Recently I had a chance to sit down, watch film and talk to Jared Allen about the art of rushing the quarterback. My column and video are online. Here is the full transcript from that interview:
Q: I’ve heard you mention how difficult it is to sack the quarterback. You played 1,000 snaps last season, about half of them pass plays and nearly set an NFL record with 22 sacks. Do those numbers illustrate that?
JA: I learned early in my career from [former Chiefs line coach] Bob Karmelowicz, his whole thing was, how do you handle your failures? Statistically, if you win one out of every 19 rushes, you end up with around 17.5 sacks for the year. So our whole thing was, how do you handle those failures, how do you use those times when you don’t get to the quarterback to set up the time you do get to the quarterback? Especially in today’s league where there’s a lot more short and intermediate passes. Not everyone is so run happy. There is a lot of dink and dunks so those numbers are skewed even more. It’s tough to get there.
Q: Every player wants to be known for being consistent. You’ve put up big sack numbers throughout your nine years in the league. Is that a source of pride, being able to do it over the long haul?
JA: That’s what separates good players from great players. I’ve been blessed to be healthy through my career. I haven’t had to deal with injuries, nothing major. This league is built on what have you done for me lately. No matter what you did the year before, you’ve got to come out and do it again or otherwise you’re really no value to anybody. At the end of my career, then you can look back and stand on what you did. But each year you’ve got to try and do your best and put it on tape.
Q: How have you evolved or changed since coming into the league?
JA: I’m a lot more intelligent about what I do. Work smarter, not harder. I came into the league at 265 [pounds]. When I got to Kansas City I couldn’t be any lighter than 275. I was in the AFC West. It was a run happy league. That’s what they did. So for us, you had to big and you had to stop the run, stop the run, stop the run. Now I play at about 255 so I’m 20 pounds lighter. It’s more of technique-oriented. And as you get older, the game slows down. And as you get more attention [from defenses], you really have to be able to take advantage of certain pre-snap keys so you can get a jump on your opponent. Otherwise, you’re going to sit in double teams all game.
Q: How do you prepare each week for the left tackle you’re going to face?
JA: There’s a rhythm to everything in a game. I like watching a game and seeing what the rhythm of the offensive line is, the rhythm of the quarterback. Then, as I go through it, you look at launch points of the quarterback so you kind of know, where is he going to escape. The process isn’t only beating the left tackle. You’ve got to get to the quarterback and get him on the ground. Some quarterbacks hit that back foot and they like to step up in the pocket. Other quarterbacks will escape out the back. So a lot of it is just trying to realize once I get around the edge, now is he predominantly high or is he predominantly low? How fast do I have to get to him?
The majority of offensive linemen are rhythmic or they have a style. Everybody has a style. You watch and see how they set, what they get beat with, how you can counter that. Come Sunday, it’s just who wants it more and hopefully you’ve watched enough film and replayed it over and over in your mind to where you already know what the outcome is going to be.
Q: You get doubled and chipped all the time. How do you avoid letting that lead to frustration and how do you deal with it?
JA: You just expect it. You look at formation tendencies and where a guy lines up. If a running back is in a chip position, I’m expecting to get it. You’ve got to use those situations to your advantage. If there’s two people on me, there’s somebody who has a one-on-one. Sometimes the chip will screw the offense up. You can actually use that against them, whether you spin off it or split it. You get guys like [Carolina’s] Jordan Gross who’s a good left tackle so you get some one-on-one opportunities. That’s when you really have to be on your Ps and Qs. When you get one-on-one opportunities, you’ve got to win more than you lose.
Q: You’ve forced 27 fumbles since 2005. Is that something you’re always looking for as you close in on the quarterback?
JA: Yeah, unfortunately, I’ve missed two [sacks] this year by going for the football. I missed two in the Colts game. I came scot-free around the edge and I thought [Andrew Luck] was going to throw the ball and you go for the strip and he pulls it down. It’s kind of the progression for how it works. Once you get to the quarterback, you’re trying to make a big play. A sack is such a momentum killer. A lot of it comes down to sheer want-to. You can have all the technique [but] you’ve got to be willing to outwork your opponent and find a way to get to the ball.
Q: How much is your success a product of technique versus effort and just hustling to get to the quarterback?
JA: Sometimes you’ll beat a guy clean and the ball will be out. Sometimes you have guys where you have two, three guys and you have to work through the trash. You’re coverage was good so you’ve got a chance to get on the ball. Some of the best rushes I’ve had haven’t led to sacks. There’s other times where you beat a guy clean. Everybody is talented in this league. There are certain things I can control. I can control how good of condition I’m in and I can control wanting it more than the other guy. If I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get the quarterback, if I’m willing to do whatever it takes to beat my guy, I’m going to win more than I lose.
Q: You talk about setting up a guy a lot. Explain how you do that?
JA: In the San Francisco game, I had been outside, outside and beat him inside a couple times to set up a fake. On that last drive, I was just up top, up top, up top and he’s kind of washing me by. I went out into a wide nine and as he floated by, I came underneath. A lot of times a sack is a rhythm breaker. That’s why I talk about using your failures instead of your successes. If I’m getting a guy into a rhythm, I might have three, four or five rushes where I’m up the field. I’m obviously trying to win. But if I don’t get there, I know if I give this guy the same look, then counter off of it, you have a greater chance of winning. A lot of times sacks come off the rhythm breakers. That’s why you see guys like Dwight Freeney. They’re so fast around the edge and then all of a sudden they’ll hit a guy with a spin move and come scot-free because that offensive tackle, they’ve set him up in a rhythm and then changed it up on him.
Q: So you mix up rushes to keep from being predictable?
JA: I’m not a blazing fast guy. I’m not an overpowering guy. I’m a leverage-technique guy. That’s how I rush. I’m a firm believer that technique beats technique. If my technique is better than yours, I will win the majority of the time. You’ve just got to know your strengths. I can’t watch film of Dwight Freeney and how he beats guys because we rush completely different. So what might work for him won’t work for me. You take Justin Smith. That guy can bull-rush anybody. For me, it’s about leverage, technique and then just out-working my opponent.
Q: You played in a four-point stance when you first came here, right? Why did you change?
JA: Yeah, when I was in Kansas City I was in a four-point stance. I was talking to Bob Karmelowicz. He would come up on Tuesdays and we would work together because he was such a technician and he got me back in my three-point stance. He was like, you’re missing out on about 12 inches off your first step. He got me back into my three-point and got me comfortable [and helped me get] that extra foot that I was gaining off my initial step.
Q: In a game of inches, I assume that 12 inches is a big deal?
JA: Absolutely. I think that’s how you continually grow. What can I do technique-wise to get better? I’m not going to get any faster. I’m not going to get any stronger. So how can I slow this game down for me? It’s by watching film and by knowing my body and knowing my strengths and being able to use everything I do in a fluid motion so I don’t have any wasted steps.
Q: You get off the ball so fast it’s almost like you know the snap count sometimes. How do you learn that or is it just God-given?
JA: There’s some trade secrets that I can’t give away. The first person I ever watched film of when I got in the NFL was Derrick Thomas. There’s a rhythm to a game and there’s certain things you can watch and obviously there’s a play clock. You can kind of get an idea when a team wants to snap the ball. Offenses do stuff to tip their hand a little bit. You’ve just got to know what you’re looking for on film and there’s just that feel. You can tell if a guy is lazy in his stance, they’re not about to snap the ball versus when a guy is glaring right at you.
Q: Do you study other pass rushers to see if you can pick up any new ideas?
JA: Guys like Julius Peppers are a huge help. They play the same opponent and Julius and I have very similar techniques and rushes. I watch him. I think Trent Cole is a phenomenal pass rusher in Philly. He does some great stuff as far as the way he sets guys up. I’m a huge fan of pass rushers and other defensive ends. If a guy is doing something that I have in my arsenal to beat somebody, absolutely I’ll study him.
Q: We’ve seen you get three or four sacks in a game. Do you get in a rhythm against guys and feed off that?
JA: You get a sense of when you’ve got a guy [on the ropes]. That’s the greatest part about it. When you’ve got a guy, now he’s guessing where you’re going to go. Those are games you don’t want to end. I remember in 2009 that Green Bay game, there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do. Sometimes you get in that mode and everything you’re doing is working properly.
That’s why I always say you have to be so good on first and second down because if you’re in third and short or allow a team to run the ball on you, then your rhythm is broken because you don’t know what they’re going to do. Third-and-four or less, they’ve got the whole playbook open for you. When you get into the third-and-seven and have a lead, that allows you to rush, rush, rush. Then you can counter and do all sorts of stuff and they have to hold the ball [longer] because they have to go down the field. That’s when you get to heat them up.
Q: Is it especially rewarding when you chase a quarterback down on the opposite side of the field after they purposely rolled away from your side?
JA: You’ve got to have some luck too. The cards have to line up. It’s not an easy task. But there’s nothing better than when you chase a guy down and he decides to hold onto the ball and give you the sack. Heck, I’ll run him out of bounds and be the closest one there because that’s a sack as well. [laughing].
Q: Does that come back to the effort part?
JA: There are a lot of good people who can rush the quarterback. A lot of guys can rush the quarterback. It’s the willingness to explode. You hardly ever see an absolutely just clean beat on a guy. It’s the hand fighting inside that is probably where I excel the most. If you can trap a guy’s arm for half a second just to clear a hip, it might look trashy, but you know in your head that, ‘Oh, I just broke this guy down.’ Then you’ve got to close on him.

Q: Do you work on specific training on the offseason to improve those skills?
JA: I  do a lot of MMA and kick boxing, jiu-jitsu. A lot of that stuff helps, especially with your hips. And hand fighting is a huge, huge deal in pass rushing because so much of it is happening so close. If a guy gets in your chest, you’ve got to have a counter to it somehow.
Q: Any quarterback you haven’t sacked that you’d like to get?
JA: I want to get them all. I’ve got the majority of the big ones. Probably the best is Peyton Manning. It took me five years to get him. He gets rid of the ball so fast. I haven’t gotten Drew [Brees] since he was playing in San  Diego. It’s always fun to sack the top guys because that’s why they’re the top guys -- they get the ball out so fast. It’s fun. It’s a competition. I love playing against [Aaron] Rodgers. He’s a phenomenal quarterback. Sometimes those guys give you a little extra time because they might hold it a half a second longer just because they know they can fit the ball in tight places. Plus, it looks a little better on your resume at the end of the year, right? [laughing]
Q: Is there a particular body type or size of tackles that gives you particular trouble?
JA: It’s non-technical guys that are tough. Guys that just get in your way or kind of float back, those are some of the toughest guys to play against. Not only are they going to get a lot of help, but you’re setting them up with something they really don’t know to respond. Take a guy like [San Francisco’s] Joe Staley, he’s a good left tackle. He was in the Pro Bowl last year. He’s going to have technique. And there’s a technique to defeat that technique. But if a guy just floats back and he just kind of tries to bear hug you and maul you, it’s a little tougher to break him down.

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