Jadeveon Clowney, gone. J.J. Watt, often injured. Whitney Mercilus, not that good. What once was a scary and dominant defensive line has fallen into the slim hopes of Brandon Dunn, Angelo Blackson and Brennan Scarlett. Gone are the days of Clowney and Mercilus lining up in the A Gap, throwing interior offensive linemen astray. Now, Texans fans watch and wait as opposing quarterbacks have enough time in the pocket to get tested for Coronavirus, and then easily pick apart a weak and helpless secondary.
But wait, what’s that? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s the hero we all need, Jacob Martin! A fairly unknown name, thrown into the trade that sent Jadeveon Clowney to the Seattle Seahawks, Martin is a 24-year-old, 6’2”, 242lbs outside linebacker entering his second year in the NFL who was traded across the country. What was likely a shocking experience of the harsh reality of the NFL to Martin might have unearthed a diamond in the rough for the Texans.
You’ll be hard pressed to find a bigger fan of Martin than me. Whether his praise is warranted or not (it is), I will defend Martin to the ends of the earth. Maybe it’s because Clowney had become my favorite player after those injury-plagued seasons only for Bill O’Brien to throw him away for a sack of potatoes. Luckily, one of those potatoes brings back that joy I had watching a young, raw, athletic pass rusher get oh-so-close to the quarterback without being able to finish with a sack.
In this article, I will be breaking down every single Jacob Martin sack that has occurred while he was wearing a Texans’ uniform. Yes, he only had 3.5 sacks this past year, but in his limited snaps, he showed great promise in the form of pressures. Martin registered a pressure on 3.6% of his snaps. By comparison, Yannick Ngakoue registered a pressure on 3.4% of his snaps (all stats via Pro Football Reference). Yes, Ngakoue played 569 more snaps than Martin and wasn’t reserved for third and long where he could just pin back his ears and rush the quarterback. But what I’m about to show you should instill confidence that Martin can become a very good and consistent pass rusher.
On to the sacks!
Sack #1 – versus Indianapolis Colts
Martin (#54) is aligned at the top of the screen, over the right tackle, essentially playing as a 4-3 defensive in a three point stance. As the ball is snapped, he’s the first one out of his stance, flying off the ball and showing his elite burst off the line of scrimmage. He speed rushes up field, scaring the right tackle Braden Smith (#72) and getting him to flip his hips perpendicular to the line of scrimmage. Tackles don’t want to do this since it leaves them off balance, with no power in their stance, and makes it 100 times harder to stop a defender’s rush. But Martin is just too fast and leaves Smith in the dust trying to keep up by attempting to grab hold of Martin.
This is where Martin was inconsistent in turning his pressures into sacks. Here, he does a great job finishing off the beaten lineman and getting to Jacoby Brissett. He does this by dipping his right shoulder and decreasing the surface area the tackle can grab a hold of. Then he flips his hips towards the quarterback and knocks the tackle’s arm away, preventing him from being pushed out of the play. Jacoby Brissett tries to step up in the pocket to avoid Martin, but it’s too late.
Sack #2 – versus New England Patriots
Martin is again lined up against the right tackle as a 4-3 defensive end, this time against Pro Bowler Marcus Cannon (#61). Once again, he’s the first Texan off the line of scrimmage and flies upfield. Martin is in Cannon’s face before Cannon can even get into his third kick step. He tries to swipe away Cannon’s hands and does a pretty good job of it, but Cannon does just enough to push Martin away as Tom Brady takes a step up into the pocket. Martin is left behind, but he doesn’t give up. With some help from a collapsing pocket, Martin is able to loop back around and get in on the sack with Cunningham.
Sack #3 – versus Denver Broncos
This one will look almost identical to Sack #1. Martin is lined up over the right at the bottom of the screen. Common theme here—he flies off the ball and beats the tackle to his landmark. Martin again dips his inside shoulder. On this play, you can get a better view of how it becomes harder for the tackle to get his hands on Martin once he dips his inside shoulder. The tackle is left helpless because of Martin’s speed. One hand on Martin’s chest and one on his back isn’t enough to stop the Texans’ pass rusher, who simply brushes away the tackle’s right hand, gets to Drew Lock, and throws him to the ground.
Sack #4 – versus Buffalo Bills
This sack showed even more of Martin’s potential. This time, he’s lined up over the left guard Quinton Spain (#67) who was great for Buffalo in 2019 and just signed a new deal worth $15 million over three years. The Texans are trying to run stunts here, something they should’ve tried more of last season to help manufacture a pass rush.
Martin takes a hard step inside, towards the center, to draw Spain in that direction. He then explodes off that plant leg, takes a step to his left, and twists his body so Spain can only get his hands on Martin’s back rather than his chest. Martin gets off of Spain’s hands and runs into the left tackle, trying to get Mercilus free on the stunt. But the left tackle doesn’t block either of them and is left in the dust.
Spain is left embarrassed as well, spinning around and confused by the stunt, only to let Martin run free to the quarterback. Josh Allen, knowing the end of game situation, tries his best to avoid Martin. But not even he can avoid this heat seeking missile.
Jacob Martin’s 2019 sacks show how his athleticism gets him to the quarterback. He has elite burst off the line of scrimmage and does a superb job flipping his hips and bending the corner. He’s a blur off the edge, but he can’t hope to become an elite pass rusher with speed alone.
There were many instances last year where Martin would get the offensive tackle in trouble with his speed rush, but he would get pushed past the pocket because he couldn’t defeat their hands, or wasn’t strong enough to hold off the tackle. Martin has said his number one goal over the offseason is to improve his body. Hopefully he gets stronger this offseason; not only that, I hope he also works on beating an offensive tackle’s hands. Clubs or swipes and swim moves would all be beneficial for Martin to add; it would make finishing off tackles so much easier, leading to more tangible production. Once Martin establishes those moves, he can start working on inside counter moves and spin moves, which will open doors to rush through since tackles will be so worried about his outside speed rush.
Jacob Martin is the most obvious current hope to improve the Texans’ pass rush in 2020. So far in free agency, the Texans have added absolutely nothing to their defensive line. I hope this changes in a big day, but if not, Martin gives Houston some reason for optimism that their pass rush could improve next season.