Myles Garrett's Just Scratching the Surface of His Potential
Here’s a scary thought for linemen across the NFL: Myles Garrett is just scratching the surface of his potential.
6-4, 270, lean-cut, with a body Muhammad Ali would be proud of, Garrett is as physically gifted as any edge-defender to enter the league since, well, forever. A Julius Peppers doppelgänger, Garrett is a springy pass-rusher with ridiculous first-step speed, hands the size of desks, extend-o arms, and a natural penchant to draw power from the ground up.
He can run over or around people. Watching Garrett in full flight transforms the game from a sport to a spectacle. This is the highest point of edge-rushing evolution. Guys his size shouldn’t move so gracefully.
He's getting better at everything. That’s what should terrify everyone. His rush skills advanced last season. So did his run game discipline. He has a new, deft spin move and a Von-ish inside jab that he unleashes when he can’t get his go-to speed-to-power stuff rolling.
An edge-defender has three jobs: set a hard edge as the force or contain defender; rush the passer; and drop into coverage. Do one at a high level, and you’ll be a starter. Do two, and you’ll earn an All-Pro nod. Master all three, and we’ll send you to Canton.
Garrett is on his way. He’s been excellent through five weeks of the 2018 season, showcasing a skill-set that’s far from complete but more refined than when he first crossed the stage as the top overall pick in the 2016.
In college, Garrett was an unpolished bundle of potential. He got by on pure athleticism, as many great collegiate athletes do. He showed refinement in the run game -- that has stuck around. He lacked some basic technical skills as a pass-rusher. After all, he didn’t really need them.
That doesn’t quite work in the pro’s. Everyone is a great athlete (Kiko Alonso excluded). Garrett has shown marked improvement since entering the league.
There’s still a ways to go. Terron Armstead schooled him in New Orleans. He was up-and-down vs. the Ravens. He dominated every other matchup, putting him slap-bang in the middle of any Defensive Player of the Year discussion.
Greg Williams and the Cleveland Browns recognize this atypical talent. They line him up anywhere and everywhere. Different alignments and techniques. Every kind of stance: stood up in a two point, playing inside with his hand on the ground, or lined up in that sprinter stance, four points of contact plastered to the ground, ready to explode into the backfield and through your quarterback.
What’s interesting is Williams and Garrett switch this up week-to-week rather than snap-to-snap. Garrett doesn’t move quite as much as some of his contemporaries in-game. He moves some, but no more than the average guy.
It seems the Browns settle on an opponent’s weakness pre-game and look to prey on it with their best predator – this guy can’t dip as well, let’s give Myles as great a leverage advantage as possible; widen his alignment and stick him in a four-point stance.
It works. Things were a little different against Baltimore in week four. There, Garrett was treated to the full Von Miller treatment, vacillating between a bunch of positions and alignments, hunting the most favorable matchups possible. He still aligned mostly over the left tackle, where he does his most disruptive work.
Garrett can truly play any position. Size and springs will do that for you.
A tactical twist Cleveland has yet to show this season: standing Garrett up inside, something the Texans do with Jadeveon Clowney to disrupt protections.
Clowney is the only person close to Garrett roaming the league. The pair share the same kind of size and explosiveness, with long levers to boot. The Texans like to stand Clowney up inside, covering an A-Gap, or stacked behind J.J. Watt. It is unconventional to the point of disruption. Cleveland should follow suit.
The bedrock of Garrett’s game is run defense. It’s not quite as sexy as sack totals, but it’s necessary. You know what they say: if you wanna have fun, you’ve gotta stop the run.
Garrett is a more well-rounded run defender than he is a rusher. He is rarely, if ever, out of position. He doesn’t cheat. He rarely pinches inside, looking to make a big play that compromises the team’s gap integrity. He plays like he’s just another cog in the spill or flow machine. Only he’s awesome.
Holy God. What are we even supposed to do with this guy?
Watch how quick he reads that run.
The Jets were trying to crack Garrett, crunch him from the side with a receiver, while the lineman in front of him sprang out into space. Garrett read it instantly, getting across the face of his blocker and riding towards the sideline, setting a hard edge and forcing the ball-carrier back inside.
Not content with that, Garrett went all super-human. He shed his man with a combination of ease and disdain, swallowing up the running back in the same movement.
Garrett makes those plays look routine; I assure you they’re not.
Garrett uses his hands better in the run game. Those go-go-gadget arms come in handy in whenever he’s in-phase with a blocker. He can reach his arms to spots you cannot. He climbs into the chest of a lineman, plants those arms on their breastplate, and can control them before they’re able to latch on and form a steady base.
Other times, he’s able to wait a blocker out, force them to show their cards – where they’re putting their hands – then nonchalantly swat them away from a safe distance. He makes good players look clueless:
Above, Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva tried to play Garrett at his own game.
Like Garrett, Villanueva is long. Like, long, long. The tackle was playing cat and mouse with Garrett. He wanted the defender to commit to a move before he clubbed his hands away
One problem: Garrett is much, much quicker. Garrett leapt out of his stance and put Villanueva in an awful position. Garrett kept low and condensed his body, not giving the Steelers’ tackle a target to land a clean shot.
Garrett sunk his inside arm into the chest of Villanueva.
Villanueva made his move, hacking down on Garrett’s arm. But the Browns defender kept his outside arm free, swooping underneath the lanky tackle and closing to the running back, forcing a fumble.
Big fellas aren’t supposed to dip so easily and with such balance. They’re supposed to be tighter in the hips.
Garrett loves to use a club to dust fools when he’s got a good angle on the backside of running plays. Sometimes, he wins solely with his get-off. There’s nothing a blocker can do when Garrett gets this kind of jump:
Other times, teams look to block him through play design, blocking him with without blocking him. They will option him, or run a bootleg, asking him to sit out and hold his lane. Garrett refuses to oblige. Hunting down the backside of running plays has become his favorite pastime:
That video looks like something from the Discovery Channel. It’s Garrett in full predatory mode, moving at a different speed to everyone on the field.
Garrett is different as a pass-rusher. There, he’s all hops and power. He likes to drop his pads and rush straight-up, driving linemen back into the path of the quarterback.
That’s where he’s most comfortable: attacking in a pincer movement, setting wide and collapsing outside-in.
Length becomes a big advantage. He uses his arms to win the hand fight early and overpower fools with force. He can land his hand on a blocker from what feels like a million miles away, like the older sibling playing keep away:
Garrett didn’t land a kill shot, above. Kolton Miller barely budged. But Garrett’s length helped him win the rep. He was able to land his hands inside, planting an arm on Miller before the tackle could do anything about it. Miller was left to grab the outside of Garrett’s shoulder pads.
When Garrett was good and ready, he was able to chuck Miller out of his way and close to the quarterback for the sack.
This is a recurring guest star of his work:
That was a mauling from start to finish. Jets left tackle Kelvin Beachum has an interesting skill-set. He’s a canny operator. He doesn’t have the physical gifts to match Garrett.
Garrett’s first-step set the whole thing up. He zigzags in sudden directional jolts; his sheer speed, at his size, unnerves blockers. He bursts off the line with such ferocity. It’s jarring.
Beachum kicked out to match Garrett’s width and help widen the pocket, putting more space between Garrett and his target, Sam Darnold.
It was folly. Garrett exploded into Beachum’s sternum. Beachum had a solid initial base. But Garrett’s utter power rocked him off his spot. He couldn’t recover.
Garrett does a marvelous job of converting speed-to-power. For someone so big, he plays with natural leverage, allowing him to stick his feet in the ground and draw power from the ground up. That’s the key: he pushes his feet into the ground, rather than trying to jump through the blocker. It’s a subtle but distinct difference.
Garrett likes to roll with some dip-and-rip moves, too. He has good flexibility (more than Clowney) and isn’t restricted to straight-line rushes like other power guys:
He doesn’t quite have the natural Miller-esque speed-skater thing down. But there’s just enough glimpses to give every offensive coordinator nightmares:
Add that consistently to his arsenal, and its game over.
Still: everything is predicated on the bull rush. If he can’t set that up, he has difficulties. It’s what unnerves folks. And he uses that physical and psychological advantage to devastating effect. When it’s not there, he can go through quiet periods.
Terron Armstead dealt Garrett a tough lesson in week two. Armstead is one of the rare linemen in the league who looks at Garrett’s measurables, chortles, and thinks “cute”.
Armstead is the freakiest of the freaks. He has trees for legs, can dance with anyone, and reacts with brutal suddenness. He’s the master of the counter move. Garrett spent week two nestled nicely in Armstead’s no-so-substantial gut. He couldn’t get anything going:
Did you catch what Armstead did there? He used Garrett’s aggressiveness as an asset. He knew where the run play was going, one of the joys of playing on offense. Garrett dove inside, showcasing all the burst and leverage and power that makes him such a force.
Armstead hung against the initial blow. Then, he flipped his hips and washed Garrett out of the play. Garrett started the play lined up in the middle of the field. He ended it out of shot, pushed beyond the far hashmark.
It was all Armstead in the passing game, too. The Saints tackle used a 45-degree set to limit some of Garrett’s effectiveness. Armstead is twitchy enough, strong enough, and good enough with his hands, to set in an instant, fit his block and control a rep:
There, he took the attack to Garrett: running off the ball, fitting, and exploding on contact. He absorbed Garrett’s power then ran the arc with him, shepherding him around the corner and freeing Drew Brees to climb up away from any pressure.
It was a masterclass. Over and over again Garrett came with his speed-to-power stuff. When that failed, he’d immediately grab for his favored rip:
No dice. Armstead dropped anchor and wouldn’t budge. He stonewalled Garrett at every turn.
It’s not just been Armstead, either. Baltimore’s Ronnie Stanley gave Garrett all he could handle in week five. Like Armstead, Stanley is a twitched-up tackle. He can kick out against speed, anchor against power, and reset and move against any kind of counter.
Stanley, drafted in the same year as Garrett in the first round, played the former number one overall pick to a draw. Garrett would overwhelm Stanley early in reps, but the tackle would fight back, showing an ability to recover and re-anchor.
Garrett rocked Stanley with his speed-to-power rushes. He was too strong. But Stanley held up. When it became a technical dual, boom, it was over.
Williams and the defensive staff shifted Garrett to the other side of the formation. There, he had more luck, unleashing a torrent of speed and clubs.
They probably should have kept him over that side.
And this is why Garrett is just scratching the surface of what he could be. Match his strength, and you have a chance. He isn’t a technical rusher. Not yet. There are technical elements to his game, for sure. But he hasn’t advanced in all areas.
It takes time! He’s learning new moves; he’s learning all the moves within a move. He’s dabbled with a spin. The results haven’t been great. But he’s trying!
There are flashes of the kind of two-steps ahead vision we need to see more of going forward, where he forces a lineman to overset before swooping back inside.
Cleveland’s staff can help with this by switching up his looks and running more gap exchanges. There are few sights in the league more menacing than Garrett zooming in off the edge, ready to take on a center.
Those stunts fuel Garrett’s lethal, mean-spirited side. He moves at a different speed. Gap exchanges jumble the blocking mechanics, Garrett slices through chaos to rain screaming hellfire. We don’t see enough of it.
Opposing teams are already giving Garrett the super-duper star treatment. They use all the traditional methods to limit his effectiveness: slide protections; double teams (sometimes those don’t even matter); chip blocks.
We’ve seen a bunch of sides use crack blocks to pin him on the edge while other linemen orbit behind.
A crack block doesn’t necessarily need to be a clean shot. It just needs to disrupt Garrett’s timing and out-leverage the rest of his buddies to the boundary. It’s a smart, effective tactic.
A couple of teams have been foolish enough to block Garrett 1-on-1 with a tight end. That’s, umm, not a good idea:
Unconventional blocking mechanisms have proven pointless.
The Steelers like to get fancy with their designs. They run a ton of split-zone and trap concepts, and they marry those with a whole bunch of fakes. The idea: leave a defender unblocked, let him get some depth in the backfield, then have someone dart across the formation and hit them, side on, to seal a greater running angle.
Garrett gobbled all that up:
Woof! Can you believe a staff sat in meetings all week and thought it would be a good idea to have the right guard cut across the formation to seal an unblocked Garrett? I mean, come on, people.
Garrett’s ludicrous get-off got him to the backfield so fast, that he had time to pause and look around. Did those guys really not try to block me? As David DeCastro wheezed his way over, Garrett accelerated untouched into Ben Roethlisberger, unloading on the quarterback for a strip sack.
Returning to our edge-defender checklist: Garrett is two-for-two.
That leads to the almighty coverage question. With such a naturally gifted rusher as Garrett, why does Greg Williams insist on dropping him into coverage? Football snobs typically scoff at the notion, this writer included.
But let’s follow Williams’ logic for a little bit. Garrett has the hip fluidity, foot speed, and chops to drop into coverage and be effective.
If Williams can dangle the idea that Garret might drop and that someone might come from somewhere else, perhaps that changes the blocking mechanics.
Perhaps teams would be less apt to stick two, sometimes three guys on the team’s top rusher. Maybe sacrificing a pass-rush rep or two makes the times he is hurtling towards the backfield more likely to be 1-on-1, and therefore deliver a greater per-rush efficiency.
If they don’t, it’s still a win! That means two guys are standing around waiting to block Garrett, while the edge defender drops away to read the quarterback and try his hand in coverage. There is a logic somewhere in here.
Still: it feels like a poor use of resources. None of this is rocket science. Sure, philosophically – schematically -- it makes some sense. But Garrett’s at his best moving forward. He’s tough enough to block even when a pair of guys know he’s steaming towards the backfield. Why not take advantage of that on each and every snap?
Let’s give credit to Williams, though. This whole Browns-defense thing isn’t cute anymore.
They’re downright frisky. They headed into week five as the fourth stingiest defense in the league, 6th in adjusted line yards (run defense), and 8th in adjusted sack rate. Then they stuffed the Ravens, holding them to nine points on a measly 4.9 yards per play, including overtime.
Oh, and Cleveland is first in total takeaways with 15 through five games. Fifteen!
There is excellent talent at every level: Larry Ogunjobi; Joe Schobert; Denzel Ward; Damarious Randall; Genard Avery.
Avery is one of the least discussed edge-defenders in the game. He’s quietly developed into a all-around stud. Ogubjobi fever has gripped the internet. Ogunjobi is solid. He has the potential to be great. Damarious Randall switched organizations and positions. Both changes have done him the world of good. He’s changed from a mistake-prone boundary corner to a high-level middle of the field safety, gobbling up everything in front of him.
Questions of whether the team made a mistake selecting Ward fourth overall in the recent draft have already proven to be laughable. Ward is almost always the best athlete on whatever field he walks on. He pairs that with instincts and great eye discipline. He’s already a star (by the way, Chubb solid if unspectacular early on in Denver. He’s going to be good, but it’s something to monitor).
Cleveland has hit on high picks, unearthed some mid-round gems, and added pieces through the draft and free agency.
Schobert might be the most impressive find of all. A true hashmark to sideline runner, he has the springs to dive downhill or turn and run in space. He relishes in sliding through the slightest of crevices in the offensive line. Yet he’s still at his best roaming in space.
His diagnose-and-attack skills vs. the run are solid. In coverage, his instincts are legit. He’s tops in my totally fictitious “wait did he just do that?” stat.
Not bad for the 12th linebacker taken in the 2016 Draft (pour one out for Kevin Dodd).
Good defense isn’t always spectacular. It resides in the absence of spectacle. It’s the little things: leverage; hand placement; and how you fit in the overall team construct. Put simply, in football parlance: did you do your job?
Cleveland is doing the little things at a high level – not withstanding one of the most predictable third-down packages in the league. The Browns have been effective on money downs in spite of their play-calling predictability (the Browns are 9th in third down percentage).
The young pup defense is roaming around like hungry wolves. They play hard. They run fast. Every level of the defense has blurry speed. They just look faster than the people they’re playing against. It pops off the screen.
Teams revel in finding defenders who know only one speed: all gas, no break. Cleveland has found a roster of full of them. These dudes play fierce.
Close your eyes, and you can see how each player fits on the field: Ogunjobi swallowing a pair of blockers inside; Garrett and Avery meeting for high fives at the quarterback; Schobert and his linebacker buddies clearing up any debris behind; Ward, EJ Gaines, and TJ Carrie playing man-coverage across the board; Jabrill Peppers serving as the Swiss Army Knife; Randall staying deep, reading the quarterback, locked in attack mode; all kinds of sub-packages to get extra speed and fresh bodies on the field. This Browns defense just makes sense.
Williams still sports his idiosyncratic tricks. Jabrill Peppers isn’t quite lining up on Jupiter this year, a device that turned Williams from guru to meme last season. Peppers is somewhere closer to the moon in 2018. It’s progress.
There are no bells and whistles to his defensive culture. They don’t do an awful lot post-snap. They’re smart, stay within themselves and execute the little things that win. That’s a real sentence I just wrote about the Cleveland Browns. Is any of this real? You’re almost afraid to ask.
Like Garrett, it feels like the whole group is just beginning to uncover its potential.
Garrett remains the jewel in the crown. The former number one overall pick came in with the unreasonable expectations that go with that moniker: Be Lawrence Taylor, Von Miller, Khalil Mack, immediately, or else.
Miller and Mack sit atop the league’s edge-defending thrown. It will stay that way until one or the other enters decline. But Garrett is coming. He’s still putting all the tools together. God help everyone when he does.