Frontier Justice and Pile-ups

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“They’re trying to cut you and do those things,” Gray told The Tennessean. “You’ve got to make sure you’re doing something that’s hopefully going to hurt them, too. You can’t just be the recipient of everything. You’ve got to start doing something that’s going to get you back on track and hopefully they’ll tone that stuff down when you do something else.”

That’s Jerry Gray, the defensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans before their game with the Baltimore Ravens. This was the week after the Ravens beat the Steelers 35-7 and Ray Rice ran for 107 yards against the Steelers.

So what’s Jerry talking about? Mmmm…back in the day there were pile-ups and in those pile-ups an opportunity to exact a little “frontier justice” to set the scales right when something perceived as unethical had occurred. It was a normal part of keeping both sides “honest,” if you will.

Of course this is in the aftermath of the dust-up over the “chop” block where an opposing lineman chops or rolls up the legs of a player already engaged with another man. The Ravens used the technique to perfection to spring Ray Rice for all them yards.

Years ago, in the trenches, it was an anything goes attitude. As long as it was kept between the tackles, you could chop, cut, slug, roll-up the back of a man’s leg, leg-whip or gore an opponent and it was all good family fun.

But with the new culture that Roger Goodell is championing that leads to a cleaner climate in the trenches all of that has been deemed dirty play and foul-able. Except for the chop block.

While talking to some defensive players about what Gray was talking about, they responded by saying that with the east-west zone blocking schemes that are popular today, the pile-ups aren’t what they used to be because everybody is strung out and the opportunity to exact a little vigilanteism has gone the way of bell bottoms and hula hoops.

The Houston Texans run a zone blocking scheme that features “cut” blocking on the backside ala offensive line coach and originator of the vintage Denver scheme Alex Gibbs. Think Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, etc.

The difference between a cut block and a chop block is a cut block occurs when a man lays out and takes a man off his feet who is NOT already engaged with another to the ground. Big difference in light of today’s safety is job #1 NFL atmosphere.

With Arian Foster anticipated to be back this week, the backside of the point of attack on a frontside stretch play will be key to containing Foster. The backside guys have to be able to stay on their feet and flow to their gaps. If they don’t, it will be another long day for the Steelers defense.