Prior to last season, the New York Lizards had a knack for leaving defenders on an island; they only helped in case of emergency. First-year defensive coordinator Brian Dougherty sought to shake that reputation. In 2017, his unit made a mini-leap. With two-time Schmeisser Award winner Matt Landis in town, this defense’s second leap could be even greater.
Notre Dame defenders are trained to help. They will double post-ups and roll backs to make ball-carriers uncomfortable. Their slides are damn near synchronized. On the weak side, they can split two men and still stay in passing lanes. When approaching a stepdown shooter, they arrive on hands. If you want to play team defense, then you want Notre Dame defenders – and Matt Landis is the best of them.
The Lizards allowed a league-high (by a mile) 40.9% shooting off the catch in 2016. They cut that number down to 31.1% (only Charlotte was better) under Dougherty in 2017, but they still struggled to frustrate passers. Dodging opponents posted an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.52 (fourth highest in MLL); pick-and-roll opponents posted an even higher mark (0.67, third highest in MLL). The revamped defense was sliding better, but not recovering like it needed to.
Landis’s proactivity as a sliding defender will help change that. If you turn your back to him while he’s adjacent, then you better move the ball before he arrives with a double.
Even when Landis is two men away from the ball, he’s equally capable of wreaking havoc. It’s tough to move the ball from the strong side to the weak side when he’s arriving on hands like this.
On-ball, Landis can give elite attackmen headaches. His checks are so frequent – and so accurate – that he is constantly jarring the ball free or forcing errant passes. Watch him land four checks while fighting through a pick. The last two are violent; he lifts Joey Sankey’s bottom hand to the moon then finishes the play with an absolute hammer.
Checks like that are why Landis led the Cannons with 19 caused turnovers. Individual stats only tell us so much about a defender, though. Some of Landis’s best plays don’t show up on the stat sheet. His impact is evident when you compare his team’s stats with and without him. In his rookie season, the Florida Launch defense was 2.6 points per 45 possessions better with Landis in the lineup – from league-worst to fourth.
His impact on the Cannons in his sophomore season was as big. Boston was 3.5 points per 45 possessions better defensively when Landis dressed. There’s a trickle-down impact on matchups. When Landis is mirroring the other team’s top guy like this, then it sets the tone for everyone else.
The Lizards needed (and perhaps still need) depth defensively. Long-stick midfielder Kyle Hartzell, close defender Joe Fletcher and short-sticks Kevin Unterstein and Steve DeNapoli were all named to Team USA’s 23-man roster; they’ll be in Israel for much of July. But when this New York Lizards defense is at full strength, it has all the pieces to be a top-three six-on-six defense in the league.