All you have to do is look at Lamarr Houston’s stance. It’s low, anchored by his left foot forward and his right bent and staggered back. His arms loosely hang and his butt is sunken low, creating little discernible difference between the outside linebacker and defensive end position. This is where Houston wins, where he’s able to beat left tackles with leverage and pad level before the play has even begun. This is why he’s one of the best players in the game.
Houston doesn’t always get enough credit for how good he is. That’s understandable, because he is, after all, playing in Oakland, a perennially bad team. Bad teams typically have a stigma attached, one that says they have no quality players of note, thus why they are bad. But that’s not the case (and never has been) with the Raiders and Houston, who is a difficult matchup for left tackles on a weekly basis.
He poses endless problems for tackles against the pass or run because of his pad level. It’s quite fascinating to watch the boxy pass-rusher operate on the field because he’s a bit robotic. His knees and elbows stick out and it’s like every step is calculated in an effort to gain leverage. One inside step to begin the play and draw the blocker in, then an outside step to make him come out before blasting through him with powerful hands and superior pad level.
This was the case against Branden Albert and the Kansas City Chiefs during their Week 6 battle at Arrowhead. Houston alternated between defensive end and outside linebacker like he usually does, but on one specific play against the run, he lined up at the latter.
It was 2nd-and-1 midway through the first quarter, and Houston was at the nine technique outside of tight end Sean McGrath and Albert. At the snap, McGrath shot forward to the second level to block a linebacker on a stretch play, leaving Houston to battle with Albert mano y mano.
Houston took one step inside and then bounced outside, widening his frame and simultaneously keeping his shoulders squared. When Albert came forward and made contact, he looked as if he had Houston under control and blocked out of the play. But Houston, a “force” defender, bent his knees and lowered his inside shoulder, effectively gaining the leverage advantage over Albert by getting under his pads. That enabled him to set the edge and keep running back Jamaal Charles inside for a measly two-yard gain.
Leverage has been a big reason why Houston is tied for second in the league with 20 stops, per Pro Football Focus. He’s also second in the league in quarterback hits with nine and has 18 hurries. Two of the hits and hurries came against the Chiefs, whose offensive line had a difficult time handling Houston.
On 3rd-and-8 in the first quarter, Houston was standing up inside the right shoulder of Albert as a shaded four technique, one of the many alignments he’s capable of playing. Because there was also an outside rusher, it meant Houston would get a one-on-one battle with left guard Jeff Allen. Allen, a former Illinois product, sometimes struggles with strength, which Houston has in spades. That’s why when the ball was snapped and Houston gave a quick head fake before sinking his heavy hands into Allen’s chest to administer a bull-rush, it was no surprise the second-year guard was walked back into the pocket. If not for a quick three-step drop and throw by quarterback Alex Smith, Houston would have surely been credited with a sack.
The Chiefs should have expected Houston’s quality play. Or maybe they did and just couldn’t do anything about it like the San Diego Chargers a week earlier. Against the Chargers, Houston had a sack, two quarterback hits, two hurries, four stops and five total tackles, per Pro Football Focus. One of his better plays during that Week 5 game was a nasty bull-rush that saw left tackle Mike Harris drop to the ground face-first.
There were only 53 seconds left in the first quarter when it happened. Houston was going to be coming off the line of scrimmage from the outside linebacker position. He was lined up wide, wider than a typical five technique at the position. Some might call it a wide five or as others have recently started saying, a wide nine. Nevertheless it created a perfect path to quarterback Philip Rivers, who was in a shotgun set. All Houston had to do was power through Harris and he’d be at Rivers’ feet.
And that he did. At the snap, Houston came off the line and straight at the blocker. Then he planted his right foot into the ground and redirected all of his weight and strength at the blocker’s chest. His pad level and hips dropped, starting the mark of a great bull-rush as he made contact and drove through the blocker, overpowering him to the ground and into Rivers, who got rid of the ball at the last-second.
It’s all about leverage for Houston, who is one of the best players at his position. He knows how to get under the pads of blockers with great pad level and overpower them with a deadly bull-rush. He does it from the start to the end, from stance to sack. Opponents know it’s coming but they can’t stop it. They can only hope to.