When Houston limped into the draft it was fairly evident they were going to draft a guard in the second or third round. They had a Pro Bowl sized hole at their left guard position after Wade Smith's departure. They failed to address this need in free agency and the market had already been picked clean like the bones of a cat glued to the asphalt thanks to Arian Foster convincing the owner via Twitter to free the creature from its domestic prison.
I'm out. #freethecats— Arian Foster (@ArianFoster) May 23, 2014
Not only did the Texans need a guard, but they coveted one who could start right away. This supplemental requirement whittled away other possible options like David Yankey who needed an additional year of strength and conditioning and Brandon Thomas who tore his ACL while working out with the Saints. According to the "draftsters" this left either Zach Martin (taken in the first round by the Cowboys) and Xavier Su'a-Filo as possible options in the second round.
Pick number thirty-three came. Xavier Su'a-Filo's name was announced.
After butchering his, and C.J Fiedorowicz's name (FEDORA-WITZ) on the newest edition of Battle Red Radio I have been enunciating them to myself the past two weeks as I rummaged for the cuddliest avocados at H-E-B (P.S Kroger sucks) and while I took the dog for a stroll and joined the cacophony of birds singing their spring songs. Then for the last week, I have been watching video and making a Frankenstein monster of my own who consists of gifs and images to portray SUE-UGHHH-FEEL-OH's game.
Parade All-American who won three state titles at Provo (Utah) Timpview and was the state's 4A Offensive Player of the Year as a senior. In 2009, was the first true freshman offensive player in UCLA history to start the season opener; started all 13 games at left tackle. Did not play the next two years while serving a two-year LDS mission in Alabama and Florida. Upon returning, started all 14 games at left guard in 2012. Started all 13 games in 2013, including seven at left guard, six at left tackle. Won the Morris Trophy, which is given to the most outstanding offensive lineman in the Pac-12, as voted on by the conference's defensive linemen. Was also voted the Bruins' offensive MVP. Team captain.
|Drill||Measure||Rank Out of 15|
|40 Yard Dash||5.04||2nd|
|3 Cone Drill||7.60||4th|
|Arm Length||33 3/8"
The central goal of UCLA's offense was to utilize Brett Hundley's athleticism to its full extent. This called for plenty of zone read plays where either he or the running back would run the ball, deep passes to put his howitzer to use, and bubble screens to get him in rhythm.
Their fundamental run play was a simple inside zone read.
UCLA ran this play constantly during Xavier's time playing under head coach Jim Mora and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. As a result, this play dictated the types of blocks Xavier Su'a-Filo usually made during his time playing NCAA football.
When he played guard he either blocked down on the defensive tackle on the back-side or "Ace" blocked the defensive tackle with the center to the "Mike" linebacker on the play-side. As the back-side tackle, he went straight to the linebacker, and when he was the play-side tackle he had a one vs. one block on the defensive end. So when you watch Su'a-Filo play in college you see him mostly block a man one vs. one, which is the toughest block for an offensive lineman to make, or "Ace" block with the center.
Consequently, the first component of the run game we will look at are one vs. one blocks.
Here we see Xavier playing guard against Stanford in the Pac-12 title game. He's on the backside so he is blocking down on the defensive tackle.
Once the ball is snapped, Xavier takes a slide step to the right (One lateral six inch step with his right foot and one six inch step forward with this left foot) and makes contact. Below we see him after these two steps are taken. Su'a-Filo is a natural hip bender. Everytime he comes out of stance he is squat, square and ready to make contact. Additionally, his first two steps are incredible. They are rapid and precise which allows him to make contact first and place him directly in front of the defender. Xavier is an offensive lineman who just moves naturally.
Contact is made and Xavier is low and square, but here we see Xavier's principal problem in the run game, hand placement.
There are two factors when it comes to hand placement, the lineman needs to punch the correct target and needs to grasp the chest when he makes contact. Here we see Xavier with his right arm wrapped around the back of the defender. This occurred because he failed to thrust his hands into the defender's chest. Every football watcher loves to make the joke "There's holding on every play" once a lineman gets flagged for a ten yard penalty. This is true. But you can legally hold the chest and the numbers, not outside like Su'a-Filo does here. This is not a one time event. It's a trend in his game.
The tackle is in Xavier's grasp and now Su'a-Filo begins to drive.
He then alternates his legs to drive the player.
This is a great block. It's even better when you take in account he's making the toughest block an offensive lineman has to make. XSF takes two perfect steps and covers up the defender and drives him out of the hole. The issue though is his hand placement.
This same problem is seen on the goal line against Virginia Tech. In the .GIF underneath this mound of text pay close attention to his first two steps and his hand placement. Like in the previous play his quickness off the ball is exceptional, he plows the defender backwards, and his hands are outside and wrapped around the defender. Su'a-Filo is fortunate he was not reprimanded for his crime. Unless he learns to move his hands inside he is going to be pelted with flowery yellow flags.
Here's another example of him blocking someone single-handedly, however here we see his hands strangle the chest of the defender.
This is the same inside zone play, except Xavier is the playside tackle. He is detached from the rest of the line and is blocking the defensive end by himself.
Once the ball is snapped he takes a slide step to the right to protect himself from a slant inside. I enjoy how his hands are ready to punch rather than swaying at his side.
When he makes contact both of his paws are inside.
Now he brings his hips up into the defender and begins to create movement. His punch stands the defender up and his legs propel the end backwards.
If his hands were outside or not filled with jersey the end would have been able to rip inside and tackle the ball carrier. Instead they are playing mercy and Xavier is forcing him up the field.
The results are nearly identical in all three of these plays. Su'a-Filo bursts off the ball, drives the defender back, and successfully makes the most difficult block an offensive lineman has to make. Not all is perfect though-there is a dash of trouble in paradise. In two out of these three plays his poor use of his hands mar what he does.
The key theme of Xavier's game is he completes 90% of the task perfectly, but has one flaw that derides what he does well.
In Houston Xavier shouldn't be making one on one blocks as frequently as he did in UCLA. He will probably be spending most of the time in play-side double teams, backside scoops, and pulling. But by looking at these blocks we gain a critical understanding of his blocking style. He takes two perfect and rapid steps that place him in proper position to block the defender. His movement is natural like he's been playing the game since he came into this world bloodied and squabbling. He's a hip bender and when he comes out of his stance he stays low. When he punches, sometimes he grasps the chest, sometimes he shoves, sometimes his hands are inside and sometimes his hands are outside. Once he shifts his hips for power he chops his feet to cruise the defender backwards.
Now let's look at a play more applicable to what he will be doing in Houston.
Xavier and the center have an "Ace" block. They will double team the nose tackle to #17, the "Mike" linebacker.
The center snaps the ball and takes a slight slide step to the right. His goal is to strike the right half of the nose tackle and wait for Xavier to get over and assault the left half.
Su'a-Filo takes his slide step to fill the "A" gap.
The center does an excellent job taking on exactly half of the nose tackle. He leaves a perfect amount of space for Xavier and doesn't hog the covers. You would like to see Su'a-Filo more square when he comes into this double team. When a lineman moves towards a defender like this in an "Ace" block it usually leads to a chasm between the center and guard. The goal is to get hip-to-hip and become one player. When you arrive at an angle like this you usually end up working against each other rather than together.
Despite mypicking, XSF is able to become square when he makes his block. He puts more power into his right leg and wheels himself up the field. It's another testament to his footwork. He reaches his destination with a ton of strength and knocks the center off his block slightly. At this moment they are not perfectly hip-to-hip. There is some space between them, but they are in sound driving position.
Theoretically this is what you want to see in a double team. You want to see the two stuck together, with one hand on the defender and the other arm being used like a pair of eyes as if they're a Tenome, the Japanese monster popularized by Pan's Labyrinth. Rarely does this happen. Usually this only occurs in OTAs when the players are moving inanimate objects like trash cans, not defenders.
Also what's important here is the nose tackle isn't moved until Su'a-Filo gets there. The power he brings is what gives the car gas to create movement. Now both the guard and center are feeling and looking for when to peel off and block #17.
The "Ace" block oblierates the nose tackle. He is now stumbling to the floor like a sleep derived toddler drunk on juice. Both Xavier and his teammate are in position to take on the linebacker. If he comes straight down the center will pick him up. If he loops around the floatsam XSF will block him.
The hardest part of the double team is not coming off the ball low, delivering a strong punch, getting hip-to-hip, or taking on half the man. No, the toughest component is knowing when and who should slip off the down lineman. Xavier has a special awareness to him and he knows not only if, but when he should rip off the block. Most young players are awful in this facet of the game and will spend too much time trying to bash the teeth out of the down lineman rather than understanding the goal is to make sure two blocks two.
The other examples below will demonstrate it better, but here we observe Su'a-Filo seeing the linebacker looping around. He uses his right arm to shove off the nose tackle and then steps over to the linebacker.
His hands are grasped onto the linebacker's side. If #70 didn't block the wrong man then the running back would cut back across Su'a-Filo's block and race towards the endzone.
Against Stanford, Xavier slaughtered defensive tackles in double teams that traveled up to the "Mike" linebacker before moving to left tackle later on in the game. He was always hip-to-hip, the hammer on the double team, and displayed a sixth sense that told him when to take on the linebacker.
Below are three more play-side double teams he engages in. Focus not only on the way Xavier creates movement on the double team but Su'a-Filo's ability to leave the block at exactly the right time.
Because of the offensive scheme we rarely saw him participate in any backside double teams--also known as scoop blocks--but I was able to find one example. This block is crucial in zone plays without multiple options. On most zone runs the large gains don't come from the play-side blocks, but from the back-side splitting the defense in half like a guilotine. Watch any Arian Foster highlight video and you'll see his long runs are the result of him shifting his legs against the grain and attacking the hole created from the back-side of the line.
Xavier and the left tackle are running a power scoop to the backside linebacker. Xavier is going to take a read step to the right, shove the outside shoulder of the lineman to turn his shoulders so the tackle can over take the block easily. Then Su'a-Filo will head to the next level to cut off the linebacker.
Both the guard and tackle have taken their first step with their right foot. Xavier already is in position to jostle the defender's outside shoulder.
Sidenote: due to the quality of the video in the UCLA USC game some of these stills maybe fuzzy. No, you are not gazing your eyes upon Monet's sunrise, the spur of the Impressionist movement. Yes, your contact lenses are fine. Just stick with me and the .gif of this play will remove the fogginess of the images.
The crucial element of backside blocks are speed. If the player is nimble-footed and his first two steps are scorching he can consistently make this block.
Xavier's first two steps lead to his head being placed on the outside shoulder of the defender. When he slams the defender's shoulder the defensive lineman opens up like a door. Now the tackle has an opening to take over the block.
XSF completes his task. Now he heads to the second level to block the linebacker.
His head and hands make contact with the defender.
Here is where the problem arises. I fussed earlier about him grabbing the outside shoulders instead of the chest. On this play Su'a-Filo doesn't snatch the numbers. Instead he tries to deliver a kill shot to flip the defender over. When he doesn't seize the numbers all he does is knock the defender backwards. This allows him to separate from Xavier and make a play on the ball carrier. In some cases this separation can be the difference between a fifteen yard run and a touchdown because of an inability to do the little things.
This backside double team is one of the prettiest blocks I've seen Xavier make. It's a BAM-BAM block where Xavier whirls the defender around and haymakers the linebacker in one spurt of movement. But it's a bummer that a big glop of bile is festering on top of something so very wondrous.
The blocks I'm the most excited to see Su'a-FIlo make are double teams. Duane Brown and Chris Myers can't bowl defensive linemen backwards. Part of it is age and part of it is the zone scheme where their job was to put a helmet on the defender and flow him in one direction. Arian Foster said Houston is still going to run the zone. This doesn't tell us much because every team runs some zone plays. It depends on the type of zone they run however. They may stick with the version Kubiak ran or it maybe more traditional where the goal is to get as many double teams play-side as possible. My guess is Houston will do away with the Kubiak version, run more traditional zone plays (I know it's a vague sentence, but it would take an entire article to convey the difference between the two) and utilize more counter, power, and trap to go along with it. On these plays, the play-side double team is the focal point of the play and is detrimental to the prosperity of it.
Even if Brown and Myers are not skilled in this aspect of the game they should still be able to double team players sufficiently if Xavier--the guard wedged between them--can be the driving force on these blocks. If he can consistency come off the ball powerfully like he does in the examples provided earlier he will make up for Brown and Myers's deficiencies.
Just like the Texans under Gary Kubiak the Bruins did not run many plays calling for their lineman to pull. UCLA ran a sweep to the outside where both guards would pull to the edge to lead the way for the running back and a simple trap play where the guard kicks out the defensive end. Because of these plays we are able to gain insight into how Xavier pulls.
First off, pulling is a toilsome task. A multitude of things can go wrong before the player even reaches his man, who is on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Once he pulls he might run into his own man who's been trampled into the backfield or the defender he was assigned to may blitz into the hole. It's a block that requires intuition and the ability to block out noise and focus on the assignment. It's like trying to read A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man in the middle of a mosh-pit.
On top of this, the player has to have the athleticism to make this block. It can't take him years to arrive to the hole. But he also must be able to run with speed and control. He can't be falling over himself. You'll see a lot of lineman either pull too slow to arrive on time or scamper as fast as they can and stumble when the defender gives a slight shoulder fake. So when we look at an offensive lineman pull we are looking for three things: speed, intuition, and ability to make the block when he gets there. Like the other plays Xavier exemplifies most of these qualities, but falls short in others.
UCLA is running a simple trap play. As far as assignments go the play-side (RG & RT) guard and tackle have a "Duece" block to the backside linebacker (The one standing on the Stanford S), the tight end is showing pass to draw the defensive end #44 up the field and Su'a-Filo is pulling from the backside to kick out the same defensive end. Then the running back will come right off his inside hip into the hole.
The first thing you learn when you watch Xavier pull is that he's a damn mad man. He's drenched in blood brandishing a tomahawk in one hand a satchel filled with scalps in the other. I haven't seen a guard come out of stance with the quickness he does and move with the speed he has. There's a reason why he ran his forty-yard dash in 5.04 seconds and finished second place in his position.
When he pulls he comes tight off the line. Even though the right tackle is having an issue moving the defensive tackle in the "Duece" block, Xavier is fine. When he takes his pull steps he makes sure to get the proper depth, which protects him from running into his own player.
Additionally, we can see Su'a-Filo's man, #44, in the backfield. The tight end did a great job showing pass and drawing him up the field.
XSF comes around the corner and turns up the field for an incognizable reason. As a result, he misses his man.
There was nothing ambiguous to who he had to block. He was right there with a giant spotlight illuminating him. We are not discussing what happens at the end of Memento here, just a simple trap play. Here lies Xavier's biggest issue, he has zero instinct when he pulls. He just drag races into the hole and gets lost.
Not only does he miss his man, but he does not follow through with his mistake. If you are going to screw up at least find someone to hit and do it going a hundred miles per hour. He just kind of sits in the hole and gets in the way. There's nothing worse than a pulling offensive lineman who hits nobody.
Now he's turned backwards to the play and Johnathan Franklin burns by the defender he was supposed to block. If he stayed on the same path he would have at least been a lead blocker for Franklin and could have took out garbage and made a play. Instead he's just a gold-helmeted eyesore.
Another example of him missing the end on the trap: GIF
There are other times where he he pulls with instinct, but fails to trust his gut. On this play UCLA is running a sweep play--where both guards pull--to the short side of the field.
The center and tackle block down which allows the guards to pull freely. The tight end has a one on one block with the defensive end and the play-side guard will come around his block to #7, the safety. Then Su'a-Filo is supposed to come around the right guard's block and take on the play-side linebacker when he flows over the top. No play is sealed in blood however.
We see the guards pull and the down blocks being made.
Now the play develops. The right guard is plunging ahead to the safety #7, and Su'a-Filo's man is fitting inside the "C" gap (Gap between the tackle and tight end).
Franklin has two options, he can either burst through the "C" gap or run around the edge. Space is scarce since the toss is being run to the short side of the field. If he chooses to go around the edge he will end up running out of bounds for a gain of two yards. Pay attention to Xavier's left knee. He sees this hole emerging in the "C" gap too. He hesitates for a second and ponders if maybe he should take this path to the play-side linebacker.
Instead of trusting himself he decides to float around the right guard's block. Franklin cuts through the "C" gap.
Xavier is two yards behind his man who ends up making the tackle. If he listened to the divine spirit guiding him this would have been a touchdown.
Instead it's second and goal from the three yard line.
Here's the good news, when Su'a-Filo puts it all together and blocks the right player he completes this strenuous task.
This is the same trap play I depicted earlier. Xavier is going to pull and bury his teeth into the defensive end.
Xavier takes his pull step.
The playside double team begins to create movement and the defensive end is on an island.
Despite the fact we are looking at a captured moment in time, we can still see Su'a-Filo's quickness on this play. He is three to four steps in front of the running back before he makes contact.
The defensive end tries to get in the hole and squeeze the play. Su'a-Filo nearly over-runs him. It's easier to see in the .gif, but he slows down once he reaches the edge to ensure contact is made. His hand placement here is perfect. He sticks his claws into the chest of the defender.
Xavier turns the defensive end back inside and walls him off from the play. Now the running back can cut back inside off his block.
Su'a-Filo parts the red sea. This hole is so spacious that even a fan who's beard is speckled orange with Cheetoh dust could canter through it.
Example of other good pulls:
Last season, Houston ran power, trap, and counter sparingly. When these plays were called, they only ran them to the left side; Wade Smith lacked the strength and speed to pull with any success so the Texans were handicapped. With the addition of Su'a-Filo Houston should be ambidextrous this season. He has the speed and power to pull, but right now lacks the instinct. After thousands of repetitions and hours of watching film Xavier should be able to gain a better feel for what to look for and where to pull to.
We saw Xavier move in space not only when he pulled, but on draw plays as well. On this play we see Xavier move in space and cut down a defender.
At the snap XSF feigns pass by snapping up like a cobra and shows off his chest. Hundley will take a three step drop and explode off his back foot into the vacany Su'a-Filo occupied.
Here he's using his hands to feel and make sure there's no inside pressure coming.
Now he climbs up to the second level. When you see the play in motion you may laugh at how he waddles to the linebacker like someone who can't hold it much longer. But his footwork is perfect. When blocking players that are faster the lineman needs to be low, keep a wide base and take short, choppy, steps. The goal is too have a enough speed to deliver a punch while not falling over himself.
Right before he makes contact he dips his head...
...and delivers a cut block.
When cutting a defender a player can't just dive at his knees without a plan. When this happens the offensive player either misses his man completely or hits the wrong mark and is buried into the dirt. When Xavier cuts the linebacker he has a strategy. He's aiming for his head to be placed on the defender's outside knee and keeps his head up while doing so.
Here you can see what was outlined in the previous paragraph. Xavier's head is placed directly on that outside knee.
He does not bring the linebacker down, but by hindering him and acting as a moat between the defender and Hundley this block is a tremendous success.
Some say Hundley is still running to this day.
Before I move onto his ability in the pass game I want to touch one final point. The biggest issue I have with the way Xavier plays is he constantly is missing one crucial aspect of the block. In the run game he punches, but doesn't grasp the pads or bear-hugs the defender. When he pulls he leaves his stance at warp speed, but he doesn't not know where to go. For every example you find of him making the perfect block and playing with great effort there is another of him being lazy and omitting a crucial technical aspect.
A perfect example of this occured in the Sun Bowl against Virginia Tech.
I didn't see Xavier block many hard breathing, bowling ball gut monsters during his time at UCLA. Most of the defensive lineman he faced were speedier players who move swiftly and get to places in a hurry to stop the spread offenses of the Pac-12. Virginia Tech employed a different type of player at nose tackle though. The Hokies starting nose tackle was Derrick Hopkins, an undrafted free agent who signed with the Ravens. On the field he looks enormous and much larger than the 6'0" 309 pounds he is measured at.
On both of these plays Xavier is the backside offensive tackle. UCLA is running their central inside zone read play and Xavier is blocking down on Hopkins. With 5:11 remaining in the first quarter we see
Then one minute later we see
UCLA makes the same play call on both of these plays. On one play Xavier takes lazy steps and doen't come off the ball. Then stands next to the pile as his man devours the running back in the backfield. On the other he takes a slide step over and moves Hopkins two yards backwards.
This is just another of the many examples of how frustrating it is to watch Su'a-Filo play. It's hair pulling because he can and should be a great player, but his errors peg him down to just being good.
I'll admit, I'm a bit of a sucker for a player who can play both guard and tackle. This means they have a better understanding of the game since they have seen the way the play develops from two different vantage points. It gives them insight as to what their teammate next to them needs to do. Additionally, it also means this player has the strength to deal with interior lineman and the feet to stifle swift edge rushers.
In this situation UCLA has a "Ringo" call (The right side shifts one gap over: the center has the A gap, the guard the B gap, the tackle the C gap) because the running back is blocking the left side. So Su'a-Filo, the left tackle, and the left guard are blocking big on big (BOB) or man on man depending on whichever you feel slips more smoothly from your tongue.
Xavier kicks slide diagonally to the left. His kick slide is silkier than milk made from soy. It's one of the many examples of his stellar footwork.
This play in particular is special. The defensive end takes two steps up field, plants with his left foot, and cuts inside. Xavier matches him step by step and mirrors him like a visual gag from a silent movie. He matches the defensive end steps with exactly one of his one. The other thing I love is how his hands are at his side and ready to punch once the defensive end gets close enough to swipe at.
Su'a-Filo's punch gobbles the defensive end whole. From this angle it looks like his hands are inside, OMG.
Then he appears to press the end to get him off his chest.
He does not continue to hold onto him and shoves rather than presses, which allows the end to separate. Yet Hundley still releases the ball before it becomes an issue. When you play with a scrambling quarterback like Hundley its crucial to hold onto your block as long as possible in case he dances for someone to get open or decides to take off down the field. This block is 95% perfect just like nearly all the blocks he makes.
Against Arizona State Su'a-Filo shows off his pass pro set while playing left tackle and puts a stranglehold on a spin move.
Below we see Xavier play guard as UCLA comes out in an empty back formation. The guards and tackles are each playing man on man and the center will help out depending on which defensive tackle blocks the "A" gap.
Since his man attacks the "B" gap Xavier is receiving zero help from the center. When he plays guard on pass plays what shines is how quickly he gets out of his stance.
He smites #90 and delivers enough force to actually knock the defender off his feet. He has half the battle won. Now Su'a-Filo needs to maintain control of the chest and mirror the defender as he wiggles around to try to separate from his grasp
The next few images depict him using his feet to stay in front of the defender.
Usually when Su'a-Filo pass blocks as a guard this is the result. He leaps out of his stance, punches, buckles down and mirrors until the ball is thrown. In one vs. one situations like this the only problem he seems to face is when he punches, but does not grab the chest just like what we saw in the run game. The gifs below are examples of this.
Everything about Su'a-Filo in the passing game is great: his pass set, punch (more often than not), mirror, and ability to bunker down is perfect. Everything is spot-on except for one thing for one thing. Intelligence.
Now I'm not calling him a dingus. What I'm saying is he made multipel mentla mistackes in college. He routinely has issues with stunts, and let's inside rushers go in favor of blocking outside rushers. Pass blocking is less important for a guard because he has a center right next to him who can provide assistance and most interior rushers are inferior to their brothers on the outside. But intelligence gains greater importance. This is because most teams prefer to blitz up the middle since these players have a shorter route to the quarterback.
The pass protection scheme here is simple. Xavier is playing left guard and his side is "BOB" since there is a "Ringo" call. In theory he is going to block the defensive tackle and the left tackle is going to block the edge rusher, #5, who's standing up. This won't happen though. The defensive tackle and end are exeucting a simple stunt that's seen in every level of football from 7th grade and up. The defensive tackle fights across the guard's face into the "C" gap. The defender is trying garner both the guard and tackle's attention so the defensive end can slip behind him into the space left behind.
The stunt begins to take shape. Xavier scorches out of his stance. He follows the path of the defensive tackle.
Here the problem arises. The tackle and guard fail to communicate what's occurring. They each focus on the man in front of him instead of noticing to the other that the tackle is coming hard outside and that the end is slipping inside. It's no different than covering a pick and roll in basketball.
XSF should be offering only one hand to help pass the tackle over and then wait for the end to touch down. When you lean or offer too much assistance when protecting against stunts you get beat.
He still has not realized the monkey business the defense is partaking in. Xavier is still blocking the defensive tackle. If he switched now he could possibly have a chance to get his hand on the end, but right now it looks like he has no chance.
XSF finally understands what's going on. The defensive end has a free path to the quarterback.
Hundley is one of the few quarterbacks who can deal with interior pressure. He escapes the end and takes off down the field.
This not some new stunt or the first time Stanford runs it in this game. They brought pressure to Hundley throughout the game by running this same stunt continuously. Yet Su'a-Filo and UCLA never found an answer for it.
Here are more examples of plays where Su'a-Filo fails to block the correct man:
There is still half a glass of water swirling around though. All hope is not lost. When he knows what to do he has the ability to knock the defender back into the line of scrimmage and kill any possibility of him reaching the quarterback. This is because Xavier has a strong upper body that can blow up blitzing linebackers like they fell on a cooked grenade.
We see this in the following play.
One of the newer trends in playcalling is to pull lineman on play action to deceive defenses. This play we see Xavier lined up at left tackle and the guard next to him his pulling to the outside linebacker like they're running trap. Su'a-Filo will block the defensive end unless a defender storms through the inside gap.
Despite the mental mistakes he mistakes, XSF usually keeps his head up and scans the field pre-snap and as the play progresses. Rarely does he just keep his head down. As the ball is snapped he sees the linebacker creep up. He reacts immediately. In the image below we see him already taking a slide step inside.
He makes contact with the linebacker. If he didn't react immediately the linebacker probably would have been able to make a play on the quarterback. This is seen by the fact that Xavier is only able to get half of the linebacker with his punch.
The key to this play is Su'a-Filo's instant recognition of the blitz and his upper body strength. Xavier is able to slam the linebacker back into the line of scrimmage. His punch stifles the defender and leaves him looking like a rag-doll.
It's also another good example of why the rule is to not let the inside man through. If Su'a-Filo blocked the defensive end then the linebacker would have had a clear path to the quarterback. He would have arrived before the play-fake was even carried out. Let's not forget the defensive end. The end has contain. He loops around from a "4i" into the "C" gap, takes himself out of the play, and becomes a non-factor.
Houston already has a guard named Brandon Brooks who has trouble picking up blitzes and Houston now has another player they will need to tutor. Just like Brooks, Su'a-Filo has a powerful upperbody that can thrash blitzing linebackers into the line of scrimmage. Again it's just a matter of gaining a greater understanding of the game. I'm exhausted saying this, but if Su'a-Filo can fix these small mental errors and pick up the inside man he is going to be a stellar pass blocker at the guard position.
Xavier Su'a-Filo is like one of the prizes money hungry visitors in Las Vegas bring to the "Gold and Silver" Pawn Shop-better known for being the location of the History Channel's television show Pawn Stars. These characters show up to sell their most prized possessions like a football signed by the Super Bowl winning 1985 Bears. The names of all the greats are scribbled on there: Mike Ditka, Walter Payton, Mike Singletary and many others. The trolls behind the counter refuse to buy it until the expert can take a gander at it. When he arrives he scavenges the football for any quirks or blemishes to the signatures. After pausing for dramatic effect he announces his findings,"Well everything is perfect here. It's an amazing piece. But there are a few problems. William Perry and Mike Ditka did not sign this football."
"On the ball there is a loop at the top of the D and on the base in Ditka. But here you can see there's only a loop on the bottom of the D. With Perry there's an added refrigerator in between William and Perry. He never went by this name and he most certainly never signed an autograph with this slogan. I'm sorry man."
"How much do you want for it?"
"Most I can do is $50"
"Ahhh, I can't do $50. Make it $100 and we have a deal."
"Alright let's do it."
Xavier Su'a-Filo is no different.
He'll complete a tremendous block, but miss his man while pulling or shove rather than punch. For every block he makes with perfection there is another he makes that's horrendous. Nearly everything is perfect, but he's just missing one thing to turn from good to extraordinary.
I don't know if his up and down play was the result of him missing two years of football while on a LDS mission for his church, if it was because the lineman he played next to were lackluster, or if it was because he switched from guard to tackle from week to week and even during games. I'm 1,385 miles from UCLA, I'm not in the huddle. I'm just a guy who played offensive line, has watched a ton of offensive line play this past year, has a computer, and loves to write.
Whatever the reason is I don't not know, but I do know it's going to take some time for him. He's going to need to perfect his technique to make him less of a volatile player, gain fifteen pounds so he can deal with 330 pound defensive tackles, and binge watch film to correct the mental errors that plague him. He's 80% of the way there and if he can correct these mistakes he will be a cornerstone of the Texans line of scrimmage for years to come.
The only problem is there's ninety-eight days until the start of the 2014 season.