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Fundamentals: Improper Angles and Pursuit Ailing the Run Defense

Yes, the run defense has looked quite shabby this season, ever since the first preseason game when Washington ran all over them, forcing Tomlin to keep the starters on the field a little longer than he had originally intended.  But I don't believe it's because they have suddenly become so old as to need to be dropped off at the senior center after the game.  In fact, one of the most frustrating things for me is that I believe they have even more talent and ability than last year, and should actually be holding teams to less than 60 yards per game.  So why aren't they?  Fundamentals.  I wish I had some film clips to show, but I don't so I'll just try my best to explain some of what I saw after the jump.


1) Foster's 20 + yard run from the Texans's own 5 yard line.  This was simply a great play by Foster, providing an unbelievable jump cut to the inside to avoid Troy, yet, it was also poor tackling on Troy's part.  If Troy remains upright rather than going low for Foster's legs, he drops Foster for a two yard loss on the play.  While I love Troy and consider him the best safety in the game, this is one of his aggravating traits--he tends to go too low sometimes and whiff on a tackle he would make if he kept his feet.

2) Foster's touchdown run: This can be laid on the shoulder's of both Troy and Woodley.  Troy over-pursued rather than keeping backside contain, something necessary when playing a zone-blocking scheme that lives by the cut-back.  Woodley rushed too far into the backfield on the play and also lost backside contain.  The run should not have gained more than 4 or 5 yards, if that, if Woodley had kept contain and Troy came up and finished.  And you could tell Troy was kicking himself on the sideline after the touchdown.

3) This is for all the inside runs that gained 6 or more yards:  This one's on the inside backers and once again relates to angles and pursuit.  Too often, Timmons, Foote and Farrior were caught inside when they took the wrong angle to the ball.  This allowed the back to make his read and make one cut to the outside before cutting it up inside the tackle for a nice gain, while the inside backers had to run around the guard and pursue down the field.  Some of this can be attributed to the ends getting knocked off the ball 2 or 3 yards, but the inside backers still need to make the proper reads and fill the correct holes, as too many times they were filing the wrong hole before the ends were moved backward, which trapped them inside while the run hit off-tackle.

4) Safeties late in filling the hole:  The last problem is that Clark was often late in filling the hole.   This could be schematic, as we were playing a dangerous passing offense and Clark may have been forced to play pass first, but he needs to react more quickly to prevent 9 and 10 yard gains on inside runs.

So what does this mean.  First, it means we have been playing poor football from a fundamentals standpoint.  Too many players are simply out of position, not because the other team is manhandling them, but because they are over pursuing or taking bad angles.  This is easily fixable, especially with a veteran team.  Second, I believe it means the lockout hurt us defensively and we're playing catchup.  It takes time to get up to speed in this defense, and while I believe we're getting closer each game (yes, even when the effort we gave today), we're not quite there yet.  Three, they need me work on the run defense during the week, to help work out the fundamentals that are seriously lacking right now.  Four, these problems are not issues of talent.  Let me repeat that.  These problems are not issues of talent.  We have exceptional talent on defense, and each of those signed in the off-season is capable of proving the front office's trust, but we need more work.  We'll get there, and hopefully soon, but this defense is not suddenly old and is not finished.  We simply need to get back to proper angles and pursuit.

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