Parasite free and ready to rock
A little over two weeks ago, as the return date for 54 OLB DeAndre Levy kept getting pushed back, Pride Of Detroit wondered along with everyone else about what exactly would be coming back to the lineup:
Levy’s return could be a boost for a defense that has struggled mightily to cover the middle of the field. But questions still remain about Levy’s effectiveness considering he has only played six quarters of football since the end of the 2014 season.
On re-watching the 18 snaps for which Levy was on the field against the Chicago Bears, it looks like the injuries (whatever they were) have healed. Levy showed little signs of rust, and played with the solid technique and instincts we all remember him for. Though he was bottled up on a screen pass in the fourth quarter (which he actually diagnosed well), the former second-team All-Pro linebacker seems poised to deliver the high level play that was expected of him at the start of 2016. It is a timely return, coming right when the team needs it most for a playoff run.
With only the camera angles provided by the broadcast until All-22 tape is released by the league, a more full treatment of Levy’s performance cannot be carried out. However, even the sparse film available reveals three crucial components of his game that we needed to see: block shedding, block avoidance, and general speed and quickness.
Block shedding: staying alive
As early as the first defensive snaps of the first quarter, we can observe nice movement and hand technique to remain free to close to the ball-carrier on run defense. Similar to how pass rushers need to push blockers away before they can latch on, shed and fill responsibilities for the linebackers require staying clean and active.
2016 CHI, 1Q (8:40). First-and-5 at the Chicago 25.
The play call by the Bears is lead inside zone right from the I-formation. Levy is over a bubble in the defensive line in front of the left guard, and will immediately rush the line at the snap (possibly a blitz). With the Bears zone blocking to their right, Levy is not picked up by the left guard but is instead engaged by LT 72 Charles Leno. In the above series of screencaps, you can see the initial alignment pre-snap with 12 QB Matt Barkley pointing at Levy in the upper left quadrant. In the upper right quadrant as Barkley turns to hand the ball off, Levy is blocked by Leno.
Now it gets interesting in the lower left after 24 HB Jordan Howard has the ball: Levy is seen breaking away from Leno, pushing away with his right arm and looking for the runner. By the time we hit the lower right where penetration by 92 DT Haloti Ngata and 61 DE Kerry Hyder blow up the play in the backfield, Levy is clearly taking a support angle to back them up—going sideline to sideline.
Though not directly involved with the tackle-for-loss (which is all Hyder and Ngata), the overall defense is quite sound. 94 DE Ezekiel Ansah at the top maintains cutback contain while Levy and 32 SS Tavon Wilson pursue laterally to the play side.
2016 CHI, 2Q (3:20). Second-and-2 at the Chicago 33.
Again the Bears are running lead zone from an I-formation, but this time Levy is at the point of attack at the right B gap. 47 FB Paul Lasike will lead block through the hole against Levy for Howard, but look at the bottom left section of the composite above. First, note how deep Lasike has been forced to engage Levy: it’s two yards behind the blue line of scrimmage! Moreover, Levy near the edge of the defense on the front side maintains outside leverage on the blocker to push the play back inside.
The problem for the offense is that Ngata was released by 62 C Ted Larsen after a mere token block; the Bears were counting on being able to bounce the play to the outside, which is why so many blockers release to wall off defenders downfield. Levy and Ziggy at the edge holding the outside gives Howard nowhere to go except right back into a more-or-less unblocked Ngata. By the bottom right frame where Ngata is trying to trip up the ball-carrier, look again at Levy. At that point, he is already free of the fullback and swarming to the ball to help gang-tackle.
This is great team defense by Ziggy, Levy, and Ngata. While we can’t credit Levy for “making the play” here, he is doing his job of taking on the lead blocker to clog the lane and doing it well.
2016 CHI, 4Q (12:36). First-and-10 at the Chicago 20.
Needs no explanation. I would be willing to bet no other defensive player on the team has the combination of technique and athletic ability to both defeat the block and then cut off the edge like that for just one yard except possibly Ziggy. Certainly no other linebacker on the roster could do that.
Oh, and yes, that’s 71 LG Josh Sitton he’s sloughing off like a chump.
Block avoidance: the best way to beat a blocker
In the Karate Kid Part II, Mr. Miyagi teaches Daniel about negating what his opponent wants to do with the drum technique: “From very first karate lesson, Miyagi father always say... Best way to avoid punch, no be there."
On multiple occasions against Chicago, the cat-like reflexes and quickness of the Levy of old showed up when the veteran simply sidestepped would-be blockers.
2016 CHI, 1Q (7:18). Second-and-7 at the Chicago 23.
If anyone wants to complain about predictable or unimaginative play-calling on offense from the Lions, here is another lead zone play from Chicago out of the I-formation to think about. Levy is positioned to take the point of attack at Chicago’s right side B gap. Again, we have the fullback aiming to shoot through the gap and take out the second level defender (Levy) in the lower left panel of the composite. But in the bottom right panel we can see what happens: WHIFF AND A MISS.
Evading a block will not always result in a tackle, but it can create big negative plays for the defense in other ways. Our next example of Levy’s quickness shows him drawing a holding penalty.
2016 CHI, 3Q (14:18). First-and-10 at the Chicago 42.
Cutting up inside the blocking sled, Levy burns Sitton so bad that the three-time Pro Bowl veteran immediately tries to go for a hug. In the replay, it is clear Levy is flowing with the play and simply plants his foot to explode upfield. This is a great play for fans concerned about whether the injuries permanently sapped any change-of-direction mobility.