Over the last few weeks I have been raving about how good of a job the scouting/pro personnel department has done in regards to finding talent — not ‘cream of the crop’ talent, but talent that fits in terms of their character traits AND their skills and or abilities on the football field. The scouting department has found players who fit the coaches’ schemes exceedingly well, and the coaches have put those players in positions to succeed, despite their relatively limited skills.
A prime example of such a player is defensive end Eddie Yarbrough. The darling of training camp earned all of his 106 reps thus far through the first quarter of the season, and he has made plays when given opportunities. But he doesn’t possess top tier speed, explosiveness, or bend. What he does possess is mental processing, pass rush moves, competitive toughness, and the the type of work ethic that can sustain a lengthy NFL career.
Last week versus the Atlanta Falcons he played his brand of football. With DE Shaq Lawson out for the game, Yarbrough got the start at left defensive end, and the 3rd year player filled the stat box. He finished with one QB hit, one QB hurry, one batted pass, four tackles, and three stops.
Against the run he flashed his play speed and technique. Play speed is the combination of mental processing and athletic ability. As I mentioned, his athletic ability is not elite, but when you combine it with his ability to mentally process what is happening in front of him, Yarbrough can play with the best of them. On the snap, the Falcons motion a tight end just outside of Eddie to make him think they are going to run the crack toss again like they had earlier. They want him to react to the tight end and anticipate the ‘crack’. By anticipating it, he will set a ‘soft edge’ on this outside zone run, which would open up a hole for RB Freeman to hit. Yarbrough doesn’t fall for it; he sticks to his keys, diagnoses the tackle’s zone run blocking footwork, and sets a strong edge by ripping through the block, all while keeping his outside arm free. That’s textbook edge setting, and it forces the cutback and allows the defense to pursue and make the tackle.
Most people don’t realize how important it is for defensive linemen to process and diagnose, not just run to pass, but actual run concepts. For different types of runs, their responsibilities or reactions/techniques may be different. On the following play, the defense is in a 4-3 over front with Yarbrough aligned in a 5-tech outside of the tackle. The offense motions and the Bills must bump down gaps to maintain gap integrity. Eddie now doesn’t have to worry about setting the edge if the run is at him, or about contain in case Ryan were to run a play action bootleg. On the snap, he reads the zone blocking again, and both he and DT Thornton execute gap exchanges, meaning they slant to the backside gap. This is a common tactic used by coordinators to throw off zone blockers, as all of them are stepping in the direction of the run. The quick read by Yarbrough blows the play up, and he makes the tackle.
I know Jerry Hughes stole the show when it came to getting after Matt Ryan, but if you had watched Yarbrough closely, then you must have been impressed with his technique. On this play, Eddie lets us know that he has a pass rush plan: a predetermined method for how he plans on beating the tackle on the play. As the ball is snapped, he knows that the backup tackle is going to attempt an angle set if he widens his rush. So as he closes the gap, he flashes both hands at the tackle. The tackle Sambrailo immediately brings his hands up to engage, and it puts him on his toes. The first person to bring their hands up in these chess matches typically loses. Now Sambrailo is off balance, and Yarbrough shrinks his blocking surface area, rips through, and meets Hughes at the QB.
He has underrated play strength, as well, which has led to a 9.1% run stop percentage, which ranks 13th among all defensive ends that have taken at least 25% of their teams’ run snaps. Against the run, he has put up 6 total tackles and four stops on the season.
On the following play, he shows off his situational awareness and mental processing. It’s 2nd-and-3, and the Falcons bring out 11 personnel and align them into a tight trips bunch set to the field from the gun formation. The formation and down and distance scream pass. On the snap, Eddie appears to be responsible for jamming the innermost WR Williams, but he releases wide and it causes Yarbrough to stumble. He keeps his head in the play and diagnoses the quick set by Ryan, then reads his eyes and times his jump perfectly to bat the pass down.
The staff really showed their trust in a lot of young players at the end of the game, including LB Matt Milano and Yarbrough. Eddie earned some fantastic game experience at the defensive tackle position, and when you watch this play, you’ll see why. The Falcons are expecting a blitz and dial up a beautiful screen to Freeman. Yarbrough rushes the passer and then recognizes the pass to Freeman, and he doesn’t flinch at all. He immediately goes into chase mode and makes the tackle downfield.
Yarbrough is the type of player that is a grinder — a blue collar type who will do his job and do it to the fullest. You can count on him to ‘bring it’ each and every play. He has earned his right to play on Sundays, and with his effort and drive he will be doing that for many years.