Over the past month, Ron Rivera has been rotating three defensive ends to see what the team has in terms of young talent from a pass rushing perspective – in part one, we looked at Marquis Haynes, Bryan Cox, Jr. and Wes Horton’s day at defensive tackle, but now it’s time to look at a player Panthers fans have every reasonable right to be extremely excited about.
When Efe Obada had a sack and an interception in his first career game earlier this season against the Bengals we all, including the NFC, got a little excited, and to be fair, there was a lot to like about Obada’s game beyond simply the box score numbers, but as the season wore on, the Panthers pass rush really struggled – Obada included. With Rivera taking over defensive play calling midway through the game on Sunday, the Panthers’ pass rush appeared to improve, and it was no coincidence that Obada played a big part in that. So what did he do well on Sunday, what can he continue to improve on, and which should we expect to see going forward – the two sacks, three QB hits and two tackles for loss of his first and last games? Or the four combined tackles of the six in between?
The Run Game
Obada is primarily a pass rusher, and the balance of plays in that direction when he was on the field is clear, but what he is not is a third-down-only defensive end; as such, he is expected to hold his own in the run game. As with Cox, this is often going to come in the form of setting the edge, something he does well here:
Although, as can be seen on the following play, he does still need to be more consistent with his hands – here he allows the offensive tackle to close the space early – making it harder for Obada to shed the block should the runner have bounced outside:
He would also benefit from lowering his pad level slightly, especially on this second play, but it should be noted that this is something he has markedly improved upon since the Bengals game. Obada is still extremely inexperienced not just at the NFL level, but at playing this sport at a high level in general, so the fact that he is making improvements in these areas is really promising. There are also some other nice things to like about what Obada did against the run on Sunday, such as the gap penetration he is able to get on this outside run:
And the way in which he gets off the block here:
This is a really nice stack-and-shed move, using an upward thrust to put the blocker off balance and then a quick release aided by a nice right hand mini-swim to bypass the blocker. Obada is not currently an amazing run defender, but he is a run defender who flashes some nice traits and – crucially – doesn’t make many mistakes. For a player who is going to make his money in the passing game early in his career, there is real value for a coach in knowing that if the opponent does run the ball when he’s on the field, Obada is going to do a decent job of keeping his blocker off of him and will stay in his gap. The closest I have seen Obada to not doing this is the following play:
This is not a bad play, and I can’t know for certain what gap assignment he had, but it appears he is meant to keep outside leverage on his blocker, and while he does do this initially, he starts to peek inside as the play goes on. This doesn’t cost him here, and likely won’t cost him most of the time, but it’s just an unnecessary risk; I think he does this because he sees Kyle Love being blown across his face, but as the blocker is going with him, the gap assignments don’t change. This might seem like nitpicking, and in many ways it is, but as you get better as a player, the things you need to focus on become more and more specific – if Obada can continue to improve at the same rate he has so far this season, then it will soon be hard to find much to complain about at all.