Athletic ability is certainly an important attribute for an off ball linebacker in the NFL, but it is a thinking position above all else. It is important to be in the right place and not take any false steps.
Demario Davis’ first stint with the Jets was proof of this. There was a lot of excitment in 2012 when the Jets grabbed the linebacker in the third round of the Draft. He was supposed to add speed to a defense in need of just that.
While Davis was fast, the being in the right place part didn’t come so easily. The Jets became particularly vulnerable in the passing game.
Sunday’s Week 1 loss to the Bills shows that things haven’t changed after a year in Cleveland. Davis still isn’t helping the cause in coverage.
Take this third down play. Look where Davis is lined up relative to the first down marker. Again, it is third down. Davis isn’t defending the sticks, though.
Look how easy it is for the man he’s covering to cut. It is all about the cushion Davis has provided.
On another third down play, Davis got lost in his zone. Davis is in the red circle. The red circle is also an estimate of the zone he was responsible for covering. Davis left his zone to dump a short route to a back.
This was a problem, though because a reciever snuck into his vacated zone, and Davis’ departure turned this into an easy throw.
Something else should stick out here. You know the whole, “Do you job,” thing that comes from a certain division rival? This is a great example of why doing your job is important. Look at this route Davis was trying to jump. It was well short of the sticks, and you can see two other players in white in position to make the tackle had the ball been thrown there. These were the zones these two other players were responsible for handling. That receiver was handled even had the ball gone to him. Instead the ball went elsewhere because Davis left his zone.
Linebacker is one of those positions where you can help bail out teammates who blow an assignment.
On this play, the Jets were in a Cover 3 zone look. Buster Skrine at the top of this picture and Morris Claiborne at the bottom were both responsible for one-third of the deep part of the field. Marcus Maye in the middle was responsible for the deep third in the middle.
Four underneath defenders were responsible for zones underneath.
Davis bit hard on a play action fake. You can see how much closer he was to the line of scrimmage than the other second level defenders.
This became an issue because Skrine blew his assignment.
Skrine should have passed off the guy he was covering to Maye (pink). He should have picked up the trailing receiver (yellow). He doesn’t, however, and an opening was created.
Frankly, this play goes on Skrine’s ledger because he was responsible for the bust in coverage.
But a smart defender who reads the play correctly can cover for a breakdown in zone coverage. Davis had no other responsibilities, and could have carried coverage outside of the initial zone when he saw that Skrine did not correctly pass off his man to Maye.
The problem was that Davis biting so hard on play action took eliminated his ability to pick up this receiver in the first place. There is big separation because of the false steps biting on play action.
Again, I’m not saying the blame all goes to Davis here, but he took himself out of position to help.
I think teams are going to see this and keep attacking the Jets in the middle of the field until they show some ability to stop it.