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Film Study: We’re here for the Kayvon Thibodeaux BREAKOUT!

Let’s look at what Thibodeaux did against the Jets

New York Jets v New York Giants Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

The New York Giants season has been a wild disappointment, but their defense has shined over the last few weeks. Second-year edge defender Kayvon Thibodeaux is the highest-drafted player currently on the defense; he was Joe Schoen’s first selection as a general manager with the fifth pick in the 2022 draft.

Last week, New York Giants’ legendary linebacker Carl Banks was kicked off a popular sports-talk radio program. The contentious topic surrounded Kayvon Thibodeaux and if he’s a bust. Carl defended the 22-year-old pass rusher, and an argument ensued.

Well, Thibodeaux responded to these negative radio remarks with gusto. Thibodeuax sacked Jets’ quarterback Zach Wilson three times on Sunday in high-leverage situations.

It was Thibodeaux’s highest grade as a professional, according to Pro Football Focus. He added six stops (a tackle that constitutes an offensive failure) in the game. He now has 24 pressures on the season; he finished last season with 45. However, he is converting his sacks at a high rate.

Thibodeaux is tied for third in the NFL with 8.5 sacks behind Josh Allen (Jaguars) and Danielle Hunter (Vikings). He is tied with T.J. Watt (Steelers) and Myles Garrett (Browns). Thibodeaux recorded 14 pressures over the last three games, with five sacks over the last two.

The cohesive nature of his footwork and use of hands, combined with his natural explosiveness, is even more exciting than the raw numbers listed above. He’s deliberate and quick with his moves; we see how each part of his body is in sync to maximize the potential of a given play. Say Bye, Bye, Bye to the harsh critics!

There’s more meat on the bone for Thibodeaux, and he’s famished. He has an untapped ceiling and a desire to be excellent. Once he can consistently string moves together in a prompt manner, like we’ve been seeing over the last few weeks, then the brightness on this star will radiate opposite of Dexter Lawrence for years to come.

That light will provide hope into the darkest of abyss, like, say, the 2023 New York Giants season. Let’s dive into Thibodeaux’s last couple of weeks.

Double swipe to success

The effect of all three of Thibodeuax’s sacks were significant. Two of his sacks came on what should have been the Jets’ final drive. Thibodeaux’s second sack of Zach Wilson was on a first-and-ten that forced a second-and-20. Fast forward two plays and Thibodeaux ostensibly seals the game with a fourth-and-10 sack of Wilson.

Thibodeaux’s impact was felt as early as the first drive of the game. On third-and-5, Thibodeaux employed a double swipe move, coupled with a rip to beat Mekhi Becton (77) for a strip-sack that gave the Giants the football at the Jets’ 19-yard line.

The Jets chose a five-man protection against the Giants’ four rushers. Thibodueax, aligned wide of Becton, leveraged his impressive burst to quickly get up the arc. Becton’s set provided a vulnerability through his outside shoulder, which was seized upon by Thibodeuax. Becton’s punch was also slow, wide, and easily anticipated by the second-year pass rusher.

In one fluid move, with elite timing, Thibodeaux used both hands to swipe the punch of Becton away; this forced Becton’s momentum downward and gave Thibodeaux a softer angle to orient his hips into the pocket and finish the play with a sack.

What impressed me most about this rep wasn’t just the closing burst, explosiveness, or the elite timing displayed, but the single fluid motion employed by Thibodeaux. At the point of contact with the double swipe, watch how Thibodeaux brings his inside foot and steps it outside of Becton’s frame. This orients Thibodeaux’s hips directly at Wilson.

Thibodeaux then hits his secondary rip move for insurance, and he has an easy path to the quarterback. Great body control, cohesive use of his extremities to maximize the play, and an elite finish from Kayvon Thibodeaux.

This is a first-and-10 with 2:19 left in the fourth quarter. A similar pass-rush to before with man coverage on the backend this time, and Thibodeaux used a familiar move to defeat Becton. The offensive tackle has his hips slightly ajar toward Thibodeaux on his first step. By the time the two meet, Thibodeaux has upfield leverage and enough space to anticipate Becton’s predictable punch. Again, Thibodeaux’s body is in sync:

Right after contact, look how far upfield Thibodeaux brought his inside leg. This allows Thibodeaux to quickly shoot his inside arm upward to present his back to Becton, who has no surface area to latch onto. Thibodeaux does show great body control and strength through contact to bend around Becton’s recovery effort. Wilson had nowhere to go with the football, and he was sacked.

Thibodeaux flirted with the double swipe move against the Commanders in Week 7. Charles Leno Jr. (72) sets at a 45-degree angle and gets aggressive with his punch on the young pass rusher. The veteran tackle did a better job than Becton, and Thibodeaux didn’t have the angle to bring his inside leg far upfield to get his hips oriented into the pocket, but the former Oregon Duck still out-paces Leno Jr. and curls into the pocket to clean up a sack caused by Dexter Lawrence (97).

This is another example that displays Thibodeuax’s punch timing and ability to corner. One of the bigger challenges to playing edge is finding ways to win the half-man relationship at the top of the arc. Thibodeaux has recently combined several traits to slip around the outside shoulders of tackles and into the pocket. Tackles will compensate for this development, which could provide an opportunity for Thibodeaux to employ inside counter moves.

Creativity

Thibodeaux put offensive tackle Max Mitchell (61) in a spin cycle with this double move on fourth-and-10. According to ESPN analytics, this sack gave the Giants a 97.9% chance to win the football game. After two Saquon Barkley runs, the Giants had a 99.9% chance of winning.

Still, I am thoroughly impressed with this unorthodox pass-rush move. I’m not sure how Thibodeaux was able to change direction and transition back outside after he planted his inside foot into the deck, but he found a way to do it, and it looked beautiful.

Effort

Thibodeaux blew up this boundary fourth-quarter run with a quick and impressive inside step to avoid an aggressive block attempt from Becton. Thibodeaux doesn’t make the tackle, but he forces Breece Hall (20) to extend the run too far outside where plenty of rallying Giants’ defenders are waiting for him.

This might actually be quantified as a missed tackle, but this was a positive play for Thibodeaux as a run defender. Thibodeaux’s hustle and ability to close width are always on display, and the tape dispels the pre-draft narratives that Thibodeaux has effort problems.

Thibodeaux’s pass rush is thwarted by Becton and Michael Carter (32), but Thibodeaux doesn’t quit on the third-and-12 play. Leonard Williams (99) pressured Wilson, who evaded and escaped the pocket until he was tracked down by Thibodeaux for just a 6-yard gain that forced a fourth-quarter punt.

Other pass rush plays

We see some speed to power from Thibodueax in the play above. He attempts to win around the edge with a chop around the edge, but Leno Jr. cuts the angle off, allowing Thibodeaux to use a long-arm technique with his inside arm. Thibodeaux generated push and separated from Leno Jr. when Sam Howell (14) tried to evade other Giants’ players.

This is against a tight end, but I appreciate how Thibodeaux forced the tight end to set inside, which opened up an avenue to the outside with a simple chop and a quick aggressive step upfield with his inside foot. Thibodeaux’s initial path is what positioned the tight end disadvantageously to cut off any angle to the outside.

Thibodeaux displays his quickness with an impressive inside step after setting the tackle up wide with his initial step. Thibodeaux brings his outside arm through the inside armpit of the tackle, presenting his numbers to Sam Howell and the running back in protection. The quickness is evident throughout his tape.

Run defense

We saw the impressive inside run defense rep earlier, but there were several impactful plays Thibodeaux had against the run over the last two weeks.

The Giants' entire run defense has shored up since the Miami loss. Linebackers Micah McFadden and Bobby Okereke are playing very well, and A’Shawn Robinson has contributed well over the last two weeks. In both the plays above, Thibodeaux avoids the lead blocker in both counter and split-zone; this was the same situation that resulted in Thibodeaux’s injury during the preseason of his rookie year.

He’s done well to quickly work around the block and close width on the running back, who has nowhere to go because of the continuity of the Giants’ defense up front.

12 Personnel inside zone run where Thibodeaux doesn’t have contain to the outside, due to Xavier McKinney’s (29) presence. Thibodeaux does a good job keeping his hips in the B-Gap while disallowing the tackle from gaining his chest. Great use of length and understanding of the defensive structure. I also love how Rakeem Nunez-Roches (93) and Dexter Lawrence (97) close on Nick Gates (63) to not allow him to climb to Bobby Okereke (58).

To start their offensive possession in overtime, the Jets used wide receiver insert in-between a double-Y set, isolating a tight end against Thibodeaux vs. a zone run. The young edge quickly bench-pressed the tight end and worked outside to be the force defender. Hall had nowhere to go as Thibodeaux set the edge with vigor.

Final thoughts

To say Carl Banks was vindicated by Thibodeaux’s Week 8 performance would be an understatement. The second-year edge is having a good season and is coming off his best game. Thibodeuax’s traits are starting to shine, as his pass-rush ability continues to develop. However, he’s only 22 years old; there’s still a lot that Thibodeaux can achieve and work on with his game.

It’s a shame the Giants found a way to lose this Week 8 performance against the Jets. Between the Thibodeaux show and Dexter Lawrence’s production, one would hope a victory would have been achieved. In what appears like a lost season, at least we’re starting to see the actualization of the massive young potential in the Giants’ defensive front.