“I only have one move and it worked,” Atlanta Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after six sacks during the Falcons huge 27-7 victory against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.
Clayborn became the first player in Falcons history to record six sacks in a single game. Nearly all of his sacks all came in similar fashion, just as he admitted after the game.
On every one of those four sacks, he did the same thing. He used a bull rush while also using his hands to counter the punch of the tackle in front of him. The offensive linemen gave him little trouble, and he might as well had not even been there on a few of these plays.
Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith missed the game with a groin injury and an offensive line that is known to be among the elite in the league were forced to start Chaz Green.
Green was entirely outmatched by the Falcons defensive end and got worked all day. He was eventually benched for Byron Bell in what Troy Aikman referred to as one of the worst performances he had ever seen from an NFL player. Even against the worst of opposition, netting six sacks is still a near impossible feat, though, especially when the quarterback is as mobile as Dak Prescott.
While his sacks did show up on the stat sheet, some of his contributions Sunday won’t show up in the box score. Clayborn easily could have had three or four more sacks if he had just been a second faster or Prescott a second slower.
He consistently got to Prescott and managed to disrupt his passes. On one of those plays Clayborn even forced Prescott into an interception (it was called back because Vic Beasley was offsides on the other side of the play).
Two of his sacks really stood out, though, and did not come as easy as the rest of them. This second quarter sack saw him come out of coverage to take down Prescott.
Clayborn is lined up as a nickel corner almost on this play. He drops back into zone coverage as the tight end in front of him runs a crossing route. He stays back as a QB spy as the play develops. Beasley (No. 44) beats the Cowboys right tackle and forces Prescott to bail out of the pocket. The quarterback steps up into the pocket and tries to scramble. Clayborn stays disciplined and does not fall for his pump fake and takes down Prescott at the line of scrimmage for a sack.
His first of his two strip sacks of the day was the only one of his sacks where he showed a move other than “counter bull rush around the edge.”
Clayborn comes from his wide position and builds up speed to crash into the tackle hard on the edge. He begins a bull rush to get through him and eventually gets inside leverage. He uses a spin move to break free of the block and get inside. Clayborn gets to the quarterback and snatches the ball away from him.
Prescott was tormented all day by the Falcons pass rush, but he was able to counter punch a few times. He is great on his feet and would occasionally take advantage of how quickly the rush would get into the backfield. Similar to how screen passes work against a team that blitzes heavily when your edge rushers are able to burst into the backfield with ease it leaves the edge without any sort of contain.
On this play, both Beasley and Clayborn quickly and easily beat the tackle they are taking on and sandwich Prescott in the pocket. The quarterback manages to escape them for a moment though. Since nobody is near the line of scrimmage anymore, and there is not QB spy Prescott has a wide-open running lane to take off.
Prescott had six rushing attempts on the day, one of the highest totals of his career. Five of the six of his rushes were not designed and were just passing plays where he bailed out of the pocket. He seemed gassed at one point, and there was one play towards the end of the first half where he practically walked the ball out of bounds.
Clayborn’ssix-sackk day was incredible, especially so when you realize that he has been a below average pass rusher at best the past few seasons. His big day was more of a failure of the Cowboys than his amazing play, though.
Dallas must figure out how to fix this issue, though. They take on the Philadelphia Eagles and their powerful front seven next week. Smith will most likely miss another game, and neither Green nor Bell looked good enough to handle the duties at left tackle last Sunday. They need to change their pass protection scheme to better protect Dak and give more help. Whether it is lining up tight ends on that side and keeping them back for protection, or just leaving your running backs in the backfield to block they need to provide more help for their left tackle.
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