle position is gradually becoming less valued in the NFL as the game changes:

    Left tackle in the NFL is gradually becoming a less valued position - Yahoo! Sports

    The article echoes some of Grid's "inside out" thinking. In particular, the article suggests (1) that changes in the rules on bumping receivers are resulting in QBs holding on to the ball less long, (2) that this creates a need to generate more rapid and direct pressure on the QB, and (3) that teams are attempting to do this by bringing pressure in different ways, including overloading one side, moving pass rushers around, and generating interior pressure. The article cites Rex Ryan as a good example of this:

    The article notes that the most prolific scoring offenses in the NFL today and most of the Super Bowl teams of the past decade have not had a dominant left tackle - in fact, several have had offensive lines built around dominant interior linemen more than tackles. The article notes:

    The importance of generating what Tuck calls "forward pressure" and of collapsing the pocket was advanced by Jay Shields on this board 3 years ago, in a classic post:

    http://www.patsfans.com/new-england.../308687-my-dilettant-defensive-treatise.html

    Sounds darn similar to what Tuck said. An effective pass rush has to cut off the QB's avenues of escape and prevent him from stepping up in the pocket and getting rid of the ball. As Grid more succinctly puts it "my Holy Grail is the interior pass rush threat." And increased internal pressure puts more importance on the value of internal linemen who can effectively handle that pressure.

    The Cole article suggests that an elite left tackle is a "luxury" rather than a necessity, and that "the premium that used to be paid for a left tackle is no longer the case." I'm not sure that's entirely true. Having an ultra-athletic blindside protector who can handle a DeMarcus Ware or Jason Pierre-Paul is a huge advantage. But I think that the article raises some good issues about the importance of direct pressure and the value of internal as well as outside protection, and the need for overall strength of the offensive line as opposed to simply having a dominant left tackle. This also raises some things to think about for the long term, as the team has some aging issues on the inside of both lines. I think this is one of the priorities for the team to address in the 2013 draft and free agency. BB is doing a masterful job about rebuilding the team for the long haul, but I worry somewhat about the team getting old on the interior of both lines.

    Food for thought.
  2. betterthanthealternative

    betterthanthealternative Rookie

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    A stellar contribution to the board. Thanks.
  3. Off The Grid

    Off The Grid On the Roster

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    #3 Jersey

    What a magnificent fusion of ideas. :eek:

    I'm starting to wind down, after a deliciously long day, but I'll circle back with you tomorrow, Brother Mayo, to grant myself the privilege of responding to this Work of Art, when I am best prepared to do it justice. :cool:

    Thank you for an extraordinarily thought-provoking post, my commentary being but an element of it.
  4. Snake Eyes

    Snake Eyes Rookie

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    Excellent stuff, you put into words and backed up what I've believed for a while. The shortest distance between any 2 points is a straight line, it would make sense that direct pressure is one of the best ways to disrupt a QB.
  5. ctpatsfan77

    ctpatsfan77 PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    Mayo: I get your concern about the interior, but I think that's why the Pats are so big on McDonald. . . .
  6. mayoclinic

    mayoclinic PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    It's interesting that the Steelers have used 1st round picks on interior linemen twice in the past 3 years (Marquice Pouncey and David DeCastro), while using 2nd round picks on tackles (Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams).
  7. BradyFTW!

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    #12 Jersey

    Definitely, and it also makes sense since in that time they might have had the worst OL in the league. Roethlisberger can make up for some of that, and has, but it looks like the wear and tear is starting to get to him, so they definitely need to protect him as best as they can going forward.
  8. mayoclinic

    mayoclinic PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    I'm as bullish on McDonald as anyone, as I've posted multiple times. His emergence as a long term starting center would be a huge plus. But this season Logan Mankins and Dan Conollly will be 30 (in September for Connolly), Dan Koppen 33 (also in September), Robert Gallery 32 (in July), Brian Waters 35, Vince Wilfork 31 (in November), Jonathan Fanene 30 and Gerard Warren 34 (in July). There's some age on both sides of the ball on the interior lines. Not to mention Kyle Love a RFA and Myron Pryor a UDFA.
  9. AndyJohnson

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    To take it a step farther, an inside out approach focussed more heavily on team, scheme and game plan as well. A team that builds strength from the inside out is playing team defense, using an every man does his job approach.
    The current trend to the 'periphery' players is an attempt to isolate individual talent and live or die with your best few stars. The further you are from the ball, the more you are locked up in one on one opportunities to excel. Of course if you lack strength close to the ball, it is much more difficult to take advantage of those opportunities.
    It has long been a principal of football that 10 guys can execute a play perfectly but if 1 blows his assignment you can lose that play.
    I think the history of the league has shown that surrounding your name players (the periphery) with a solid team allows them to succeed, while trying to overcome your weaknesses with your name players is a much less successful approach.
  10. Simple Jack's Brother

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    So if we go by this line of thinking, will we see Spikes and Hightower pairing with Vince and shooting straight up the middle on a 3 man rush? :) I'd love to see them draw something like that up and drop everyone else...i really hope they bring back some of that Amoeba defense we saw a few years ago.
  11. ctpatsfan77

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    Love will either get extended or tendered. In the latter case, if somebody swoops in and steals him away, then the Pats will have a nice tasty draft pick to take his replacement. :)
  12. Fencer

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    #12 Jersey

    Great post, but I thought the idea had been around for a while, to the point that some commentators were disputing the traditional disrespect paid to safeties.

    But anyhow:

    • BB picked Mankins surprisingly high.
    • Even so, BB's recent OL high picks have been concentrated on tackles.
    • That said, BB somehow wound up having a pair of Pro Bowl guards last season, and has paid for two starting centers this year.
    • BB has invested comparable draft currency in safeties (Meriweather, Chung, Wilson) as in CBs, even without any consideration of the CBs moving to safety.
    • BB picked Hightower even though that superficially seems like overinvestment in ILBs.
    • BB kept Wilfork over Seymour and Ty Warren. But some of that could have been Wilfork's personality and relationship w/ BB, and Warren's skill.
    • BB superficially overinvested inside with Brace. But some of the reason was Wilfork's contract, and based on the snaps Love et al. have gotten, that wasn't really overinvestment at all.
  13. patfanken

    patfanken On the Roster

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    #91 Jersey

    Thanks for providing us with something tangible to talk about. A couple of thoughts

    1. Back before the draft, many of us were talking about the need for the Pats to draft a pass rushing interior DLman. That's not an easy task. They just aren't making many of them and they come at a premium. That's one of the reasons, Fletcher Cox went from being a guy the Pats would have available to to one that was picked at 12. It was why based on just combine measureables Dontari Poe was reached for at 11. He was seen as worth the risk because if he ever performs to those sick numbers at the combine, KC will have a unique force to directly attack today's passing attacks

    2. Talking about how important creating an inside push only highlight the loss of BOTH Mike Wright AND Myron Pryor, the 2 best inside pass rushers the Pats had on their roster. Because the were lost so early not much was mentioned about them over the course of the season, but I think the loss of them really hurt our pass rush because we didn't have anyone with their skills.

    3. I was thinking about the pass rush in general. There are some who think that we will ahve issues because essentially half our sacks are no longer on the roster. But I look at it this way. Last season the Pats basically had just 3 guys who could be called legitimate pass rushers. (Anderson, Carter, and Ninko) Not exactly the rogue's gallery of pass rushers, but the best WE had.

    This season the Pats have more than DOUBLED their pass rush threats. Now we at least can claim that Scott, Ninko, Jones, Bequette, Hightower, Fanene, and hopefully Carter ALL possess the kind of pass rush skills we all hope for.

    4. Now back to the "inside" pass rush threats. Right now the Pats have 2, in Fanene, and Pryor. But don't be surprised to see BB rip off the Giants' scheme and have guys like Jones, Bequette, and Scott show up from time to time on the inside and rush the passer from there and dare a team to run.

    Summary, This is what defenses are evolving toward. Constant pass rushers up front and 5 CB types in the secondary. I wonder about the value of a guy like Spikes. He clearly makes our run defense better, and many are expecting a "breakout" season. But its hard for me to believe that he's going to be on the field for even 50% of the regular defensive snaps, while several DBs will be on for more than 70%.
  14. Lambeau12

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  15. patfanken

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    #91 Jersey

    Just one more additional thought on the "devaluing of the LT". I don't entirely agree. Having an elite LT is like having an elite shut down CB. If you have one, you can essentially shut down one side of the rush and allocate the rest of your pass blocking assets to other areas.

    The LT is still going to take on the opposing team's best rusher in every game. Being able to shut that guy down allows the rest of the OL to concentrate their efforts elsewhere. If he can take on that guy alone, it negates the need to have a RB or TE chipping the rusher, thus putting more instant pressure on the defense

    Because of all the bodies that are clogging up the middle, its hard to get pressure there, and pass blocking is easier. On the outside there is more room for the rusher to work with.

    Just a thought
  16. livinginthe past

    livinginthe past Rookie

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    #12 Jersey

    Excellent thought provoking thread.

    I believe the 'value closest to the ball' theory mainly applies to linemen - due to the fact that QB's can leapfrog 40 yards or more of open ground on a throw.

    Your coverage players still have to give the rushers time to get to the QB (for example look at just about all of Mark Andersons sacks from last year!) - it really is is a combination of the two.

    Its definitely relevant to the ongoing contract 'negotiations' between Revis and the Jets - alot of Jets fans question the value of Revis' huge contract/cap hit when measuring the value differential between a great CB (which Revis clearly is) and a good CB.

    I think the reason that OT's are valued highly, and always will be, is that they do alot of their work in isolation against the oppositions elite athletes.

    Despite the odd example of interior players going highly, I doubt we'll ever see very many interior offensive linemen getting drafted before the tackles.
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2012
  17. mayoclinic

    mayoclinic PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    As I mentioned in the OP, I don't entirely agree with Cole about the diminished value of the left tackle, either. Having a stud LT who can handle the blind side pass rush without a lot of support is a huge advantage. But I also think that there are ways of scheming around that so that you can be successful without having a dominant left tackle - add a tight end outside, get guard help inside. And I think having a dominant lineman at any position is a huge advantage. Maybe it's not so much a question of left tackle being "de-valued" as other line positions becoming relatively more valued. A right tackle like Sebastian Vollmer is much more than just a big, slow road grader. Remember Nate Solder playing RT last year and deaing with Cameron Wake, Miami's best pass rusher? Players get moved around. And the interior line positions are IMHO just as important as the tackles - perhaps more so for center. Being able to handle the big NTs one-on-one while handling the snap duties and line calls is extremely challenging. I've always felt that Nick Mangold was more valuable to the Jets than D'Brickashaw Ferguson.

    I don't agree with your statement that "because of all the bodies that are clogging up the middle, its hard to get pressure there, and pass blocking is easier." Draw a double team, and you create an opportunity elsewhere. Make a mistake up the middle and there is a direct path to the QB in a very short time, and usually a busted play. The tackles get beat all the time and the QB steps up into the pocket or slides out and gets rid of the ball. The interior linemen get beat, it's usually not pretty.
  18. mayoclinic

    mayoclinic PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    I'm not sure what your point is. I certainly didn't mean to imply in the OP that BB doesn't value the "core" positions, or that he's been unwilling to use draft choices on interior linemen or defensive tackles. I do think that the team is aging at those positions and that BB will address that as a priority for the long term.

    I also think that the issue is one of relative positional valuation. Safeties may have increased in value compared with previous years, but I think that most teams value outside CBs more. Cortland Finnegan and Brandon Carr aren't 1st tier CBs, and their getting more money than guys like Reed and Polamalu. The 2012 franchise tag for a CB was 50% more than for a safety ($9.5M vs. $6.4M). The tag for a WR was 60% more than for a TE, a more "central" position. The tag for a DE was 75% more than for a DT ($12.4M vs. #7M). And the market is different. Jason LaCanfora wrote before the 2012 draft about how the change to a peripheral passing league was causing a devaluation in the market for RBs and LBs - Grid's "midfielders":

    Pass-happy era hitting running backs, linebackers where it hurts - NFL.com

    The situation at OL is similar. Tackles are generally going higher in the draft than guards and centers. David DeCastro was considered a top 10-15 talent, but he slipped to 24 in the 2012 draft. Peter Konz slipped to 55. Jeff Faine, Chris Spencer, Nick Mangold, Alex Mack, Eric Wood, Marquis Pouncey and Mike Pouncey are the only centers to be taken in the 1st round since 2000. That's 7 guys in 13 drafts. Only 9 guards have been 1st round selections in that timeframe (Steve Hutchinson, Kendall Simmons, Logan Mankins, Davin Joseph, Ben Grubbs, Mike Iupati, Danny Watkins, David DeCastro and Kevin Zeitler). Leonard Davis, Robert Gallery and Shawn Andrews were drafted as tackles, and only converted to guard after first being tried at tackle. In contrast, 46 tackles were drafted in the 1st round since 2000 - almost 3 times the number of interior linemen. Guys like Steve Hutchinson, Logan Mankins, Jahri Evans, Carl Nicks, Nick Mangold and Ryan Kalil have managed to get pretty hefty contracts. But Mangold's $57M/8 years isn't in the same range as Joe Thomas' $92M/8 years.
  19. mayoclinic

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    The priority in the NFL is all about the pass rush. Pass rushing interior linemen are generally valued more than "space eaters". Even so, they are probably undervalued relative to edge rushers.

    Absolutely. Myron Pryor was a force in the Miami game, consistently generating interior pressure and disrupting Chad Henne:

    Pryor making the most of his snaps - New England Patriots Blog - ESPN Boston

    I was tremendously excited about the combined performance of Wilfork, Pyror and Albert Haynesworth in the Miami game. It was dominant. And it was the last time I got to see it.

    Anderson and Carter each combined for 25% of the Pats' 40 sacks in 2011. Add in Ninko (6.5 sacks) and that's roughly 2/3 (66%) of the Pats' sack total from 3 players. I expect that things will be more distributed this year, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the sack totally - and much more importantly, the overall pressure - increase.

    I've said this before. We'll see NASCAR packages and amoeboid variants once the new kids get up to speed. Chandler Jones was very effective as an inside pass rusher at Syracuse, and his hand technique is very advanced.

    Spikes is a bit of an anomaly, but I think BB will find a place for him. But in general, I agree with you. Nice post.
  20. patfanken

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    #91 Jersey

    But, MC, that was my point. Yes you can cover for someone, but when you do, you have to take assets from somewhere else, which limits your options. I guess that goes for every position, so you Mangold statement is valid as well. BOTTOM LINE, if you have players who rarely need help.....its a good thing

    It true, but one of the reasons that it would seem interior OLmen rarely get beat is that its easier to pass block on the inside. The inside rusher has simply less space to maneuver. Its also one of the reasons consistent inside pass rushers are so rare and becoming so highly valued. Otherwise guys who had so little college production like Poe and Brockers wouldn't have gone so highly in the draft. Both are huge risks, but the reward in this passing environment make the risk worth it.

    But you are correct in this point. When there is a mistake in the interior pass blocking....it WILL be ugly...and fast. ;)
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