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Kentucky Football Film Review: Protecting Patrick Towles is a team effort

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The Kentucky Wildcats used numerous protection schemes against EKU to attempt to keep Patrick Towles safe and sound.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Disrupt and delay is a core principal of every football defense.

The corollary to this principle for the offense then is protection and timing. No place is this principal  at odds more than on a pass play. The defense wishes to delay receivers and disrupt the timing while trying to pressure and sack the quarterback. The offense is trying to get off the line free and to protect the quarterback. UK uses a variety of ways to protect their quarterback and preserve the timing it practices.

Protection can be divided first into how many players will be used as designated protectors. This could be as few as 5 or as many as 9.  Next, the protection can be divided into zone schemes, man schemes and hybrid schemes which have both zone and man protections.  (This article is not about the nuances and techniques involved for each.)  I will analyze the first half of the Eastern Kentucky game to illustrate where the breakdowns occur and  what protection UK was using during the breakdown.

The easiest conclusion to reach anytime the quarterback is sacked or scrambles is the offensive line has failed or the offensive line coach has not adequately prepared.  That conclusion may be true, but it is not the only conclusion which can be reached, nor is it the one which is the most accurate.

The first example UK is using a 6-man protection consisting of the five offensive linemen, and one running back.  4 receivers will be in the routes.  They are using a man blocking scheme. In this case it is referred to often as BOB, or bigs on bigs, back on backer. The tackles both will account for the defender outside him, the guards have the next man inside.

The center will work to the declared Mike Linebacker and the running back has the linebacker to his side.  This gives the offense 6 players to block 6 possible pass rushers.

On this snap, the right offensive guard was beaten by the defensive tackle. The defender was able to use a swim move to get outside, The running back stepped up to help but the defender used his size advantage to bull rush over him.  The defense only brought 4 but was able to chase Patrick Towles out of the pocket and force him to throw the ball away to avoid a sack.

Later in the half UK faced an overloaded side in it’s 6 man protection. Presnap, EKU is not showing anything different than its base 3-4 alignment against  a 2x2 alignment with running back set to the field side.  The scheme would have the tackles again assigned to the outside defenders, with the  guards taking the next inside defender. The center and the running back would be responsible for taking the linebackers.

Postsnap, EKU drops the defender into coverage over the right offensive tackle.  The weakside linebacker and the boundary corner both become pass rushers along with the two down lineman and the standup defensive end, for a total of 5 pass rushers. UK has 6 offensive players assigned to protect,  but EKU is sending 4 to one side and 1 to the other.

UK does a wonderful job picking this up and passing responsibilities over. The right tackle having no one to block slides over and helps the right guard. When the right guard feels the double team he gives ground and slides over to protect the opposite side A gap. This is the gap the Will linebacker is running through. The running back is stepping up and taking the corner or linebacker whoever gets their first.

The protection was lost when the standup defensive end beat the left offensive tackle to the outside. This forced Towles to step up into the rush where the linebacker and the corner were compressing the pocket.  On this snap, the offensive line was well schooled in recognizing and executing against the overload, but one player was beaten in his one-on-one matchup.

The last example of a 6-man scheme breaking down came when EKU brought only 4 defenders and did not execute any line stunt of switches.

UK has its BOB protection with standard responsibilities. In this case the left tackle lost his individual matchup when the standup end stuttered to the outside and then swam inside.  The quarterback was forced to run from the pocket. Typically the gap escape for the quarterback when he feels C gap pressure is a backside D gap escape. In this case, Towles escaped to the frontside. This is an example where the quarterback could have helped his offensive line and possibly produced a big play if he had escaped  to the area which would have been uncovered.

Kentucky had just as much difficulty in its 8-man protection against EKU as it did with its 6 man.

Here UK has 8 players to defend 7 possible rushers. There are 2 receivers on designated pass routes.  In this protection UK is in essence using its run blocking scheme as pass protection to give defenders a false run read.  The right guard and the right tackle will block down. This leaves the defensive end on the offensive right alone.

So, the left offensive guard will pull to the right and pick him up. The left tackle takes the stand-up end outside him. The left fullback has linebacker his side.  The center must cover for the pulling left guard so this leaves the right fullback (a tight end on this snap) on the Mike linebacker. After the snap the right fullback comes too tight and allows the MIKE linebacker to run through and pressure Towles.

On the next example, UK has a breakdown on its 7-man protection.

On this snap, there are 3 designated receivers. ( The running back though not blocking is run faking and will block in the area his run fake ends) This appears to be a full zone slide to the offensive left. It is designed to simulate the same outside  zone run action to give the defense a false read.

When the offensive line slides to the left, the defensive end outside the right tackle must be accounted for by a fullback. In this instance, the left fullback is to go to his right and pick him up. However, he was slow and shallow and the defender came untouched to the quarterback. The ball was thrown incomplete, but this was clearly a hurried throw.

The final example is one where the offense can use the pressure of the defense against it.

In this case, the defense is threatening to overload the left side of the offensive line. The offense has enough to protect, but the defense is leaving the slot uncovered. Towles changes the play to a simple bubble screen. Now the offensive has the defense outnumbered on the perimeter and because it is a catch and throw, there will be no time for the pressure to get to the quarterback.  The EKU defender tried to retreat but was too far committed and UK was able to gain 8 yards with a real possibility of a touchdown.

Protection of the quarterback is a complete team job.  However, each player has to be able to win its individual matchup. In this article, I illustrated 4 different players who lost their matchup.  To be better on offense, fewer of these battles must not be lost.