Defensive Line All-Stars: A look back at Week 16's standout defenders
After another slate filled with sacks, stops, and stuffs, let's review the standout performers from the trenches during Week 16:
Defensive Lineman of the Week: DT Aaron Donald, Rams
After two straight quiet weeks, Donald made some real noise against the Arizona Cardinals, finishing with five tackles, four quarterback hits, and three sacks in one of his best performances of the season.
Donald dominated the Cardinals' offensive line throughout the game, as his quickness and hand technique were too much for the opposition to handle. His first sack was a great example:
Donald is aligned as the 3-technique defensive tackle with an outside shade over Arizona left guard Colby Gossett. Once the ball is snapped, Donald explodes out of his stance and pushes vertical.
The tackle's wide alignment and get-off forces Gossett to reach outside his frame to attempt to slow down the rush. This is exactly what Donald wants, as he uses a perfectly-timed cross-chop to defeat the opposition's hands.
Donald finishes with an effective club-arm move, which eliminates Gossett's ability to recover and allows No. 99 to get his hips on track toward the quarterback. From there, he accelerates to the middle of the pocket to bring down Josh Rosen for the sack.
With his three sacks against Arizona, Donald improved his total to 19.5, three behind Michael Strahan's single-season record of 22.5.
However, Donald is so effective at rushing the passer that it's easy to forget how outstanding he is against the run:
Here, the Cardinals make the unwise choice of leaving Donald single-blocked in the run game and are punished accordingly.
Once the ball is snapped, Donald expands outside and forces Gossett to lunge to make contact, and the Rams tackle eats lunging linemen for breakfast.
As Gossett attempts to make contact, Donald is able to parry the strike with his outside hand and perform a rip move with his inside hand to clear contact and get hip to hip with the guard. From there, Donald is able to zoom into the backfield and finish with the tackle for loss.
Donald's ability to dominate games against both the run and pass makes him one of the best defensive tackles to ever step foot on an NFL field. Sunday was just another example of that.
Pass Rush of the Week: DT Malik Jackson, Jaguars
After being one of the most disruptive interior defenders in football through his first two seasons with the Jaguars, Jackson has struggled this year. He entered Sunday's contest with just 32 total tackles (five for loss) and one sack after recording 40 tackles (10 for loss) and eight sacks in 2017.
Jackson didn't exactly right the ship versus Miami, but his fourth-quarter sack provided a glimpse of the player he can be when he's at his best:
Jackson is lined up as the 3-technique defensive tackle with an outside shade of Miami's left guard. After the ball is snapped, he slants his rush from the weak-side B-gap into the strong-side A-gap, leaving him one-on-one with Dolphins center Travis Swanson.
Once he gets within striking distance, Jackson executes a long-arm stab with his inside hand to establish the distance while using a chop move with his outside hand, causing the Dolphins' center to tumble forward as he missed with his strike.
From there, Jackson pursues and brings down Ryan Tannehill for the sack.
In a year when little has gone right for Jackson, it was promising to see him display the technique that led the Jaguars to give him a six-year, $90-million contract in 2016. This fourth-quarter sack proves Jackson still has the skills to play at a high level.
Run Defender of the Week: DT Brandon Mebane, Chargers
After missing the previous four games to spend time with his wife and family following the premature birth of their daughter, Mebane made his return to the field against the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday night.
It was in a losing effort, but Mebane was fantastic against the run, accumulating six tackles in 20 snaps.
Listed at 6-foot-1 and 311 lbs, Mebane utilizes his natural leverage advantage to consistently hold his ground, and when he attains superior hand placement at the point of attack, he's nearly impossible to stop against the run:
Mebane is aligned as the nose tackle with a slight shade over the Ravens' center. Once the ball is snapped, he fires out of his stance and initiates contact with the center, allowing him to dictate the action at the point of attack.
Superior hand placement allows him to drive the center back a yard, resetting the line of scrimmage while creating the separation necessary with his length to shed the block and make the tackle after a minimal gain.
Mebane demonstrates his mastery of the basics, as he uses a simple stack-and-shed, or "bull-pull."
Even in a loss, L.A. has to be happy to have Mebane back patrolling the A-gaps on defense.
In the Spotlight: DE Chris Long, Eagles
Playing on one of the most talented defensive lines in football, it's easy to forget about Long. However, the Virginia product is consistently one of the better complementary pass-rushers in football.
At 6-foot-3 and 270 lbs, Long uses his speed, effort, and active hands to generate pressure as a pass-rusher. He does an excellent job of contorting his body at the top of his rush to make it difficult for offensive tackles to land a strike. Even if he's initially stymied, Long stays active with his hands while continuing to pursue the ball.
He really turned it on when the Eagles needed him most, as both of his sacks came in the fourth quarter. When Houston was driving to tie the game early in the final frame, it was Long who came up with the big play:
He's aligned in a two-point stance with a wide outside shade over the Texans' tight end. After the ball is snapped, Long explodes upfield and avoids the tight end's chip block before leveraging his speed up the edge to stress the right tackle's pass set.
As Deshaun Watson reaches the apex of his drop, Long dips his inside shoulder - reducing his blockable surface area - as he flattens to the quarterback. Watson initially steps up in the pocket to avoid the rush, but Brandon Graham's inside pressure forces the quarterback to retreat right into the defensive end's arms.
Instead of merely sacking Watson, Long is also able to knock the ball free, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Fletcher Cox. The Eagles turned that fumble into a crucial touchdown.
If Philadelphia finds its way into the playoffs, don't forget about the reserve defensive end who helped make it happen.
John Owning is a football writer at theScore. He has written for Bleacher Report and Football Insiders. He was also the lead NFL content editor at FanRag Sports. John provides analysis on the Dallas Cowboys for the Dallas Morning News and edits for The Quant Edge. Find him on Twitter @JohnOwning.
- Report: Packers, Rodgers nearing deal that could set up QB's exit after 2021
- Report: Texans open to offers for Watson
- Redrafting the entire NFL: Mahomes goes 1st. What happens next?
- Colts' Reich to miss start of camp after testing positive for COVID-19
- 2 women with new allegations among 10 filing police complaints against Watson