I can’t wait for the day that Darrelle Revis’ knee is at full strength so he can reprise Revis Island against any receiver. His assignment on Calvin Johnson reveals that he’s not there yet. However, his performance on Sunday is a story of a great football player with new physical limitations and his coaching staff making adjustments to win the war against one of these most dangerous pitch-and-catch combos in the NFL.
The opening narrative is a first half where we see our hero and his team forced to concede that (at this moment in the NFL) no man is an island. No press man for Revis against Johnson here. If anything, this slant off play action is a good illustration of why we all drool over elite offensive athletes. Get a cannon-armed quarterback who can throw the ball with laser precision to a gigantic receiver with track star speed and there are some routes just impossible for even the best cornerbacks in football to defend if the offense draws them up right.
Revis in off coverage is in position to read Matt Stafford and then accordingly. Based on the position of the safety on this play, it appears Tampa is anticipating a run or a short route and Detroit’s pistol look adds to that speculation. At the snap below, Revis eye-balls Stafford as Johnson drives off the line.
Ever the great technician, Johnson’s release has the look of a player running a deep streak rather than a slant. His shoulders are over his knees and he’s pumping his arms like a sprinter in the drive phase at the start of the race. Imagine being a rookie and watching Johnson coming at you like this. Even with an understanding of offensive tendencies, it would be difficult not to see Johnson driving off the line and wet your pants.
Revis holds his water like the old pro he is. He’s more concerned with a potential exchange with Stafford and Reggie Bush. Once Stafford emerges from the exchange point with the ball, Revis knows it’s time to act.
However, the play action fake affords Johnson enough time that Revis is already too late. The Buccaneers defender would have to anticipate this throw and already be driving to the break point to cut off Johnson. Even that early of a break presents a quandary for Revis, because Johnson and Stafford could read the corner’s early jump and turn the route up the sideline. While doubtful that they make this adjustment, the precision of this short route can force a lesser defender to take a wild chance and create this kind of big-play opportunity.
Revis drives on the route with an initial angle that looks promising. But as physical as the Buccaneers corner has been throughout his career, he’s at a disadvantage here.
The pass is on-time and hits Johnson in stride. The receiver does a find job of keeping his back Revis to shield the ball and force the corner to rebound off Megatron like a fly hitting a windshield.
Johnson doesn’t even break stride as Revis is eating turf.
Revis can only look on from the ground as Johnson gains 18 yards, turning a 1st and 20 into a 2nd and 2.
Take heart Revis, the safety takes a five-yard ride on the back of the Lions’ receiver.
In fact, he’s lucky there’s help over top or Johnson recovers his balance and turns this 18-yard gain into a something much longer. It’s the type of play that Lions used to set up Revis later in the quarter for a longer target. There’s no play action here, but Johnson takes a jab step inside to simulate a slant with the hope Revis biting just enough that once Johnson breaks up the sideline Revis will have to turn and run, giving Johnson room to break back to the ball on a short route.
Here’s the initial dip inside from Johnson.
While I can’t see Revis’ initial reaction, it’s doubtful a corner playing off man coverage is giving seven yards of space to his receiver 12 yards down field. This is Revis recovering his bearings and breaking back to the receiver. Revis’ explosiveness and change of direction is good enough to start, but not yet good enough to hang with the likes of Johnson. Fortunately, the Buccaneers make an adjustment that turns the tide of this tightly contested game in the fourth quarter.
The difference? The Buccaneers take Revis off Johnson and land-lock the new corner with a safety over top. The Lions decide to test this coverage with a skinny post to Johnson.
Johnson takes an inside release, but the corner also slides inside and gives chase in a trail position knowing that he has the safety over top.
When the corner jumps inside, he gives Johnson a little resistance to stall the break inside and help the safety gain position over top. It has a feel of Cover 2, but the corner doesn’t just pass Johnson off to the safety.
The Bucs’ corner continues down field and then breaks inside to undercut Stafford’s throw.
The corner tips the pass over the outstretched Johnson and forces a 3rd and 11. It foreshadows a game-sealing play with the same coverage with less than a minute left. Once again, this corner is tight at the line with a safety over top and he influences Johnson’s release to the inside.
The corner bumps Johnson inside and rides the receiver up the seam for the first 10-15 yards before Johnson earns enough separation – which he know doesn’t have to be much – for Stafford to target his receiver.
Let’s focus on Stafford for a moment here. If he hangs onto the football another half-second, Adrian Clayborn, who has been difficult to contain for much of his game, delivers a hit.
The inimitable Lions quarterback delivers the ball while retreating from the pressure in his face and manages to throw a 38-yard strike with excellent placement to Johnson working back to the football.
Normally, Johnson secures this ball and if he doesn’t score, the Lions have three shots to do so before tying the game and sending it into overtime. However, we are talking about the Detroit Lions. This team’s development is similar to that of a teenager – lots of promise and physical skill at or near its prime, but moments of awkwardness at the most inopportune times.
Even Johnson isn’t immune as the hit from the safety pops the ball loose and into the corner’s arms like a gift from above.
Johnson may have won the battle with Revis, but the Buccaneers won the war thanks to an individual and team understanding its limitations in the face of a superior opponent.
The post-script to his story is Stafford. I have already profiled the Lions quarterback in this blog, but I need to underscore just how unfortunate this talented passer was in this game. It wasn’t just Calvin Johnson’s failure to secure this pass that killed the Lions’ chances to win this game.
Here’s a play-action throw that Stafford puts on the money despite throwing from an unbalanced position. His intended receiver is Kris Durham who is stacked behind his teammate to the right.
Stafford gives a short sell of the play fake to Joique Bell and begins his drop. Note Adrian Clayborn on the right edge (No.94-long hair).
Clayborn finishes his drop, scans the field, and nothing is open. Clayborn swats at his defender and works inside.
Clayborn gets inside position to split two defenders on a path straight to Stafford, who is still holding onto the football three seconds after the snap.
Stafford feels the pressure, slides right, and delivers the ball 33 yards to the right sideline on a comeback leaning like that ancient building in Rome.
The placement isn’t perfect, but it’s only where Durham can make the catch – low and away. This is where I want to see quarterbacks err with their accuracy when they do.
Durham, with a chance to help Detroit extend its lead with at least getting his team into field goal range, cannot maintain possession when he hits the ground. While it’s a difficult reception to make when working back to the passer and dropping to a knee to get under the ball, it’s the type of play NFL receivers make.
But if you think that’s an unfortunate play, this completion on 3rd and 11 with 5:43 in the fourth quarter rivals the game-losing play by Calvin Johnson. Tampa sends five at Stafford with Durham as the single receiver at the bottom of the screen.
Detroit gives Stafford a clean pocket as the quarterback locates the single coverage and delivers the deep out to Durham.
Give Stafford the kind of time that Mike Glennon earned in this game and these plays should be unstoppable.
This 20-yard deep out is cake for Stafford. It arrives over the receivers inside shoulder and well ahead of the defensive back. The velocity on the pass also ensures that Durham has time and space to get both feet in bounds. This throw and the last play I showed are the type of plays Stafford made at Georgia so often and helped him earn such a high draft day grade.
Durham, who gains control of the ball early enough inside the boundary, decides to turn the play up field for more yardage. It’s a great call, but note how he carries the ball in the frame below.
This type of ball security is a bad habit that I’ve seen from many young receivers and it’s a habit that Durham should have broken years ago. New York Giants receiver Jerrell Jernigan was a favorite prospect of many, but one of the things that really bothered me about Jernigan – as fine of a play maker he was at Troy – was that he carried the ball with both hands in front of his stomach like this. I describe it as a player running with the ball like he’s executing the option. Jernigan had far too many fumbles at Troy because of this style of ball security.
Durham heads up field, but the trailing cornerback takes a desperate swipe at the receiver, finds the ball, and in what seems like the luck of the Lions in recent years, the ball does not bounce out of bounds, but careens towards the flat.
The Buccaneers field this fumble and preserve its lead, setting up one last drive where Stafford hits Johnson on a beautiful pass only to watch his superstar receiver get victimized on a smash and grab by two rogue seafarers from Tampa.
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