Editor's Note: Our play anatomy series looks at individual plays from the Arizona Cardinals' 2016 season that help showcase a particular player or a particular skill. In this week's play anatomy, we're looking at outside linebacker Markus Golden's pass-rushing skills.
During the 2016 offseason, the Arizona Cardinals made headlines around the NFL thanks to their acquisition of New England Patriots' pass-rushing specialist Chandler Jones.
After coming off a 13-3 regular season followed by an appearance in the NFC Championship game, Arizona's decision to pursue Jones via a trade helped shore up one of the Cardinals' only weaknesses: The team's ability to rush the passer.
While Jones proved himself as an immensely successful addition during his first season in Arizona, it was the outside linebacker playing on the opposite side of the Cardinals' defensive front who stole the show in 2016.
Second-year linebacker Markus Golden finished in a tie for third among the NFL's sack leaders, racking up 12.5 in a dominant season that helped general manager Steve Keim and head coach Bruce Arians look like geniuses for using the team's 2015 second round pick on the pass-rusher out of Missouri.
In this week's "Play Anatomy," CardinalsSource is taking an extended look at what made Golden so effective in his second professional season.
In week 17, the Cardinals traveled to Los Angeles to take on the Rams in a game that held no bearing on anything other than the team's respective draft positions. Still, Golden showed up with a chip on his shoulder, and wound up finishing the day with 2.5 sacks. Golden got his day started early in the game on this first quarter play.
With Arizona ahead 3-0 and the Rams facing a third down and seven at their own 28-yard line, Golden lined up in a wide-nine technique with his hand in the dirt on the short side of the field. With a tight end, a running back and a tackle on his side of the field, Golden didn't know pre-snap who would be tasked with blocking him, but that likely didn't change his approach before the snap.
Notice that in his stance, Golden displays impressive flexibility, and that flexibility keys his ability to engage his quick-twitch muscles and move rapidly at the snap of the ball.
Once the Rams snap the football, Golden races off the edge, attempting to beat Los Angeles' right tackle with the combination of a speed and quick swim move. When he's preparing to engage the Rams' tackle, he raises his left arm up to bat down the right arm of the tackle, and then plans on rushing his right arm past the right arm of the tackle to complete the swim move.
To make this work, Golden also has to be tight with his footwork, ensuring that Jared Goff, the Rams' quarterback, doesn't have too much room to step up in the pocket and deliver a pass down the field.
Once Goff senses that Golden is going to beat the right tackle around the edge, he does step up in the pocket. Because he had to do so earlier in the play than he would have liked, the Cardinals have another pass-rusher on the scene, ready to take down Goff at a short depth.
At the same time, Golden recognizes what Goff is trying to accomplish by stepping up in the pocket, and he stops on a dime. After racing around the edge of the line of scrimmage, Golden re-routes back toward the line of scrimmage in pursuit of Goff.
After Goff escapes one Cardinals' defender, Golden pounces on him from behind, registering his first sack of the contest. This was one of the more impressive sacks of Golden's season, because of how far he had to travel and how much he had to accomplish to make this potential sack a reality.
Initially, Golden is prepared to sack Goff after executing a nice swim move on the edge, but because Goff steps up in the pocket, Golden has to completely reverse his track, and work back against the offensive tackle who he's already beaten. However, this doesn't phase Golden, and he maintains his speed throughout the play, showcasing a tremendous motor and relentless will to get to the passer. This sack was also the 10th of Golden's season, and he clearly came into this game hoping to drive up his sack total from what had already been a very impressive season.