Photo credit: Mike Roemer/AP
The Green Bay Packers defense appears to be improving as the season progresses, and that was evident when they held the high-powered Philadelphia Eagles in check last Sunday.
A lot of the credit has been given to Clay Matthews after he moved from outside linebacker to inside linebacker.
While that is true, he’s not the only one playing at a high level. Other players around him have also stepped up their game.
One such player is nose tackle Letroy Guion. His performance has been quite unexpected, but very welcomed. He was signed in the off season as an unheralded free agent, mainly to provide depth at the position while B.J. Raji returned to his more normal nose tackle position from his previous defensive end deployment. However, after missing most of training camp with a hamstring injury, many thought Guion was at risk of not even making the roster. But, Raji’s season-ending injury necessitated Guion’s contributions.
After getting off to a slow start to the season, probably since he was playing himself into football shape, Guion is making his presence known. In Dom Capers’ 3-4 double gap system, the nose tackle is mainly expected to occupy one or two blockers to ensure that the linebackers (or other box defenders) come free to tackle the ball carrier or blitz cleanly through a gap.
In the play below, Guion does just that. The Eagles are running their bread and butter play, the inside zone, which calls for their center (62) and right guard (64) to double team the play side nose tackle (Guion, 98). Watch as Guion occupies both of these blockers, but doesn’t get blown completely off the line of scrimmage. He does a good job setting the anchor point, which allows safety Morgan Burnett (42) crash down the gap and tackle McCoy (25). It’s not a glamorous play by Guion, but he played it perfectly for the system, and he was even credited with an assisted tackle on the play.
Setting the anchor point is what’s most expected from the nose tackle in this defense. Anything above and beyond that is gravy, and Guion is starting to provide some bonuses.
In the play below, the Eagles are once again running the inside zone, but this time away from Guion. Subsequently, he’s left single-blocked on the back side. Watch as he stands up his blocker, which allows him to control both gaps (to his right and left); this is the cornerstone of the double-gap system. By controlling both gaps, he’s able to shed the blocker and attack the ball carrier in the hole. It also allows the box defenders to flow downhill into the gaps. Here, Guion sheds his blocker before the box defenders converge, stopping McCoy for a short game. It was an excellent play.
Guion’s 40-yard dash if officially 5.31 seconds, which is slow enough where they stop even talking about it in public. However, he seems to play much faster than that and has a good initial burst off the ball.
In the next play, which was on the opening possession of the game, Guion flies off the ball and knocks Mark Sanchez into next week. He uses a nice swim/hump move and quickly beats the guard in route to crushing Sanchez. This play not only stalled the drive, it also set the tone for the rest of the game. Sanchez was shaken up on the play and played the rest of the game with a little bit of nerves and yips in the pocket.
This last play shows how nimble Guion is, and how quick he plays in space, especially for a big man with Rich Eisen numbers in the 40-yard dash. It’s a screen pass to the extremely dangerous Darren Sproles. What is most impressive about this play isn’t the fact that Guion chased him down, preventing a touchdown on this possession, it’s how he used his body perfectly to prevent a big play. While chasing down Sproles, he kept his hips in the proper position to avoid an inside cutback lane for Sproles. Had he opened his hips, he would have been completely unable to stop a cutback. Guion knew what the play was from the start, and knew everything he needed to do to prevent the score. The Eagles settled for a field goal on this possession.
Guion has been a pleasant surprise this season, and he’ll be needed down the stretch if the Packers hope to make some noise in the playoff picture.
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