Breaking down Alabama football's pass rush and pass protection problems from Texas A&M game

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

When there's an L on the schedule, the magnifying glasses and microscopes all come out. 

Alabama football could have very well won that game against Texas A&M. It doesn't take long playing the what-if game to change that near-loss into a Crimson Tide victory. 

But even if Alabama had come from behind and won that game, several issues remain that will only grow if not corrected. That's especially the case when rushing the passer and protecting the passer. 

Here's a look at those two problems and some ways the Crimson Tide could go about improving in those areas. 

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Creating pressure

The problem: Alabama seldom pressured Aggies quarterback Zach Calzada, and that led to him having a strong day, especially in the first half. He entered the game last in the SEC in completion percentage but completed 13 of 14 passes with two touchdowns in the first half. By the end of the game, Alabama had zero sacks. 

The film: The Crimson Tide dialed up a variety of blitzes and pressures. The schemes ranged from rushing only three to seven of the 11 defenders. Calzada found ways to overcome the defenders chasing, no matter how many. 

Alabama sent six after Calzada on the play that tied the game at 38, and no defenders could get home. That included Alabama's finest pass rusher, Will Anderson, as well as Phidarian Mathis, Christian Harris, Henry To'o To'o.

Another element was that Alabama ran more run stunts up front, UA coach Nick Saban said, because of how effective Texas A&M was running the ball early. 

Potential fixes: Alabama must win one-on-one matchups. It's as simple and complex as that. That's the best and most effective way to put pressure on the quarterback. It starts there, which can be as specific as improving in bend around the edge or hand placement of the offensive linemen. 

Blitzes, which can be filled with creativity, can work. But a defense is at its best when it doesn't have to send extra guys as the players up front win their matchups. 

Getting teams into more third-down situations will also be important, Saban said Monday. Texas A&M only had to try to convert five third downs in the first half, instead using first and second down more often to drive down the field as it built its lead. 

"You need to create the kind of third-down situations where the best opportunity to get pressure is in those situations," Saban said. 

Also, Anderson said watching more film together as defensive linemen and linebackers is important for them to improve as quarterback chasers. 

"We need to just realize our pass-rush lanes and how we can get to the quarterback more and be more effective so he doesn’t have all day in the pocket," Anderson said. 

And one more thing: Remember the Crimson Tide is down two starting outside linebackers right now in Christopher Allen and Drew Sanders. Freshman Dallas Turner was making his first start Saturday. If he can improve with more experience, that won't allow offenses to focus as much on Anderson and the pass rush will improve overall. 

Preventing pressure

The problem: The offensive line gave up far too much pressure against the Aggies, especially in the first half. Quarterback Bryce Young was sacked four times, three in the first half. If Young wasn't Houdini-like, that number could have been worse. 

The film: Texas A&M used some creativity to come after Young. Two of the four sacks involved a delayed blitz of some kind. Two sacks also involved overloading the left side. 

On one play in the first half, running back Brian Robinson Jr. and left tackle Evan Neal had to try and block three guys. And surprise; it didn't work. Sack. 

On another in the third quarter, the Aggies overloaded the left side again. This time, Neal and Javion Cohen had to block three guys. One had a clean shot at Young, who made him miss. However, that allowed another defender to get to Young. Sack. 

Potential fixes: Blitzers coming free primarily stems from communication issues. Alabama offensive linemen tried to figure out in real time who's responsible for blocking whom, and Texas A&M's confusion made that difficult. The loud environment in which they played also likely didn't help Alabama's discussions among offensive linemen. 

"We didn’t communicate very well on who’s sliding to who and how we’re picking things up," Saban said. 

If Alabama can improve the communication pre-snap and pass off defenders cleanly as they shift, move and run around, that will solve many of the problems they showed protecting Young this past Saturday. 

Contact Alabama football reporter Nick Kelly: nkelly@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly