A game I’ve been playing in my head in recent months is to take an offensive player and find his mirror image on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage. For example, Joey Galloway and Darrell Green were stylistically mirror images of each other. Both had amazing speed that sometimes overshadowed their underrated displays of craft at their respective positions over the course of lengthy and productive careers. Now I’m putting it on the blog and having some of my friends play.
When Cian Fahey asked me to contribute a couple of paragraphs about cornerback Patrick Peterson for a collaborative piece he’s writing with the likes of Eric Stoner, Chris Burke, Allen Dumonjic, and Joe Goodberry, I pulled this idea of describing Peterson through the lens Dez Bryant – a player he’s trained to face – and typed it on the page. It got me thinking pairing offensive and defensive players as mirror images would be a fun way to pass the time as my fellow writers and I wait for the car trip of our football writing lives to get to its preseason destination.
I posed the idea to Fahey and Stoner and added Ryan Riddle and Jene Bramel to the mix. There are no grand designs here; we’re just passing time and I’m keeping it a free-form process. If you disagree with the takes, have a take of your own, or want to build on the idea, post a comment or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Mirror Images: Maurice Jones-Drew/Ahmad Brooks
By Cian Fahey, Pre Snap Reads
I didn’t come to football the way most do. I grew up playing a plethora of other sports in a world where football wasn’t really football at all. In fact, it wasn’t even soccer, it was Gaelic Football. For a long time I didn’t even know the game existed, not least consider a career covering it. Yet, even though I missed out on the specific benefits that come with playing the sport from a young age, there were many lessons I learned from the other sports that translated into the next.
One of those lessons I learned as a 16-year-old. As a 15-year-old, I was fortunate enough to be part of an outstanding rugby team for 16 year olds and younger. From the first starter to the last backup, my team was littered with talented players and committed workers. We dominated our league in the same way the Patriots have dominated the regular season in recent years. However, once that season passed, our older players moved onto the under 18 team and I was elevated into a different role with six or seven others who were carrying over.
We swapped out our older, exceptional players for younger, nervous and inexperienced players. Despite having seven or eight players from the dominant team a year before, we dropped below mediocrity because of our weak spots.
After that season finished, I would forever become aware of the minor details. Minor details such as perceived role players, bench players, the impact of coaches or minor tactical adjustments. For that reason, when Matt approached me about this new series concept he had come up with, the first player that came to mind was Ahmad Brooks of the San Francisco 49ers.
Brooks is one of my favorite defensive players in the NFL. He is an outside linebacker on a defense that is often celebrated for its superstars at the linebacker position, but he is definitely not considered one of them. It was that overlooked aspect of Brooks that first linked him to Maurice Jones-Drew in my mind. Of course, being underrated isn’t enough to link two players for this series, but as the brain so often does, it was working much faster than my thoughts were.
Pocket Hercules, as Jones-Drew is affectionately known, may be significantly shorter than Brooks, but their frames are not too dissimilar and both players play with a similar physicality that permeates throughout their game. I’ve often compared Jones-Drew to a bowling ball when he is running with the ball, because he initiates contact with defenders as much as they look to hit him. If Jones-Drew is a bowling ball, Brooks is a medicine ball. Slightly bigger, but just as effective when it lands on your toe.
Neither has long speed, in the sense that they won’t sprint with the best athletes at their positions for 40 yards, but Jones-Drew is enough of a home-run hitter to make defenses quiver while Brooks has been a very consistent pass-rusher since joining the 49ers. Neither explodes off the screen as much as an Adrian Peterson or Von Miller, but both do enough to get by, especially with their all-around skill-sets.
It’s those all-around skill-sets that really makes this comparison work for me.
Brooks’ game isn’t about rushing the passer, he is a pivotal piece for the 49ers because he can balance his intensity and physicality in when taking on blockers in the running game, while still being flexible and fluid enough to drop into coverage. Is he going to slide into defensive tackle and overcome double teams like Justin Smith? No, but if you leave a tight end or fullback on him your play design will likely fail. Is he going to cover Rob Gronkowski on an island? No, but he does more than enough to excel in that area and uphold the standards of the most intimidating front seven in the NFL.
I said previously that Jones-Drew and Brooks were linked first because they are both overlooked or underrated. Jones-Drew isn’t overshadowed by his teammates, but instead by backs on winning teams such as Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice and Arian Foster. He still gets credit for his powerful running style and the previously spoken about breakaway potential, but few ever point to his incredible play as a pass-protector or as a receiving back.
The running-back position is changing in the NFL. Feature backs can no longer be just big, powerful runners, they must have that all-around game so they can be a part of the passing attack. Jones-Drew should be the player who powerful backs look to moving forward. He has proven himself in the past as a more than respectable receiver coming out of the backfield, while since 2010, he has only allowed two sacks, three hits and two hurries on 189 pass blocks(courtesy of PFF).
For me, Jones-Drew is clearly the best pass-blocking running-back in the NFL, while it’s hard to think of a player who stops the run as well as Brooks without sacrificing in other areas. These may be little things, but little things are important. You may not notice it when you’re winning, but you definitely will when you start losing. At least, I did when I started losing.
Maurice Jones-Drew and Ahmad Brooks are mirror images of each other.
Cian Fahey has written for a number of sites, including The Guardian, Bleacher Report, and Irishcentral. He is also contributing to Footballguys.com and his blog Pre Snap Reads is a growing encyclopedia of content with an emphasis on defensive backs.