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Film analysis: Giants’ Azeez Ojulari made his presence known in return

Let’s look at Ojulari’s game against the Washington Commanders

New York Giants v Washington Football Team Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Azeez Ojulari played 49 snaps for the New York Giants on Sunday against the Washington Commanders in in his return to action from a quad injury. Ojulari had not played since Week 4. Let’s see how the second-year edge defender fared.

It did not take long for Ojluari to make impact plays. The young pass rusher had seven pressures and a pivotal sack-fumble of Taylor Heinicke to start the second half. His forced fumble at the Washington 25-yard line sparked the Giants’ only second-half touchdown drive before the Giants’ offense went three-and-out three times before the end of regulation; their only other drive was a four-and-out.

The return of Ojulari should only help rookie pass rusher, Kayvon Thibodeaux. The rookie has demanded a lot of offensive attention this season, primarily because the Giants did not have a true threat on the opposite side. But now, Ojulari is back, and the Giants now have a formidable young pass-rushing duo with two dynamic interior defensive linemen.

Wink Martindale’s defensive unit still leads the league in blitz percentage. The Giants have blitzed on 40.8 percent of quarterback drop backs, with a pressure rate of 24.8 percent; that ranks third in the NFL behind Dallas and New England.

New York, however, has only 25 sacks this season, ranking them 19th in the NFL. The pressure is accelerating the quarterback’s clocks, but it's not necessarily leading to sacks. Ojulari’s explosiveness and ability to win high side will force quarterbacks to step into the pocket where Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams are applying interior pressure; that should help the Giants when they bring four after the quarterback, and it can only help when they blitz as well. Here’s a breakdown of Ojulari’s Week 13 return to action against Washington.

[Azeez Ojulari is No. 51]

Pass rushing

Here are all of Ojulari’s pass-rushing snaps vs. Washington:

Here are his seven pressures:

Let’s start with his sack/forced fumble.

Ojulari took advantage of a tight-end matchup on a third-and-8 situation. Washington slid their protection to the right where Kayon Thibodeaux (5) and Oshane Ximines (53) are aligned. Other than just using his impressive explosiveness to get up the arc, Ojulari did an excellent job of dipping his inside shoulder and getting his outside arm into John Bates’ (87) armpit.

With the rip move employed, Ojulari got very low to “touch grass” in order to bend underneath and through contact. The bend is a rare trait that not every talented pass rusher can employ. Here’s another angle.

Ojulari’s left knee is nearly touching the turf, and his right foot is flat on the ground as he got his hips oriented toward Heinicke and made contact with his throwing arm. It required a second effort on the part of Ojulari to separate from Bates and locate Heinicke through the block of Antonio Gibson (24).

Ojulari’s ability to sink low, reduce the surface area of his chest for blockers to access, and then have the balance to turn his body through the contact that is initiated is such a valuable trait for an edge defender, especially when it’s combined with incredible burst and get-off.

[right side of screen]

Ojuari used his quick first step to challenge the angle of Cornelius Lucas (78); he also timed his inside swat well to negate Lucas’ outside arm from gaining access to his chest. He then dipped the inside shoulder, turned a tight corner (look at that ankle flexion), and raised his inside arm to knock the second Lucas punch attempt away.

At this point, Ojulari’s successfully cornered at the top of the pass-rushing arc, and he dove into the pocket, but Heinicke did an excellent job stepping up and away from the pressure to find Terry McLaurin (17) for a touchdown due to poor tackling by Fabian Moreau (37).

[right of screen]

Ojulari used an inside arm swat on the previous play, and here he employs an outside club - a pass-rushing move he successfully used throughout his college career as a Georgia Bulldog.

Charles Leno Jr. (72) drives off his right leg to set up the catch, but Ojulari attempted to run around the tackle. The pass rusher sees the two-handed punch, so he violently chopped downward with his outside arm in an attempt to break the tackle’s contact. Ojulari is successful in breaking contact, and he then tilts his body and turns the tight corner by staying low, dipping his inside shoulder, and presenting the back of his numbers to Leno Jr.

However, Leno Jr. does a good job quickly regrouping by getting his hands on the pass-rusher before Heinicke fired the football shortly after the snap.

[right of screen]

Thibodeaux has faced a lot of double-team blocks throughout his rookie season, but he gets a single matchup on this Justin Ellis (71) sack because Ojulari is double-teamed. Ojulari doesn’t apply pressure on the play, but I wanted to include this rep to show how two of six blockers in protection were allocated to Ojulari, and the other four pass-rushers in the five-man front were able to sack the quarterback. Oh yeah, and let’s ignore that face mask by Ellis.

[left side of screen]

Ojulari flashed a spin move to the outside after attempting to go inside on this important fourth-and-four. Washington slid protection again toward Thibodeaux and Ximines, leaving Ojulari in a one-on-one matchup against Leno Jr. However, crashing inside and spinning back outside allowed Heinicke to roll to his left, where he eventually found Samuel for a conversion; the pump fake got Ojulari to jump a bit, and that disallowed him from containing.

Power rush

Ojulari’s ability to win through finesse and bend is well-established, but it appears like the extra 10 pounds of muscle he added in the offseason is assisting his ability to apply pressure via power.

[left of screen]

An inside long-arm move got the guard on ice skates as Ojulari accessed the offensive lineman’s breastplate and drove him into the pocket. Ojulari used every bit of his 34½-inch wingspan (95th percentile for EDGE rushers). He narrowly missed batting the pass down with his outside arm.

[left of screen]

Ojulari gets both hands inside the tackle and bull-rushed him with solid lower leg drive. Although the tackle does a good job anchoring down near the end of the play, Ojulari was able to harass Heinicke enough to force the quarterback to slide left before throwing the football.

[right side of screen[

Leno Jr. attempted to jump-set Ojulari, who was wide. Accounting for Ojulari’s burst, Leno Jr. abandoned the more traditional pass sets we see against wide rushers and went to quickly engage Ojulari before he could get hip-to-hip. Leno Jr. deterred Ojulari from winning up the arc, but the pass-rusher quickly adjusted his plan; he used strength to run through the inside shoulder of Leno Jr., who set to eliminate a high-side rush. Ojulari saw no guard help and crashed into the pocket through a hold to help Dexter Lawrence come away with a sack.

Run defense

The 22-year-old pass rusher did not have the most successful game in run defense, albeit he was only on the field for 15 run-defending snaps. Washington put stress on Ojulari’s side with multiple wide receivers and tight ends to help create a seal for outside runs - something the Giants struggle to defend.

[right side of screen[

Jahan Dotson (1) and Curtis Samuel (10) are tight off Bates, with Ojulari splitting Dotson and the TE. Washington ran stretch zone, and Dotson contacted Ojulari, allowing Bates to get outside and pin the edge to the inside. Here’s the same concept ran by Washington to the boundary again:

[left side of screen[

Ojulari can’t fight through the traffic, but those extra blockers create extra gaps to the short side of the field; Ojulari adjusted and positioned himself in the open B-Gap, which forced Brian Robinson (8) lateral towards other pursuit defenders.

[left side of screen]

The Giants run a blitz with Ojulari slanting inside; Jason Pinnock (27) contains to the outside, and Micah McFadden (41) looped around the slanting Ojulari. The rookie linebacker does not keep the path narrow enough with the kick-out block from Bates, and Ojulari receives no penetration as he is bullied off the line of scrimmage by Leno Jr. Very impressive open field tackle by Julian Love (20).

[right side of screen]

Ojulari is capable of setting an edge and successfully containing it. He’s not a player that is just bullied off the spot but isn’t quite yet a consistent overall run defender. Above, we see Ojulari remove the outside as an option for Samuel in this shotgun run with a ton of pre-snap eye candy. Samuel cuts back inside and is tackled by Dexter Lawrence (97).

[left side of screen]

New York blitzed Micah McFadden on the weak side of a pistol zone run. McFadden penetrates the A-Gap but gets himself too far upfield, so Julian Love filled from the second level. However, Leonard Williams (99) also maintained a presence in that same hole, so the B-Gap was now compromised.

Ojulari set the edge and removed any outside run as an option. It appeared like Ojulari attempted to restrict the open B-Gap but could not reduce the space through the block of Lucas. Moreau was coming down as the secondary force player.

Final thoughts

Pairing Thibodeaux with Ojulari gave the Giants a very interesting pair of youthful pass-rushers. There’s been a lot of discussion around Thibodeaux and what he can develop into moving forward - rightfully so; however, these same discussions should occur about Ojulari.

The two players are different, but they complement each other very well. Ojulari is only 22 years old, and Thibodeaux is 21. There’s plenty of room for development and growth, but both pass-rushers already have a strong baseline of exciting traits.

Ojulari’s ability to win high side with quickness, bend, and quality pass-rush moves at the top of the arc will threaten opposing offensive linemen; with the development of an inside counter move, Ojulari’s ability to get home, and force more protection his way, will only open up opportunities for Thibodeaux, who is still developing the nuances of his NFL pass-rushing repertoire.

Thibodeaux is further along as a run defender right now, but Ojulari can still develop in this area in due time. Ojulari has low natural leverage with his 6-foot-2 frame and excellent lower-body flexion, but he possesses elite length for the position (wingspan and arm length). He hasn’t maximized those traits as a run defender quite yet, but he only has 33 run-defending snaps to his name this season.

The future of the New York Giants’ pass-rushers is bright. This franchise is known for its ability to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks. Names such as Lawrence Taylor, Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, and Andy Robustelli live in football lure.

No one is comparing these two young pass-rushers to any of those football greats. But for the first time since the Giants' last two Super Bowls, it appears like the issue of home-grown talent at the pass rusher position is fixed.