Breaking Down Ahmad Brooks Incredible Interception Against Drew Brees
Ahmad Brooks has been one of my favourite NFL players for some time now. He’s not your typical fan favourite, because he doesn’t excel at rushing the passer and doesn’t have the same celebrated reputation as other players on the San Francisco 49ers defense. Brooks shot to notoriety this week because of a hit on New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees that was deemed illegal.
While the call was very controversial and played an important part in determining the winner of the game, there was another play that Brooks made during the game that shows off why my affinity for him as a player has always been high.
On third-and-4, Brooks lines up as a left outside linebacker with three defensive linemen to his right. The three defenders highlighted by the blue spotlights eventually put their hands on the ground, but Brooks stays standing. The Saints have two tight ends to Brooks’ side of the field, but only the inside tight end, Jimmy Graham, will ultimately stay in to block.
The 49ers only rush four after the quarterback. Brooks is one of the four as he attacks the inside shoulder of the right tackle. However, the 49ers are also stunting the two players that lined up as defensive tackles. Those two players run into each other and knock each other down however, meaning that Brooks is picked up by two Saints offensive linemen and multiple blockers, including Graham at tight end, have nobody to block.
Because he recognises that he won’t beat the two blockers in front of him, Brooks breaks away from his pass rush and drops into a position that allows him to spy on the quarterback. Brees isn’t a running threat, but Brooks is able to watch him and potentially disrupt any passing lanes. That is important against a smaller quarterback such as Brees.
Although the 49ers are only rushing two players at this point, Brees begins to roll out into the right flat because the line in front of him is stood up so tall that he cannot see downfield properly.
Brees escapes comfortably into the flat before resetting his feet and looking back towards the middle of the field to look for a receiver. Aldon Smith, who initially lined up as a defensive tackle, immediately looks to chase down Brees in space and try to get the sack. Although he is in space, the Saints offensive line is quick enough to get to him and prevent him from taking Brees down.
Although Brees was looking back towards the middle of the field, Graham was still available to his right. Graham initially runs with his offensive linemen, but he tries to sneak out by circling around the incoming rush for a potential big play down the sideline. This is where Brooks’ incredible awareness and discipline comes into play again. Just like how he understood when his pass rush became futile against the two blockers earlier in the play, Brooks abandons his pass rush attempt quick enough to fill the passing lane between Brees and Graham.
Whether because he saw Brooks in the throwing lane or simply because he thought he needed to throw the pass that way, Brees puts a high arc on the football. This forces Brooks to make an incredible one-handed catch at full extension for the interception. Had Brooks missed the ball, then Graham would have had an easy first down and maybe a much bigger gain down the sideline.
Even though the NFL celebrates big hits and aggressive play from defensive backs, the balance between that aggression and disciplined awareness is much more important. Ahmad Brooks is one of the most fundamentally sound football players in the NFL. He doesn’t get the same press as Aldon Smith or even Justin Smith because he quietly goes about his job in an exceptionally effective way.
He will be known mostly for that controversial hit from here on out, but don’t forget that he is also a very good player too.
You can follow Cian Fahey on twitter @Cianaf