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IDL Austin Johnson: The Good, the Great and the Ugly

The Giants retained defensive lineman Austin Johnson and even gave him a raise to stay. What is it he does so well that warranted the decision? Nick Falato breaks it down.

The Giants signed Austin Johnson to a one-year contract worth $1.5 million in the 2020 offseason. Johnson, a former Penn State Nittany Lion, had a lot of familiarity with defensive line coach Sean Spencer. Johnson was a solid rotational defensive lineman who played on 231 defensive snaps in Patrick Graham’s defense.

New York was pleased with Johnson, so they decided to re-sign him to a one-year contract worth $3 million, double the money for the same duration. I enjoyed Johnson’s 2020 film and felt he was a solid backup interior defensive lineman who spelled Dalvin Tomlinson and Dexter Lawrence.

He doesn’t have much of an impact as a pass rusher, but he’s very good with his eye discipline while being more than capable of separating from the base and reach blocks in the run game. Johnson processes the game quickly and adjusts his intentions based on what he sees while engaged at the point of attack.

According to Pro Football Focus, he had 11 tackles, 7 of which were STOPS, a stat that determines a negative offensive play. His ability to play nose tackle in the Giants’ tite fronts wasn’t overly consistent, and he struggled at times in that role against Arizona. However, he is still a solid overall run defender whose role is meant to be a backup. Let’s dive into some of his tape in this edition of "the Good, the Great, and the Ugly."

(Austin Johnson is No. 98)

The Good: Eyes While Pass Rushing

Johnson only had one sack in 2020 and only four total pressures. He’s a marginal pass rusher with limited upside who is significantly less effective in this area than BJ Hill.

However, Johnson used his eyes several times to create these pressures. He may not be great at stringing pass rush moves together, but he’s good at anticipating quarterbacks' intentions and directions within the pocket and finding the path of least resistance.

Johnson is the 2-technique. He is patient as he awaits the play-action while doing a good job keeping the guard off his chest. He sees that the play is a fake run, and he then senses Dexter Lawrence’s block coming into his A-Gap from the opposite 1-technique position, which means the center will follow Lawrence, and there may be an open A-Gap to the other side of the engaged block.

Lawrence creates the pick, and Johnson runs free into the pocket. This acts as a stunt, more than likely by design, but Johnson still does a good job in timing the stunt out and disengaging as Lawrence makes contact with the guard’s knee.

Here we see Johnson do a good job stabbing with his outside arm and then seeing the offensive guard turn his head outside towards the slanting EDGE player.

Once the guard commits his hips upfield, Johnson brings his inside arm over the top and separates from the center while smacking the arm of the center off his chest. He then replaces the guard’s positioning and gets into the pocket to force Kyler Murray (No. 1) to step up and away while throwing the football.

Johnson does a really good job reading these blocks off the play-action bootleg, and he notices that no one is climbing, so he double swat/arm over both the center and the guard while getting his eyes on Murray in the pocket as he rolls out. He’s not fooled on this play, and his eyes are quick to locate; too bad Johnson isn’t fast enough to track Murray down in space, but the awareness is still of high quality.

The Great: Working Through Trash vs. the Run

The Ravens are in an offset pistol formation with Johnson as the 1-technique. The awareness and eye discipline that we saw earlier helps him as a run defender. He shoots his eyes to the right to ensure his assignment is fulfilled while getting his hands fit inside to help control the point of attack.

Once he sees the rushing play, he flows towards the C-Gap to help restrict the rushing lane and make the tackle in a phone booth.

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As I stated earlier, he’s not great at taking on double teams, but he does a solid job above. As a nose, he wins the pad-level battle and gets good leverage to attack the center, but the guard does a solid job displacing him initially upon contact.

However, the guard doesn’t drive through his block at first contact, allowing Johnson to reset himself on the line of scrimmage. He used crafty hand works to assist the center up to the second level, which gave him good positioning into the running back’s path. From there, he located and tackled the back while the guard attempted to harass him on the backside.

Johnson finds the perfect position to split the double team block on this pitch while moving laterally. He uses his inside arm to shove the guard forward while getting horizontal to disallow the center from getting into his chest. He then shows a great motor to hustle down the line of scrimmage and locate the running back for a nice tackle.

Another great rep of Johnson trusting his eyes after battling in the trenches. The center blocks down and gets his hands inside of Johnson quickly to attempt a lockout. Johnson absorbs the contact showing good play strength, and then sees the rushing path coming in his direction.

He jostles a bit with his hands to keep separation from the center until he just sinks his hips and squats in the A-Gap to make a tackle for a short gain. He’s not moving laterally on this play, but there’s still a lot going on in a confined space, yet he’s still able to locate with his eyes and then with his body to limit the offense.

Here we see another pure hustle play from Johnson, who displays a lot of competitive toughness, which is one way to earn snaps on this Giants-coached football team under Joe Judge. Some players in the NFL would give up after the play-action bootleg, but Johnson continues to hustle to the football.

Johnson sprints to the far hash from almost the numbers to hit Gerald Everett (81) and force a turnover. He doesn’t work through much trash here -- he has a straight path to the ball carrier after the pass -- but he does do an excellent job hustling which could have easily been his “Great” quality.

The Ugly: Pass Rush Upside

Four pressures and a sack aren’t numbers that will jump off the paper at anyone; he played on 107 pass-rushing reps, but only two games were in the double-digit snap count against the pass.

There’s a reason for this fact -- he’s not a great pass rusher. He’s not overly athletic, bendy, or bursty. He’s not the type of player that will penetrate upfield, nor will he stress blockers with his ability to string moves together. He has four career sacks for a reason and only three hits.

His lone sack as a Giant was an unblocked miscommunication error along the Rams’ offensive line. The guard missed his responsibility and allowed Johnson to get an easy, yet still important, sack.

I appreciate his ability to trust his eyes when engaged with blockers. This puts him in better positions than he would be in as someone who was a bit less aware, but he’s just not the type of defensive lineman that will put a lot of pressure on the quarterback. 


MORE "GOOD, GREAT & UGLY" BREAKDOWNS

WR Kelvin Benjamin | RB Devontae Booker | RB Corey Clement | OLB Lorenzo Carter | CB Isaac Yiadom | TE Kaden Smith | WR Kenny Golladay | TE Levine Toilolo | Edge Ifeadi Odenigbo | DT Danny Shelton | OL Zach Fulton | CB Adoree' Jackson | TE Evan Engram | S Jabrill Peppers | S Xavier McKinney | ILB Reggie Ragland | WR John Ross | TE Kyle Rudolph | OLB Oshane Ximines | LB Carter Coughlin | DL Dexter Lawrence II | WR Darius Slayton | LB Cam Brown | DL Leonard Williams | OL Will Hernandez


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