In this article series I will take a look at some of the free agents that the Patriots have brought in during the 2015 off-season and show what I think they can bring to the Patriots.
The Patriots use their defensive ends in different ways, using both 2-point and 3-point stance. But mainly the play the role of 4-3 type ends where they are there to stop the run and rush the passer, and not drop back in pass coverage. Because the Browns played a 4-3 defense in 2012, and a 3-4 defense in 2013 and 2014 I will use a game from 2012 to illustrate some of what Sheard can bring to the Patriots.
Against the pass
Sheard play left defensive end in all of the following plays
Here we see the power of Sheard as he uses a bull rush move. Which is basically trying to get to the QB by running through the tackle. On this play he takes ownership of the contract by getting a good punch with his hands on the chest of the offensive tackle. Sheard wins this play as soon as he gets the punch in, because at point the tackle loses his balance and can’t hold his ground. Because he gets such a good grip of the tackles chest and keeps his own chest low, the tackle can’t get his own hands on Sheard and recover the block. He doesn’t end up with the sack, but he secures the outside and forces Romo to scramble to the inside and the play results in an incomplete pass.
In the following play succeeds with the bull rush again, forcing Romo to step up and the pass falls incomplete
This play shows the speed with which Sheard can play. From his two point stance he bursts of the line as soon as the snap goes. What gives him such a free way to the quarterback is that he fakes to the inside in the middle of the rush. The OT(Doug Free) bites on the inside move, but tries to recover to the outside and tries to get his hands on Sheard to push him outside. Sheard then shows a good use of hands as he quickly bats away the hands of Free and gets to Romo.
Against the run
History tells us that run stopping is important to Belichick when it comes to defensive ends. Both Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich are good run stopping ends. Other ends who can rush the QB OK but struggles against the run have struggled to get onto the field for the Patriots. Sheard follows in the steps of Jones and Ninkovich as he is very good at stopping the run. In the first play here the Steelers let him go in hope that he rushes up the field to the QB, but Sheard plays very disciplined and flows parallel to the line of scrimmage and makes the tackle.
In this play Sheard plays standing up, but is still in his usual left end place. The Steelers use a tight end in motion to try to block him. But Sheard does a good job of meeting the blocker with his shoulder squared to the line of scrimmage without getting pushed back and succeeds to hold his place and make the tackle.
The biggest problem that I see in Sheard game is that he can sometimes get lazy with the usage of his hands. As a defender you don’t want to let the blocker get their hands on your chest as it makes it much easier for them to control you, so what you do is bat the blockers hands away. Sheard sometimes let the blocker get a good grip on him, and on those plays he’s often not a factor in the rush because he’s controlled by the blocker. When he does a good job of batting away the blockers hands he often gets good pressure on the QB, but he needs to do it more consistently. But that is something that I think can be coached up, because he shows flashes of good hand usage.
Sheard is a very strong end who can be trusted to hold contain on running plays and force the runner inside. He’s also a versatile pass rusher who can use both power and finesse/speed rushes. He has some experience in pass coverage, but he’s a much better at attacking the line. Sheard should add another weapon to play with for defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and give Ninkovich and Jones some much needed rest after playing over 90% of the snaps when they weren’t injured.
What are your feelings on the free agency signings for the Patriots so far and the signing of Sheard? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.