While Aaron Donald was going berserk on the inside, Mekhi Becton and George Fant silenced the Rams defense on the edge.
Aaron Donald tied his season-high (and the NFL high for an interior defensive lineman) with 10 pressures against the New York Jets this past Sunday. He forced his way into the backfield whenever he wanted to, but Sam Darnold and the New York offense still operated at a decent level.
Why? The quality protection of the offensive tackle duo, Mekhi Becton and George Fant.
Becton and Fant kept the offense afloat, each being credited with allowing zero pressures over the Jets’ 36 passing plays, according to Pro Football Focus. Thanks to their efforts, Donald’s pressures were often rendered fruitless. The lack of pressure off the edge gave Darnold plenty of scrambling lanes to take advantage of whenever Donald got home.
Let’s take a look at Becton and Fant’s performances in protection against Los Angeles.
Fant’s biggest weakness in protection is his susceptibility to losing via the bull rush or inside moves. Here, he absorbs a bull rush tremendously against former Bears first-round pick Leonard Floyd.
Fant (right tackle, No. 76) takes a wide set to match Floyd’s wide alignment. Fant stays square to his target. Once Floyd commits outside and gears up for the bull rush, Fant drops his outside foot and prepares to take it on. He brings both arms underneath and works them into Floyd’s armpits to establish control. Fant anchors down and holds Floyd at bay to protect the pocket. His grip is strong enough to buy Darnold time to escape (and he lets go to avoid a holding call).
Nice job by Becton (left tackle, No. 77) on the opposite side as well. He takes a patient set with short strides, allows his man to commit, and then lands his two-hand punch to completely halt the rusher. His hands land a little high, hitting the rusher in the face (a consistent issue Becton can improve on, which you would expect from a guy who towers over everyone). But even so, Becton hits with so much force that the rusher folds up and slides forward. Once he starts getting landed those hands accurately on a consistent basis, watch out.
Here’s an example of how unstoppable Becton can be with good hand placement.
The outside linebacker jabs inside before working back outside, possibly looking to set up a cross-chop. Becton strikes first to take the victory early. He throws his two-hand punch and hits the inside shoulder, jolting the rusher back. At that point, all Becton has to do is rotate his hips and work the rusher up the field. The rusher does nothing to affect the pocket.
With that much length, Becton can sit back and still make strong contact with anybody without having to overreach. He’s just got to hit the right spots, as he does there.
Becton works with Pat Elflein on a double-team against Aaron Donald here.
Elflein works Donald into Becton, and Becton picks him up effectively – with one hand. Becton gets his right hand into Donald’s chest, and that’s all he needs to do to help Elflein keep him in check. You would maybe prefer to see Becton fully commit and use two hands since there were no other threats in the area. Nevertheless, he still got the job done and showcased remarkable strength in the process.
Nice play by Fant on that rep as well. When he feels the bull rush coming, Fant drops his weight back, and the rusher ends up stumbling into him as he leans into the rush too much. Fant brings his hands up, grabs the shoulder sleeves, anchors down and devours the bull rush.
Becton and Fant win their battles to help set up a Darnold scramble.
Becton works his way outside in a hurry with quick, short steps, and the outside linebacker chooses to rush inside. His effort is lackadaisical, lacking any explosion or technique, and Becton takes advantage. Becton first strikes the upper body, and then once the rusher angles inside, Becton reworks into the outside shoulder, shoving him all the way to the other side of the offensive line. This opens enormous room for Darnold, who runs for 12 yards.
On the other side, Fant’s footwork is choppy as his first step is short and he then hops back off the rusher’s inside sell, but he recovers effectively. The rusher is looking to work a cross-chop move – sell inside, step back outside, bring the inside arm through to the outside while chopping down, and club the shoulder with the outside arm. Fant feels it out. He dips his upper body (not ideal but it works here), getting his outside hand into the rusher’s chest and his inside hand into the rusher’s hip, working him up the arc.
Fant works his man way up the field to open up a big escape lane for Darnold.
The rusher tries to throw a rip, but Fant is all over it. He flashes his hands a few times to try and get Fant to lean in, but Fant doesn’t bite, staying balanced and patient. Once the rusher throws his inside arm into Fant’s chest, Fant reacts accordingly. He angles his hips outside and frames him well. Fant then loads up his arms, cocking them back to build up some power, and then charges them up into the rusher’s chest from underneath, grabbing the armpits to shut down the rip.
Becton continues to showcase his unlimited upside on a weekly basis. He still has a long way to go, but he has certainly played like a top 10 left tackle this season. With improvements to his technique that should come naturally for a kid who is still only 21 years old, he can be as good as they come at the left tackle position.
As for Fant, he continues to make Joe Douglas‘ decision at the right tackle spot a more difficult one. Fant has not declared himself as an obvious cut or an obvious keeper. When he has had rough games, he has typically bounced back with strong ones, and vice versa. He can probably be considered a competent starter overall, but is that enough for Douglas to feel good about him at his $9.4 million cost? Or will Douglas cut ties and look for an upgrade?
I say keep Fant and pick a tackle and a guard in the mid-rounds.