Look, this doesn’t have to be a long one. There isn’t a ton of complex scheme stuff to dive into after this game. Perkins aside, to be honest, the fact of the matter is, LSU largely lost because FSU has superheroes at WR and QB (my preseason Heisman pick), and LSU is weak in the DB room. They got put on posters all night, as their QB made tough throw after tough throw. He broke contain time and time again, making plays out of structure when everything was taken away, and working through his reads to find open guys when it wasn’t. They may have the best offense in the country, and with Washington and USC, that’s a high bar to clear. As a result, it’s not exactly easy to stop them from getting theirs, as many teams will likely find out as the season progresses.
In situations like that, your only hope is to be able to affect the QB and not only pressure him with 4 bodies, but get him to the ground. It’s probably not going to help you achieve that if you take your best edge rusher out of the pass rush. Make no mistake, body type be damned, Harold Perkins is an edge rusher. He is too explosive, too bendy, and too technically proficient as a pure edge not to play the JACK full-time. I didn’t need a failed experiment off the ball to tell me that, I had it pegged in the spring, but now, it has had consequences.
Where He Was
I’m just gonna have to be candid about this, Perkins is tough to watch in coverage. Here, LSU looks to be running a 2-Trap Fire Zone. This means that they are running a 5-man pressure with 4 deep, 2 under in coverage UNLESS the number 2 receiver (slot to the field, TE to the boundary in this case) breaks outward. If he does, the corner turns into a cover-2 defender and takes him. This means that functionally the CORNER is responsible for anything in the flat. The job of the LBs is to play “Wall-2,” which means that they play inside on the number 2 receiver to their side and wall them off from the inside. If they head vertically, they drop them off to the safeties and play the seams (sometimes taught dig to shallow). Here, Perkins’ guy breaks out into the flat, so he is supposed to let it go, drift back to the seam, and squeeze the bender. Instead, he just runs himself straight out of the play into the corner’s responsibility, as Travis hits the glance route in the seam behind him.
The thing that makes Jackson special, more than his ability to tackle and rush the passer is his ability to cover. He has a great feel for space and good hips that allow him to squeeze routes behind him and either play the ball or force it underneath. Great disguise here fools 5 pic.twitter.com/TL5072vOBM— Max Toscano (@maxtoscano1) September 2, 2023
This is a different coverage, and thus, a slightly different technique, but it gives a good visual for how a LB is supposed to play the seam. The hips are very important. If you open them up too much it’s hard to turn and drift back on routes behind you because you generate too much outward momentum and end up outside the hashes. Here Jackson (a real off-ball LB) does a great job getting to the seam, not over-widening, and drifting back on the bender.
Here you see how bad eyes can hurt a LB in coverage. He gets caught peeking into the backfield for some reason and gets cooked on the wheel. He’s lucky Wingo blew this up and prevented him from hitting this for a touchdown. LSU is in a 3-Cloud look in coverage, so I’m not even sure if he’s responsible for the wheel or if the cloud corner is. I suspect he may not be because the corner falls off his route and looks confused as to why Perkins wasn’t there to take the wide-open shallow cross, but either way, it’s bad.
When he was in the rush (7 snaps), most of the time it wasn’t a true edge rush scenario. A few times he was in these slot pressure looks. Granted, they had a lot of success with these last year, but in base, not nickel. In nickel, it’s easily telegraphed due to alignment. In base, the SAM is the overhang to the passing strength, but with the Speights having to be right next to him due to his blitz, and forcing the J out to the other side, it pretty clearly gives away that he is rushing. I’d consider this more of an off-ball pressure. With a true, on-the-ball edge rush, you know the guy is coming but he can get into his full pass rush repertoire and beat the tackle. Slot pressures like this come from far out, so they have to catch you unaware. This isn’t a position to highlight his true edge rushing, Haason Reddick-type skillset. He needs to be parked at the J full time. Additionally, it’s a bad zone by Burns, he needs to stay on the seam.
Where He Wasn’t
With Perkins largely out of the rush, Travis had a lot of time to cycle through his reads and find open targets. Even when an interior guy busted through, or when he couldn’t find anywhere to go, the lack of pocket-squeezing edge pressure allowed him to drift back, leave the pocket, and make plays downfield out of structure. He was entirely too unbothered.
One of the few true edge rush snaps he got. Yes it went for a TD, because again, Travis and his WRs took over and won them the game, but this head-fake, chop, ghost combo move is disgusting. This is a 15 sack player if you let him do this 20-30 times a game. Putting THAT with Wingo, Smith, and Jones, letting them scream upfield, and get after the QB, is how you cover up a suspect secondary.