I think I can explain a lot about Robby Anderson’s 69 yard touchdown yesterday in one brief clip in slow motion.
Anderson is on the bottom of the visual. Look at how he subtly sells a move to the outside that gets Miami cornerback Alterraun Verner briefly leaning to the sideline. This leaves room for Anderson to get inside Verner.
Verner is in man coverage, and that’s a problem for Miami. Once this happens to you in man coverage on a vertical pattern, it’s over. You’re finished. All you can do is pray because the only way this isn’t a big play is if the offense messes something up.
Watching the positioning of the outside corners at the snap can help you identify the coverage as you watch the games.
In zone coverage, corners generally try to avoid letting the receiver outside of them. They try to funnel the receiver to the middle of the field because there will be defenders in zones in that direction who can provide help. They are usually looking at the quarterback with their back to the sideline.
While there are exceptions, generally the opposite is true in man coverage. Cornerbacks playing man on outside receivers try to position themselves between the receiver and the quarterback after the snap forcing the receiver outside. They are also trying to nudge the receiver as close to the sideline as possible. They are facing away from the quarterback and in the direction of the sideline after the snap.
On the side of the field away from Anderson, we get a good example of why.
This is good man coverage. With the corner between the quarterback and the receiver, the quarterback has to float a pass over the cornerback’s head to complete it. But it also has to be within the area of the field where the receiver can run to it. It also has to land in bounds so the closer the corner can push the receiver to the sideline, the smaller the area where the ball can be thrown and possibly end in a completion.
Incidentally, the difference between playing man and zone is one reason interception totals are a terrible way to judge cornerback quality. In zone, you are looking in at the quarterback and thus able to read the play as it develops. In man, your back is away from the action most of the time. Thus if you play zone a lot, your chances for interceptions generally are higher.
Back to Anderson, getting inside a corner covering man to man means there is a huge throwing lane directly in front of the quarterback.
With Anderson’s speed, he’s going to be able to get up the field faster than Verner. The only realistic way this isn’t a big completion is if McCown underthrows it, and forces Anderson to slow down waiting for the ball, which would provide Verner time to recover.
All McCown has to do is put the ball in front of Anderson (obviously not missing badly enough to overthrow him), and it’s a big completion.
This is not a difficult throw for an NFL quarterback. Anderson made things easy.
It all goes back to what we saw at the top. Because of how he got Verner to bite, he got a great release. Those are the types of subtleties that separate receivers who make an impact in the NFL from those who don’t.
As many Jets receivers have shown us through the years, speed doesn’t mean anything if you don’t actually know how to play wide receiver. But if you know how to play wide receiver, speed kills.
I don’t want to go overboard over one play, but that play has the look of a guy with speed who is learning how to play wide receiver.