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Spotlight On: Cowboys Defensive Tackle Nick Hayden (Part III: Game Play)

The third and final installment of a series examining the one-tech position using Nick Hayden as a guide.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Hydrogen walks into a bar.  The bartender looks up and starts yelling, "you noble gasses!  We don't serve your kind here!  Get out!".  Hydrogen doesn't react.

And now that I've charmed you all with my wit, let's get down to business.

This is the third and final installment of a series that is examining the one-technique through the play of Nick Hayden. In Part I and Part II I've posited the following claims; first that Dallas shouldn't try to draft a "one tech". Rather they should focus on drafting talented defensive linemen who can play a multitude of techniques. Secondly, the main quality necessary when playing the one-technique is not the ability to draw a double team in pass-rush situations, but the ability to hold a double team in the running game, keeping offensive linemen off of your linebackers. Today we're going to put everything together. We'll look at some game tape of Nick Hayden's game against Detroit, then talk about what he brings to the table, and what he takes off.

On to the tape.

Play 1:

Hayden 1 (1)

Dallas starts off as basic as can be, in a classic 4-3 under with Hayden (always the yellow circle) playing the one-technique between the center and guard.

Hayden 1 (2)

Hayden has drawn the double team from the center and guard. Even with that Dallas is at a serious numbers disadvantage, the left tackle has not engaged (the end is being blocked by the TE) and there is a running back ready to pick up Crawford if he wins his match-up.

Hayden 1(3)

This is about as favorable a setup as Dallas could get. The back releases, the tackle takes on the end, and Crawford wins his one-on-one match-up. Meanwhile Hayden (yellow circle) is playing a game with the defensive end. The end has crashed inside hard, and Hayden loops around behind him. This is a play that Dallas absolutely loves, you see it again and again with Hayden.

Play 2:

Hayden 3 (1)

Again, Dallas is lined up in a traditional 4-3, with Hayden at the one-technique.

Hayden 3 (2)

Detroit is running a stretch play. The concept is simple, the offensive line flows in the direction of the run, attempting to move the defensive line in the same direction. It's a zone blocking scheme, the offensive linemen simply block whomever is in their area. If the OL is able to "cross" the defensive line it opens holes playside; if the defensive line "flows" with the OL it opens up cutback lanes for the running back.

Hayden 3 (3)

This is a play where George Selvie has earned his keep, but it doesn't show up in the stat sheet. He has effectively held the edge, forcing the offensive line to stop flowing. The running back wanted to keep going playside (red arrow) but can't because of Selvie, forcing him to cut back. But the rest of the offensive line has crossed the defense. Both Hayden (yellow arrow) and Tyrone Crawford (blue arrow) are on the backside of the line, leaving them effectively unblocked.

Hayden 3 (4)

Crawford makes the tackle. But Hayden has shed his block and is right there as well. An excellent play by Selvie allows Hayden and Crawford to make the stop.

Play 4:

Hayden 4 (1)

Again, basic 4-3 with Hayden playing the one-technique. One somewhat interesting thing is Crawford's alignment. He's not shaded on the outside shoulder of the guard but the inside shoulder of the right tackle. So he is not playing the three-technique (outside shoulder of the guard) but what is called the 4i technique.

Hayden 4 (2)

It looks like Detroit is running the ball (the guard is pulling and the linemen are all moving playside).

Hayden 4 (3)

And here is where it gets wonky. Let's look at the good guys first. Hayden and Jeremy Mincey (yellow circle) look like they've occupied three blockers, freeing up the linebackers. Crawford is engaged with a blocker, but his helmet is on the playside, so he's winning that engagement (blue circle). And George Selvie is playing the backside, containing against any cutbacks (red circle). But something isn't right. Look at the fullback (red arrow). The way he's cut back is blocking the QB from the running back. Which can only mean...

Hayden 4 (4)

Let's start with the defensive tackles...Hayden (yellow circle) and Crawford (red circle) did a nice job getting playside against the run. Unfortunately, this is a play-action, with a bootleg towards the backside. Hayden has disengaged off his block, but Crawford is now being double-teamed. Next let's look at linebackers. Bruce Carter (blue circle) has seen the play-action, and is trying to reverse field. Meanwhile Rolando McClain is going to try to make a play and rush the QB. Finally I want to draw your attention to George Selvie (black arrow). Mark where he is in relation to the yard marker, and see where the blocking back (red arrow) is as well.

Hayden 4 (5)

So here's where we're at. Hayden is being blocked on-one-on, but for whatever good things he brings to the table, he's not a pass-rusher. Crawford (red circle) is being double teamed. Now in the blue circle we've got three blockers on two rushers (McClain and Mincey) and McClain has managed to gain the edge.

But now look at Selvie. He's finally rushing the passer as opposed to trying to hold the edge. He had a chance to make a play if he could have diagnosed the bootleg quicker, but by the time he gets moving, the running back has come all the way across the formation to block him. And that's the play; Rolando McClain almost gets there but the QB gets the pass off and it's a long touchdown.

Play 5:

Hayden 5 (1)

Once again, basic 4-3 under, with Hayden in the one-technique position.

Hayden 5 (2)

I'm not sure if it was the original call, or if the defense is reacting to something, but Hayden moves over to the zero technique. This is something Dallas does a lot, show one front, then move to a different one.

Hayden 5 (3)

Both Hayden and Crawford are initially double teamed (yellow and red arrows). As you can see, the guard doubling Crawford is trying to peel off the double and pick up Bruce Carter; it's likely the guard doubling Hayden is supposed to also peel and pick up Rolando McClain.

Hayden 5 (4)

There is no peeling though. The entire middle of the defense does a great job clogging, but it all starts with Hayden. He just sits and anchors and turns into a brick wall. This is one of the best plays I saw from him all season. Now notice the red circle. One blocker and two edge rushers, and for some reason the blocker is taking the outside man, leaving McClain free. Dallas couldn't have drawn this any better.

Hayden 5 (5)

Look at that pile. I can't get over what a good job Hayden (and Bruce Carter who stood up the guard) did here. Now look at the yellow circle, RoMac is completely unblocked going into the backfield. This is a surefire safety...except that RoMac misses the tackle. Pickup of two yards.

Play 6:

Hayden 6 (1)

Another base 4-3 front, except this time it's Hayden at the three-technique with Crawford playing the one.

Hayden 6 (2)

This is something Dallas loves to do. Show one front, then before the snap change it. This is a simple one, both Crawford and Hayden move one gap over. Crawford is now playing the three-technique, and Hayden is the one.

hayden 6 (3)

Crawford (red circle) attacks the guard's outside (weakside) shoulder, and gets into the backfield. Meanwhile Hayden takes on the double team, allowing the linebackers to flow to the play unblocked and make the tackle for a short gain.

Play 7:

Hayden 7 (1)

This is an interesting look. Hayden in the two-technique alignment (head up on guard) but standing up like a linebacker.

Hayden 7 (2)

Hayden rushes from an upright stance, drawing the double team (yellow circle) leaving Crawford one-on-one (red circle).

Hayden 7 (3)

After drawing the double team Hayden drops back into coverage. Nifty little design from Coach Rod.

Play 8:

Traditional 4-3, with Hayden lined up at the three-technique.

Again, Dallas shifts, moving Hayden to the one.

Both defensive tackles are getting double teamed. You can see that the offensive linemen (the left lineman on either block) are looking to peel off the double and pick up a linebacker. Pay attention to the yard marker (blue line) and where Hayden is relative to it.

Hayden has controlled his double team, and even moved them back some. Meanwhile the double team on Crawford is peeling off to pick up McClain. Pay attention to Kyle Wilber in the black circle and how he reacts to the play developing.

Hayden is still controlling his double team, and Crawford is getting off his block. Meanwhile Kyle Wilber, instead of attacking the backfield, is flowing down the line.


This is the problem with a defensive line that is always attacking the backfield. Crawford has gotten off his blocks, but now both playside linebackers are picked up. If Crawford doesn't make the play it could be a big gain. And Crawford falls down. Meanwhile Hayden is still holding his double team (and is in the exact same spot he was when the play began). Wilber has lost his chance to make a play in the backfield, he now has to navigate the wash.

Let's start with Hayden (yellow circle). He hasn't moved. The double team has managed to turn him, but he's still occupying two blockers. Unfortunately Wilber isn't able to navigate the wash and runs himself right into the pile. Meanwhile Tyrone Crawford (red circle) has made a heck of an athletic play, picking himself up off the ground to try and make the play. He doesn't make the play though, and misses the tackle in the backfield.

Play 10:

You know the drill by now; 4-3 front, Hayden playing the one-technique.

Three players we need to watch on this play. Hayden in yellow, Crawford in red, and Anthony Spencer in blue. Right now each player is singled up on a blocker, and the center hasn't committed.

This is a stunt that Dallas loves to run. The strong-side defensive end crashes inside hard, and Hayden loops behind him. The center doesn't see that Spencer has beaten the tackle inside, and moves to double Crawford.

The stunt has really confused the offensive line. The running back doesn't pick up Spencer inside. The guard doesn't follow Hayden, but turns to try to block Spencer who is already by him. This leaves Spencer clear to the backfield, and Hayden on the edge with only a running back to block him.

What's an offensive lineman to do? Beaten badly the tackle reaches out and just grabs Spencer to slow him down(red arrow). The ref (blue circle) doesn't see it. This gives the QB just enough time to get outside the pocket. Hayden meanwhile, has beaten the running back.

Hayden forces the QB to throw the ball away but he can't make the play. This is the biggest knock on Nick Hayden; he's just not athletic enough. He did what he was supposed to do here, but a more athletic player turns this into a sack and not a throwaway.

Play 11:

4-3, Hayden in the one-technique, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Both Hayden and Crawford are double teamed. Check out, Jeremy Mincey, he's crashing inside, hard.

Crawford (red circle) is doing a good job of keeping the double team off of Bruce Carter. Hayden is losing control of his double team (the outside blocker is peeling off). Meanwhile the tackle has picked up Mincey and is using Mincey's momentum against him, just riding him across the formation.

I'll be honest, I'm not sure if Hayden does a great job of splitting the double team, or a horrible job of controlling it here. He's got both blockers beat regardless. Crawford is doing a good job still, but is starting to lose control, the blocker on the left is starting to peel off. Meanwhile Mincey, aided by a little shove in the back, has run himself underneath the play as the running back cuts by him.

This is the exact inverse of what we saw earlier with Crawford. Hayden does a great job getting to the backfield, but he can't make the play. Meanwhile Anthony Hitchens is being double teamed, and Mincey isn't setting the edge. Once Hayden misses this tackle, it's an easy touchdown for the RB.

Play 12:

A three man rush, with Hayden lined up as the seven-technique, (outside shoulder of the TE).

It's actually just a two man rush; Terrell McClain who was playing the zero-technique, drops into coverage in the flats. Really interesting look from Dallas.

Play 13:

Hayden in the one-tech.

Dallas comes out in the usual 4-3. Both Crawford and Hayden are double teamed. This is interesting because Detroit has added a fullback (blue circle) to the mix.

Both Crawford and Hayden hold their double teams. The fullback picks up Bruce Carter, but Hitchens is left unblocked and makes the play.

Play 14:

Dallas lined up in it's usual 4-3 with Hayden at the one-technique. At the snap the DE crashes in hard, and the center seems to miss his block (yellow circle) leaving Crawford one-on-one with a guard.

Most of the DL is smelling safety here. They're all closing in hard on Matt Stafford, except for Hayden (yellow circle) who has keyed in on the odd clump of linemen running downfield (red circle).

Screen play! And it's a race; the RB has one Dallas defender in front of him, and one blocker; meanwhile two more blockers are heading his way, followed by Hayden (yellow circle).

This could have been a big play for Detroit. Bruce Carter misses the initial tackle and there's a big lane for Reggie Bush. Except that Nick Hayden sniffed the play out, beat a blocker, and is there to make the tackle after a short gain.

Play 16:

Something I noticed more and more as I watched Hayden was how much he directs traffic.

I don't know if the defensive line has separate calls from the defense as a whole, but it appears that Hayden will call stunts and shifts when he's on the field.

This ends up being an interesting alignment. Both tackles are in the two-technique, head up on the guard.

A three man rush with Hayden drawing the double team and Crawford dropping back into coverage.

Play 17:

Earlier we saw a three man front with Hayden playing an end and Terrell McClain the nose. Here we see Hayden at the nose, and DeMarcus Lawrence (red circle) at end.

The end sure is making an inside move.

Again, that same stunt, with the defensive end crashing inside and Hayden looping around.

Hayden shows some (relatively) nice bend here. But again, he's just not athletic enough to make the play.

Play 18:

Dallas comes out with Hayden (yellow circle) and Crawford (red circle) both playing the three-technique.

So this is actually really cool. We see the stunt from earlier, mirrored on both sides. But on Crawford's side it's the defensive tackle who crashes outside while the defensive end loops around to the middle of the formation.

The result is Hayden (yellow circle) is singled up on an offensive tackle who is struggling to adjust. Both DE's are inside the formation (blue circle) and singled up, leaving Crawford (red circle) double teamed on the outside.

Again though, Hayden is just unable to make the play. He's close, and he and Lawrence might have forced a quick throw, but the big play just isn't there.

Play 19:

Just another example of Hayden directing traffic along the line.

This is interesting, as it's Hayden and Terrell McClain, both playing the three-technique.

Hayden is singled up with the center yet to commit.

The center eventually movies to help against McClain. Hayden takes advantage of the single team, and bull-rushes his man straight back. Again though, while it's a good play, it's not good enough as the QB gets the pass off.

What It All Means:

So what exactly does Nick Hayden bring to the table? There are a few things. Earlier I said the most important job of the one-technique is to prevent double teaming of the linebackers in the run game. From the video I've seen Hayden does that very well. He's a smart player who is able to direct his teammates and diagnose plays. He's versatile, the coaches feel safe running stunts with him, dropping him in coverage, and moving him across the line. And he's dependable in multiple formations. He doesn't miss games. He plays hurt, and he's always on the field. He doesn't make mistakes. He may not make a play, but he also doesn't make the mistakes that cost games.

The problem with Hayden is that he's just not dynamic. He doesn't make plays. He can't consistently split double teams and get into the backfield. He doesn't push the pile backwards or collapse the pocket. And while coaches are comfortable running games with him, his pass-rush is non-existent.

What's the final verdict? While Dallas should always be looking to upgrade its talent level I don't think replacing Hayden should be a top priority. There are a few places on defense where you can get by with JAGS, and the strong side of the defensive line is one of them. While it would be nice to have another playmaker on the line I think Dallas would get more impact from upgrading other parts of the defense. Hayden may not be the starting "one-tech" next year (right now my money is on Ken Bishop), but I still expect him to be a key part of the defensive line rotation. He's not a playmaker, but he is a player, and sometimes that's good enough.

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