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In da Film Room: Arden Key

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Taking a look at Arden Key’s 2017 season.

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I wanted to share my thoughts on Arden Key, particularly his deployment in Aranda’s defense. We know the 2017 Key was not the same guy that showed out in 2016. The 2017 version was slow, plodding, couldn’t get off blocks... and still found ways to be effective. You guys probably know more about the issues he went through this offseason but hopefully he can get back on track and rebuild himself as the player he was in 2016.

The point of this post was to look at why Aranda dropped Key into coverage so much this season. Dropping your best pass rusher is a little counter intuitive but if you’re going to drop your defensive linemen to confuse quarterbacks and pass protections, than inevitably you’re going to have to drop your best player sometimes. My question was whether it was too much.

Arden Key played 224 snaps when against the pass this season. He rushed the passer 177 times and dropped back in coverage 47 times. He dropped in coverage 21 percent of the time. Last year, by comparison, that number is 12.5 percent. That’s a big jump. In 206 less snaps overall in 2017, he was in pass coverage five more times overall.

That’s a lot of non-pass rushing snaps for your best pass rusher. Let’s look at some of the other edge rushers around the country and how many times they dropped in coverage on passes:

  • Bradley Chubb - 6 percent
  • Harold Landry - 7 percent
  • Rashan Gary - 0 percent
  • Nick Bosa - <1 percent
  • Uchenna Nwosu - 20 percent

Nwosa is similar to Key in that he’s played as a stand up outside linebacker. We can confirm then that teams who play a odd defense do drop their outside linebackers a lot — even if they are fantastic pass rushers.

The next question is whether Key was at least, competent in pass coverage? PFF grades him positively overall for the season.

I watched the tape against Bama, Ole Miss, Auburn, Florida and MSU and came away surprisingly impressed. He obviously didn’t have a lot to do but did what he had to do. He wasn’t tasked with doing much more than protecting the flats but he did his job very well.

Simple and effective:

Don’t watch anything but Key on this play ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh:

And here he is covering Calvin Ridley, lol:

There’s about 10 clips from those games that I can show you of him basically doing the same thing. PFF puts him at 5 catches in his coverage for 12 yards over the whole season so he did his job.

When Aranda had Key line up as an edge rusher and then drop out in coverage all the while sending an overload blitz away from Key, I loved it. I’m a huge fan of these types of blitzes. Let the energy and pass pro scheme commit to your best pass rusher but then bluff him.

Certainly no problem with that. Again, if you’re going to try to confuse a quarterback then inevitably you are going to have to drop your best player sometimes.

My concern was when Key was split out apex-ing a slot receiver and playing as a real cover down linebacker like so:

Are we sure that’s where Arden Key should be line up? I don’t recall ever seeing him blitz from there. It felt like the offense was able to dictate to LSU when they were going to allow Key to be an edge rusher and going into a 2x2 set was certainly going to relieve Key from the box.

Aranda decided that he was going to rely on a three-man rush against 10 personnel sets meaning, to a certain degree, Key was excess as a pass rusher. That kinda bummed me out. Sure, he’s an athlete and you can play around with him a bit, but I want to see him get after the damn quarterback.

By running a 3-4 with two safetymen, when teams go 10 personnel, it gives the defensive coordinator a choice in how he wants to play it. If he wants to show a five-man box, he can bump one of the inside linebackers out (so like White or Alexander) and keep Key on the edge essentially converting to a 4-1 or he can do what he did and play it like a 3-2 by keeping White and Alexander in the box. I’m personally more inclined to run the 4-1 and then if you were dead set on only rushing 3 guys, you could drop Key out after the snap.

Anyways, I went into this with the idea that I would look at Key’s deployment and I came to the conclusion that I was mostly alright with it. When I was watching the film, I tried to just focus on the plays where he didn’t rush the passer, but the more I watched the more frustrated I became when I caught glimpses of him trying to get to the quarterback.

You guys will know more than me about what actually went on during the offseason that caused him to come back as a completely different player but for his sake I hope he can move past that stuff because the guy I saw on tape is FAR from the potential top 5 pick that we all thought he could be. It’s sad and frustrating.

Here’s Arden in 2016:

You finna get picked first overall with plays like that. The explosion is unreal. He causes the tackle to open his hips within a yard of the line of scrimmage. The dip and rip is psycho. Look how low he gets to the ground but is able to keep his balance. He gets his hips around to flatten his rush and he’s unblockable. Key was incredible in 2016.

And in 2017, he was slow, couldn’t get off blocks and couldn’t turn the corner — and was still one of the best pass rushers in the league. I hope he gets back in shape because he showed glimpses of his elite talent but LSU could have used a whole lot more this year.

It felt there were a lot of plays like this where even against a running back, he didn’t have the explosion to get around the edge:

But when he put it all together, he could still do special things.

He swats tackles hands away and turns the corner before getting to the quarterback. The tackle even does that “WATCH OUT YOUR ABOUT TO GET SACKED!” yell.

Key will need to find an inside counter move because tackles are going to overset to deal with his speed. Here’s a good one against MSU:

You can see the tackle open his hips right off the snap because he’s so damn nervous about Key’s speed. This opens the door for the inside move and Key gets a pressure.

It would be fun to see him stick around for another year and get back to his 2016 form but alas the next time we see him on the field he’ll probably be wearing Tampa Bay Buccaneer colors and that makes me sick to my stomach.