The preseason shuffle had a lot of rotation on the right side. At the tackle position in particular there was a long debate between veteran free-agent addition Ty Nsekhe and rookie Cody Ford. All signs pointed toward Ford winning the competition, but when the regular season started we were treated to a rare offensive lineman rotation. Let’s check in on the ongoing battle from Sunday’s game against the New York Giants.
The big knock on Cody Ford has been his inability to routinely handle speed rushers as this play illustrates. This is arguably the worst of the bunch against the Giants as it led to a sack—but it was not the only play that resembled this. There’s some foot technique that could help him get to his spot faster, so the hope is Ford will improve in this area. As is, he’s often forced to pivot to initiate contact, which makes it harder to slow the opponent down. Ford makes him take a longer path, but without the deceleration to go with it we see the result.
Ford is quick to his spot here and when he drives he uses his left shoulder even though the right would be easier to make contact with. The reason is seen in the clip. The left shoulder creates a natural seal for the play as it drives the block down and to the right of the GIF, exactly where Frank Gore isn’t. Using the right shoulder would drive it up and right and allow Markus Golden to recover.
Here we see Cody Ford burst and grab and hold his ground. When movement starts to be inevitable he’s sure to steer the block the right way again like in Play 2.
Here’s a similar play to our first one for Ford. Ty Nsekhe is now dealing with a Markus Golden edge rush. Nsekhe isn’t really any faster, but uses his extra length and power to obtain a different result than Ford. That punch to the shoulder is nasty and slows Golden enough to allow Nsekhe to catch up.
Here we have another parallel as Nsekhe is tasked with creating a lane for his running back. Note the difference in style again, and Nsekhe is more inclined to keep his hands moving and punch his way through the situation. Like Ford, though, he’s careful to position his body between his opponent and the ball to help the lane be as wide as possible.
It simply can’t be overstated. Ty Nsekhe and Cody Ford are very different in how they attack their opponent. The swat is something I highlighted when Nsekhe was picked up in free agency and he just keeps it rolling. Lorenzo Carter is reeling after Nsekhe makes very brief contact with that left hand. Carter’s natural momentum helps for sure, but this isn’t a common sight for this type of battle.
There’s no graceful way to avoid picking a “winner” so cutting to the chase it’s Ty Nsekhe. Cody Ford consistently shows a good grasp of play design and displays some high-level mental aspects of the game. With straight-ahead blocking he’s clearly NFL starter material. Stunts and more complex assignments do seem to cause him fits, though. Technique limitations create problems against speed rushers and he’s not able to make up for it with athleticism or power. In short, he looks like a rookie.
Ty Nsekhe is cleaner on the complex assignments as you’d expect with a veteran player. Most of what Ford can do, Nsekhe is doing at or slightly above Ford’s level. Add in Nsekhe’s greater reach and an ability to swat edge rushers away like flies, and it’s easy to see why Nsekhe is the current favorite.
Ford should be expected to narrow the gap. Now we wait to see if he can close it completely. Or, if it all goes according to plan, he surpasses Nsekhe.