Photo courtesy: neworleanssaints.com
Terron Armstead is almost midway through his sixth season as a pro and is playing the best football of his career. There are many reasons for this, so I called him to talk about why he’s playing so well and to breakdown what has led to him being so dominant in 2018.
Leading up to this season, Armstead has had a chance to go through a full off-season and his first training camp since 2015. He dealt with various injuries leading up to and during the 2017 season (playing in only 10 games) and was never able to be free of or get ahead on them. It hindered his ability to get stronger throughout the year.
For offensive lineman, the first part of the year is often used to knock off the rust, find a groove and work to improve on the technical side of things. When dealing with nagging injuries, these things get put on the back burner in the fight to regain their health. That’s essentially what Armstead has done since 2015. It is the primary reason why he hasn’t started a full 16 games once during his career.
Knocking off the rust is something Armstead feels he is still doing now, which is both understandable and a scary proposition to the rest of the edge rushers on the Saints schedule this season.
Aside from feeling and playing the best he has at this point in the year since 2015, Armstead remains focused on where he can improve. The main areas we discussed were power, balance, hand usage, consistently getting to his spot in pass-protection with a good base and overall improving in the run game. These areas improve with live reps. Armstead has played 100 percent of the snaps so far this season and has shown increased progress in each game.
The main area Armstead has shown his brilliance that I want to focus on comes in pass-protection, specifically changing up and using an assortment of different pass sets and hand techniques to keep rushers on their toes.
This is a more traditional vertical set from Armstead, who came out of his stance at a slight angle before continuing vertically upfield against Tampa Bay Buccaneers pass-rusher Jason Pierre-Paul (JPP). Armstead was able to beat JPP to the spot, meaning he established the half-man or inside-out relationship, and effectively took away the inside counter.
Once he achieved this positioning, JPP was forced to go outside or down the middle, and he chose the former, attempting a cross-chop that Armstead happily allowed before responding with a two-hand strike into his chest. Armstead put most of his upper body into the blow and maintained a strong base through contact to anchor. The rush was easily shut down due to the efficiency of his footwork, strike timing and balance.
Armstead told me he varies his pass sets based on film study of his upcoming opponent. He factors in things such as how they responded to differing sets from other offensive linemen, as well as the protection called on the specific play.
For instance, if the player false steps out of his stance as a rusher, Armstead is more likely to be aggressive and jump set him. If he knows he has inside help on a slide protection to his side, it becomes more viable to be aggressive and jump set guys as well.
Here is an example of his jump set against New York Giants defensive end Kareem Martin. With the ball traveling to the left on a quick pass, Armstead knows it is paramount to get on the rusher quickly and keep his hands down to keep the throwing window clean:
Conversely, Armstead has a host of counters to his traditional jump set that are all about deception and throwing off a rusher’s timing. This is where it shows what he is doing this season is special. Here is a fake jump set again against JPP:
Keeping his pass sets fresh and unpredictable is something Armstead says is extremely important, particularly against top pass-rushers. He equated it to major league baseball, saying, “In the MLB, if the pitcher throws the same fastball to the batter, eventually he will knock one out. I don’t want to give the same set/hands because rushers can set you up.”
Armstead expressed the desire to “play aggressive and take an offensive posture against rushers, attacking first and not always reacting.” The rusher’s alignment, play call and opponent all determine when this is feasible.
Another savvy example of the multitude of differing techniques Armstead can throw at a rusher is his snatch and trap technique. Armstead invites the long-arm technique from Martin, aptly sensing that his weight is too far forward. The timing and placement of his inside hand are perfect, resulting in a textbook example of what a great ‘trap’ looks like:
One alignment that Armstead favors being aggressive against is the wide-9 technique, using an ingenious alteration of the jump set. The idea is to give the impression of a jump set only to retreat and get vertical. Notice Armstead’s feet and how he got Atlanta Falcons pass-rusher Brooks Reed to react prematurely, throwing off his timing and footwork. Reed basically attempted his moves on air, thinking Armstead was going to be aggressive. Here are two different examples in different points of the game from their Week 3 matchup:
The most impressive outing for Armstead so far this season came against Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett. The former number one pick is someone Armstead expressed a great deal of respect for, telling me, “He (Garrett) is a complete freak of nature ... not many people walking this planet with his abilities. That alone is challenging. You have to change up sets/hands versus someone like that.”
These next three clips showcase some of the variance Armstead used against Garrett to negate some of his freakish athleticism, keeping him guessing as to what was coming next:
Through six games, the Saints offensive line has given up the fewest QB hits (20) and ranks 6th in Football Outsiders pass-protection rankings for offensive lines.
It takes all five linemen to make a top-tier unit, which the Saints certainly are, and it helps when your best player has the blend of unique physical talent and mental vigor that Armstead boasts. Now, he has to stay healthy for all 16 games for the first time of his career. If that happens, there is a high probability Armstead could receive his first career All-Pro selection as well.
Brandon Thorn currently manages football content via social media for The Scouting Academy and assists director Dan Hatman in daily operations. He has been a contributor for Bleacher Report, Inside the Pylon, CBS Sports, and The Football Educator. He was a film scout for the 2018 inaugural Offensive Line Masterminds clinic in Texas and specializes in line of scrimmage analysis. He is a 10-year Air Force veteran and resides in San Antonio, Texas with his wife Stephanie and son Luke.