Defensive Line All-Stars: A look back at Week 11's standouts
After another slate filled with sacks, stops, and stuffs, let's review the best defensive linemen from Week 11:
Defensive Lineman of the Week: J.J. Watt, Texans
For the second time this season, Houston Texans star J.J. Watt takes home our Defensive Lineman of the Week award, as he gave Washington's misfit offensive line trouble throughout Sunday's game, registering eight total pressures, four tackles, and a sack.
Watt's so difficult to block because he's athletic, powerful, technical, and gives full effort on almost every play. The effort is key because it allows him to make plays when a typical defensive lineman wouldn’t. His sack against Washington is a great example:
On this play, Watt's aligned with an outside shade over Redskins tight end Jordan Reed. Once the ball is snapped, Watt explodes upfield, showing his hands in an effort to draw out right tackle Morgan Moses' hands. And once Moses attempts a strike, Watt quickly bats it down, drops his pad level, and rips with his inside arm to clear contact.
Meanwhile, as Washington quarterback Colt McCoy stands in the pocket, Brandon Dunn (No. 92) generates inside pressure and forces McCoy to scamble outside, giving Watt the time he needs to turn the corner, get downhill, and make the sack.
Watt's effectiveness against Washington wasn't limited to rushing the passer, as he was nearly as strong versus the run. Here's an example:
This time, Watt's aligned with an outside shade over Moses. Once the ball is snapped, he bursts upfield, employing a well-timed stab with his inside arm on Moses' frame. This allows him to knock Moses back, which creates the necessary space to cross the tackle's face and make the tackle at the line of scrimmage.
After a slow start to the season, Watt's playing at an All-Pro level once again. His effort against Washington was just the latest example.
Pass Rush of the Week: Kyler Fackrell, Packers
The biggest surprise of Week 11 might have been the fantastic performance by Green Bay Packers edge defender Kyler Fackrell, who dominated Seattle with five tackles, four quarterback hits, and three sacks. Even more surprisingly, this wasn't Fackrell’s first three-sack game of the year: he also posted a hat trick against the Buffalo Bills in Week 4.
Fackrell's first sack against Seattle is the most impressive on tape:
Here, Fackrell's aligned in a two-point stance (just his feet on the ground) over the outside edge of Seahawks left tackle Duane Brown, one of the league's best at the position. Once the ball's snapped, Fackrell explodes out of his stance and slightly veers outside to give himself a more direct angle of attack with his bull rush.
Once he gets within distance, Fackrell does well to engage with a low pad level, allowing him to play with leverage and superior hand placement. From there, he churns his feet and bench presses Brown off his frame, creating separation and making it difficult for the offensive lineman to latch on.
Now comes the most impressive part. Once Fackrell straightens and locks his arms, he's looking for Brown to anchor - because when an offensive tackle anchors against a bull rush, there's typically a moment when they exert force forward to stymie the defender who's pushing him back. This gives the pass-rusher a split-second opportunity to pull the tackle forward over his toes - using that momentum against him - which is exactly what Fackrell does to Brown here.
By pulling Brown off his base, Fackrell gets an easy path to Russell Wilson for the sack.
Fackrell won't be confused with the top pass-rushers in the NFL, but a play like this one demonstrates his better-than-advertised skill set.
Run Defender of the Week: Da'Ron Payne, Redskins
Da'Ron Payne's emerged as a dark-horse candidate for the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year, and the 21-year-old looked like a man among boys against Houston's rushing attack. Washington lost the game, but Payne finished with seven combined tackles - all of which came within 3 yards of the line of scrimmage.
Payne is frequently aligned in the A-gaps (on each side of the center) - where he does well with strong technique and physicality - but he also has the ability to make a play outside of the box, which is extremely uncommon for 300-plus-pound defensive tackles who don't usually get farther than one gap over, at most. Payne's athleticism allows him to make those plays moving laterally across the field, as evidenced by this stop:
Here, Payne's aligned directly across from the center. Once the ball is snapped, he does well to mirror the center's initial steps so he can effectively defend the A-gaps on each side of him. At the same time, Payne engages with superior hand placement, allowing him to create separation with his inside arm.
Because Payne establishes that separation, he's able to quickly reach the edge and tackle the running back, who was trying to cut upfield.
With moves like this in his repertoire, the sky's the limit for Payne as he continues to play beyond his years.
In the Spotlight: Javon Hargrave, DT, Steelers
Interior defenders tend to be forgotten by the general public, which is a shame because Javon Hargrave's vastly outplayed his draft selection since being chosen 89th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2016. Against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 11, Hargrave was at his best, finishing with four tackles, two quarterback hits, and two sacks.
Against the run, Hargave's immense lower-body strength makes him nearly impossible to displace from his gap. And against the Jaguars, he showed off his pass-rush prowess, as seen on his second sack of the day:
On this play, Hargrave's aligned with a slight outside shade over right guard Chris Reed. After the ball is snapped, Hargrave takes an initial step inside - causing Reed to react inside - which opens up space outside.
Hargrave then expands his rush outside, using a perfectly timed swipe-to-arm-over move that leaves Reed grabbing at air. From there, Hargrave shows off his nimble feet as he turns a nice corner and sacks Blake Bortles.
A little sugar and spice makes everything nice, and if Hargrave becomes as adept with the sugar (pass rushing) as he is with the spice (defending the run), he could turn into the Steelers' best defensive lineman. That's saying something when you consider that teammate Stephon Tuitt's already one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL.
For now, Sunday provided a glimpse of how dominant Hargrave can be.
John Owning is a football writer at theScore. He has written for Bleacher Report and Football Insiders. He was also the lead NFL content editor at FanRag Sports. John provides analysis on the Dallas Cowboys for the Dallas Morning News and edits for The Quant Edge. Find him on Twitter @JohnOwning.