Editors note: Dirty or clean play? That was a hot debate following Sunday’s controversial block on Giants rookie pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux by Cincinnati tight end Thaddeus Moss. The 33rd Team asked former NFL all-pro tackle Joe Thomas for his opinion.
To me, it looks like what Cincinnati Bengals tight end Thaddeus Moss was coached to do. That’s exactly what you do when you’re a tight end, and you’re being asked to go across the formation on one of these away blocks or these back blocks.
Almost all of the time you’re cutting the defensive end because, first of all, he can see you, so you’re at a disadvantage from the start. Secondly, you’re usually a smaller player than he is, and he’s a better defender against the block. In that situation, you’re almost always going to be taught to go low to cut the player to make him at least go around you, and to use his hands to defend himself.
You feel bad that Thibodeaux got injured in that situation. At the same time, that doesn’t mean the play was dirty, and it also doesn’t mean Moss did anything wrong. If anything, Thibodeaux should have done a better job using his hands to defend himself in that situation. He should have the awareness that when you have that tight end coming across the formation in those inside zone-type plays, he’s gonna go low and you need to be prepared for it.
Steep Learning Curve for Young Players
One of the reasons you see these young players getting injured a lot during the preseason and the first few years of their careers is because they have a lot of things they’re thinking about other than their technique, and other than how to defend themselves against the block. If you’ve got a lot of things on your mind, it just makes you half a second and a little bit of a click too slow to respond and to react to things.
In that situation, Thibodeaux tried to lower his inside shoulder to take on the block as if the player was going to block him high. When Moss was coming across the formation, he was going low the entire way. It wasn’t like he faked he was gonna block him up high and then went low on him, or vice versa. He telegraphed that the entire way.
Thibodeaux should have been able to realize he needed to defend himself with his hands and keep his feet away from him so he could try to shuffle down the line of scrimmage and maintain his gap.
The Final Word
My point has always been this: If the defense doesn’t like getting cut by the offensive players, then I think it’s reasonable to say that on defense, you can’t go low on the running back. So, if you’re a safety or cornerback and you’ve got a big running back like Nick Chubb coming at you, if you don’t think that it’s fair for (offensive linemen) to cut you up front, then you shouldn’t be able to go low on that running back and you should have to stand there and let him run a hole right through your chest, steamroll you and just continue on to the end zone.
That’s part of the game. It’s going low in tackling, it’s going low in blocking, especially when you’re faced up. That’s just part of football. Unfortunately, injuries do happen occasionally. But in this situation, it was all clean. You feel bad there’s an injury but there’s nothing really more to discuss with this block.
So far in the preseason, one of the stories I’ve keyed in on is the performance of some of the NFL’s high-profile rookies. The New York Giants, for example, have two 2021 top-10 picks — Evan Neal and Kayvon Thibodeaux — that I had the opportunity to observe. Here are my thoughts on these two Giants rookies and what worries me about their early showing.
First, let me contextualize what I’m about to say. Last year, by Week 2 of the preseason, a lot of people were sure Penei Sewell wasn’t going to pan out. And then he became an important piece and continues to be on that offensive line in Detroit, which I think will be a real strength of the Lions’ team along with their running backs.
That said, I wasn’t a big fan of what I’ve seen from Evan Neal in the first preseason game. But I thought Evan Neal was top-heavy. I was worried after watching him about his ability to anchor a bull rush without leaning forward and getting pulled by. It’s something that showed up a couple of times; he was on the ground twice in the first series.
I’m sure he would tell you all of this, I’m sure his coaches would tell you the same: It wasn’t a great day as far as getting overextended. For example, the Giants ran a play-action pass, with the action away from Neal. He was supposed to cut off a New England defender, but he got so far down trying to get across his face that the Patriots player shucked him by and disrupted the play, and ultimately led to a Josh Uche sack. That shouldn’t happen in this situation.
I’m sure there are some positives you could draw from Neal, but the one thing that concerned me was how top-heavy he was. It seems like something he’s got to work on from a technique standpoint. But generally, guys who are top-heavy and who lean — that’s a tough habit to kick.
One of the things I’ve talked about concerning young pass-rushers is their “scale.” You see Travon Walker on the field with the Jaguars. The scale you saw at Georgia with him translates to the NFL. He looks huge in that two-point stance. His long arm is effective, he’s strong, he’s twitchy enough. But the thing I worry about with Walker is his finishing. Aidan Hutchinson, although I have concerns about the top of the rush with him, he’s going to be, at least, a pro player. And when I talk to people in Detroit, they like him.
I haven’t heard much about Thibodeaux from inside the Giants organization, but I can tell you I think he will have to work hard on his technique.
I think the one thing he has going for him is that he’s a good hip turner at the top of the rush. That’s a fluid motion for him. But in the NFL, you need a mechanism to get to the top of the rush. So whether it’s the double hand swipe or the inside-out that he started to work the second possession in the preseason, he has to figure out a way to get there and get there quick because I don’t think, for an edge-rusher as slight as he is, that he’s extremely twitchy. And he’s gotta work his hands better. He seems to lay hands on people, not put them on people, and there’s a difference. So he’s got a lot of work to do.
It will be interesting to see how challenging it is — especially in the New York media market—if he ends up in a little slump. I started my career in a slump. For a year and a half, I wasn’t exactly a guy who got to the quarterback, and a lot of pressure comes with that. But I played in St Louis, he plays in New York, and so I anticipate this might be a tough year.
You don’t know what’s going on at quarterback, so the team might not be great immediately. The patience isn’t going to be high for these two picks. That’s the reason I zeroed in on them, and I think there’s a lot of work to be done.