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X's and O's - Jeromey Clary

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Alright, welcome back to another edition of Xs and Os.  Two weeks ago was the first official one, where we reviewed Eric Weddle.  It was mostly me explaining what I've seen on film and everyone either agreeing or disagreeing, based off of what they remembered.  This time...I brought proof.  It's blurry proof, but proof none-the-less.

Before I get to that though, I'd like to encourage anyone with a bunch of time on their hands to purchase a subscription to NFL Game Rewind from NFL.com.  Not only is it a fun tool to go back and watch the games with (with HD definition it seems), but every time I do I come away with different takes on players.  For instance, I decided that since I did most of my review on Weddle on the last 4 games of the season (Den, TB, Ind, Pit) that I would do the same for Clary.  I went back and watched those games, paying particularly close attention to Jeromey Clary and I came out of it with a better appreciation for LT as a pass-blocker, a lesser appreciation for McNeil (at least when he's playing with a hurt neck) and a greater appreciation for Dwight Freeney (who I already thought was great). 

Even though none of these 4 games were LT's best, he definitely jumped off the screen when it came to helping his Offensive Line.  It's obvious to anyone that the two most dangerous players on the Colts Defensive Line are Freeney and Mathis.  Most of our pass plays they were both being doubled (Freeney with McNeil/Dielman and Mathis with Clary/TE), but every few plays one of them would get lined up one-on-one against them.  Freeney made McNeil look completely foolish one-on-one and Mathis could get by Clary almost half of the time he was one-on-one, but Clary did a good job of forcing Mathis WAY outside where he was useless once Rivers stepped up.  Back to LT though.  Those times where the play would start, Clary and Mathis would hit each other and you could sense that Mathis was about to bust free, LT would come out of nowhere and hit Mathis in the mouth.  I actually noticed the same play ran once in the first quarter and once in the fourth, with LT and Sproles in the backfield.  Here's what happened from the RB:

1st Quarter: LT squirts up the middle of the line for a screen, but notices Mathis about to get past Clary after a good spin move to the inside.  LT launches himself at Mathis' chest and sends him back a step or two.  By time he's regained his footing and balance, Clary has gotten back in front of him and blocks him for the remainer of the play.  Not that it matters, but what happened with the play is that two guys broke through the left-side of the line and forced Rivers out of the pocket to his right.  If LT didn't make the play that he did, it goes down as a 6-7 yard sack.  LT's block helped Rivers get to the outside where he missed Manumaleuna downfield.  The play was erased through because Goff was called for being an ineligible receiver downfield.  Quick Analysis: If you're called for being an ineligible receiver downfield and two guys come flying through the offensive line as if they were unblocked, you probably missed your assignment.

4th Quarter: Sproles quirts up the middle of the line for a screen, turns around quickly.  He does not see the Defensive Tackle blowing past Goff.  The tackle hits Rivers, just as Rivers is releasing the pass to Sproles.  13 yards, first down.  Now you could argue that since this play had the better result Sproles played it better, but you'd be wrong.  The biggest risk to the first play was that Rivers would throw a pick or incomplete or a penalty would get called.  The biggest risk to the second was Rivers getting knocked out of the game or fumbling a ball that's returned for a TD.

Anyways, after watching these games over again my thoughts about some other Chargers changed.  My thoughts about Jeromey Clary, and Mike Goff, did not.  Well, maybe a little.  I am now more certain than ever that Goff should not have been starting last year.  He was consistently overmatched.  McNeil too.  If you were to look at the last 4 games of the Chargers 2008 season and evaluate the offensive line, their rankings would look something like this:

  1. Kris Dielman - A total badass.  Has the strength, has the technique and helps to cover up everyone else's mistakes.
  2. Jeromey Clary - A future badass.  Tons of strength and technique that's slowly improving.  He's a natural.
  3. Nick Hardwick - Reminds me of Sproles.  Just seems way too small to be taking on defensive linemen, but he holds his own.  Loves to cut-block and I've seen him get into some DTs heads by doing it.  Becomes a better blocker when double-teaming someone with Dielman.
  4. Marcus McNeil - A step too slow and not strong enough (probably due to the neck injury).  He knew it too and spent so much time trying to guess what the defender was going to do that he put himself in bad position half the time by guessing wrong.  He needs his confidence back.
  5. Mike Goff - Just awful.  Which is strange because I remember him being pretty good in 2007 and definitely more consistentl.  Couldn't keep anyone from getting to the QB without help.  The best you could hope for in the running game was him standing his guy up.  There's just not enough strength left in his legs to do it anymore.

Today I am less-opposed to the idea of drafting a RT, but not because Clary needs to be replaced.  Clary showed me over those 4 games that he may be the strongest offensive lineman that we have.  His strength at the point of impact is huge, but that's basically all he has in his bag of tricks.  The ball is snapped and he's going to hit you.  He's either going to throw you left (into another blocker) or he's going to throw you right (and force you so far outside that you're removed from any running plays and Rivers has time to step up and get rid of the ball on passing plays.  Is that what you want in a finished product Offensive Tackle in the NFL?  Not really, but it's a good start.  I think he'd make a hell of a RG now and a very good RT in about 2 years.  Right now I'd just call him "good".  I'm not against the idea of leaving him at RT and moving Forney into the RG position (I don't know anything about Forney, so I'm assuming he's better than Goff), because with a good lineman to his left he'd be much better.

Now I'm not going to post a million screenshots here to prove my point over and over again.  You're going to have to take my word for it, or go check out the NFL Game Rewind yourself, that this particular poor offensive line play occured more often than not in the 4 games that I watched.  Let us go through the images step-by-step:

Step1_medium

That's how the right side of the line is set-up pre-snap.  Clary is the one that's officially at the end of the line, with the big black elbow guard.  Naanee is lined up on his back him, Gates to the distant right and Chambers outside.  The two Colts players to focus on are Raheem Brock (#79) and Roberth Mathis (#98).

 

Step2_medium

I know it's blurry, but stick with me here.  Above Rivers you can see McNeil blocking Freeney and Dielman coming to help.  Hardwick is taking on the other DT by himself and doing a good job of it.  Clary has Mathis one-on-one and Goff has Brock, who is good but not great.  You can already start to see in this picture that as soon as the ball was snapped Brock was already powering past Goff.  Mathis is trying to spin to the inside on Clary, so he tries blocking him in that direction to try and make him fall or to block him into the line (assuming Hardwick and Goff aren't creating giant holes).  After Clary does this he usually slides over behind the C and RG to help them block their guys and to block Mathis from running up a hole in the middle of the line.  Like I said before, it's not the greatest technique in the world but it works because he can dictate the whole scenario with his strength.

 

Step3_medium

Uh-oh.  Clary threw Mathis to the inside and before he could move his feet to get in front of him he was blindsided with Raheem Brock, being held by Goff to make sure he doesn't get to Rivers.  Keep in mind that Hardwick is at the line of scrimmage still.  If the play had gone well, Goff would be up there about a yard or two behind him.  Instead he's 4 yards back and holding Brock.  Him being pushed so far back and now forcing the play sideways picks off Clary and creates that wide-open lane down the center of the pocket for Mathis to get to Rivers.  Not only is Goff losing his battle, he's holding and taking Clary out of the play completely.  By the way, this was one of the few plays where McNeil seemed to handle Freeney well on his own and (obviously) didn't need the assist from Dielman.

 

Step4_medium

You knew it was coming.  Dielman and McNeil are doing a great job pushing Freeney out of the play completely.  Hardwick's man hasn't moved an inch (and that looks like defensive holding to me.  This was just a millisecond after Clary tried to move to his left and got blocked by Goff/Brock.  Goff now appears to be bear-hugging Brock from behind (there was no call here, by the way) and in a last-ditch effort Clary has decided to try and smash the 600+lbs of Goff/Brock backwards into Mathis to buy Rivers another second to get rid of the ball.

 

Step_5_medium

And there's the final result.  So who's fault was the sack?  Well the stat sheet says Clary, because it was his guy.  And yeah, there are other ways he could've tried to block Mathis that maybe would've worked, but at this point in his career Clary is all strength.  See defensive lineman, hit defensive lineman.  See defensive lineman coming back or trying another hole, get there and hit defensive lineman again.  The kid has a motor on him too.  He has found that his strength can be a great tool for rushers trying to go outside on him.  He's so strong that he'll seemingly toss them that way, but sends them way outside.  It buys Rivers a couple of seconds to get rid of the ball, but most of the time it sends the defender on a path where he's going to miss the QB after Rivers steps up in the pocket.  It seems to easy but it works nearly every time.

Against Pittsburgh he tried this move on Lamar Woodley (I think) and found the player to be more agile and quick than most DEs.  He found out because when he threw Woodley out wide, Woodley quickly re-adjusted his line to the QB and seemed ready to knock Rivers helmet off.  When Clary saw that he lined himself up and creamed Woodley in the side to knock him to the ground.  After that he was more careful about throwing those speedy LBs to the outside.

My point is the same as it was when we discussed drafting a RT in the first round the other day.  Do we need an upgrade there?  Not necessarily.  Clary has the physical tools and showed some good technique in short spurts during those last 4 games.  He's adequate now and getting better.  What would help him is a move to guard or a RG that is going to hold his position.  Is Forney that guy?  I have no idea.

If Clary does make the move to RG though, watch out.  His strength, matched with his pulling ability (he's like a steam-roller when he gets going) and placed along side Hardwick would open up some huge holes on that side.  Oh yeah, and before I forget.  There's a lot of people who think that we only run left because that's where Dielman and McNeil are.  Those people are half-right.  To run to a side you need to make sure both linemen on that side are capable of not only holding their blocks but pushing forward.  Clary is, Goff is not.  So if you tried to run behind Clary, Goff's man would bust the play open.  So the team certainly runs left more than it runs right, but at least in these later games I saw more of a tendancy towards running right.  The difference is that nearly every time we did we pulled either Dielman or McNeil to either double-Goff's man or hit the linebacker trying to close the hole.  The weakness in this line was not Jeromey Clary, it was Mike Goff.