If you read Part I, you’ll know I listed where and why the issues in the backfield, started at the line of scrimmage.
Which leads us to the guys whose job it is/was to cover and mop up. Chris Harris, Aqib Talib, Bradley Roby. Plus, Justin Simmons, Darian Stewart and Will Parks.
Talib wasn’t ever burned; however, QB’s had a rating of 101.4 against him and receivers caught 57.8% of their passes. He allowed 5 TDs with a snap count of 75.8%. He allowed 37 catches out of 64 targets for 485 yards. He was in the slot 4.1% of the time. Remember this number: 13.1. That’s the average number of yards allowed per catch.
IS that good tackling? Ferocious? I believe his heart wasn’t in it last season along with coaching fraction and why he’s gone. Who can take his place and play opposite are big questions that need answering.
Harris was burned 2.6% of the time, allowed 44.7% catches (34) and two TD’s. 439 yards. He played in the slot 28.1% of the time, was targeted 76 times. He allowed 12.9 yards per reception. Here’s the good news: QB ratings against him was a paltry 55.8. The bad news is he wants to play outside, again. This may be up to Su’a Cravens and Branden Langley.
Roby played in the slot 4.3%, allowed 42 receptions inside and outside on a total snap rate of 62.4%. Those equaled 528 yards, 5 TDs given up. 12.6 yards on average. QB’s had a 82 rating. He was burned 4.6% of the time and was thrown at 87 times. One assumes he’ll be Talib’s replacement.
We were ranked 15th against the pass. Those three CB’s gave up 12 TD’s and 1,452 passing yards with an average of 12.86 per reception on 227 attempts. Clearly Roby was targeted more which makes sense since Talib and Harris had a good reputation. What is concerning is average catches being first down yardage.
Which brings us to the safeties.
I don’t have as detailed stats for safeties Justin Simmons and Darian Stewart, but Simmons played 99.4% snaps, third in the league (wow), was the 8th best rated safety and only allowed three TD’s with two interceptions and a sack.
Stewart played 90.8% of the snaps, had three interceptions, allowed three TD’s. Some could say they were the glue in the No Fly Zone glitter stick. When you lack up front pressure, but stop the run up the middle, stuff is going to move outside and to the middle of the field. With the linebackers and corners struggling way too often, this meant the safeties had a lot of mop up to do.
Big chunk plays come from QB’s getting safeties out of position OR time for them to find the open man. Good quarterbacks spend much of a game trying to trick them, not the CB’s. Safeties do the mop up work on plays LB’s and CB’s miss. Get the Safety chasing Y when the play is to Z and you’ve got a good chance at big yards.
Meanwhile, the safeties spend the game watching the QB’s eyes and then try to anticipate him or fake him out. Maybe pretend they’re sucking up, so the QB tries a deep route, but they’re actually wanting to force the deep ball.
This tactic is a winner because QB’s have big egos and most are always looking for the big air yards, show off their arm. It’s especially true vs young QB’s. Older vets often know this, so they’ll toss the short dump which isn’t the big play, but it’ll get the down.
This cat and mouse is what goes into game planning. If you’re playing someone like Tom Brady*, your DC and HC are dependent upon the quality of their safeties (and refs) to never let their guard down. How to stop guys like Tommy* is to, say it with me: bring the heat.
Peyton Manning was the master at deception, which helped our safeties in practice. They learned going up against the best in the league. Unfortunately, Simmons was drafted in 2016, and faced the worst. No offense to Siemian, but players from other teams said he had big “tells”.
This makes what Simmons and Stew did, that much more impressive. Not so much for Will Parks. When he was used as the nickel, he gave up 4 TD’s, played 65.4% of the snaps. He was the weak link in the backfield because QB’s isolated and picked on him. He was a reactionary player. And why were we in nickel/Zone so often? Because we were shorthanded at OLB and we didn’t bring the heat.
While our front five have their own questions, so do the DB’s. Does Cravens bump Parks to S4? Or is he CB3? Can Jamal Carter and maybe Trey Marshall knock him completely out or does he take a giant leap forward? Where does Brock fit in? Will be play outside with CHJ inside? Will Isaac Yiadom or Marcos Rio will be CB4? Do we keep 10 DB’s or go back to 8? If our front five can be dominant this season, will it matter if we can go back to a man Cover 2?
Why did everyone struggle when it came to coverage? Read Part. Add in conservative game plans with little blitzing, too much zone, reliance on Parks too often and we had a perfect storm of being 28th for passing TD’s allowed.
To sum up parts I & II:
1).Bradley Chubb and Shaq Barrett, plus Walker and Wolfe need to bring the heat. Additionally, rookies Jeff Holland and Josey Jewell (who may end up starting this season) need to learn quickly to give depth.
2) The coaches need to emphasize hard and smart hits to knock the ball loose. Make teams scared and plodding.
3) Going back to more 3-4 Cover 2 man (less nickel and zone), which is possible if we’ve got two edges and a DE who can (say it with me) bring the heat.
4) We need Cravens, CHJ, Roby and Branden Langley, plus rookie Isaac Yiadom to play to their strengths and that means new DB coach emphasizing more man over zone.
5) repeat #1 over and over. The dominoes falling up front hurts the entire team.
If Bill Kollar can have a healthy front four/five, plus Chubb and Walker can be what we hope, Marcus Robertson will have an easier job and less questions that need answering. The entire defense will be scary good.