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Kayvon Thibodeaux film study: How did he play in NFL debut?

No. 5 overall pick did not fill up the stat sheet, but he was solid

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The New York Giants received their first glimpse of 2022 fifth-overall selection Kayvon Thibodeaux in a regular season game on Monday night. The former Oregon Duck missed the first two weeks of the season with an MCL sprain that he suffered against the Cincinnati Bengals in preseason.

Thibodeaux played 37 of the Giants’ 64 defensive snaps against the Dallas Cowboys. He rushed the passer 19 times, played the run 13 times, and dropped into coverage five times. Here are all of his pass-rushing snaps:

Some chastised Thibodeaux on social media for not “applying pressure.” It’s difficult to apply pressure when the opposing quarterback acts like Wyatt Earp at the O.K. Corral; say what you want about Cooper Rush, but he has quite the quick trigger.

Rush’s comfortability in Kellen Moore’s offense, combined with his penchant to take what the defense presents, allowed Dallas to nickel and dime their way down the football field. According to NextGen Stats, Rush currently ranks second in the NFL in Time To Throw behind Tom Brady and just ahead of Aaron Rodgers.

The rookie pass-rusher had little opportunity to win pass-rushing reps because of Dallas’ efficient, quick game.

The struggles of Thibodeaux are exaggerated; however, he still left plays on the field that he more than likely wishes he could have back. Let’s go through some good and sub-optimal plays from the rookie pass-rusher.

(Kayvon Thibodeaux is No. 5)

Pass rusher

In a huge fourth-and-4 situation, Thibodeaux has his best rep of the night and earns a hurry. Against rookie Tyler Smith (73), Thibodeaux uses a swift club-swim combo where he quickly gains access to the back of Smith’s inside shoulder with his inside arm to force Smith wide, forcing the B-Gap agape. The guard to that side had to respect Tae Crowder (48), who ends up blitzing, and the initial alignment successfully schemes three-vs-three to the left - Thibodeaux easily wins his matchup and narrowly missed making a huge play.

Next, the Giants blitz Darnay Holmes (30) as a free rusher, leaving Dane Belton (24) to cover the No. 2 receiver from depth. Rush diagnoses the blitz quickly and throws to the hot option CeeDee Lamb (88). Wink Martindale ran a similar blitz three times against Carolina, and earlier in the game where Thibodeaux had an impact play to force a punt on a third-and-10.

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Running this blitz for the second time - from a 6-yard shorter distance - after it was quickly diagnosed on this third-and-10 was risky, but the end result of the play was a defensive success on the first try (the play directly above). New York creates two free rushers against Rush, forcing five linemen to block four rushers. Thibodeaux, coming unblocked, makes first contact on the pass; it appears as if Holmes may have contacted the ball as well.

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Thibodeaux explodes up the pass-rushing arc against Smith and realizes the angle to win high side is difficult, so he transitions to a bull-rush. It’s a third-down situation where Thibodeaux pushes Smith back into the pocket to affect Rush’s path. To Smith’s credit, he anchors down well, absorbing all the force he could handle. Thibodeaux gets his hand in the air, and the pass goes incomplete.

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This is a third-and-4 pass-rush - the rush right before the fourth-and-4. Thibodeaux shows good power against Terrance Steele (78). He goes for the bull-rush from a wide alignment and explodes low to high to get underneath Steele’s pads and press the outside shoulder in an attempt to separate. The power is evident from Thibodeaux, and he starts to press into the pocket, but he couldn’t ultimately separate in time.

It’s important to note that all four plays above are in high-leverage situations.

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Smith gets the best of Thibodeaux on this 26 yard first-and-10 pass to Lamb. The fifth pick in the draft attempts to land a long-arm technique to set up a subsequent pass-rushing move; Smith anticipates the attempt and violently chops the inside arm of Thibodeaux downward. This knocks Thibodeaux’s momentum downward, and Smith successfully restricts Thibodeaux’s operating space. Thibodeaux. goes to spin inside, but Smith is in great position to handle anything Thibodeaux had because the tackle won so early on in the play.

Getting chipped

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On more conventional drop backs that were typically designed shots downfield, Kellen Moore asked his tight ends to help with Thibodeaux on the edge.

Run defense

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Thibodeaux's success as a run defender was evident at Oregon, albeit he could get risky in an attempt to make a play. The Cowboys attempt to run towards the double-Y set to the field. Thibodeaux presses the tight end’s outside shoulder to set a firm edge and force Ezekiel Elliott (21) back inside. In base block situations, Thibodeaux does well as a run defender; however, there are other ways an offense can scheme blocks to eliminate the end man on the line of scrimmage.

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Moore attacked the Giants’ run defense laterally by using reduced split wide receivers and tight ends as down blockers to create a seal. The play above is the second play of the game, a 14-yard rush by Tony Pollard. Wide receiver Noah Brown (85) has a great angle to block down and create an immediate seal on Thibodeaux; this allows the play-side tackle to kick into space as Lamb locates Holmes.

The tackle now has an easy run on the secondary contain defender, Adoree’ Jackson (22), and it’s on safety Julian Love (20) to find a clear alley to locate Pollard. This is a perfect example of excellent scheme to attack the Giants in a two-high defense; the inexperience and lack of overall ability at the linebacker position make runs like this one dangerous. Moore used variations of this play design throughout the game. Oshane Ximines and Jihad Ward performed better in this situation, albeit they knew what to expect when Moore had this formation on the field. Thibodeaux did see this play design one more time on the long third-and-12 conversion by Elliott, which ended up being a 27-yard run.

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The Giants are crowding the line of scrimmage in anticipation for a pass or screen, but Dallas opts to half-back pitch to the field from the pistol, and the same blocking concepts work to perfection for the Cowboys. Jake Ferguson (87) blocks down on Thibodeaux. To his credit, the young EDGE realizes the play just after the snap; the situation had him expecting a pass. Thibodeaux quickly attempted to spin outside off the block, but Ferguson did a great job blocking and disallowing him to separate. Thibodeaux diagnosed the play, but couldn’t shed the block.

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Near the goal line, the Cowboys attempt to pin-pull and kick Thibodeaux out with the Smith pulling around the double-Y set, who were blocking down on Nick Williams (93). Thibodeaux executes his block-down, step-down rule, but quickly notices Smith pulling. He doesn’t want to get pinned down with Williams, so he steps outside and keeps the rushing lane narrow while shading to the inside and keeping that arm free (seemed held a bit). Justin Ellis (71) does a great job penetrating when he sees the play side guard pull, and this removes two blockers - the play side and backside guard. Thibodeaux ends up recording a tackle after Crowder bounces off Elliott.

Pass coverage

According to Pro Football Focus, Thibodeaux dropped into coverage five times. Here are three of those plays.

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Thibodeaux plays run first off the play-action and then flips his hips to sink underneath Jalen Tolbert’s (18) curl route. Thibodeaux looked smooth flipping and moving around for a 255-pound edge defender.

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As a nine-technique outside of the tight end, Thibodeaux aggressively disrupts the release of Ferguson before sinking underneath his route and occupying the curl-flat area. Good pop on contact from Thibodeaux to force Rush to find another receiver as the Giants run a simulated pressure with Crowder on the A-Gap plug.

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With a stack to the boundary side outside of him, Thibodeaux drops into coverage off the line of scrimmage and goes to wall off the inside breaking route from the stack. Neither receiver breaks inside, so Thibodeaux stays with Elliott on the quick hitch. It’s great to see the Giants trust Thibodeaux in coverage during his first game, and with a variety of different coverage concepts.

Final thoughts

Did Thibodeaux light up the stat sheet with sacks and pressures? No, however, he played well in his first game. Flashes of quick efficient hand usage and burst were on his film, as was the understanding to execute multiple different responsibilities. Dallas’ successful offensive approach hindered his ability to accumulate stats, but he still had an impact. He could do a better job on those down blocks from the outside when he is out-leveraged. Still, all thing considered, I felt like he had a solid first game as a New York Giant.