Week 11 Film Review: Maxx Crosby
The Oakland Raiders have surprised people this season, fighting through a brutal first-half of the schedule, and coming out of Week 11 with a 6-4 record.
Nobody expected them to be looking at a playoff-push, including even their own fans. I predicted they would go 8-8, for example. However. After a great offseason, the team has stepped up and earned every win they’ve got.
There is no better microcosm of the Raiders season right now than their rookie class.
Josh Jacobs has been an absolute superstar, but some of the later picks have also shown to be significantly better in their first season than could ever have been expected, Hunter Renfrow and Foster Moreau come to mind.
There is, however, one person who I would deem to be the best draft pick that General Manager Mike Mayock made this year, ‘Mad’ Maxx Crosby.
The 22-year old defensive end came out of Eastern Michigan, where he showed ability and work ethic, but didn’t receive much of the attention that the rest of his positional group did going into the draft proceedings.
Taken with the 106th draft pick, Crosby was the first of three Oakland picks in the fourth round, and their fifth of the draft. This pick could go down as the best value they found in this draft, and it won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
This week, the Raiders beat the Cincinnati Bengals, and while that isn’t an impressive feat, they did it after suffering their second season-ending injury to a safety, and without Lamarcus Joyner, who plays at nickel corner.
The secondary, which had already been struggling all season, was at its weakest, and vulnerable to any team, meaning that if the Bengals used the abundant speed in their offense, they could cause real problems, winless or not.
With that context, what Maxx Crosby did is even more important, having the best game of his young career, which he concluded with five tackles, four sacks and a forced fumble.
Four sacks for the fourth-round pick. A historic effort for a Raiders rookie and tied for the second most ever in a game by any rookie in the NFL, and by any Raider.
The first of these four sacks came in the first quarter. The Bengals were on a 3rd and 10, and set back to pass the ball, but Mad Maxx made that not go quite how they hoped.
The rookie lines up in a wide-9 technique, ready to rush the passer. The Raiders get him one on one through the use of a shifted defensive front to overload the opposite side, as Tahir Whitehead smartly occupies the left guard.
A one on one for Crosby is a welcome gift, as he is one of the more double-teamed edge rushers in the NFL, and can punish you when he isn’t.
He is aggressive off the ball, and gets downfield instantly, to remove the threat of the pre-occupied guard, and goes hard for left tackle John Jerry’s outside shoulder.
Due to the aggressive angle taken by the rush, Jerry has one chance to get his hands on Crosby, and when he throws them, the rookie rips his inside arm up and blocks his body off like an MMA fighter, with the outside of his arm.
As soon as he feels the contact is on his arm instead of his pads, he throws that arm down and dips around the bend to the quarterback. Ryan Finley didn’t know what hit him, and Crosby forced a fumble early that should have led to points.
After the first sack, Crosby didn’t record another for a couple of quarters, although he was involved, and was awaiting the best quarter of his career.
In the fourth quarter, the fourth-round pick came alive.
The second of his sacks came almost immediately in the decisive quarter, where he once again is lined up wide outside to the offensive left, except this time it is the mirror of the defensive front from the first one. This time he had a defensive lineman inside, instead of a linebacker, but the same result – Maxx Crosby with a one-on-one.
The one slight difference that is present is that tight end Tyler Eifert is flexed out nearby. In response to this, he just stayed narrow with his first step to avoid getting crack blocked. As a result of this, and a quicker pass-set from Jerry at tackle, Crosby couldn’t get round the outside.
He’s not a one move rusher, though.
When he identifies that he doesn’t have the outside leverage he would like, Crosby immediately changes his gameplan and attacks Jerry head on. He bull rushes and drives him back almost instantly.
As soon as the lineman’s shoulders were squared to him, he switched gear and his secondary move got it done.
Once he’s driven Jerry back all the way to his QB, he then showed the awareness to disengage at the right moment and was able to secure the sack before Finley could step up in the pocket.
It’s very difficult to get a sack so shallow in the pocket, but his very lateral bull rush put him in a position to take a hand off of Jerry’s chest and secure his second sack of the day, forcing a punt.
His first sack demonstrated him ripping and dipping round the outside, the second was all power. Crosby’s third sack didn’t require any moves or power or anything like that – this was just knowing his job and playing smart.
While I won’t try and argue the case that this is the least ‘impressive’ sack of the day, there is more to it than you might first recognise.
The most important thing when you play defensive line is to do your assignment before you try and make a play. Don’t try and tackle the running back if he’s not coming to your gap, don’t try something different because you want to try and get to the quarterback.
On this play the average person sees a free sack because nobody blocked Maxx Crosby.
The offense calls a play action pass, where the offensive line (and two tight ends who are lined up to Crosby’s side on the right) all show that it’s going to be a stretch left play call, and then Ryan Finley would bootleg back to the fourth-round pick’s side.
Crosby recognised that the two tight ends were heading left, and so he tightened himself to the side that they left from, but kept his eyes on the ball.
As he is locked in on Finley, he is able to recognise the play action, and therefore ignores Tyler Boyd, who is running underneath the line, which at first looked like a wham block, but is really a flat route for the play action.
Ignoring the moving parts and just doing his job of squeezing in behind the blockers going the other way, he is able to get to the quarterback before he could even turn and face his receivers.
The final of his four sacks is another great play, and yet another different type of sack. This time he not only showed a calculated risk but also because he took advantage of an inside stunt.
The Bengals came out in an empty set here, to start what was their final chance of the game, with under two minutes remaining and a very obvious need to pass the ball.
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther now dialled up a twist play, stunting Maxx Crosby inside, and calling for Maurice Hurst to hold up the left guard, Billy Price (who is usually at centre), to create a lane inside while pushing more towards the left tackle.
You can see here how the delay of the twist allows time for the centre to try and find work, and then Crosby dips off the back off Hurst’s butt and gets through the A gap. The centre has no clue that the edge rusher is even a possible threat until it’s too late.
I like the decision making here from Crosby – he clearly sees that Hurst gets absolutely no movement to the outside, which means that Finley could possibly escape if he isn’t able to get the sack, but he was aggressive. On a play like this, the first of the would-be-game-winning drive, Mad Maxx took the risk and trusted himself to get to the quarterback before he could roll outside.
The gap was open, and he made a play.
Sack four on the day, totalling 6.5 on the season.
What a steal.
A graduated Journalism student, Tyler also writes for Read American Football and Gridiron Hub. He played Wide Receiver and eventually Quarterback for his university team at DMU, and is now using his knowledge and passion for learning to dive deeper into the analysis of X’s and O’s in the NFL.
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