The premier Monday night match-up is definitely Dwight Freeney versus Orlando Pace. For the first time in their careers, other than at a Pro-Bowl, these two warriors will line up against one another.
Freeney has seen his fair share of double-teams, chipping tight ends and running backs and even some triple-teams in the past two weeks. That, however, may change on Monday. St. Louis has faith in Pace's ability to handle any defensive end one-on-one. When Pace's game is on, there is not a more dominant left tackle in the NFL.
Dwight Freeney has become the most explosive defensive end in the NFL. His first step off the snap is the best in football. He just explodes as the ball moves from the center to the quarterback, using that quickness to beat most blockers to the edge. This in turn puts pressure on the entire left side of the opposing team's offensive line.
Freeney couples this initial quickness with an excellent motor. He can run all day long. Blockers cannot rest when he is on the field. Even if a blocker has position on him, he will not stop trying to find a way to beat him. He knows that the moment they let up even a little, he has them beat. All of his pass-rushing techniques are incredible. He can beat offensive tackles with his chop, rip, spin, swim moves or a combination of all of them.
A lot of folks make the mistake of thinking Freeney is predominately a speed rusher. That's not true. He also generates a solid bull rush because he plays with great leverage. He easily has the ability and strength to knock an opposing offensive tackle into the quarterback.
Early in his career, Freeney had the reputation as a pass-rush specialist, so opponents would run the ball right at him. He's still not a quick-shed defensive end and can be forced outside away from the play. But he has improved dramatically versus the run game. He has added strength and plays with such great leverage, it's difficult for even the most massive offensive tackle to totally engulf him.
Six-time pro bowler Orlando Pace is a massive, powerful offensive tackle who moves well and has nimble feet for such a big guy. He is a tenacious blocker who plays with leverage and will consistently get movement at the point of attack. He has great initial quickness and punch. In fact, Pace's explosive first step is good enough to prevent most edge rushers from beating him on the outside. Will that hold true against Dwight Freeney??
Pace knows how to use his hands to control the defender and his long arms to ride them past the pocket. He gets set quickly, bends at the knees well, and excels at anchoring against the bull rush in pass protection. He really knows how to make himself an immovable force.
The knock on Pace is that he will play to the level of his competition and get complacent working against weaker defensive linemen. Given that he will be lining up against Freeney, he shouldn't have any problem getting up for Monday's game. Occasionally, he will take poor angles to downfield blocks and won't finish blocks well. His strength is at the line not at the 2nd level.
The Rams don't like to keep extra blockers back often, but when they do on Monday Night, rookie RT Alex Barron is likely the guy to get help from a tight end. That should leave Freeney and Pace one-on-one the bulk of the evening.
Can any offensive tackle handle Dwight Freeney without help? Outside of Willie Roaf and Orlando Pace not many other teams would even entertain the idea.
This will be a great match-up between two of the best players at their position.
Key Matchup: Dwight Freeney vs Orlando Pace
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