TOJ Film Room: Grading the 2012 Offensive Line – Austin Howard

Mike Nolan steps into the film room to grade the 2012 Jets’ Offensive Line. Next up is starting Right Tackle Austin Howard.

Before we get to the regular season, I wanted to take a look at some 2012 film of the Jets’ Offensive Line to see what is returning this year and to see what the Jets may 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. This means that I will base my grades on technique and assignment in addition to play result. For the second part of the film study, let’s see what we found out about starting Right Tackle Austin Howard. To see how players are graded check out the first part of the series on D’Brickashaw Ferguson.

Austin Howardaustin-howard
Total Plays: 200
Penalties/Major Mistakes: 2
Blown Assignments: 44
Correct Assign/Tech: 149
Positive Impact: 5
Big Play: 0
Final Grade: 77%
Plus/Minus: -43
Average Grade: -0.22

Of the five starting offensive linemen, Austin Howard graded out the lowest.  A grade of 77% is probably average to below average.  There is a key reason that Austin Howard graded out the lowest in 2012: He is not very good in pass protection. Like D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Howard was on the field for 116 regular drop back pass plays and blew his pass pro assignment on 21 occasions. Not tremendously bad, but not good either. Howard has a tendency to get beat around the edge pretty easily by speed rushers. Most lineman are taught that if they get beat on the outside they need to turn and run the defender past the quarterback. Any rusher who knows how to “Run the J” well or get around the edge and come back to the Quarterback should be licking their chops when Austin Howard is lined up against them.     

Here Howard is at right tackle with All-Pro Cameron Wake lined up at DE over him. This play comes at the end of the 2nd quarter and to this point Howard has done a really nice job controlling Wake. However, this is the play where things fall of the hinges and Wake starts to generate constant pressure for rest of the game. First thing I see is Howard’s pass set. I would rather see him take more of a vertical set and keep his shoulders square a little longer as he has done through the 1st and 2nd quarters of this game. 

Howard Wake 1

Taking a closer look at this matchup, this is the point where Howard wants to punch Wake to get his hands on him and stop his rush momentum. Howard does the 2 main things you never want to do against an outside rusher:  ) He lunges forward on his punch and 2) he stops his feet after stepping forward with his right foot. He needs to keep his weight back and let Wake come to him before he punches and continue on his kick-slide.

Howard Wake Iso 1

Because of these 2 major breakdowns, Wake is able to simply rip through Howard’s outside shoulder and continue unabated to the Quarterback.

Howard Wake Iso 2

Wake wraps Sanchez up for an important sack and Austin Howard is laying on his back like a turtle.

Howard Wake 4

The encouraging thing is that to this point, Howard played really well against Cameron Wake with limited help in pass protection. He did a nice job of taking a kick slide that allowed him to stone Wake’s outside rush. When the Dolphins went up 17-0 and Wake knew the Jets were throwing the football, he brought a harder rush and Howard had alot of trouble with him the rest of the game.

Another major issue with Howard is that his footwork is just not that good in pass pro. In that last clip, he actually had his right foot forward when he went to punch Cameron Wake. Doing that would allow any edge rusher to get around an offensive lineman. He should have kept kick sliding with his right foot back. He also has tendency to over set once he gets beat outside a few times. The major issue I have with Howard’s pass blocking is consistency. He can be very solid for long stretches and than in the blink of an eye can be terrible.

Another thing that has plagued Austin Howard is his inability to effectively block on screen plays. The screen pass is a huge part of Marty Mornhinweg’s offense and this issue has already reared its ugly head in the 2013 preseason. For offensive linemen, the screen pass is about selling the dropback pass and being athletic out in space. Tackles just have to sell the pass play and hold up the defensive lineman long enough so that they don’t get to the quarterback unabated. For some reason, Howard struggles to do this and it has happened on more than one occasion.

In week 4 against the 49ers, the Jets are running a simple screen to Shonn Greene. Although, Austin Howard (right tackle) has the proper idea as he tries to step inside the defensive lineman to invite him upfield, he steps way too far inside. Generally in pass pro, you want to take a pass set where your outside number on your jersey is directly over the DL’s inside number. This allows the lineman to protect the inside first, but be in a good position to stop an outside rush. Howard is too far inside and allows a lot of space of the edge.

Howard screen 1

Because of this bad set, Ray McDonald is able to rip outside Howard and get pressure on Sanchez before the screen is even set up. Look at Howard’s feet. They completely stop moving and he is in a horrible leaning position.

Howard screen 2

Howard is chasing McDonald as he gets past him. Because of the pressure, Sanchez is forced to rush the screen pass. McDonald ends up tipping this ball and Patrick Willis intercepts the pass.  Howard got a -2 on this play as his horrible technique and field awareness lead to a big turnover.

Howard screen 3

In a 2012 player ranking, Matt Miller of the Bleacher Report gave Howard 43 points out of 50 in run blocking. I can say that this film sample size does not support this number and its mainly because of who he played against. In the three sample games I chose to look at, Howard was consistently blocking guys like Justin Smith, Vince Wilfork, and Cameron Wake:  three All-Pros.  From watching a few other games I know Howard looks a little better, but this film shows a Right Tackle that struggles to maintain his balance against more skilled defensive linemen. It all really stems from his footwork. His feet are not quick enough and when he gets off the ball his upper body gets into a lean because his feet are not great. If run blocking is his strength, than imagine how good he can really be if he improves his footwork and gets his body in proper balance.

Here the Jets are in a double tight formation with a wing back to the right side of the formation. The Jets will be running a power play to the right. Austin Howard is at right tackle and will be looking to combo block the DE with Jason Smith to the Backside ILB.  Notice that the Dolphins have 9 in the box, 1 more than the Jets can block.

Howard Fall 1

The handoff is going to Jonathan Grimes (who I expect to be a Random Jet of the Day in a future countdown article). The first thing I notice is how big of a first step Howard takes off the ball. Lineman are taught to take about a 6 inch step on these combo blocks. I would say Howard takes about a 2 and a half foot step and completely overextends himself. Because his step is so long and his feet are so narrow, I can already tell his balance will be completely off.

Howard Fall 2Howard Fall Close 1

From the sideline angle, you can see Howard falling off his block and hitting the ground.  He should be coming off and hitting the linebacker who makes the tackle.

Howard Fall 3

The other main issue that I saw with Howard is that there wasn’t great chemistry between him and Brandon Moore last season. While Brick and Slauson actually complemented each other on the left side, Moore and Howard struggled in run combo blocks and passing off stunts and blitzes in the pass game. Particularly on run combos, neither Moore or Howard are very technically sound. Because of this, they often struggle getting movement at the point of attack and struggled to get off on linebackers. As you can see from previous clip, both guys come off the ball pretty high and have very narrow bases under them. This led to a lot of issues in Tony Sparano’s power run game.

In week 12 against the Patriots, the Jets are again running a power play to the right. Howard is initially supposed to be in a combo with Brandon Moore to the backside ILB. With Brandon Spikes walked up in the A gap, it now becomes Moore’s responsibility to take him if he fires in that gap.

Howard Toss 1

Moore checks the A gap, but Spikes doesn’t come. This is a tough adjustment, but Moore either needs to get in the combo with Howard or go straight up to the backside LB. If you look at Howard, he is in a hard forward lean and is stepping off his toes instead of his insteps, where he would have more power. I imagine he is getting off the ball like this because he is facing Wilfork. Understandable, but when he abandons proper technique he is actually hurting himself more than he knows and plays right into Wilfork’s hands.

Howard toss 2

Now Moore decides to get in on the combo block with Howard, but because it is late and he is coming from a weird angle, the two Jets are almost working against each other. Because of Howard’s poor balance, Wilfork is able to split the combo and focus on taking on Howard.

Howard Toss 3

Wilfork simply tosses the offbalance Howard to the ground and leaves Moore in terrible position to do anything. Wilfork makes the tackle for no gain.

Howard Toss 4

Besides showing what a beast Vince Wilfork is, this clip shows what happens when Austin Howard abandons his technique because he thinks he has to get off the ball even harder against a guy like Wilfork. He is really playing into Big Vince’s hands, because he is savvy enough to use Howard’s poor technique against him and simply toss him to the ground. It also shows what a simple caveat like walking Brandon Spikes up to the line of scrimmage can do to disrupt a play that relies on comb blocks.  he Patriots did this on multiple occasions to disrupt Sparano’s power game.

The good news is that Howard will most likely have an upgrade next to him at right guard in Willie Colon. Colon and Howard have similar styles when it comes to run blocking and should be able to work well together in creating running lanes on the right side of the line. All in all, Howard is a pretty solid run blocker and although these sample don’t exemplify that, there were flashes of what he can do. He is not a dominant run blocker by any stretch of the imagination, but when not facing guys named Wilfork or Wake, he gets solid movement as long as he uses his proper technique. Also, as the season went on, he got a lot better in pass protection particularly in picking up blitzes and line twists. 

These are the types of plays you will find in greater quantity if you were to venture outside of the sample. They should also become more abundant as Howard gets more experience. Remember that 2012 was Howard’s first season starting in the NFL and if he continues to improve the way he has since being a Ravens practice squad guy, he should get better and more comfortable. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a smaller amount of negatively graded plays in 2013. If he works on fixing some of these issues, he should be in the low 80s.