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Adrian Clayborn's pass-rushing tactics will embarrass your ass, just ask the Cowboys

The Falcons defensive end’s six-sack performance was a brilliant display of pass-rushing prowess. He’s retired NFL defensive end Stephen White’s Hoss of the Week.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Some weeks I really agonize over who I'm going to pick as Hoss of the Week. I try my best to give it to the guy who had the best overall game and did the most to try to help his team win. Sometimes two or three guys make similar contributions and it’s really hard to decide which of them was most deserving of the award.

This is not one of those weeks.

Adrian Clayborn of the Falcons had the game of his life on Sunday against the Cowboys. It was one of the most dominant performances I've ever seen from a defensive lineman. Clayborn might as well have had that NBA Jam glow going because as he kept torching Dallas' left tackles, I could've sworn I heard someone in the background yelling, "He's on fire!"

Chaz Green, starting at left tackle in place of an injured Tyron Smith, is going to be seeing Clayborn in his nightmares for at least a month. Green just couldn't block him no matter how hard he tried. Over and over and over again, Clayborn straight-up abused Green on his way to the quarterback until the Cowboys had to sit Green down in favor another backup tackle, Byron Bell.

Then Clayborn gave him the business, too.

There have only been three other players who have had six sacks in one game since the NFL began keeping sacks as a statistic (Derrick Thomas did it twice). This wasn't just a good performance by Clayborn, it was literally a historically great one.

But it wasn't just that Clayborn was able to notch six sacks against Dallas. The context of those sacks shows you just how much of an impact he had on the game.

  • Four of those sacks and two of his three pressures occurred with the Cowboys already at the Falcons' 42-yard line or closer.
  • He forced two fumbles on two of those sacks, one of which he recovered, the other recovered by his teammate Takk McKinley.
  • Two of them occurred on third down.
  • Oh and, on top of all that, Clayborn also had three pressures, one of which also occurred on third down.

But as great as all of that sounds, it was how he got all those sacks and pressures that was most impressive to me.

Watching Clayborn's film this week was like watching a brilliant tactician at work. He fed Green, and later Bell, a steady diet of two pass-rush moves: A power rush right under their chin and a cross-chop-to-a-rip edge rush. What was tricky for Green and Bell was that it was hard to tell which one was which until right at the last moment because Clayborn was doing a great job of making everything look the same initially.

It's worth noting that Clayborn's power rushes are generally very violent. He doesn't just try to push the blocker back, he explodes into their chest/chin area and tries to blow them TF up. That means if you don't brace for a power rush when Clayborn does a power rush, there is a high likelihood that he is going to embarrass your ass. The problem comes when you brace for power and he instead does the cross-chop move, because then you are a sitting duck.

Just ask Green and Bell.

Take, for instance, Clayborn's sack with 15 seconds left in the first half.

Green, who had already given up a sack and a pressure on cross-chop moves earlier in the game, took somewhat of a soft pass set, likely expecting another edge rush. So when Clayborn instead came with a power rush, Green ended up allowing Clayborn to push him back into Prescott's lap. Clayborn ended up on the inside half of Green and was then able to spin back inside once he felt Green finally dig in against his power rush.

That forced Prescott to scramble to his right where Clayborn's teammate, Grady Jarrett, was escaping off Dallas right guard Zack Martin's block. Jarrett tried to tackle him, but Prescott was able to spin out to avoid Jarrett's tackle attempt.


Prescott turned around just in time for the Clayborn, still in pursuit, to hit him dead in his chest. But Clayborn wasn't just looking to lay Prescott out on the play, instead reaching in and snatching the ball right out of Prescott's hand. Clayborn ended up with a sack, a caused fumble, and fumble recovery all on the same damn play with the score 10-7 Atlanta and the Cowboys already at the Atlanta 39-yard line.

Holy big plays, Batman!

With Green starting to look for power rushes later in the game, Clayborn was able to use that against him, just as he had been able to use Green looking for the cross-chop move against him on that play.

For example, with 4:39 left in third quarter the Cowboys had a first-and-10 at the Falcons’ 12-yard line. The Falcons were up 17-7 at the time, but a touchdown there would have gotten Dallas right back into it.

Clayborn lined up in a wide five, well outside of the left tackle, for most of the game, and came off the ball screaming right at Green. You can see Green stop his feet and try to go for a big two-handed punch to try to blunt Clayborn's momentum in anticipation of another power rush.

You can also just about hear Green yell "oh shit" when, at the last minute, Clayborn changes course and goes wide as he chops Green's outside (left) arm with his inside (left) hand. Clayborn was able to slide right past the hapless Green, then jump on Prescott's back and ride him piggyback style to the ground for a loss of 7 yards.

Not only did that help to prevent the Cowboys from being able to score a touchdown on that drive, Dallas also ultimately missed their field goal attempt as it doinked off the right upright, no good.

That's what I call making an impact!

Early in the fourth quarter, Clayborn was able beat Green for a sack again using the same tactic. This time the Cowboys were facing a third-and-12 from their own 23-yard line and the game verging on getting out of hand with Dallas down 24-7.

This play is for all of the folks who asked why Dallas didn't try to give Green any help. I think they could have done more to help him out earlier in the game with chip blocks, but on this particular play, the left guard was definitely supposed to help Green double team Clayborn.

Green should have overset to the outside to force Clayborn inside to his help, Cooper.

That's what should have happened.

What did happen is Clayborn went right at Green like he was going to try to knock Green into next week. Green ended up stopping his feet and bracing for another power rush. When Clayborn stepped wide again to execute another cross-chop move on Green, Cooper was stuck inside of Green and unable to do much more than witness the resulting destruction.

Clayborn whisked past Green once more and caught a drifting Prescott from behind for a loss of 7 yards. It was just too easy at that point.

Clayborn was strategic in his choice of pass-rush moves and precise in his execution of them on Sunday. He got after Prescott no matter who they lined up across from him because he had a pass-rush plan and he carried it out to a T.

With those six sacks and three hurries, Adrian Clayborn damn near single-handedly crushed the Dallas Cowboys' offensive game plan by his damn self and put his name in the record books. That made him an easy choice for Hoss of the Week honors in Week 10 of the NFL season.