Last preseason I predicted that Jadeveon Clowney would have his breakout season in 2016. Thankfully that was one prediction of mine that actually came true.
*Thinks back to 28-3 ...*
After two injury plagued seasons to start his career, Clowney bounced back in a major way last year, starting 14 games in the regular season, the most in his career, and collecting six sacks on the way to what was his first of what will probably be many Pro Bowl nods. But still, if you watched his film there was something ... missing.
The Clowney who I broke down coming out of South Carolina back in the spring of 2014 was a "physical freak" in every sense of the phrase.
One of the most glaring physical gifts he possessed was just some flat out nasty ass speed. Here's a guy who at 6'5 and almost 270 pounds who ran a fucking 4.53 at the combine. But last year, even when he was making plays, the effects of the microfracture surgery he had on his right knee in December of his rookie season were still apparent. It was like seeing a fast car with a governor on it.
Clowney still had his lateral quickness and his explosiveness out of his hips to a certain extent, but what I didn't see was a lot of burst from him. A change of speed from fourth to fifth gear. The kind of burst that can turn hurries into sacks.
Even though Clowney took a big step forward last year, he still had plenty of room to improve if the further away he got away from that microfracture surgery, the closer he got to his peak level of performance. Basically, I thought he would be faster and therefore harder to block and more productive this year.
So far, I was right!
Normally I prefer to pick guys for Hoss Of The Week who's teams are on the winning side of the ledger because I like to reward guys for performances that help to lead their team to a victory. But I thought with Clowney having had such a productive day that was an integral part of why the game was close in the first place, and his performance warranted big time recognition.
But back to his burst, you could see it vividly all game against New England.
Take his first sack for instance. It was somewhat of a "gimmie" sack because Patriots quarterback Tom Brady fell down while carrying out a play action fake, having been inadvertently tripped by his running back Mike Gillislie.
But that's not really the point right now. What I'm talking about is how Clowney looked getting to Brady, irrespective of his tumble beforehand.
Clowney was lined up in a six-technique, head up on Patriots tight end Dwayne Allen. New England was backed up on their own 11-yard line, facing a second-and-five. Clowney came off the ball a little slow because of his alignment, but as Allen goes out on his route Clowney got up the field and approached left tackle Nate Solder. When Solder tried to punch, Clowney was able to control Solder's hands and keep them off of him. That made it easy for Clowney to get off of Solder's block attempt when he saw Brady hit the deck.
And that's when you see it.
That's when you see that crazy ass burst again as Clowney made a bee line for Brady and got to him first to record his first sack of this season.
So yeah, Brady tripped or whatever, but Clowney was going to have a good shot of sacking Brady on that play whether Brady was upright or not.
Then, on the very next play, with the Patriots facing a third-and-forever from their own two-yard line, they decided to play it safe and hand the ball off to James White on a shotgun trap play to their right, away from Clowney who is lined up as the right defensive end. Clowney takes two steps up the field and then falls back and tracks White on the defense's side of the line of scrimmage.
That's when you see it again.
Clowney hits that turbo button and zooms across about five yards in the blink of an eye to take White down for a six-yard gain. I know a tackle for a six-yard gain doesn't sound like much, but it damn sure looked impressive on film. And it’s what I didn't see a lot of out of Clowney last year, even as he was playing very well indeed.
I mentioned Clowney having the kind of burst that can turn hurries into sacks earlier and his second sack was a perfect example of that.
This time he was lined up as the right outside linebacker, standing up outside of Solder with J.J. Watt inside of him at three-technique on the outside shoulder of Patriots left guard Joe Thuney. The Patriots were into Texans territory at the Houston 39-yard line and facing a second-and-seven.
On the snap of the football, Watt came off like he was bullrushing Thuney, but as soon as Thuney set his feet to brace for power, Watt did a swim move to try to get around Thuney's outside shoulder. As that was going on Clowney came off initially with a power move of his own into Solder's chest.
As Watt tried to finish his swim move he kind of teetered over into Solder's hip, and it just so happened that almost simultaneously Clowney was pulling Solder forward to try to escape off his block. Thuney, Watt, and Solder all ended up in a massive heap on the ground after Watt toppled Solder over, while Clowney was now completely free to get to the quarterback.
That's when Clowney hit that peeeeeeeeeeeeeeeewn and it was all over for Brady.
Thing is, Brady at least sensed that somebody was coming for him from his blind side so he did side step to his right a little bit, but there was no way he could have anticipated Clowney covering that much ground, that quickly. Brady damn near gave up the football on that play, too.
See, Brady stepping to the side may have been enough for him to get that pass off before Clowney could get to him last season. Not any more.
And then of course there was the touchdown.
Oh yeah, that.
Look, sometimes it’s frankly just better to be lucky than good. And lets be real here; Whitney Mercilus really did the most work on that play. Clowney, who was lined up as the left defensive end, tried a bullrush on right tackle LaAdrian Waddle, but was pretty much stuck on the block at the line of scrimmage. Mercilus, on the other hand, was lined up as the right outside linebacker. He beat Solder like a drum with a sweet window wiper move, then blasted Brady either right before or right after he threw the ball.
I've watched that play like fifty eleven times and I still can't be sure if the ball was still in Brady's hand when his hand came forward or not, but the truth is doesn't really matter. What does matter is the ball went forward up in the air and Clowney was able to catch it before it hit the ground. And also what he did with the ball in his hands afterward.
For the second week in a row Clowney looked like a damn gazelle, hauling ass with the football almost completely covered in one of his ginormous mitts. Unlike last week against the Bengals, this time he was actually able to get in the end zone for a touchdown, and boy, did he get there fast.
I'm telling you, man, 6'5, 270-pound human beings just aren't supposed to be able to move like that.
His effort just about helped his team pull off a major upset. In fact if you look at the all-22 of the last minute touchdown the Patriots scored to win the game, you will see that Clowney damn near broke up that play, too.
With just 23 seconds left on the clock and the Texans nursing a five-point lead, Clowney was standing up as the right outside linebacker with Mercilus also standing up beside him as a three-technique in the B gap. Clowney and Mercilus ended up exchanging pass rush lanes after Clowney came inside to avoid a chip block attempt by White.
Clowney ended up running slap through Thuney's pass blocking attempt. He pushed Thuney almost right back into Brady's lap and then just as Brady was about the release the football, Clowney reached his right arm out in the direction of Brady's elbow. One millisecond more and he probably hits Brady's arm and totally disrupts the throw.
Instead Clowney got to Brady just a hair too late, and, well, you know the rest.
The fact that the Texans lost does not negate all of the good things Clowney did in that game. I'm talking about two sacks, a pick six, two other hits on the quarterback, to go along with two tackles, including a tackle for a loss. That's one hell of a day no matter whether you win, lose, or draw.
When you make that many big plays its hard not to take notice. That's why Jadeveon Clowney is my pick for Hoss of The Week for Week 3 of the NFL season.