While the Las Vegas Raiders Week 3 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers was disappointing as a whole for the Silver and Black, third-year defensive end Malcolm Koonce was one of the team’s few bright spots on the evening.
Koonce had just seven career pressures heading into the game, but he broke through with four last Sunday which was the second-most on the team behind Maxx Crosby (nine) and a personal best for him. To make the 2021 third-round pick’s performance even more impressive, he reached that figure on just 15 rushes and actually received a higher PFF pass-rush grade than Crosby; 77.1 to 74.3.
So, let’s dive into the tape and see how Koonce was able to win last week and if his production is sustainable enough to be part of the solution to Las Vegas’ pass rush woes as the No. 2 behind Crosby.
It’s unfortunate that this rep for Koonce kind of goes all for not as it came on the Steelers' long touchdown. But this is an impressive individual effort nonetheless.
He does an excellent job of attacking the offensive tackle and getting a leverage advantage on the bull rush to start collapsing the pocket. Then, he works to get on an edge and uses a rip move as a counter off of the bull to win around the outside.
Unfortunately, the referee in the white hat is staring right at Koonce but doesn’t call the hold as the tackle’s hand is on the back of Koonce’s jersey. Still, he manages to break through, and if the coverage was better, this is a sack.
Koonce is going to line up on the other side of the center this time and has a similar rep as the last one. He turns speed to power by using a long-arm move and never lets the left tackle set his base, allowing the Koonce to collapse the pocket and meet Crosby at the quarterback.
This was one of the third-year veteran’s biggest strengths during the preseason and a common theme we’ll see throughout these clips.
I really like this play design from Patrick Graham by putting Crosby over the center and having Nate Hobbs in press coverage to get the threat of a nickel blitz. That gets Pittsburgh to slide the protection left and allows Koonce to get a one-on-one with the running back.
While he could try to run through the back’s chest like most defensive linemen try to do, Koonce does a good job of mixing it up by using a little hesitation to rip move and showing off that bend at the top of the rush. That forces the ball out and allows him to get a hit on Kenny Pickett.
Now we’re back to turning speed to power as Koonce gets to go up against the left tackle he had success against previously. Again, he has great leverage at the point of attack and gets his hands inside the tackle’s hands to put the tackle on skates and escape to the inside, flushing Pickett out of the pocket.
I would like to see Koonce stay on his feet to finish the play with a sack, but he got hurt on this play so that could be a reason why.
One sign that Koonce was really on top of his game this weekend is that he was able to beat both of Pittsburgh’s offensive tackles. He turns speed to power here again and ends up putting the tackle on the ground. The ball is out too quickly for anything to come of the rush, but this is a good sign that he’s starting to put it together and could be part of the solution for the team’s pass rush woes.
How about one more for good measure?
Koonce wins with that long-arm move again and I think by now, you get the picture...
Obviously, we’ve been focusing on the Buffalo product’s reps as a pass-rusher so far, and while he wasn’t nearly as impressive against the run, I did want to share one clip that got me excited.
A general rule as a defensive lineman is you can’t get blocked by tight ends. Here, Koonce takes that to heart and is physical at the point of attack to collapse Pat Freiermuth inside the guard and ends up putting Freiermuth on his back. That puts Koonce in a great position to make the tackle for a short gain.
He definitely still has some work to do against the run, but this past game was encouraging enough that I’d argue he should get some more playing time.