One of Maxx Crosby’s goals this season is to prove that he’s more than just a pass-rusher and is an elite run defender as well. Through the Las Vegas Raiders' first eight games of the season, he’s accomplished that goal, ranking second among edge defenders with a 90.7 grade against the run from Pro Football Focus.
Crosby also leads the position with 20 defensive stops against the run, a staple stat for PFF that measures the quality of a player’s tackles by separating the takedowns that result in keeping the offense off schedule or from converting a first down.
This past Monday against the Detroit Lions might have been his best performance of the campaign as he earned the highest run defense grade (91.5) and recorded the most run stops (seven) at his position.
So, let’s take a look at the film and break down how Madd Maxx was able to be so dominant.
Crosby has been excellent at slipping blocks this season and we can see an example of that here. The Lions try to run outside zone right at him with arguably their best offensive lineman, right tackle Penei Sewell.
Sewell is an aggressive blocker and Crosby knows this. So, at the point of attack, Crosby flashes his hands and makes a subtle move to the outside which throws off Sewell’s balance as he likes to lean on defenders when blocking them. That allows Madd Maxx to essentially work around the block, and then he has the athleticism and bend to work flat down the line of scrimmage to help make the tackle on the running back.
This summer, Crosby told The Athletic’s Ted Nguyen about how he made a conscious effort to get more flexible to help become a better run defender, and this is an example of his hard work paying off.
Detroit pretty much the same play later in the drive, just from a different formation and away from Crosby this time. That left him unblocked and, again, we can see where his flexibility and athleticism can help him against the run.
Off the snap, Crosby takes a couple of steps up the field and then works flat down the heel line or the backs of the offensive linemen, similar to if he was bending or turning a tight corner as a pass-rusher. He also has the speed to meet the running back in the backfield and close for a tackle right at the line of scrimmage.
A play like this may not seem very impressive as he didn’t have to defeat a block, but there’s a reason why the play design leaves him unblocked; most defensive linemen won’t be able to make this play.
The next strategy the Lions tried was blocking Crosby with a tight end and, surprise, that didn't work either.
They run duo here and have rookie Sam LaPorta block from a two-point stance, meaning he’s giving up leverage to Crosby. LaPorta tries to get inside positioning on Crosby and seal Crosby to the outside, however, the latter uses his hands well and is just much stronger to make shedding the block easy. The running back then has nowhere to go except right into the defender’s arms for no gain.
The Lions have a pretty good play-call here as they’re in 12 personnel and put both tight ends on Crosby’s side. They also have the outside tight end bluff a block on Crosby and arc release to the second level so that the pulling guard, in theory, can catch Maxx off-guard and kick him out toward the sideline.
However, Crosby isn’t fooled and takes a bit of a risk here. Technically, he should work underneath the pullers as Amari Burney is responsible for the outside and forcing the running back to cut back. But, Crosby is able to make the puller miss and ends up getting the tackle near the line of scrimmage.
That’s one of those plays where if he makes the tackle, it’s a great rep. But if he doesn’t, he can expect to get an earful from the coaching staff.
The Lions went back to trying to run duo and blocking Crosby with a tight end, and the result was about the same as last time. The biggest difference is Crosby uses the same move he put on Sewell in the first clip to defeat the tight end’s block. Again, he stays close to the offensive linemen’s heel line, and that allows him to make the tackle for a one- to two-yard gain.
We’ll end with a rep where Crosby doesn’t make the play but does a great job of taking away the backside cut-back lane. Detroit is running outside zone away from him again and has the backside tight end try to cut him off.
However, Crosby gets physical with the blocker this time and uses a strong rip move to defeat the block and get penetration. Had Robert Spillane not been there, Crosby was in a perfect position to make the tackle and pick up another defensive stop.
Overall, what was most impressive to me about Crosby’s performance is that he’s defeating blocks with strength and power as well as finesse and athleticism, which is a big reason why Madd Maxx is playing like a maniac and has become one of the league’s best run defenders.