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Cover Six: Sacks are overrated, pressure is king

As you all know, and everyone agrees, sacks are overrated. Stop asking for them! 

Western Kentucky v Ohio State Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

In football terms, Cover Six is a zone coverage that combines Cover Four and Cover Two. While on the field it is designed to negate the deep pass while offering extra support underneath to protect against the run, in this case, Cover Six is a weekly column focused on Ohio State’s defense under coordinator Jim Knowles. Every week, it will cover six aspects of the defense’s performance including big moments, key stats, film analysis, and areas in need of improvement. Join me as I follow the defense as it tries to bring back the Silver Bullets swagger that we know and love!

Cover 1: Sacks are Overrated, Pressure is King!

Sacks are overrated. I say this intentionally and also slightly as a joke. Yes, we all know that sacks are important, there isn’t a greater feeling in the world than watching a defensive end engulf a quarterback. Some of the best moments in the last decade at Ohio State have been due to stud defensive ends tattooing a quarterback in big moments. Despite that, sacks aren’t the sole indicator of a good defense. Sacks are great when they’re also coupled with pressure. If you get two sacks in a game but no additional pressures the opposing quarterback is going to carve up your defense. Whereas you could finish a game with zero sacks but ten team pressures and make the quarterback’s life hell. Sacks are also down in college football due to the overwhelming amount of offenses who throw screens or RPOs where quarterbacks get the ball out fast. This is not to say that we shouldn’t want sacks but pressure is just as good especially when it leads to interceptions.

Against Western Kentucky, Ohio State had two sacks, which is a good number against a team that generally doesn’t allow sacks. Ohio State fans complain a lot about the lack of sacks from JT and Jack but, according to PFF, against WKU Jack had seven total pressures and a 34.5% pass-rush win rate. J.T. has six pressures and a 33.3% win rate. As a team, Ohio State had 20 total pressures on 39 total dropbacks. That’s a pressure on 51% of dropbacks. Sure they only had two sacks but those pressures directly led to two interceptions and should have been three but Josh Proctor dropped one. They also led to multiple errant passes on third and fourth down. Sacks may be king but pressure is underrated and it can change games too.

Check out these clips below, in the first clip you will see pressure on back-to-back plays that lead to errant throws on 3rd and 4th and 2 giving Ohio State the ball in a good position. In the final clip you will see the pressure that should’ve led to an interception and probably a pick-six, either way, Ohio State got the ball and immediately scored on the next play when Chip Trayanum scored from 40 yards out. No sacks but three game-changing plays that led to the offense putting points on the board.

Cover 2: Tyleik Williams, Have Yourself a Day

Going into the season there was a lot of hype around Ohio State’s interior defensive line. Much of that hype surrounded Mike Hall and transfer Tywone Malone after some social media clips of him working out dropped. Tyleik was the forgotten man in the room as he suffered an injury early in camp and while we knew he would play many people had him coming off the bench. Through three games Tyleik has been the best interior defender and maybe the best player on the entire defensive line. Against Western Kentucky, he finished third on the team with seven tackles. He also finished with one sack, a tackle for loss, and one QB hurry. That alone would have been a stand-out performance but he secured Ohio State’s first defensive touchdown of the year when he showed off his big man strength by ripping the ball out of a pile in the end zone. This defense will go as far as the defensive line takes them and Tyleik is making a case for being one of the best defensive tackles in the conference.

In the two clips below Tyleik loops around and makes a run stuff on third and one. In the second clip, his pressure directly leads to Steele Chambers’s interception. The announcers praise Chambers but due to Tyleik leveling the quarterback, all Chambers had to do was catch the ball. The hardest thing for a quarterback to manage is pressure up the middle and Tyleik is a dangerous pass rusher. These are game changers and if Tyleik can do this against better competition this defense will be scary.

Cover 3: The Road to Five Defensive Touchdowns.

In my first cover six article I gave six predictions for this defense, one of the predictions that I believed in but was sort of a long shot was Ohio State’s defense scoring five touchdowns. I came into the season believing in Ohio State’s pass rush and that their secondary would be better. When you couple those things with the athletes on the field I had a feeling the Silver Bullets could get into the endzone. They may not reach five but they’re well on their way after scoring two defensive touchdowns against Western Kentucky. It could’ve been three if Josh Proctor came down with the ball on his dropped interception. He had nothing but grass in front of him but couldn’t secure the catch. This defense has been very fun and JT hasn’t gotten involved in the scoring yet after getting two defensive touchdowns on his own last year.

Cover 4: You All Owe Steele Chambers an Apology.

Coming into the season Tommy Eichenberg got most of the respect he deserved. He was listed on a bunch of lists for post-season awards and received All-American hype. At the same time, Steele Chambers went under the radar. When talking about the best linebacker duos in the conference and the country no one had Ohio State. Even though Steele Chamber was second in tackles last season and has gotten better every year. Fans also weren’t respecting Chambers wanting him to be benched for former five-star CJ Hicks. Chambers didn’t say anything he just came into the season and played fast, confident, and has silenced the doubters. Against Western Kentucky, he had eight tackles, one tackle for loss, a pass deflection, and an interception. He almost had a scoop and score but couldn’t secure the ball.

Ryan Day credited Chambers with setting the tone for the defense after getting a big run stop on third down early in the game. Before this play, WKU was moving the ball effectively. After the Chambers stop, the defense didn't allow another point and forced multiple takeaways and turnovers on downs. Chambers is absolutely an NFL Linebacker and he has improved tremendously this offseason. With Eichenberg and Chambers at linebacker, Ohio State is going to be a force in the run game. Chambers will need a big game this week against Notre Dame and I’m 100% confident he’ll ace the test.

In this play, you can tell that Tommy and Steele are on the same page. Whatever their keys are Tommy and Steele knew what play was coming and communicated it before the snap. As soon as the ball was snapped Chambers jumped outside beating the lineman who was supposed to block him to the spot and had a one-on-one tackle against the running back in space. Chambers didn’t miss and came up with a big play that ultimately led to Ohio State getting the ball back.

Cover 5: Jermaine Matthews to the Crib!

Ohio State freshman cornerback Jermaine Matthews received rave reviews all offseason. He came to Ohio State and immediately showed his ability to play at this level. Ohio State has three really good corners so Matthews couldn’t break into the rotation but he earned the right to play snaps late in games. Against Western Kentucky, Matthews only played 11 snaps but made the most of them finishing the game with one tackle and a pick-six. Matthew showed his ability to lockdown a wide receiver shutting down Western Kentucky’s starting wide receiver Blue Smith, formerly of Ohio State. Pressure caused WKU’s quarterback to make a bad read and Mathews punished him for it jumping the route, securing the catch, and racing to the end zone. We may not see Matthews much this year but he has already shown enough to make fans excited for his future! After struggling in the secondary for the past couple of years it looks like BIA is back!

Cover 6: A Simple Ask for Notre Dame.

Notre Dame enters this week as one of the best offensives in the country. I’m not sure that I believe that will stay throughout the season as they’ve played no one but entering this game Sam Hartman is fifth in the country with 1,061 passing yards and running back Audric Estime is number one in the country with 521 rushing yards. Styles makes fights and this is the Sonny Styles game, this is the game where he gets to showcase that unicorn ability by stopping the run and locking down tight ends. I know that Ohio State is high on backup linebacker Cody Simon but I do not want to see Simon in this game at the expense of Styles. Whether it’s inside as a third linebacker or in the slot as a hybrid safety/linebacker - i.e. the famed bullet position - Ohio State needs Styles in this matchup.

Entering this game Ohio State is 19th in the country in rushing defense allowing 83.3 yards per game and they’re 15th allowing 2.53 yards per carry. Notre Dame is the 26th-best rushing offense averaging 204.5 yards per game, they average 5.88 yards per carry and have nine rushing touchdowns on the year. Ohio State has only allowed one rushing touchdown all year. This match-up will be strength on strength. Hartman is a better quarterback than what Notre Dame has had previously but he is not a star and the Fighting Irish don’t have great talent at wide receiver. Believe it or not, WKU has better wide receivers and maybe a better quarterback. This game will be won in the trenches, if the Buckeyes can stop the run and make Hartman beat them in the air they’ll win this game. Sonny Styles playing alongside Tommy and Steele is their best chance to slow down the Notre Dame rushing game. Don’t overthink this, play your best players and dominate the Irish.

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