Matt Waldman’s Rookie Scouting Portfolio examines the use of one arm to gain leverage courtesy of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston.
Edge rushers and wide receivers have a lot more in common than the casual football fan realizes. Both positions need to earn separation within the first 5-7 yards of the line of scrimmage. Both require a number of physical and technical tools to do it.
The best rely on copious amounts quickness or power. Whether the resource is quickness or power, the one thing all effective players at these positions share is leverage.
Justin Houston is one of the best edge defenders in the NFL and he’s on the verge of a monstrous 2017 campaign. He’s a disruptor in the ground game and he has weekly moments where he’s unblockable.
One of his best plays of Week 2 exemplifies the value of gaining leverage on an opponent using a well-known technique based on the maxim “one arm is longer than two.” Here’s the play, my commentary, and additional notes about Houston’s plan on this play.
Return to the beginning of the play and note Houston’s jab step to the inside. This sets the defender up for the outside move just like a wide receiver uses a jab step to release from the line of scrimmage against press coverage.
As soon as he has that inside jab step firmly into the ground, Houston extends his inside arm into the inside chest plate of the right tackle. This is not a power move as much as a leverage point. The power element kicks in as Houston
This is not a power move as much as a leverage point. Think of Houston’s inside arm as a crowbar lodged under crease between a heavy door and a door frame. Once Houston fits that crowbar in the correct spot, the next move is to get weight on the end of the bar so it does its job.
Houston achieves that by bending his hips around the edge to the outside hip of the tackle. The Chiefs linebacker leans into that plant point so that his one hand supports much of his weight as he bends the around the outside hip. If you stop the video where Houston is essentially even with the back of No. 71, you’ll see Houston’s hips already even with the outside hip of his opponent.
Within the next two steps, Houston’s weight distribution creates enough leverage to force the tackle outside as if Houston’s arm was a crowbar popping a door from its frame. The next part is critical and an amazing athletic feat: Houston swivels his hips back to the inside while at peak acceleration and engaged with the tackle.
Note how he brings that left leg as far across his inside leg as possible so he can achieve a turn inside the tackle. If Houston doesn’t do this, his orbit will take him around Carson Wentz rather than directly to the quarterback.
As Houston turns his hips inside to get across the chest of the tackle he just leveraged to the outside, he brings his outside arm over the top of that crowbar to get shoulder-to-shoulder with the tackle. This frees up the “crowbar” arm to reach for Wentz and the play is effectively over.
It’s a play filled with great technique and physical prowess, and one that sets a few standards for how to watch edge rushing prospects through the NFL lens.
For more NFL Lens analysis, check out the RSP’s home page for the series.
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