For most NFL veterans, the preseason is pretty meaningless. However, for Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Tashawn Bower, this past month has been his time to shine.
Bower has racked up eight pressures — two sacks and six QB hurries — to go along with four stops against the run in the last three games, both of which are team highs as he’s been arguably the Raiders' most impressive defensive player. Those figures also rank tied for sixth and tied for first, respectively, among edge defenders across the league.
During the first four years of his career, Bower bounced back and forth between the Minnesota Vikings’ and New England Patriots’ practice squads and active rosters. But now, his sights are set on finding a spot on the Raiders’ 53-man roster with the NFL’s final cut-down day looming next week.
Las Vegas needs a fourth edge defender behind Maxx Crosby, Chandler Jones and Malcolm Koonce, and Bower’s production certainly suggests he can fill that role. The biggest question is does the film match the spreadsheets?
Let's take a look at this last game against the Miami Dolphins, his most productive performance of the month, and find out.
Our first rep is an example of the power Bower has as a pass rusher.
He’s not the fastest guy off the line of scrimmage, but he sells the vertical rush enough to keep the tackle honest and help turn speed (relatively speaking) to power. At the point of attack, he does a great job of getting three points of contact — both hands and the forehead/facemask — on the blocker, and he has great leverage with his helmet underneath the offensive lineman’s.
All of that allows Bower to get extension and walk the tackle back into the quarterback, forcing the ball to come out quickly. Unfortunately, the Dolphins are running a quick game/curl-flat concept to the boundary, so the pass is completed before the rush even has a chance to hit home. But still, this is an impressive rep from Bower.
There’s a lot going on in this next play, but it’s a beautiful one for the five-year pro.
The Dolphins are trying to get fancy here by faking a run to the running back, leaving both defensive tackles unblocked and giving the ball to the wide receiver on the end around. They also let Bower go free, which may or may not be by design, but Bower does a great job of attacking the tackle to disrupt the tackle’s path to the second level. That helps free up the linebacker — No. 59, Luke Masterson — to scrape over the top and either make the tackle or force the ball carrier to cut back inside.
That alone would be a great rep from the edge defender, however, he gets an A+ for the extra effort to not only take on the block from the fullback — No. 82 — but get off that block and make the tackle for loss himself. In one clip, we see some awareness, unselfish play and his ability to get off blocks, a quality rep.
You’re not going to see the clip above show up on the stat sheet, but something that pops off on Bower’s tape is his ability to set the edge against the run.
Here, Miami calls a zone run with Bower on the play side where the offensive tackle is going to try to reach him or drive block him to the outside. Against a wide technique where the standup linebacker is outside shade on the tight end, it’s almost an automatic drive block for the tackle.
Bower sees the tight end work across the formation for the split zone block and immediately takes his eyes and hands to the tackle. Again, at the point of attack, he gets underneath the blocker’s pads for some leverage and takes on the block with his hands to set an edge about effectively as he can, taking away the outside lane from the back.
Notice on the tackle’s arms are flailing after contact and he ends up inside the center by the end of the play. That’s a testament to Bowers’ use of hands and impressive strength.
This next clip is more about effort than anything else, but sacks are always celebrated in the defensive line room. Also, this situation makes this is clutch play for Bower.
Miami is down six with 3:32 to go in the third quarter and its fourth and seven. They have to dial up something that’s at least somewhat down the field, allowing the pass rushers to pin their ears back and get after the quarterback. However, that also can be dangerous by opening up rushing lanes for the quarterback.
Bower has a great get-off and puts pressure on the tackle vertically, forcing the tackle to open his hips. Bower also has perfect placement with his stab/long-arm move which helps him gain control of the block and create some space between him on and the tackle.
Once Teddy Bridgewater starts to climb the pocket and tuck the ball away to run, the edge rusher is able to redirect and get off the block to go make the sack, forcing the turnover on downs. That was made possible by his get-off and hand placement on the long-arm, in addition to the awareness to realize when he’s reached the quarterback’s depth to start working inside.