The inside linebacker position is one of my favorite positions to discuss. I may be a little biased, having played it, coached it, and covered the position last year during draft season. When I watch a game, I always watch the center, 2 guards and the inside linebackers. The guards will always tell you where the play is going. They may be zone stepping, setting up to pass block, or pulling. By watching the offensive line during a game you will have a much better idea of what the play is and where it is going as opposed to watching where the ball is.
After the initial movement by the offensive lineman, I then get my eyes on the inside linebacker. I want to always see how they react. When guards zone step I want to see if the inside linebacker will get across the guard and play his gap or if he is slow. When the guards pass block I want to see if the linebacker is quick to drop or if he is slow at getting to his zone or man. I really kept my eye on Martinez against the Vikings. He didn’t have a perfect game, but he has improved week to week. I went to the tape to get a closer look to reassure myself of his performance in week 12.
Playing the run
Lets start by taking a look at how he fared against the run. In this clip, Martinez starts out at the right inside linebacker position. The defensive end to his side, Dean Lowry, is in a 5 technique (outside shade of the tackle) which leaves the guard uncovered. Martinez can get a clean read on the guard and read through to the near back. An inside linebackers reads can change depending on the front, but the good ones can read an uncovered lineman and then get eyes on the near back. In this case it is the fullback.
The guards initial step is down to Clark who is shaded on the center. Martinez moves quickly and matches him step for step. The fullback then goes across the formation to get a block on Antonio Morrison. I really liked this play because Martinez scraped over from the backside, downhill, to make the play. If the play goes away from one inside linebacker then he is responsible for the cutback lane. Martinez took that away here with ease.
Here is a play that caught my eye. Martinez is lined up to the wide side this time at the left inside linebacker position. The Packers are in a base under front. An under front has the 1 technique set to the wide side of the field with a 3 technique to the short side. We see a lot of under and over front from the nickel look, but here it is ran with base personnel.
Martinez does a good job at reading the play and coming downhill. You wouldn’t think this first step is that important but it is. The first two steps in a given play can determine who wins and loses that particular play. Had he read it wrong and started to drop, he could give ground and give up a big play.
What he does next is what I really like. He gets a good punch on the offensive lineman, reads the back, redirects and makes a play. Its little things like this that go a long way.
Lets switch it up now and take a look at his pass defense. The Packers defense rolls in to a cover 2 look on this play. In a cover 2 look, there are 5 underneath defenders who must take away their zones. They are:
- Flats, taken away by the 2 corners.
- Hook/curl area. Players vary with the front that is called.
- Hole. This is the responsibility of the Mike linebacker. This a the middle of field area, usually 12-15 yards deep.
The Mike linebacker wants to open the hips at the snap, turn and sprint, all while keeping his eyes on his key. Martinez turns and runs and gets his eyes on the #3 receiver in the 3X1 look. He reads the dig route and jumps on it quick. I like how he redirects quick to get on the receiver. Very good footwork and hip flexibility.
Some fans may say that this was a bust because of the yardage given up. That is kind of the concept behind cover 2 defense though. It is your typical ‘bend but don’t break’ defense. The idea behind it is that you will give up that yardage and prevent the big play deep.
Here is a good look at Martinez playing against he play action look. As I said earlier, reads are crucial. He reads run right from the get-go but does a good job recovering to drop in his zone. In zone defense, as an inside linebacker, you want to keep the defender in front of you at all times. Things can get scary if a receiver ever gets behind. The linebacker doesn’t know if he has help behind or not. That’s when we can see little throws go for big chunks of yards.
This was a tough play for Martinez here. Minnesota runs a swing route with their running back, to which Martinez reacts correctly. He gets in space and finds himself one on one with the center. This is always one of the toughest spots for an inside linebacker to find himself in. One on one in space, he knows he has to shed the block, keep inside leverage and pursue the play from the inside out. The center reaches his playside shoulder and after that the defense is toast. Had he reached the centers outside shoulder a cutback would have probably happened, and Morrison looked in position to take it away. Kudos to Minnesota on this play though. It’s a well designed play.
All in all, I liked how Martinez fared against Minnesota. To me, it looks like this defense is looking for a leader. That responsibility usually falls on the inside linebacker. The inside linebacker is basically the quarterback of the defense. He calls the plays in the huddle, sets the front according to the offensive formation, makes the coverage check offs and audibles plays if need be. As he starts to grow and mature as a player, I’m sure more and more players will be looking to him to lead this defense. I’m expecting him to have a stellar game against the Cardinals as they come to Lambeau to take on the Packers.
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