What do we know about Vonta Leach?
I can summarize in just a few sentences…
· He’s the AFC’s Pro Bowl FB who helped the undrafted Arian Foster to the rushing title in just his 2nd season.
· By reputation, he’s a very effective blocker who is used occasionally as a receiver (8 receptions in 11 times targeted in 2010, 76 receptions career).
· He has scored 6 career TDs (4 receiving and 2 rushing) which is pretty amazing for someone with 3 career carries.
· He carried the ball with some regularity (83 carries, 290 yards) in his senior season at East Carolina, was signed as a UDFA by the Packers, and was released late in his 3rd season when he was fortunate enough to be picked up by the Texans.
· His nickname is “Coke Machine”.
That’s about it for me and I had to do some research to get there.
Last year I did a little research into the 2009 seasons of Anquan Boldin and Josh Wilson. That was fun, so I decided to review some of Vonta Leach’s play from 2010. Trouble is, since he never carries the ball, there is nothing in the Gamebook that would do much for you in terms of isolating the plays in which he participates.
So I went back to see what I could get from NFL Rewind.
The package is greatly improved this season and includes new features that are particularly useful for reviewing the efforts of individual players. To Summarize:
· NFL Rewind is a video-on-demand site for all NFL games
· The site currently contains the complete 2009 and 2010 seasons
· The features I’m describing are available for $19.99 per month. They might also be available for less in one of the other packages.
· The entire game broadcasts are included, but there are some bonus shots for some plays that give coaches video
· The picture quality has been enhanced from prior years when I had great difficulty getting an un-pixilated feed that was useful for consistently reading numbers.
· The advertising purports the service to be HD, and it appears close at a minimum
· The 2010 game feeds are indexed to a play-by-play account which allows you to skip quickly to the start of any specific play
· There is a useful rewind 0:10 button as well as a FF 0:10 button
But back to Leach…
He played 414 snaps in 2010 per PFF. I didn’t want to spend the time to go through all of those, so I thought I’d pick a subset of games that were representative of his season as a whole. I decided to start with his week 17 performance vs. Jacksonville, since I’ve always believed the most recent evidence is the most pertinent.
Leach played 27 snaps (excluding a kneel) in that game, but it took about 90 minutes to locate and review all of those. After watching those plays I decided that was probably enough to review those and describe how he impacted the game in a qualitative sense. He was used in a very consistent manner in this one game, but it’s certainly possible he was used as a TE (for example) at some point during the year.
What was the setting?
The Jaguars were traveling to Houston for the final regular-season game of the 2010 season. A win coupled with a Colts loss to Tennessee (both games were played at 4 PM) would have given them the AFC South title. Jacksonville had again slumped late in the season with consecutive losses at Indianapolis and home against Washington. They were also playing without both David Garrard and MJD.
Houston entered the game playing only for pride. After a 4-2 start including wins over the Colts, Raiders, and Chiefs, they lost 8 of 9 to fall from playoff contention and were booed regularly by their fans even as they dismantled the Jags 34-17 in this game.
Here are my notes from the plays Leach was on the field:
1. (Q1, 14:52) 1/10 Form: 302 (3 WR, 0 TE, 2 RB) OIL (offset I left, meaning Leach was left of the other back as they face the LoS). PSL (went out for a pass short left). Matt Schaub’s pass went incomplete left for Jones.
2. (Q1, 14:19) 3/1 Form: 212 I (standard I formation). NB (no block). Leach appeared to be leading the play around the left end, but Foster rolled over left guard then cut back right for a 56-yard run. Leach’s movements were seemingly mirrored by Jags linebacker Daryl Smith. Smith overran the play to Leach’s side, causing him to be caught in traffic as Foster cut back. Sometimes all a good fullback needs is fear. This carry all but locked up the rushing title for Arian as he vaulted by Jamaal Charles who had played in a 1 PM game and ahead of Chris Johnson by 167 yards.
3. (Q1, 13:45) 1/10 Form: 302 I. B50 4 (blocked number 50, Russell Allen, scored as a 4 on a 0-5 scale, see below for description). Leach led left, hit Allen, and stopped him. Allen spun off but was much too late to catch Ward who ran for 6 yards to the left .
4. (Q1, 9:42) 1/10 Form: 302 OIR. MB94 0 (missed block). Leach led left from his offset right position, but whiffed badly in his attempt to block DT Jeremy Mincey. This was his only complete failure of the day. Nonetheless, Foster ran right for 16 yards.
5. (Q1, 7:57) 3/4 Form: 212 OIR. PSR. Schaub completed his pass left to Walter for 22 yards.
6. (Q1, 6:54) 2/2 Form: 212 I. B52 5. Leach led over left guard and ploughed Smith to the outside to clear a hole for Ward’s 6-yard run.
7. (Q1, 5:37) 2/2 Form: 122 I. B50 3. Delivered a solid hit on Allen, who immediately spun off to make the tackle. Foster missed a lane that would have resulted in an easy 1st down.
8. (Q1, 5:00) 3/1 Form: 122 I. B50 4. Leach delivered a solid lead block, but Mincey and Morrison penetrated to take down Foster for a loss of 1.
9. (Q2, 14:24) 1/10 Form: 212 OIL. B50 5. Leach led middle and drove Allen backwards as Foster followed for a gain of 9 up the middle. The unusual thing about this block was Leach used his hands effectively (see below) to maintain his block on Allen for perhaps 2 seconds.
10. (Q2, 13:47) 2/1 Form: 122 I. B52 5. Led left, used his hands and maintained his block on Smith as Foster ran middle for 4.
11. (Q2, 13:10) 1/10 Form: 212 OIR. PSR. Schaub threw incomplete deep middle for Walter.
12. (Q2, 8:34) 1/10 Form: 212 I. PSM. Schaub completed a pass short right for 4 to Foster.
13. (Q3, 9:16) 1/10 Form: 122 I. PSL. Pass right to Daniels for 14.
14. (Q3, 8:38) 1/10 Form: 302 I. B35 5. Leach pancaked Morrison as he attempted to penetrate. Very limited use of hands, just a jarring collision. Foster ran left for 3.
15. (Q3, 8:03) 2/7 Form: 212 I. B52 4.Leach led right and drove Smith backwards. Smith tripped up Foster falling away from the play to hold him to a gain of 4.
16. (Q3, 6:04) 1/10 Form: 302 I. PSR. Schaub threw incomplete for Daniels, but defensive holding gave the Texans a 1st down.
17. (Q3, 4:38) 1/5 Form: 212 I. B22 5. Leach made an effective block on Carey, but penetration behind his block took down Foster for no gain.
18. (Q3, 4:00) 2/5 Form: 212 I. PSR. Pass incomplete right to Walter.
19. (Q3, 0:57) 1/10 Form: 212 OIR. B52 5. Leach moved left across the formation to hit Smith again. This was a rare case where he used his position between the defender and Foster who ran middle for 7 yards and Smith to hold up on what could have been a big hit.
20. (Q3, 0:25) 2/3 Form 212 I. B92 3. Leach went to the ground as he cut blocked the DE on the right side. Lane was slowed, but pursued the play. As Leach got up, he made a gesture that looked like he was calling for a flag, but I’m not sure what he might have been demanding. Foster ran left for 2 yards.
21. (Q4, 15:00) 3/1 Form: 122 I. B52 3. He blocked Smith who had already fallen to the ground. The block was effective, but not the best choice of target. Morrison penetrated to take down Foster for a loss of 1.
22. (Q4, 8:13) 1/10 Form: 212 I. B35 2. Leach led left and hit Karim softly several yards past the LoS. Meanwhile, Allen and Morrison penetrated up the middle to take down Foster for a loss of 4.
23. (Q4, 5:01) 1/10 Form: 212 I. B21 3. Leach led left and passed up a block on Morrison to hit Cox another 6-7 yards further downfield. The block was fine, but Mincey and Morrison combined to hold Foster to a gain of 6.
24. (Q4, 4:18) 2/4 Form: 122 I. B22 5. Leach pancaked FS Carey in what was initially away from the play. Foster started left then changed directions back towards Leach’s block in the middle for a gain of 3.
25. (Q4, 3:36) 3/1 Form: 122 I. B94 1. Leach stumbled near the line but got a small piece of Mincey. Schaub sneaked up the middle for a gain of 2.
26. (Q4, 2:00) 3/3 Form: 302 I. B50 3. Leach led right and blocked 50. For one of the few times this game, he was partially fended off as Allen slipped off and maintained the edge. Foster turned the play inside for no gain.
27. (Q4, 1:54) 4/3 Form: 212 I. B50 4. Leach led left and hit both Allen (primarily) and Smith. He didn’t move either and Foster ran left for 2 yards as the Texans turned the ball over on downs.
For the scoring of blocks I used the following very rough guideline:
5: Maneuvered his opponent out of the play with a jarring hit, pancake, or position
4: Neutralized his opponent in place
3: Solid hit, but opponent was able to adjust back into the play
2: The most accurate definition would probably be “less than 3 and more than 1”. Only play #22 was scored this way.
1: Some contact, but block was ineffective
0: Missed block
NB: Did not attempt a block. There was only one of these (#2 above), but it was one of the most effective uses of Leach all day.
Scoring: 20 Run blocking plays (1 unscored, 19 scored, 69 points, 3.63 per play).
I’m not going to ascribe some great meaning to this scoring system. Without a league average or scores for some other FBs, it’s no basis for judgment as to whether Leach even had a good game let alone is a good blocker. However, I like to create some scoring method each time I review something new so I grade on an internally consistent basis. Once I’ve scored the blocks it’s my view that the system/scores may as well be transparent.
· This was by no means a typical Texans game for 2010. They led the entire game, rolled up 244 rushing yards, and their 2 running backs averaged 6.9 YPC.
· The game had Gumbel and Dierdorf as the announcers and Dan did a fine job of explaining zone blocking with several highlighted examples during the game.
· In this game, and I suspect virtually every snap of the season, the Texans deployed Vonta only in some form of the “I” formation. There were always 2 backs when he was in. I did not use what some would consider the more traditional way to define the offset I as “strong” or “weak” since the Texans often did not have a TE or the TE was actually a WR in motion within one body length of the tackle box at the snap.
· Leach was used on a limited set of down-and-distance situations. He played most of the 1st and 10 snaps, but played just 1 2nd down snap in excess of 5 yards to go (7). His 3rd down yards to gain were 4, 1, 1, 1, and 3.
· Leach made little use of his hands to block in this game. His basic technique seems to be lowering his shoulder into the center of his opponent’s mass. That was very effective against the Jax linebackers who are all of similar size to Leach. The collisions were violent and typically involved some recoil on the part of the defender. Many times that was enough to take his opponent out of the play.
· He is decisive in moving to the next man in front of him. Some linemen, particularly pulling guards will tend to slow down as they pass into level 2 and look for a man to block to either side and up to a step behind. That’s especially something I had noticed with Chris Chester. Leach consistently moves forward looking for a hit and not reducing his speed.
· You can see from the numbers of the blocked players that the same linebackers tended to take multiple hits. It’s easy to see how Leach, playing 40% of all snaps, would be very effective late in games against linebackers that play virtually every snap and have already been on the receiving end of several “OOFs” (think TV Batman noises).
· It’s fairly apparent from the description of play #2 above that Leach draws the defense to his path. Now that’s a great job when you don’t even have to go out looking for work. It’s like working from home.
· In the “who does this sound like” category, Leach was said to have had at least 2 light-hearted campaigns for Pro Bowl. Last season he called it “Leach to the Beach”. Two years ago, when teammate Owen Daniels had “Vote for OD” shirts made, he wore a hand-made “Vote for Me” t-shirt.
· He was not penalized the entire season. No FB who played as many snaps went un-penalized. By comparison, Le’Ron McClain was penalized 3 times.
· If I had to pick something the Ravens will miss with McClain, it’s his ability as a receiver. Folks tend to focus on the negative, so many will probably remember his TD drop against the Saints in week 15. However, McClain caught 21 of the 23 passes (91.4%) on which he was targeted during 2010. That was the highest catch percentage of any FB who was targeted 12 or more times (Greg Jones was 11 for 11). Some of that was Flacco’s checkdown and screen accuracy, but I wouldn’t minimize Le’Ron’s impact. As a point of comparison Ray Rice caught 75 of 87 balls (86.2%) thrown his way and both of them had an average catch behind the LoS with YAC in excess of YPC.