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Film breakdown: Kayvon Thibodeaux’s 11 sacks

How has Thibodeaux been getting to the quarterback?

NFL: New York Jets at New York Giants Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 season is a disappointment for the New York Giants. After winning their first playoff game since Super Bowl XLVI a season ago, the Giants would be lucky to scratch their expected preseason win-total of 7.5. New York entered their Week 13 bye week with just four wins.

It’s easy to forget the positive; while Kayvon Thibodeaux isn’t a panacea to the issues with the Giants, his development this season is noteworthy.

Thibodeaux started his rookie season injured and saw his first action in a Week 3 primetime matchup against the Dallas Cowboys. He recorded 40 pressures and four sacks - two of which were unblocked. The young former Oregon Duck found a way to convert his pressures into sacks during his second season.

Through 12 games, and 409 pass rushing attempts, Thibodeaux has 33 pressures and 11 sacks. His pass rush repertoire is expanding and he does a solid job using power and speed to win individual reps.

Let’s go through all of his 11 sacks to see how he wins. We’ll start with his two half-sacks.

Half sacks

Right side of screen

Edge defenders who convert speed to power are invaluable. Offensive linemen face profound difficulty when aligned across a multifaceted edge defenders who can win with speed and power. Thibodeaux does a good job showing that difficulty in the play above.

Saahdiq Charles (77) faced Thibodeaux’s speed rush to start the play. Thibodeaux’s quick first three steps challenges the set of Charles, and forces the tackle to open his hips on his own second step. Thibodeaux went for the double-swipe to break contact and establish leverage through the outside shoulder with a subsequent rip move.

Charles disallowed the win around the edge; still, in doing so, he positioned himself in a vulnerable manner to allow Thibodeaux to use power to collapse into the pocket. Thibodeaux promptly obliged, maintained a low center of gravity, and drove through Charles to earn a half-sack.

The beautiful thing about edge defenders who convert speed to power is the difficulty in blocking a rusher who can transition between the two, and the discipline it takes from offensive linemen to know when to expect speed or power.

There’s another aspect of winning pass rushing reps that develops with quality coverage from teammates in the secondary — hustle.

Kayvon Thibodeaux’s lack of hustle was a topic of conversation before the 2022 NFL Draft. At the time, I didn’t have access to all of Thibodeaux’s college tape. However, the tape I saw wasn’t congruent with that assertion.

Thibodeaux recorded this half sack against New England on third-and-8 after he was shoved to the ground. Thibodeaux’s double-swipe move at the top of the pass-rushing arc is dangerous this season (we’ll see this later). He employed the move against Connor McDermott (75), and McDermott did enough to give his quarterback time, but the relentless nature of Thibodeaux led to the half-sack.

Highside rusher

One of Thibodeaux’s best traits is his overall explosiveness. Burst can take an edge defender so far, but developing one’s hands is necessary to maximize traits - Thibodeaux’s hands have developed in his second season:

On a Week 7 second-and-1 during a two-minute drill before the second-half, Thibodeaux cleaned up with a sack after attacking high side. Pay attention to Thibodeaux’s path; he starts just inside of the hash and takes an inward angle toward the outside shoulder of Charles Leno Jr. (72).

This path held Leno Jr. from expanding laterally; with a well-timed double-swipe, Thibodeaux deterred contact and used his adept footwork, combined with a dipped inside shoulder/rip, to bend through contact before he crashed into the pocket.

Dexter Lawrence (97) was the first defender into the pocket. He hit Sam Howell (14), but didn’t secure the sack. However, Thibodeaux got the young signal caller on the deck.

This wasn’t Thibodeaux’s most refined double-swipe, yet it was effective.

Jets game

Here are all three sacks in one video. The first sack, and the one that is below, occurred on a third-and-5 to conclude the Jets’ first drive.

Right side of screen

Thibodeaux’s ability to make contact with the double-swipe while simultaneously stepping high and outside of Mekhi Becton’s (77) frame to orient his hips into the pocket is very difficult for tackle’s to defend. This move gives Thibodeaux a softer angle into the pocket, and his natural explosiveness maximizes that angle. This wasn’t the only time Becton saw this move from Thibodeaux.

Right side of screen

On first-and-10 to start - what should have been - the Jets’ final drive, Thibodeaux sacked Zach Wilson (2) to force a second-and-twenty. Again, pay attention to Thibodeaux’s inside foot on the swipe downward:

Thibodeaux is now square to the pocket with the ability to shoot his inside hand upward, plant his outside foot into the ground, and bend through the inevitable contact of the tackle:

This is a compromised position for a tackle, for the offensive player ‘s only recourse is some sort of hold. Thibodeaux won twice against Becton with the well-timed, precise, move, but his sack on fourth-and-10 - which gave the Giants a 97% chance to win, according to ESPN analytics - was different than the double-swipe to rip:

Three-technique Leonard Williams (99) and nose Dexter Lawrence both slant inside; this isolated Max Mitchell (61) against Thibodeaux. The wide angle gets Mitchell to slightly over-set, which was seized upon by Thibodeaux. Thibodeaux takes a wide rush to force the over-set before landing his inside hand on the inner-shoulder of Mitchell.

In an impressive manner, Thibodeaux took a hard step inside before going back outside to completely fool Mitchell. He finished the play with a sack and a turnover on downs. It took an insane amount of body control for Thibodeaux to pull that move off in a high-leverage situation. This is special stuff. Of course, there was reason for Mitchell to be weary of Thibodeaux’s inside counter.

Bend the edge

One critical aspect to winning high-side is the ability to bend through contact. Thibodeaux has bend, but I wouldn’t say he’s the bendiest edge defender, and he doesn’t possess the same ability to bend in his lower-half as Azeez Ojulari, albeit this isn’t quantifiable. Still, Thibodeaux is not stiff, either, and he displayed bend in the Giants’ Week 11 win over Washington:

Jihad Ward’s (55) 4i position held Leno Jr. for a slight second to give Thibodeaux more leverage to win outside. Thibodeaux won the hand fight, stayed low, and cornered well into the pocket to sack Howell. The hand fighting was on better display on this rep that didn’t result in a sack:

Inside move

Left side of screen

Thibodeaux caught the outside arm bicep of Jake Curhan (74) while firmly landing his inside hand on the outer-part of Curhan’s shoulder pad. Thibodeaux assisted Curhan’s momentum outside, while going through the open B-Gap to sack Geno Smith (7). Thibodeaux met Smith on another third-and-8 with a similar inside move:

left side of screen

Curhan attempted to jump set Thibodeaux, which was correctly predicted by the young pass-rusher. It takes a combination of power and speed to successfully employ moves like the one above, but this isn’t a “power-rush” move. However, the one below would classify as such:

Left side of screen

Thibodeaux used a bull-rush to attack Kendall Lam (70) before transitioning through the tackle’s inside shoulder. Lam was knocked back by Thibodeaux’s power, but the tackle was able to re-square and sit back on his hips. However, Thibodeaux’s pop on contact knocked Lam back and out-of-line of the left guard, meaning there was no inside help. This put Lam on an island, and allowed Thibodeaux to force himself through his inside shoulder to sack Tua Tagovailoa (1).

This isn’t an inside move, but it is toward the inside and was Thibodeaux’s first sack of the season. Brock Purdy (13) was pressured by D.J. Davidson (98), and Thibodeaux came underneath three San Francisco blockers to sack Purdy after anticipating the quarterback’s path. An aware play by Thibodeaux after absorbing the cut from Kyle Juszczyk (44).

Final thoughts

There are three discernible developments in Thibodeaux’s play from last season. For one, his hand usage and footwork up and at the top of the pass-rushing arc - which helps him to corner - are united, and are maximized with his second discernible development - timing. Thibodeaux’s sense of speed, when to employ moves, and how to anticipate/react mid-play has improved from his rookie season. He was always solid at timing the snap, and that remains a strong trait of Thibodeaux.

His third development is a more pronounced pass-rush plan. This is enhanced by the first two developments; as Thibodeaux’s hands/feet work in unison, his ability to find/employ more moves should improve, especially with precise timing.

He’s still scratching at the surface of his potential. That’s an exciting reality with Kayvon Thibodeaux. At just 22 years old, Thibodeaux already has double-digit sacks.

This is a solid list for Thibodeaux to join. Plenty of legends and a few Giants on the list above. The future is bright for the former fifth-overall pick.