It's the biggest free agent signing since Terrell Owens for the Dallas Cowboys. Some are comparing it to the acquisition of Charles Haley. Yes, the Dallas Cowboys have signed Greg Hardy, the talented-but-troubled defensive end. We've all heard the stats, and seen the highlights. But what's beyond the hype? What does Greg Hardy bring to the defense, and what are some of his weaknesses? Let's go to the tape.
I wanted to do Greg Hardy's most recent game, but that was all the way back in Week 1 of last year, and against a terrible Tampa Bay team. I decided it wasn't a fair look for two reasons. One, he was playing a terrible Tampa Bay team. Secondly, his off the field troubles were already looming, which might have affected his play. So I went further back, and settled on his Week 1 game in 2013 against the future NFL Champion Seahawks. I thought it would give us a good indication of Hardy as a player as the Seahawks were a strong opponent with a well-balanced attack.
On the opening defensive drive we see Hardy in his normal role as the weakside defensive end.
Here we see Hardy engaged with the offensive tackle. It's hard to make out, but do you see how it almost looks like they're playing paddy-cake in the picture? That's Hardy using his hands to try and shed the block. I was blown away by how much Hardy's game relies on his hands, but it's something he's really, really good at.
This picture gives a better idea of what I'm talking about. Look at the tackle's hand, it's completely clear of Hardy's body. This means that the tackle won't be able to "guide" Hardy around the edge.
This picture illustrates another thing that really stood out to me on tape. You can see that Hardy has gained the edge and gotten around the tackle. But look at how straight his back is. Hardy lacks the natural "bend" of players like DeMarcus Ware or DeMarcus Lawrence, but he makes up for it with great technique, hand usage, and pure ferocity.
And here we see the ultimate result. Hardy has cleared his block, and is bearing down on Russell Wilson. He doesn't get the sack, but his pressure helps cause an incomplete pass.
Again we have Hardy lined up as the WDE. It was hard to capture on film, but it appears that Hardy uses a little stutter step (something that he does quite a bit) to cause the offensive tackle to take a false step and become off balance (red circle).
In the last play Hardy uses speed and technique to beat the tackle around the edge. Here we see him using power, as he straight up bull-rushes the tackle.
Even while bull-rushing though Hardy is still hand fighting (red circle).
This is something pretty interesting, and you will see Hardy do it a few times. He's bull-rushing the tackle, but he's actually strong enough to twist the lineman to the side. So in effect he's both bull-rushing and attacking the edge of the tackle. I'm not sure if I saw this from any of our linemen last season.
And he finishes off the rush with a swim move. Although he had no real impact on the play it was a technical marvel; converting power (the bull-rush) to speed (hitting the edge) and finishing off with a perfect swim move.
Again, we see Hardy at the WDE position lined up heads up on the TE.
This time instead of going to the outside, which is what the TE is expecting, Hardy uses a quick step to rush inside.
The TE is completely befuddled, he can only lunge and get a hand out before Hardy is by him and engaged with the tackle.
Here it looks like Hardy is blocked; the tackle is fully engaged and has good balance. It appears that Hardy is out of the play.
And now it really appears that way. The tackle has blocked Hardy all the way to the ground, and you can't even see the QB in the frame. But this is just where the play starts to get crazy. Pay attention to the hashmarks; right now Hardy is on the outside of the right side hash, and on the ground.
But he doesn't stay down. He picks himself up, and manages to get inside the tackle's block while doing so.
Here we see the speed that Hardy possesses. He basically just runs away from the tackle, in order to gain a lane to the QB. He's now about seven yards inside the right hash, and the same distance behind the QB.
The play is breaking down and Wilson is moving in the pocket. Now Wilson is right on the inside of the right hashmarks and Hardy is on the outside of the left hashmarks.
And now suddenly everything has changed. Hardy was about seven yards behind Wilson, he's now seven yards in front of Wilson. Wilson is now in full on scramble mode, heading towards the left hash marks.
This was such a crazy play. Hardy started out as the RDE, and now he's setting the edge (red line) on the left side. You can see Wilson has the entire front seven beat to the edge (blue circle) except for Hardy, who manages to step up and force Wilson to get rid of the ball. This was a complete effort play on Hardy's part.
Here we start to see some of the versatility that Hardy has on the line. The Panthers come out with Hardy in the three-technique, and two linebackers (red circles) lined up in the A-gaps showing blitz.
The guard picks up one of the blitzing linebackers, and for some reason the offensive tackle takes the defensive end. This leaves a running back blocking Hardy all on his own.
I talked about Hardy using a little hesitation move earlier; here he does it again. It's subtle, just a small feint forward followed by a very small step to the side.
Around the blocker.
And it's enough to make the running back completely whiff on his block attempt, allowing Hardy to continue to the QB with a complete head of steam. Which leads to...
Nom, nom, nom. Let the big dog eat!
And here we have Hardy back at his WDE position.
Something that really stood out on film; when Hardy senses a run he is very quick to flatten and begin scraping down the line. Again, he doesn't have a lot of bend, but either film study or good instincts lets him "go flat" very quickly.
Uh oh. This is like a flashback to the 2012 game against the Redskins. The threat of the the read option (red circle) has forced Hardy to pull up (look at his legs, he's trying to brake).
That little hesitation gives Lynch the room he needs to escape and get to the hole (yellow circle). This is a somewhat concerning play. Not because Hardy was fooled by the read option, which has happened to a lot of defensive players. But because it seems like he might not have known his assignment. It appears that 41 (blue circle) is tasked with contain, which means that Hardy pulled up for no reason.
Again we see Hardy at the WDE spot. You can see him looking into the backfield, analyzing the play.
And again, he's incredibly quick to see the run, and get flat to scrape down the line of scrimmage.
This time Hardy doesn't bite on the play fake (see Russell Wilson behind him?) and is closing down on Marshawn Lynch.
But somehow he misses the tackle! This happened a number of times during the game. Advanced stats show that Hardy is a good player against the run, but in this game he really struggled with making the tackle.
And again we're getting to see the versatility of Hardy. I believe this is a 4-3 over scheme (1- and 3-tech on the same side of the line) with Hardy lined up in the 3-tech position.
Hardy shows some anchor ability here, holding his ground against a double-team from the guard and tackle.
It's not until the tackle disengages to pick up another block that Hardy loses his anchor. I'm not sure what exactly happens, but he ends up stumbling backwards a good three yards.
Despite that, he's able to regain his balance, and come up and make the tackle (in fairness, Lynch also stumbles and falls and Hardy just happens to be there).
Here we see Carolina in a "NASCAR" type formation with two 3-techs, Hardy is one of them.
I've mentioned the technical aspects of Hardy's game, and this is a good example. Hardy takes an outside step and the tackle sets up against an outside rush with weight on his back (outside) leg.
But the outside step by Hardy was a fake, and he counters with a hard rush inside. The tackle is completely off balance for this, he can't effectively step in front of Hardy with all the weight on his back leg, all he can do is try to upset the rush with his punch.
Hardy blows by the punch with ease. Now the guard notices what is going on and has to come over to help.
It's a pretty ineffectual double-team. Hardy has already gotten past the tackle who really can't do anything, and all the guard can really do is clip him in the side to try and knock him off track.
It's not enough. Hardy slips the double team and flushes Wilson from the pocket, forcing an incomplete pass.
Okay ladies and gentleman, that is part one of a two-part look at our newest pass rusher! In the next post we'll look at another seven plays, and discuss what we can take away from the film. What do you think so far? Does the film confirm his value, or would you like to see more from him?