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LB Carter Coughlin: The Good, the Great and the Ugly

Nick Falato breaks down New York Giants linebacker Carter Coughlin's rookie season tape in the latest edition of the Good, the Great and the Ugly.

The Giants capitalized on their 2020 late-round picks that included Cam Brown (sixth round) and three seventh-round picks: Carter Coughlin, TJ Brunson, and Tae Crowder.

All four of these players are linebackers, with Coughlin and Brown being EDGE tweeners. Crowder had the most significant role, earning a spot next to Blake Martinez in base, and nickel, personnel towards the end of the season.

Brown was a core special teams player that earned snaps at EDGE down the stretch of the season. Coughlin, a different type of player than Brown, also earned snaps at the position. The availability of experience for these two young players wasn’t based solely on merit. The Giants were heavily injured at the EDGE position in 2020, but both players showed solid signs of development that are intriguing.

The Giants have since added Azeez Ojulari, Elerson Smith, Ifeadi Odenigbo, and Ryan Anderson to the position and are getting a healthy Carter and Ximines back. It’s not a guarantee that Coughlin, or Brown for that matter, will make the 2020 team. Brown’s special teams' ability and overall length won’t hurt him, and Coughlin’s versatility could help him earn a spot.

Coughlin played 69 snaps in the box during his final two seasons with the Golden Gophers. He was their primary EDGE rusher but has been utilized as a linebacker. Early reports from OTAs and minicamp have suggested that Coughlin was aligned at linebacker for some of the drills and team periods. If Coughlin can prove to have the instinct and ability to stack & shed, then his chances of making the roster may improve.

Coughlin showed some very impressive skills for a seventh-round rookie in the latter half of the season, but some vulnerabilities currently relegate him to a more bit role. Coughlin had 11 pressures and a sack on 99 pass-rushing reps in 2020 while playing 193 total defensive snaps.

He played the run 54 times and dropped into coverage 40 times, according to Pro Football Focus. Let’s dive into this edition of the Good, the Great, and the Ugly.

(Carter Coughlin is No. 49)

The Good: Shooting Interior Gaps

The good and great of this piece go hand-in-hand because they're both based on Coughlin’s quickness. Modern defenses are attempting to drop more players into coverage and rely on four-man pressure packages that feature more exotic end/tackle or tackle/end stunts while also bringing pressure from different positions.

Players must be quick enough to shoot interior gaps to allow these stunts to develop and stress the offense. Coughlin’s ability to align in multiple spots and operate in space while covering can give him the ability to confuse offenses. He is versatile in that manner, and he’s very quick as a looper when running stunts--just not very effective as the penetrator.

On the right side of the screen, he stutters to set up the nose tackle’s penetration, opening up an alley to rush laterally, and Coughlin obliges. He keeps his rush angles so tight and crisp while using his unique athletic traits to explore and work through the trash. Coughlin had a swift 10-yard split at the combine--his ability to stop and start shows that.

This is another stunt from Coughlin in a passing situation where he aligns in the A-Gap, initially attacks to allow B.J. Hill (95) to be the penetrator while working around the crashing Leonard Williams (99).

Then he sees the open alley, while moving with speed, and delivers a big hit on Russell Wilson (3). This is a solid rep, but I even believe that Coughlin could have sped this up mentally and used more of his unique quickness to close width at a faster rate.

Coughlin is on the left side of the screen. This isn’t a stunt, but Coughlin uses his eyes and a head fake so well to force the tackle to set to a depth that would allow Coughlin inside passage. 

Leonard Williams threatens the B-gap enough to cause the guard to commit, leaving the tackle alone with Coughlin, who shoots the interior gap after selling a more traditional pass rush up the arc. Coughlin dips the inside shoulder, uses both hands to keep himself clean, and explodes through the hole to pressure the quarterback and force the holding penalty.

This is a different type of going inside; Coughlin goes up the arc against Bobby Hart (68), who uses his length to keep Coughlin off him, but doesn’t close off the inside lane. 

Coughlin presses Hart’s inside shoulder to establish leverage in that direction, and the pocket collapses on the quarterback. This took a lot of competitive toughness and to get around a much bigger and longer player, but Hart isn’t a desirable starter.


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 | OB Oshane Ximines


The Great: Backside Pursuit

It’s easy to tell that Coughlin is speedy in the videos above. It doesn’t only assist him as a pass rusher but as a run defender as well. Backside run players are often unblocked in the NFL; Coughlin is the type of hustle player who punishes teams that leave him unblocked because of the backside pursuit element to his game.

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The Cardinals attempt to fool Coughlin into handling the outside release of the tight end, but he reads the mesh point and goes inside unblocked for an easy tackle. At times, it looks like he is shot out of a cannon.

On this split-zone play, the Browns attempt to use Austin Hooper (81) to cap Coughlin as the end man on the line of scrimmage who is initially unblocked. This doesn’t go very well for Cleveland because Coughlin sees the block coming, notices the play, and can commit himself in space to collapse inside and track down Nick Chubb (24).

Coughlin does a good job using his movement skills in space, change of direction, and his hands to avoid the block and find the ball carrier.

Coughlin is the backside player here, and the tackle attempts just to shove him up the arc to remove him from the play. Coughlin is able to use his speed to get around the shove, stop quickly, bend at a tight angle, and turn to collapse the wide-open rushing cutback lane noticed by Chase Edmunds (28).

Coughlin is a nuisance as a backside player--the opposing team has to account for his ability to avoid backside blocks which are typically a bit lazier than front side blocks. He’s too quick to count out.

This isn’t a backside play, but I wanted to highlight the effort and collection of balance on this frontside play where Dan Arnold (87) slips after making contact with Coughlin. 

The first-year pass rusher collects his balance and makes a tackle behind the line of scrimmage. It’s a nice frontside play from Coughlin, who typically struggles to handle strength and can, at times, be a liability as a frontside run defender.

The Ugly: Strength

Coughlin can get driven back by much bigger players and professional NFL tackles when he can’t leverage his speed to avoid their punch. Once Coughlin’s chest is acquired, it’s difficult for him to disengage.

We see him get put on skates to the left of the screen. It’s the reason why he’s not a more significant part of this defense; his inability to hunker down and anchor is an issue against frontside runs. He just lacks the strength to do so at this time, and his 6’4, 245-pound frame with sub-32” arms doesn’t help with initiating contact and finding the necessary strength to stay off much bigger blockers.

Aligned as the 7-technique over the #2 tight end in the double Y offensive formation, Coughlin and Xavier McKinney (29) get sealed from the edge leading to a big offensive run for the Browns in the fourth quarter. In the next two games, Coughlin only saw 22 defensive snaps after this game; 4 of them were against the run. It’s essential for the edge not to be compromised in this manner.

This lack of strength also comes up as a pass rusher; on the left side of the screen, Coughlin’s chest is acquired by the tackle, and the young pass rusher can’t do anything powerful to disengage. His game is predicated on speed and quickness.

A power element has to be developed if Coughlin wants to see the football field a bit more. He could show interesting linebacker skills that Graham may want to employ in some blitz packages, but he will struggle to see the field as a pure EDGE with the 2021 personnel. His special-teams ability may secure him a roster spot, and I hope it does, but I don’t believe it’s a foregone conclusion. 


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