Season in Review: Erin Henderson's Best and Worst performances in 2011

With my initial review done and under wraps, we can take a look at a position that carries with it a lot more uncertainty - outside linebacker. You all wanted me to do some film review of Erin Henderson's fantastic 2011 campaign, and that sounds like a wonderful idea. It causes a bit of a dilemma, though - there are a couple of games to pick from that could all be called "his best." After taking a look at them, I ultimately narrowed it down to two games - the game he had against Chicago in Week 6, or the game he had against Kansas City in Week 4. Despite sacks against Chicago in Week 17 and against San Diego in Week 1, and despite excellent pass coverage against Carolina in Week 8, these two games stood out because he didn't really make many mistakes.

In the end, I chose Kansas City because he played 30 more snaps in that game. Here are a couple of his plays from that game (excuse my terrible editing/software):

You'll notice that on many of these snaps, he and EJ will switch duties between MLB and OLB.

One thing I love about Erin is his ability to read the development of the play quickly. He will occasionally be tricked by savvy fakes, but not too often, and certainly not much more often than the average linebacker. Usually, his read of the play is correct, and he will flow to the ball a half second earlier than many others will on the same play.

He clearly possesses some lateral quickness, but he instead relies on his agility in turning the corner and will generally end up where he wants to be with his shoulders facing his destination. This would sometimes be a cause for concern with linebackers, because east-west movement is generally made while all of the action is in front of you - which would mean that turning would reduce your ability to both read the development of the play and prevent effective cuts from deft runners. Erin, however, avoids most of these problems, and he generally knows which type of movement is better for him and the play. You will often find him (when he's not making the tackle) a yard or two ahead of the play, cutting off running lanes in case other players did not make the tackle. That's why I included some of the plays I included, despite the fact that he did not end up with the stop. He always knows what angle to take in order to prevent the big play.

Erin Henderson is at least passable at is his coverage - in fact, the first play of that highlight reel will show you that his coverage of Jake O'Connell (and Griffin's coverage of Bowe) contributes to the sack that Robison makes.

One of my favorite plays in this game, however, is the one he makes at around the 1:30 mark, the 6th play of the video. He was able to stop the run, despite being fully blocked on the weak side of the play. It's this agility and ability to shed blocks that has made me the advocate for Erin Henderson you all know me as. To see another example of this, you can take a look at the last play.

Also, while I did say he was passable in coverage, but take a look at two plays in the Carolina game:

Sometimes, he ain't bad.


His worst performance was clearly his performance against the Washington Redskins. Despite his low snap count (the Vikings played more nickel snaps than base 4-3 snaps in this game), he clearly could have contributed more. The plays he had were few and far between, and his relatively high tackle count (4 in 26 snaps) is offset by the fact that many of his tackles came too late, or made up for a mistake he had made in coverage. He played awful coverage, and read Grossman poorly. Despite the fact that he missed no tackles, he didn't flow to the ball like he usually does and wrapped up poorly on more than one occasion. Take a look at the video:

While there are definitely a few plays where he plays excellent run coverage, there are clear mistakes he makes as a cover linebacker. He played more snaps in the second half than the first, largely because the Vikings seemed to understand that our nickel package was not getting it done.

His pass rushing was ineffective, and even his run stopping was not up to his usual standards - as the game progresses, he is more and more likely to get blown up in blocks. His 26 snaps are not the only reason he is silent over the course of this game. Further, the Redskins' zone read running seems to have exposed Henderson's relative inability to make acute turns - while he can turn right or left quickly, any movement that requires him to double back to any degree will significantly slow him down. This is most obvious when he bites for the fake, gets handled out of his lane on a block, or overextends on a play.


Looking through these games suggested a few things to me - the first is that I might like to see Erin play MLB in obvious pass situations more than anyone else on the roster right now. While he was OK in pass coverage as an OLB barring this Redskins game, he was pretty excellent when he rotated inside. He sets the edge well on either side as an OLB, and I would want him generally to stay there - in many of these games, I see him preventing runs to the outside nearly as well as Greenway does. With a strong DT, the Vikings would once again be very difficult to run against.

I would still like him to be more aggressive when pursuing the tackle, however. It's not often that he'll allow himself to go upfield and make the play, and when he does, it's usually the right decision. He generally tackles very well, and I mentioned above that I like his intuition for figuring out how the play develops. He's not a very good pass rusher (and the Vikings consequently don't rush him very often), but he's a good run stuffer. Tight ends and fullbacks don't have a great day blocking for their runners against him, and he stays focused.

Couple of thoughts on defensive play selection - Marcus Sherels seemed to have performed better than Asher Allen in the Washington game, our base 4-3 was better at stopping the run --and-- the pass than our nickel, and our coverage is simply better when our linebackers pretend to be safeties rather than vice versa.

Finally, we've been worried about our answer at MLB - is it Jasper Brinkley? This tape shows us that Erin Henderson may not be an awful MLB if we have reasonable options at OLB. I would stress caution in making this point, however, as he played many games in situational roles and may not be the complete steward on defense we would need our MLB to be.

Also, yes - in between developing the highlight reels, I got real video editing software. I'm not going back to fix the awkward first video, so deal with it.

Who's next? Chris Cook and Joe Webb would both be interesting to take a look at.

This FanPost was created by a registered user of The Daily Norseman, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the staff of the site. However, since this is a community, that view is no less important.

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