After reviewing the game tape of the Raiders’ 40-32 win in Kansas City last week, coach Jon Gruden said it was probably the best performance of Clelin Ferrell’s career.
It would be easy to snicker at that comment and make a joke about how Ferrell hasn’t set that particular bar very high so far in his career, but the truth is the second-year defensive end is playing at a high level this season, even if his sack total doesn’t reflect it. Advanced metrics are beginning to recognize his potential, however; through five games, Pro Football Focus has Ferrell ranked 12th among all edge rushers.
Ferrell may never log very impressive sack numbers simply because of his style of play. He is not a pure speed rusher around the edge, and the Chiefs actually had an easy time of blocking him whenever he tried to attack from outside the tackle. But Ferrell’s power game was a big difference-maker for Las Vegas up front, both against the pass and the run.
Ferrell set a physical tone early. On the second snap of the game, the Chiefs motioned tight end Travis Kelce across the formation to cut-block Ferrell on the backside of a running play. Ferrell could have chosen the path of least resistance by trying to go around or over the block, but that is not his game.
Ferrell dropped his shoulder and leveled Kelce:
That’s the kind of play that gets lost in the shuffle, since it occurred away from the ball, but that was the best hit any Raiders defender landed on Kelce all day, and it sent a message.
Ferrell showed similar strength on a run to his side in the second half. The Chiefs’ right guard pulled and targeted Ferrell, and once again Ferrell welcomed the collision. He took the block head-on, discarded it, and snatched the ball-carrier with one arm:
That is a heck of a run stuff.
Ferrell isn’t as natural when rushing the passer, but he puts in a tremendous effort and can make an impact when he finds himself in the right matchup.
Against the Chiefs, those favorable matchups mostly came when Ferrell lined up inside. On this play, he got single-blocked by the left guard in space and was able to beat him cleanly. Ferrell could have notched a sack, or at least a serious pressure on the quarterback, but the guard reached out and pulled him back:
That probably should have drawn a flag for offensive holding, but the play ended in an incomplete pass, so there wasn’t any damage done.
A really good sign for Ferrell’s development is that he may be figuring out how to make an impact as an edge rusher despite not possessing natural explosiveness. Against the Chiefs, he got three pressures from the outside, and all came due to power/effort.
On this play, Ferrell lined up wide against the left tackle and employed a straight bull rush. You can see him jolt the tackle backward at the point of impact, and Ferrell kept pushing him all the way back into the pocket until he was close enough to reach out and grab Patrick Mahomes:
Ferrell did something similar on this play, as he used his strength to push the left tackle back in his stance. Once Ferrell gets him beyond the QB’s level, it opens up a lane for Ferrell to disengage and slide inside to hurry Mahomes’ throw:
Mahomes still almost completed a touchdown pass throwing flat-footed, but that’s just because he’s really good.
Ferrell got the better of Mahomes through second effort later in the game. A wide receiver chipped him on the way out, and Ferrell got a late start against the left tackle. But he kept working, maintained his lane, and when Mahomes was flushed and forced to step up in the pocket, Ferrell was quick to come off his block and flatten the quarterback:
His stat line through five weeks is not eye-opening, as Ferrell has just eight solo tackles, eight pressures, no sacks and no tackles for loss, but as the game tape against the Chiefs demonstrates, he is making an impact in a variety of ways.
"The statistics don’t always show what a player does," Gruden said. "Our factor grade, I thought he had 13 or 14 factor plays that really helped win this game. He played inside, he played outside, he showed the ability to convert his speed rush to power. He showed good chase and pursuit, great energy and effort."
Does that mean Ferrell is a savior in the making for a defense that is desperate for more pass rush and more big plays? No, of course not. But with the way Ferrell is playing right now, it’s a start.