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Jihad Ward film review: What does DE offer the Giants?

Ward isn’t spectacular at any one thing, but offers solid depth

Baltimore Ravens v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The New York Giants added veteran EDGE/DL Jihad Ward to Wink Martindale’s defense in free agency. The two were together with the Baltimore Ravens during the tail end of the 2019 season - after the Colts released him - and through the 2020 season. Ward was with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2021.

Through the turbulent 2021 Jaguars’ season, the 27-year-old played a career-high 455 snaps. He recorded 32 tackles, three tackles for a loss, 17 pressures, two sacks, and seven hits on the quarterback.

Ward has a unique 6-foot-5, 297-pound frame. He possesses solid length with 33⅞-inch arms, and he’s versatile enough to play all over the defensive line - including on the edge. Last season, he played 139 snaps at ROLB (an EDGE designation by PFF), 133 snaps at LOLB, 69 snaps at 3-Technique, 60 snaps at 5-Technique, 45 snaps in a wider alignment, and five snaps at nose, with a few snaps at middle linebacker.

With Martindale

Ward was a part of Martindale’s rotation once he signed in 2019. He played significant snaps on the EDGE while being kicked inside, mostly on passing situations, albeit he’d align inside on first down. He was a versatile rotational player who was more involved in the 2019 season.

In 2020, Ward contracted COVID-19 and missed six weeks. When he returned, he only played more than 30 snaps once and only played 17 snaps against the Giants in Week 16.

In 695 total snaps with Martindale as his defensive coordinator, Ward recorded 41 pressures (in 464 pass-rushing plays), four sacks, 23 tackles, five tackles for a loss, and 12 quarterback hits. In Martindale’s scheme, Ward was used more as a pass rusher than a run defender.

Ward has 10 sacks in his career to go with his 100 total pressures. He has two seasons with more than 25 pressures - his rookie year of 2016, where he had 27 (Raiders), and 2019 with 25 (Colts/Ravens). Here’s a compilation of all Ward’s sacks.

Many of his sacks are either off creative twists - something he sells very well - or when the play breaks down and the quarterback attempts to extemporize. Two of the sacks are also unblocked from the backside or protection malfunctions (yup, that one is the Giants).

At the 23-second mark, Ward uses an impressive power rush move with his inside arm - and excellent lower leg drive - to put the guard on his back and sack Washington’s quarterback Alex Smith (11).

In the last play, Ward took advantage of a tackle that overset; Ward does an excellent job using his outside arm to rip through the inside shoulder while displaying good bend in his lower half.

Pass rushing

(Ward No. 6, right side)

I wouldn’t define Ward as a player with great explosiveness off the snap, but he has more juice than I initially anticipated, especially when slanting inward. When slanting inside - whether as a penetrator or just in upfield pursuit - Ward does well to lower his hat, dip his outside shoulder, and reduce the surface area of his chest. In doing so, the offensive lineman isn’t provided a clear access point to control Ward, who is strong enough to withstand the contact and bend. He does a great job (as we saw on one of his sacks earlier) using his outside arm to rip through the inside arm of the tackle. The upward motion - through the center of gravity of the tackle - creates separation and allows Ward to gain access to the pocket. Ward hit quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) right after he released the ball under pressure.

(Ward No. 6, right side)

Arizona aligns in a double-Y set towards the boundary where Ward resides on the play. When aligned on the EDGE, Ward is ideally used to the boundary, specifically when there’s tight end strength to that side. Both tight ends release into routes, which gives Ward a running start at the tackle. Ward brings his heavy hands through the tackle, explodes low to high, and creates separation on contact. Quarterback Kyler Murray (1) takes a hit and completes a short pass.

(Ward No. 53, left side)

As an edge defender with Baltimore, Ward uses his modest first three steps up the pass-rushing arc. He lands his inside arm on the tackle before contact is initiated. His length disallows the OT from gaining clean access to his chest, so Ward bends through the contact. The OT lands his outside arm high on the shoulder pad, which allows Ward to grab and control the OT’s wrist. While this is happening, he continues to press the inside shoulder of the OT, which turns the OT’s hips outward and opens a tiny alley into the pocket. Ward doesn’t get home, but he helps provide pressure - with a good long-arm power move - to force quarterback Dwayne Haskins (7) to throw an incomplete pass.

(Ward No. 6, 4i-technique, left side)

Ward is matched up against one of the best offensive linemen in football - Quinton Nelson (53). Ward does an excellent job as an interior rusher, fooling Nelson into believing an outside rush move. Ward stutters his steps before contact and leans his inside shoulder into the breastplate of Nelson. The All-Pro leans into contact and gives up his inside shoulder to a smooth spin move where Ward drops his weight, pivots off his outside foot, and creates the necessary separation to apply pressure on quarterback Carson Wentz (2). Ward displays excellent timing, footwork, and deception against one of the best in the game.

(Ward No. 53, 4i-technique, right side)

We see how he sets the outside spin move up against the Cowboys’ offensive guard. Ward steps hard inside as he puts all of his weight on that foot; he then uses excellent footwork and timing to spin outside and force the guard to put all of his weight inside. This gives Ward the alley outside to collect his balance, dip his inside shoulder, and pressures the quarterback.

On twists

Ward has enough speed, acceleration, and burst to be adequate as a looper while twisting, and he possesses the necessary leverage and strength to be a penetrator. One major thing that enhances his looping ability is his understanding of timing.

(Ward No. 6, left side)

Ward is the 9-Technique outside the tight end Jordan Akins (88), who releases into a route at the snap. Ward waits for his teammate, Josh Allen (41), to contact the outside shoulder of the guard - occupying the B-Gap. Ward then presses up towards the line of scrimmage and loops inside, just off the backside of Allen, and into the opposite A-Gap, around a slanting Roy Robertson-Harris (95). K’Lavon Chaisson (45) acts as if he’s blitzing to hold the backside guard in place, and this allows Ward to come in unabated at Tyrod Taylor (5), showing solid acceleration and burst.

(Ward No. 53, left side)

Martindale mugs the A-Gap with Chris Board (49) just inside Ward and outside nose tackle Derek Wolfe (95). Board bails at the snap, so the protection that originally accounted for him changes to focus on threats. Wolfe releases through Joe Looney’s (73) outside shoulder and Ward opens towards the B-Gap to widen the guard and distract him long enough to allow Wolfe to create the pick. Once the contact between Wolfe and the guard was made, no one accounted for Ward, who hits Andy Dalton (14) to force an incomplete pass.

(Ward No. 6, right side)

The timing is excellent to allow Allen to penetrate the B-Gap, using his own explosiveness, as Ward uses an aggressive hard inside jab-foot to distract the guard. Allen presses upfield enough to distract the tackle, and the timing is great by both Allen and Ward. The latter loops around after Allen does an impressive job penetrating the B-gap through contact.

(Ward No. 6, right side 1-Technique)

This is a similar twist with slide protection going in the opposite direction, creating a two vs. two towards Ward and Allen. Ward uses the same move - step inside hard, engage hands, release as Allen is pierced the B-gap. Allen distracts - or holds - the tackle long enough to allow Ward to hurry and hit Taylor, who does a great job finding Danny Amendola (89) for a touchdown.

Run defense

Ward is adequate overall as a run defender. He’s solid aligned to the boundary as an edge, and he can leverage his quickness, size, and strength to be solid in one on one situations when aligned as a 4i-shade. He’s also very good when tasked against tight ends; he uses his strength, heavy hands, and edge-setting ability to win in that area.

(Ward No. 6, left side)

Ward fights through a quick chip attempt by Braxton Berrios (10) and then engages tight end Tyler Kroft (81) on a boundary-side run. Ward sets to the outside of Kroft, lowers his butt, and gets his eyes on Tevin Coleman (23). With all of his weight outside, Ward uses his upper body strength to disengage from Kroft and explode inside, closing the C-Gap and tackling Coleman.

(Ward No. 6, left side)

Ward is aligned to the field side of the Texans’ 12 personnel, pistol, package. He’s initially tasked to penetrate the C-Gap, which he does well with a low hat and active hands. Once Mark Ingram III (2) comes out of the mesh point with the ball, Ward quickly halts his upfield rush and redistributes his weight towards Pharaoh Brown’s (85) outside shoulder. He shows very good bend and balance, despite Brown’s control of his chest. He gets lateral to expand Ingram’s rush before his teammates’ rally to make the tackle.

(Ward No. 53, right side)

Ward sets the edge high and firm towards the outside shoulder of the tight end. He does this to force the cutback inside and avoid the contact of the offensive tackle. Ward gets square to the tight end, but does an excellent job working back inside the C-Gap to narrow it and help his teammate make the tackle.

(Ward No. 6, wide right)

As you’ll see a bit later, Ward doesn’t always do a great job moving laterally through blocks to the field. However, he does a great job split out wide against Hunter Henry (85) on this play. Ward’s initial alignment assists him with fighting through the contact and locating the ball carrier; Ward does a great job working through Henry’s outside shoulder, which is successful - in part - because Ward lands a hard inside hand on the breastplate of Henry to keep the tight end away from his own outside shoulder. Ward uses that long-arm enough until Henry breaks the grasp; by that time, Henry lunges to locate Ward’s chest, but the pass-rusher dips his inside shoulder, which forces Henry off balance. Ward then separates and helps make the tackle.

(Ward No. 53, right side)

Here’s another tackle with Ward expanding laterally and forcing a cutback from the running back. He works laterally and then uses good timing to separate from the tackle and help make the tackle.

(Ward No. 53, left side)

Ward is the field side edge defender on the HB-toss with WR Jarvis Landry (80) blocking down to pin. Ward easily fights through Landry and gets into space, where he faces Jedrick Wills Jr. (71). Ward shows great balance and the ability to maintain space until he closes width and tackles the running back around a bunch of his teammates.

(Ward No. 6, right side)

Ward does a great job using his length to keep Taylor Lewan (77) at a distance and force Lewan’s center of gravity to rise. Upon contact, Ward locks Lewan out, lowers his base, and gets his eyes on Derrick Henry (22). Ward stands Lewan up and shades inside before closing the B-Gap as Henry attempts to find an opening.

Negative run plays

(Ward No. 6, right side)

Fighting through lateral down blocks as the play side edge defender isn’t consistently negative, but it’s not always an area where he wins. We saw a few plays above him well-executed run defense, but here’s one that isn’t as palatable. Jonnu Smith (81) blocks down and easily gains access to Ward’s outside shoulder; Ward expands laterally but doesn’t do enough to alter the running back’s path. Ward separates from the block and makes a tackle to end the play, but it’s well after a first down was earned.

(Ward No. 6, right side)

Brandon Auyik (11) blocks down on Ward and does enough to remove him from the play, which allows Deebo Samuel (19) into space. This is a boundary toss play, so not one to the field where the lack of speed would make warrant an excuse. Ward was held out just long enough by a wide receiver with an advantageous angle to the play side.

(Ward No. 53, right side)

Here’s a short-yardage situation against the New York Giants where Ward was pushed off the line of scrimmage by a double team. It’s not a shock that a sub-300-pound player can’t consistently anchor on the line of scrimmage against a double team, but it is worth noting. The contact that Andrew Thomas (78) made on Ward stood him up, which allowed Kaden Smith (82) to gain a clear target in Ward’s hip; the two bully Ward off the line and away from the play until Ward slides off the block once the whistle is blown.

(Ward No. 53, 3-Technique, right side)

Ward gets turned around by the Dallas linemen. Connor McGovern (66) and Terrance Steele (78) make contact, forcing Ward off-balance while McGovern climbs to the second level. Steele assumes the entirety of the block and washes Ward out of the play.

(Ward No. 6, 4i-shade, left side)

To be entirely fair, Ward has won against double-team blocks. When Ward initiates contact on one blocker, allowing him to sink his hips and explode low to high, he then can split double-team blocks adequately as long as his leverage is low. Ward’s balance with a low pad level is solid, and we see how he wins on this play by working back toward’s David Johnson’s (31) path.

Finishing ability

According to Pro Football Focus, Ward has a 12.6 percent missed tackle rate. That’s not terrible, but it’s not great. I don’t think it’s a gigantic problem in Ward’s game, but it was something that I noticed assessing his film.

(Ward No. 6, 4i-shade, right side)

This isn’t egregious; Ward dives at Allen but can’t secure the tackle, and the star quarterback picks up a few extra yards. It’s not the worst thing in the world.

(Ward No. 6, right side)

Ward does an excellent job getting through the tackle’s outside shoulder with a bull-rush where he presses most of his weight through the offensive tackle’s outside shoulder to create an alley into Josh Allen. Ward creates the separation and wraps Allen up but can’t finish the sack. Allen somehow completes a pass to Emmanuel Sanders (1) for a big gain.

(Ward No. 6, 2i-shade, left side)

Ward’s ability to negate Ryan Kelly’s (78) punch and lift his arm so high that Kelly couldn’t come to balance is impressive. Ward positioned himself so well to make the tackle on Jonathan Taylor (28). Ward hit Taylor high and tried to drag him to the ground, but Taylor withstood the contact and spun off Ward into space. It’s Jonathan Taylor - he’s great - but these are got to have it moments where Ward sometimes falls short.

(Ward No. 53, right side)

DeShaun Watson (4) showed his elusiveness and athletic ability on this play against Ward. The defender had two shots at Watson - one where both his hands were on the quarterback - but he couldn’t bring him down. Is this a bit nitpicky? Yes, Ward does a great job not biting on the play-action and forcing Watson to throw the football away.

In each of these clips, Ward positioned himself advantageously; it takes skill just to do that much. I’m just pointing out the times where it seemed like Ward could have made a huge play - instead of a good one - and he fell just short.

Final thoughts

Jihad Ward is a solid depth signing who will be a rotational defensive lineman in Martindale’s system - a defense he’s played in before. Ward has good size, length, and is a balanced player who typically plays with good leverage despite his 6-5 build.

He’s not a dynamic pass rusher, but he can effectively apply pressure as a penetrator or looper while twisting upfront. He possesses solid power pass-rushing moves, is heavy-handed, and has deceptively efficient footwork on counter moves, specifically the spin (outside or inside).

Ward is best on the edge as a run defender when aligned to the boundary. He does well against tight end blocks and can set the edge against tackles. He has solid quickness when aligned inside; he does well to slant into gaps and typically uses good leverage to apply pressure or clog up rushing lanes.

Ward isn’t dynamic at any one thing, but he is a familiar veteran with solid overall skills and athletic ability for his size. GM Joe Schoen comes from the Brandon Beane tree of long defensive lineman who can anchor down against the run and use their length as an advantage. Martindale comes from Baltimore, where he coached Ward for a year and a half.

Adding players of his prototype will allow Martindale to use them interchangeably along the defensive front insofar as they’re athletic enough to handle boundary EDGE responsibilities. Players in the 2022 NFL Draft that have similar frames and athletic profiles (or much better athletic profiles) include Georgia’s Travon Walker, Houston’s Logan Hall, Oklahoma’s Perrion Winfrey, Texas A&M’s DeMarvin Leal, Florida’s Zach Carter, Wisconsin’s Matt Henningsen, Arizona State’s Tyler Johnson, and Minnesota’s Esezi Otomewo