TOJ Film Room: Grading the 2012 Offensive Line – D’Brickashaw Ferguson

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Before we get to the regular season, I wanted to take a look at 2012 film of the Jets’ Offensive Line to see what is returning this year and to see what the Jets have lost from 2012. During the regular season, I will be running a weekly column where I will grade out the offensive line’s individual performances. Unlike Pro Football Focus, I am going to grade the line from as much of a coach’s perspective as I can. By this, I mean I am going to take technique and assignment into account in addition to play result. For each play I give grades ranging from -2 to 2:

A “-2” represents a penalty or major mistake.
A “-1” represents a blown assignment or technique.
A “0” represents a properly executed assignment and technique.
A “1” represents a positive play impact.
A “2” represents a big play or key block.

For overall grades, I simply take the number of properly executed plays and divide them by the total number of snaps.  Secondary stats include plus/minus which represents the total sum of the player’s individual grades. (So if a player played 2 snaps and he scored a -1 on one play and a 1 on another play, his total +/- would equal 0.)  Another stat is average grade which takes the aforementioned plus/minus and divides it by the total snaps.

Now that we got that out of the way, for the sake of taking a look at the 2012 season, I took a sample size of 3 games: Week 4 against the 49ers, Week 8 against the Dolphins, and Week 12 against the Patriots.  (Not the greatest sample to use since they were all blow outs, but that’s how the random sample worked out.) For the first part of the film study, let’s see what we found out about the starting Left Tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson.

D'Brickashaw_Ferguson-1D’Brickashaw Ferguson
Total Plays: 200
Penalties/Major Mistakes: 1
Blown Assign: 25
Correct Assign/Tech: 166
Positive Impact: 8
Big Play: 0
Final Grade: 87%
Plus/Minus: -19
Average Grade: -0.10

As it might be expected, Ferguson was the highest scoring offensive lineman that played for the Jets in 2012. While it may depend on the grader, generally an 87% is an above average score for an offensive lineman. This grade may be higher on the full season than the sample size because this number includes a lackluster performance in week 4 where Brick was playing against Aldon Smith and Justin Smith quite often. I would expect his grade to be slightly above a 90% for the season, which is really good.

The main reason the Jets drafted Ferguson 4th overall was because of his length and athleticism which make him an excellent pass blocker. Looking at the sample size, Ferguson was on the field for 116 regular drop back passes and only blew his assignment 11 times including one sack.  That means Ferguson properly executed his assignment about 91% of the plays. This is really good considering the talent he saw in these games. Here is an example of Ferguson doing a great job in pass pro:

Here Brick is lined up at Left Tackle with Dolphins DE Olivier Vernon lined up outside of him.

Brick Pro 1

On a 3rd and medium play, Sanchez drops back out of the gun. Since we skipped a couple frames, you can’t see it but Brick takes a great kickslide and turns his shoulders at the perfect time, when the rusher commits to the outside. Brick gets his long arms on Vernon first and stones the outside rush. He has a great knee bend and is correctly on the insteps of his feet.

Brick Pro 3

Once Vernon realizes he is stopped and Sanchez is stepping up in the pocket, he tries to make an inside counter move. Brick does a great job of “power stepping” down in inside to stop the inside move. Vernon also tries to slap Ferguson’s arms off. Brick simply resets his hands like lineman are taught and repunches the defender nearly turning him around.

Brick Pro 4

The big knock on Ferguson coming out of college was the he was a little undersized. He played in college at 295, but worked hard to get his weight to about 310 since he has been in the NFL.  Even so, he still doesn’t have a great anchor. To try and account for this, Ferguson gets much lower in his pass set than virtually any starting left tackle in the NFL.  It works for him.  It seems to be something that he developed in the NFL to combat power rushes. Sometimes, for one reason or another, Ferguson does not execute this technique properly and it hurts him. 

Here Brick is taking on Aldon Smith in a man protection. First thing you notice is that he takes the proper kick slide and is in great position.

Brick Pushed 1

Smith gives a little stutter step before contact that seems to through off Brick’s technique. Even though he is still in great position between Smith and the QB, Ferguson loses because of knee bend. Notice how stiff Ferguson’s knees are upon contact and that he lets Smith get his hands into him first.

Brick Pushed 2

Upon contact, Brick gets lifted backwards about 2-3 yards.

Brick Pushed 3

At this point, Brick is on roller skates and continues to get pushed back into Sanchez’s lap.  Smith did not get a sack on this play, but he is in Sanchez’s face as he tries to throw the ball out to the left sideline.

Brick Pushed 4

The big issue for Ferguson exemplified in the above play is knee bend.  When he bends his knees the way he needs to he is one of the elite pass protectors in the NFL. When he gets out of wack and is stiff, he can very easily be bull rushed.

The other issue you see on a repeated basis with Ferguson is that he oversets his man. Luckily, he has the athleticism and footwork to recover and slide inside, or it could be a much bigger problem. Once in a while, it will present some issues. Part of the reason he does this is because of his low pass demeanor. With the technique he was using in 2012, Ferguson needed to kickslide to the defender quicker in order to have time to drop his anchor. It was an issue when defenders lined up wider and made a quick inside move off the line. Aldon Smith’s 4th quarter sack (didn’t count as there was defensive holding on play) was great example of Brick oversetting. Brick fires way too far outside because of the speed rush and than Smith simply made a quick move inside and smoked Sanchez. Ferguson received a “-2″ on this play, his only one of the three games.

All in all, D’Brickashaw Ferguson is excellent in pass protection. He has a few nuances to his game that hurt him at times, but he very rarely gets beat. It is the run game where he has some struggles. Although I was surprised to see that Ferguson was actually much better in Tony Sparano’s power run scheme than you would think. He did a really good job blocking down on defensive linemen and did a great job on combo blocks, particularly with Matt Slauson. When Ferguson had the element of surprise in his favor he could really drive people off the ball.

Here the Jets are running an ISO play to the right. Brick and LG Matt Slauson will combo block the Defensive Tackle Kyle Love up to the Patriots left OLB. Both linemen take the proper first step as they both step with their inside foot (Brick with the right; Slauson with the left). They want to come together at the hip to drive Love.

Brick Iso 1

The double team absolutely destroys Love, who is an underrated big man that is tough to move.  Before the ball is even handed off they have Love two yards off the LOS. As the LB starts to read the play he shuffles over top, tipping Slauson that he needs to get off the double team.

Brick Iso 2

As Slauson gets off the double team, Brick takes over the block on Love by himself and continues to move him vertically, creating a nice running lane for Bilal Powell.

Brick Iso 3

As the hole starts to close up, Brick is still rolling as he moves Love and the rest of the pile to set up a gain of 4 yards when there really wasn’t a hole on the play side. Moving your man 3-4 yards downfield is exceptional in the NFL.

Brick Iso 4

In Zone and straight ahead blocking schemes, Brick seemed to struggle in 2012. This was especially surprising to me, particularly in zone, because of his athleticism. I am not really sure what the reason for this is since reports have shown that he was a solid run blocker in the Jets’ scheme prior to 2011. Maybe it was the scheme change or, more than likely, the loss of Bill Callahan. The fact of the matter is, when he is not in on a double team or has the element of surprise in his favor; Ferguson really doesn’t get much movement. This harks back to the issue of being an undersized lineman who isn’t known for his pure strength. His other issue is footwork, especially when he is going to his right.

Here the Jets are in a double tight formation and are running a mid-zone play to the right. The 49ers are lined up in their base 3-4 look with All-Pro DE Justin Smith lined head up over Brick.  Brick and the Tight End to his left are technically responsible for a combo block on Justin Smith where they can either look at the OLB or a Safety on the next level.

Brick Zone 1

Smith slants to the play side off the snap.  I already know Brick is in a world of trouble because of his first step.  On a mid zone play, linemen can be taught multiple first step techniques, but it is apparent from watching game tape that the Jets employ bucket step to gain ground on the defender. This means they actually step out and behind the line of scrimmage. Ferguson simply steps under himself. This allows the slanting All-Pro to beat him inside.

Brick Zone 2

Brick is completely turned around in an attempt to cut off Smith in any way, but he is already toast as Smith now reads the play.

Brick Zone 3

Smith puts a good shot on Shonn Greene as if he wasn’t even touched because he wasn’t!

Brick Zone 4

Based on the sample size, D’Brickashaw Ferguson is one of the better Left Tackles in the NFL. I wouldn’t consider him an elite tackle with the likes of Joe Thomas, Joe Staley, or Duane Brown, because he isn’t as well rounded of a lineman. He is excellent in pass protection, but not without flaws and only average in run blocking. The good news is that the Marty Mornhinweg system will rely on Brick’s strength as a pass protector more than the Sparano system.  The bad news is that he no longer has Matt Slauson next to him in the run game, where it seemed like they had developed a pretty nice chemistry on the field. Brick will have to up his game in 2013 where he could be playing next to Stephen Peterman, Vlad Ducasse, or Brian Winters

While it is a possibility, I don’t know if Brick will ever regain his run blocking form that he flashed when Bill Callahan was here. What I do know is that D’Brickashaw Ferguson is thanking God he doesn’t have to play the 49ers again in 2013.