Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Lens: Sony Michel and the Patriots Bait Ndamukong Suh

Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Lens examines the Patriot’s first offensive play of the Super Bowl—and explosive run against the L.A. Rams—that’s the product of effective scouting, preparation, and execution against Ndamukong Suh.

Ndamukong Suh is known for his ability to make plays in the offensive backfield. The New England Patriots are known for devising and executing gameplans against the players that concern them.

The Patriots run the ball as much as any team in the league so it’s easy to understand why Suh’s ability to force second-and-long and third-and-long game scripts would be a problem for New England’s ground attack and short passing game.

If the Rams create enough of these scenarios, the defense has an increased chance of forcing deeper passes and pressure reaching Tom Brady. When a defense can force Brady off his spot, make him play off-script and out of rhythm, the defense holds the advantage over the Patriots’ offense.

One of the first things we often consider when it comes to game-planning against an opponent with a dominant facet of his game is the one-on-one matchups with the player across from this opponent. The simplistic big media Tale of the Tape boxing analogy that often puts a player against a player—to their credit, they’re more inclined to go unit vs. unit, which is still often shortsighted—isn’t realistic analysis.

The Patriots’ center and guards are not going to improve their one-on-one skills dramatically to match up with Suh. The next, more realistic step is how can a unit create a game plan that’s a team effort to nullify an opponent like Suh without creating an insurmountable weakness elsewhere?

It begins with taking the strength of that opponent and turning it to your advantage. Suh is an excellent penetrator. He’s big, strong, and quick.

The physical aspects are obvious. It’s the cognitive behavior that’s key here. Suh is all of these physical things and based on scouting his tape, he and his team like to leverage these skills as often as possible. Suh is aggressive and the Rams want him to be that way.

Knowing this, the Patriots put Suh on notice immediately in the Super Bowl by baiting him to attack and turning his aggressive behavior into an advantageous situation. Here’s how they did it.

We could spend a lot of time on the line’s part in this play but as an evaluator of offensive skill positions, I love the plan to use a fullback/H-Back to attack Suh and the execution from running back Sony Michel.

Because the wind-back run is so popular, defenses often presume they’re about to face this play when a fullback or H-Back is offset. And defenders aren’t thinking that they’re going to be allowed into the backfield on purpose.

This ploy baits Suh into an aggressive attack of the backfield. When you’re aggressive, you’re fully committed. And when you’re fully committed with the wrong diagnosis, your weakness is exposed.

Unless you’re not big enough to play fullback, Suh’s size doesn’t matter on this play because the leverage point to nullify him is exposed to the fullback. Notice that Suh actually knocks the fullback to the ground upon contact. However, it’s still too late because Michel is already well past Suh and into an open crease.

Michel and the Patriots had to practice this play with the anticipation of a 300-pound stud tackle racing into the backfield as Michel takes the exchange with Tom Brady. This not only requires good muscle memory of the appropriate footwork to use that will efficiently veer outside Suh’s penetration but also efficient footwork to accelerate downhill through a small crease that isn’t perfectly north-south in its path.

Michel makes it look as easy as instinct. It’s actually years of practice time devoted to footwork and reading multiple levels of the field all at the same time—width, depth, leverage against blockers, and anticipating multiple patterns of movement while also on the move.

It all looks simple on this play, an indication of masterful execution.

For the most in-depth analysis of offensive skill players available (QB, RB, WR, and TE), get the 2019  Rookie Scouting Portfolio. If you’re a fantasy owner the Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2018 RSPs at no additional charge.

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