Last week I discussed the different offensive positions and formations that modern NFL teams use. Every football play involves 11 offensive players in one of the many possible formations that can be schemed up. All plays also include either run blocking or pass blocking (or both).
Today we’ll cover pass blocking, which is the simpler form of blocking to discuss. For each position on the offensive line, I will run through blocking technique, what to look for in a successful blocker, and common errors in blocking. Linemen are often lambasted for letting defenders through to hit the quarterback, but blocking is much more complex than it looks. To understand why plays work or fail you need to understand blocking.
Every block involves a “punch”, which is hopefully the first contact between lineman and defender. The blocker doesn’t actually punch the defender with closed fists, but top tier linemen actually manage to rock rushers and noticeably change their momentum. The punch alone doesn’t make a good lineman, but it’s rare to see an elite pass blocker without a great punch.
Offensive tackles protect the perimeter, usually against the defense’s most threatening rushers. Defensive ends and outside linebackers are elite athletes–rare combinations of size, strength, and speed. In order to keep the quarterback clean, offensive tackles must have fantastic footwork, lateral movement, and tenaciousness.
Tackles generally move backward at the snap, opening a cushion of space between them and the edge rushers. They do this by kick-stepping, which allows them to keep their heads on a swivel and keep aware. Since this involves giving a momentum advantage over to rushers, tackles have to be able to plant their feet and commit to a block quickly.
Good tackle pass blocking requires a smooth kick-step and playing on a whole foot instead of either heels or toes. This allows the tackle to deliver a punch without losing control of momentum. Tackles with good footwork and a strong first punch are in high demand, but an underrated feature of a good tackle is grit. Edge rushers usually have several moves that they will try to get around tackles. Tackles who can handle this onslaught–and who can move on from failure–are generally more consistent than tackles with all the right tools but no determination.
One common failure for tackles is that they play on either toes or heels instead of a whole foot. This allows edge rushers to set them up with speed and then bowl them over with a power rush. Elite rushers can knock a tackle to the ground with this strategy.
Guards and centers generally don’t move back as quickly as tackles, since they deal with interior rushers in a smaller space. However, this places a premium on lateral movement and strength for guards and awareness for centers. Interior linemen have to anchor, yield, and re-anchor repeatedly in pass blocking. Guards generally take on defensive linemen while the center assists where needed. Some centers can even kick out to the edge to take care of overload blitzes.
Good interior pass blocking might be frantic, but it creates a consistent area in the middle of the offense that the quarterback can step into while reading the field (the “pocket”). A strong pocket will allow the quarterback to avoid pressure from the edges by moving into space in the middle. Traits of a good pocket blocker are good side-to-side movement and a punch that can stun 300lb+ defensive tackles.
Interior linemen often fail by leaning into their rushers. Leaning into a rusher will slow him down, but if he disengages quickly the blocker will lose balance. Low-mobility guards and centers will often try to lean into defenders to make up for their deficiencies.
A properly-blocked pocket will give a quarterback security around the edges and in the middle, allowing him to move freely. Just a couple steps from the quarterback can help receivers get open, so the security of the pocket is tantamount to success. And now you know how to spot where a blocker failed.
2019 NFL Draft Board
Welcome to NFL Draft week! Here is the downloadable version of Ryan’s 2019 Draft board laying out the prospects round-by-round as Draft fits. Chiefs will be drafting some of these players. Check them off as they come off the board and highlight your targets!
Click image to download the .pdf and follow along on NFL Draft weekend