The thing I loved most about this season, watching Deshaun Watson play, was taken away from all of us too soon. Without him, and without a defense that could win games all on their own, the season was over from a competitive (playoffs?) standpoint. No shot at the playoffs. Fun football disappeared. All hope abandoned, ye who entered here.
Yeah, there are other things from this corner of football fandom to enjoy. Jadeveon Clowney being a dementor’s kiss, DeAndre Hopkins’ ability to catch anything from footballs to chalupas, and of course, the best of them all, TOM SAVAGE STRIP-SACKS. Regardless, it was still hard to wake up and make it to the television on Sunday. The best part of watching sports is that we don’t know what the answer is. Nobody knows. When you know what’s going to happen and the drama is already typed out, the entertainment and enjoyment derived is no longer the same. All there is to do is just wait for next year, something Houston’s been doing since 2002.
But dammit, time is too precious. I have learned not to wallow. I will embrace today and the rest of the season. I’m done with the sad stuff, done being down and dumpy. The rest of the season I solemnly swear that I’m here to enjoy the best things football has to offer.
As of right now, the best team football has to offer are the 10-1 Philadelphia Eagles. The soon-to-be NFC East champs and number one seed in the NFL Playoffs have soared through the first eleven games of the schedule. They have lost one game, a one-possession loss to Kansas City in Week Two. Their average margin of victory is 16.7 points. They’ve won by a minimum of two scores in their last five games. The rest of the world is rubble, remnants of the trouncing that comes when they pass through Philadelphia.
Everyone knows the names. Carson Wentz may be the MVP. Alshon Jeffery was the steal of the offseason on a one-year contract. Jay Ajayi was rescued from his former team. Jim Schwartz is blitzing in addition to getting pressure from despicable front four of Timmy Jernigan, Vinny Curry, Fletcher Cox, and Brandon Graham. The Eagles’ secondary is composed of players who arrived to Philadelphia in every way possible, and each has flourished here.
I don’t care about any of them. I only care about Brandon Brooks. I don’t care about you. I only care about myself.
The former third round pick of the Houston Texans is an all-time favorite of mine. In my first year writing at BRB, I delayed the inevitable of working a miserable job by watching All-22, writing, laying on the couch, and looking up at the popcorn ceiling, thinking about what to write. I learned quickly that everyone else here was very wrong, that Brooks was/is/will forever be really good and is a joy to watch. Sadly, I am not the general manager of the Houston Texans, and sadly, on a lesser note, Rick Smith didn’t call to get my opinion or care about my feelings in the 2016 offseason. He let Brooks walk, and instead signed Jeff Allen to save one year of contract length and one million dollars of yearly salary. My heart, and the right side of the Texans’ offensive line, has never been the same.
Like the rest of the Eagles’ roster, Brooks is flourishing in Philadelphia.
Numerically, the Eagles’ rushing attack is defined by their running backs. As a team they have broken 108 tackles, the third most in the NFL, and they have a broken tackle rate of 12.8%. which is fourth. They have 3.96 adjusted line yards compared to 4.82 running back yards. The strengths of their run game has been the interior trio of Stefan Wisniewski, Jason Kelce, and of course Brandon Brooks, and their ability to block the second level to create cut cutbacks the size of an ocean.
What makes Brooks incredible is there isn’t a block he can’t make, and there isn’t a defender he can’t control. This is a one-on-one block against a ‘3’ technique. Philadelphia is running an outside zone play to the left, with the remainder of the right side blocking down to prevent anyone chasing from behind.
Brooks takes a perfect zone step inside. The defensive tackle is tentative and reading him. Brooks takes two steps. He has inside leverage and his head fixated on the inside shoulder. From there, he moves vertically and punches the outside half. His hands are inside. His block is sealed. The tackle is driven five yards upfield before he’s able to stick an arm out to make a lame tackle.
One-on-one blocks are rarely easy for anyone. But they are for Brooks. His feet are better. His hands hit the perfect spot. He’s lower. He’s stronger.
This is a variation of the same play, except everyone is flowing left. Brooks again has a defensive tackle all on his own. Here, he takes a slide-step inside to cover the defensive tackle up. One step lateral, one step vertical. Contact is made, and on the third step, the driving starts. Brooks beats the defensive tackle on feet alone, and then lets his strength take over. From there, Brooks takes the defender where he wants to go and slams him inside, which allows Blount to cut back behind.
Brooks’ feet are so quick that he can do this to lighter and faster defensive ends as well. Here the Eagles are running a sweep play out of the shotgun, getting the running back wide and to the edge at full speed. Both Brooks and the right tackle have individual blocks. Brooks takes a slide-step, but is forced to take two horizontal steps to cover up Derek Wolfe (#95). Brooks covers him up, gets his hands inside, and takes the defender where he wants him to go. The back runs around an arm that’s outstretched like Space Jam, untouched and into the second level, breaking tackles into the open field.
Brooks doesn’t have to do it all on his own, either. He is almost too good at doubling defenders up with center Jason Kelce and right tackle Lane Johnson. When they punch at the same time, they send defenders flying, leaving them splayed out on the grass like they forgot to put their seatbelt on.
Here Brooks has an ace with Kelce against Wolfe (#95). Wolfe is lined up as a 2i in between the two. Brooks takes a power or drive step and lands right on Wolfe’s outside half. This sticks Wolfe and leaves his soul trembling. Kelce then makes contact. When Kelce extends, it’s detonation. He and Brooks drive Wolfe all the way to the linebacker at a speed so rapid and out of control that Brooks can’t even come off the block to get to the second level. All he can do is stick a claw out to squeeze both defenders and make them kiss. Brooks and Kelce treat two grown men like plastic dolls in a game of house.
This is the same concept. Now it’s a deuce between him and Johnson. Brooks has the inside half and Johnson the outside half. Brooks makes contact first and drives the defender off the ball. Johnson is forced to stay low and chop his feet to catch up. As they move in unison, Brooks extends his right arm to create more separation to allow Johnson to catch back up and take over. This also opens him up to pick up the second level defender. When the linebacker becomes even with the defensive end, Brooks peels off. This happens an absurd five yards up field. He catches the linebacker head on, with his hands in his chest. A separate block saves the linebacker from ending up on his back.
The hardest things for a run blocker to deal with are slants and blitzes. Unless your feet are quick enough and your steps are perfect, these quick, predetermined movements will leave you flat on your face. Brooks has both of these attributes in addition to an absurd amount of strength.
This is another deuce block. Based off the pre-snap alignment, Brooks assumes he’s going to offer a punch and then go to the second level. Instead, the defensive end slants inside. He takes a zone step right and catches the end into his chest. Usually this ends with a clogged run lane. But Brooks is Herculean and pops the end into the backfield. Put this punch on repeat. It’s hysterical.
One of the staples of the Eagles’ running scheme is the outside zone. They can run this play either way because of the athleticism they have up front. They create free flowing plays that are a vessel for running backs to explore the field through, dodging asteroids, and touching home at light speed.
The best part of Brooks on these plays isn’t even on the play side. It’s on the backside. He can run either power scoops (strong backside double teams where both offensive linemen will block the first level) or weak scoops (quick, backside double teams where one lineman offers a hand of help and quickly moves to the second while the second blocker cuts off the defender) because of his foot speed.
This is a power scoop. The down lineman is lined up as a ‘3’. Most of the time, this power scoop is used for shades that are more inside, but the linebacker they have to get to is to the right of the defensive end. Brooks has plenty of time to help and get to the second level. He takes a short drop step, a deep diagonal step that is toward the outside shoulder. Immediately afterwards, he steps forward and catches the outside shoulder. Johnson catches the inside shoulder. There’s nothing Wolfe can do. Brooks goes for the kill and unleashes a world-moving punch, but Wolfe is saved by his own linebacker, who runs into Johnson. Perfect.
This is a weak scoop. There is again a ‘3’ technique lined up between Brooks and Johnson. This time, the linebacker is directly behind the defensive end Wolfe. Brooks can’t let the linebacker scrape over the block and get past him. So he takes another drop step, but rather than go vertical, his next step his angled to the left to cut off pursuit. He sticks a hand out to help just in case because he’s such a swell guy and runs parallel with the linebacker. The linebacker eventually has to make contact or run away to the sideline. When contact is made, Brooks throws him, and he runs into his own defensive back. Touchdown.
Brooks can pull as well. Here he takes a perfect pull or bucket step, a deep parallel step that also gains ground. He comes tight around his own lineman and scrapes around the edge when he gets up the hole. When he makes contact, he devours like Saturn, clearing the defender out of the hole to pave the way for the back.
Safeties, linebackers, it doesn’t matter. They are all his sons.
Lastly, Brooks and the entire interior of the Philly offensive line are projectiles in short yardage runs. The Eagles have a 64% success rate on short yardage runs, which ranks 13th. Carson Wentz has 11 carries on plays that are 1-2 yards to go from a first. On these plays, Wentz has 10 first downs. Brooks and the Philadelphia offensive line turn the line of scrimmage from a fun sport into a nameless mass grave. Wentz sneaks are weapons of mass destruction.
The same qualities that make Brooks a spectacular run blocker also make him a spectacular pass blocker. He has the feet to mirror anyone, even edge rushers that come over to the interior to try and find a quicker path to the quarterback. He has the strength to stop any defensive tackle, and when he anchors, he squashes all momentum.
Here’s Wolfe rushing against Brooks. He takes an elongated angle and loops wide before he makes contact with him to generate momentum. He gets into Brooks some because of the speed he comes with. Brooks sits patiently, takes the impact, punches Wolfe off of him, and squats to snuff out the rush.
This is another rush where the slant creates more power Brooks is forced to deal with. This time it’s a defensive tackle. The power is greater, and the anchor is exasperated. The tackle gets Brooks on one foot twice, but Brooks is able to stay strong because of his arm strength and hands that stay grasping the chest.
He has a wide stance and is on the edge of a cliff. But because of his pad level and strength, he’s able to turn that to this and keep Wentz clean on the play.
When the pass blocks are without any additional circumstances and it’s a kick slide versus a singular rusher trying to unleash one of his litany of moves, this is almost always how it ends up. Brooks hits the defender head on, is lower, and has his hands on the chest. His hands prevent the defender from being able to do anything other than bull-rush, and when that comes, Brooks just digs a six inch hole and squats to leave no trace.
This is how things work out for the defender. It doesn’t matter who the rusher is. Here Brooks is swallowing up DeForest Buckner.
Here Star Lotulelei loses his pigment and size. He becomes a white dwarf.
More than that, Brooks is an active pass blocker and a great teammate. He always has a copy of the paper and a yellow highlighter in his hand, searching for work. He pops in and helps those next to him trim trees, hang lightbulbs, and do whatever is necessary to keep the pocket in shape and filled with integrity.
His lateral movement and strength give him this ability. In addition to helping out in pass protection, Brooks is great at working with the tackle or center to pick up stunts and blitzes. He can make recoveries I’ve never seen before.
Here, Brooks has the first man on the line of scrimmage. The tackle has the second man on the line of scrimmage. Brooks kick-slides right to block the defensive tackle. He overextends and misses the defensive end looping around inside. That’s his man. He peels off and takes enormous parallel leaps to get back in front of the looper. This is a CIA agent saving the president’s brain. This is Superman catching an airplane mid-crash. This is Neo stopping the bullet. This is something I’ve never seen anyone ever do before.
Brandon Brooks is one of the best guards in the NFL. He plays on the best team in the NFL. He is living his best life away from Houston. The Texans’ season is over and has been over. The Eagles’ season isn’t.
As the rest of the year comes to a close and you are watching the Eagles in primetime and playoff games, don’t take your eyes off the right side of the line of scrimmage. Keep them there and catch up with an old friend. If you do, you will see someone making blocks you’ve never see before, dominating the right side of the line while one of the best offenses out there keeps scorching down the field. Keep your heart still, your eyes to the sky, and watch those Eagles fly.