The November 12th matchup between the 5-4 Pittsburgh Panthers and the 9-0 Clemson Tigers was not supposed to be a 43-42 barn burner, but it turned out to be just that. There was a large disparity in talent so much so the Tigers were upwards of a 19 point favorite to win the game.
That’s because if you look up and down Clemson’s roster, you will see a plethora of possible future first round talents. Which is remarkable considering the talent they lost, but also lost was a ton of experience on the defensive side of the ball via the 2016 NFL draft. That included six defensive starters.
|ALL PLAYERS||ROUND||PK(OVR)||DRAFTED BY||POS||HT||WT||GRADE||POS RANK||OVR RANK|
|Shaq Lawson||1||19(19)||Buffalo Bills||DE||6’2⅝”||269||90||3||17|
|Kevin Dodd||2||2(33)||Tennessee Titans||DE||6’5″||277||87||4||33|
|Mackensie Alexander||2||23(54)||Minnesota Vikings||CB||5’10⅜”||190||81||7||48|
|T.J. Green||2||26(57)||Indianapolis Colts||S||6’2½”||209||70||8||99|
|B.J. Goodson||4||11(109)||NY Giants||ILB||6’0⅝”||242||69||4||106|
|Charone Peake||7||20(241)||NY Jets||WR||6’2⅜”||209||68||13||117|
|Jayron Kearse||7||23(244)||Minnesota Vikings||S||6’4″||216||61||16||141|
|D.J. Reader||5||27(166)||Houston Texans||DT||6’2⅝”||327||61||17||143|
|Zac Brooks||7||26(247)||Seattle Seahawks||RB||5’11½”||200||30||38|
|D J Reader||DT||0′”||340||0|
|T J Green||S||0′”||209||0|
Even with all of that experience and talent lost, they were a top ten defense in 2016 because they were coached well and their scheme allowed them to play fast. This is why Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s scheme and game plan was such a thing of beauty.
Defensive coordinator Brett Venables had his unit prepared for certain plays and looks, but there was no way that their scout team could execute the ‘sleight of hand’ that the Pittsburgh offense brought that day.
Rather than try to match up mono y mono, something that the Pittsburgh offense couldn’t do on their best day, Canada used his scheme as the equalizer. He utilized a lot of shifts, motions, and exotic looks to force the Tigers’ defenders to think rather than react. The layers of ‘eye candy’ tested Clemson’s discipline from the time the Panthers’ offense ran onto the field until the final whistle.
On the first drive, Canada sends out 22 personnel (2 RBs, 2 TEs) and aligns them in a goal line type set, but then shifts to 5 wide. The unorthodox set, shift and personnel was the ‘eye candy’ needed to attack corner Cordrea Tankersley.
Canada and his staff knew Tankersley’s strengths and technique. He’s a very aggressive press and bail corner, and the coaches put him in situations to take chances and create turnovers. So, when Cordrea saw the personnel — TE Jaymar Parrish and star running back James Conner into the boundary — he immediately keyed on Conner. Post-snap, the Tigers bring a six man pressure, so Tankersley knows that Peterman has to get rid of it quickly and that he LOVES throwing passes into the boundary. Peterman one-steps and points his shoulder to throw to Conner, so Tankersely jumps the out route, leaving Parrish wide open. Peterman shows off his poise and touch leading Parrish out front, which swings the field position for the Panthers.
On the very same drive, the Panthers utilize the same personnel grouping. This time, though, they attack inside linebacker Kendall Joseph. Joseph is a fast flow linebacker who only had 12 games under his belt at this point. At times, he leaves his keys, and that’s exactly why Canada attacked him. Pitt again aligns in a five wide set with 22 personnel in the game, motions a couple times, and uses RB Conner as the ‘eye candy’ with jet sweep action. Joseph loses his eye discipline and widens to the jet sweep action, even though that is not his responsibility.
The ‘eye candy’, paired with the power read shovel pass, caused Joseph to improperly react and ultimately took him out of position. This allowed the “less superior athlete” (FB Aston) the opportunity to break a tackle and get into the end zone. This play would be replicated on several occasions throughout the game, and the Tigers could not stop it.
At the 9:44 mark of the second quarter, the Panthers’ offense got another crack at the drive, after Clemson committed a pass interference penalty on 3rd and 1o. Canada calls a deep shot. Pre snap, the strength of the offense is into the boundary, but they motion the tight end and full back and settle in with the strength to the field.
Post snap, they run play action to Conner to the boundary, and Peterman half rolls to his left.
Peterman’s roll out action and eye manipulation of sophomore safety Van Smith (17 games played at this point) allow tight end Scott Orndoff to sneak out while matched up with Ben Boulware. Coverage is not Boulware’s forte. Rather, he’s an instinctive, downhill player. The play design got the Panthers’ most consistent receiver, Orndoff, one-on-one with Boulware.
Peterman stops his half roll, swings his hips around, and throws it deep and where only Orndoff can catch it. This was another multi-layered play with a dash of deception built into it, and topped of with very good mechanics by the senior QB.
Pittsburgh continuously attacked up the middle, as it is the quickest way to get upfield, stay ahead of the chains, and downright demoralize a defense. They consistently attacked the linebackers in the pass and run game. The power blocking concepts helped the less talented Panthers offensive line secure the Clemson front at the point of attack. The motion and play design forced mental mistakes by the defensive unit as a whole the whole day. For example, take the following play.
Pittsburgh again uses motion to confuse the Tigers’ defenders. The series of motions appears to be the ‘trick’ that caused a blown assignment by LB Joseph.
The play is made to look very similar to the shovel pass that was run earlier in the game. It shows the same read keys for Joseph, and he and safety Tanner Muse both key the FB Aston.
Peterman plays the part of the magician. He fakes the shovel, uses his eyes to hold Muse, remains calm, and throws an accurate pass off platform as LB Boulware closes in. It was a pretty design and excellent execution by Peterman.
As you may have noticed, Peterman played a huge part in Pittsburgh’s ability to use the ‘sleight of hand’ to beat an uber-talented Tigers defense. Of all the QBs that entered the 2017 draft, Peterman had some of the tightest mechanics, understood all of the nuances of playing the position and they were on full display during this game.
On the following play, the Panthers again motion two times and add the jet action into a simple inside zone run play. With so many layers to the play prior to the snap, the Tigers’ defenders were already questioning themselves.
This includes defensive end Christian Wilkins, the Nagurski finalist and Bednarik semifinalist. He is arguably one of Clemson’s best players, and surely the most versatile. Wilkins had several false keys thrown at him on this play. Post snap, the H-release by Aston, along with the jet action, cause Wilkins to second guess himself. Wilkins who is 6’4″, 310 pounds is is unblocked and that is an unusual position for a guy of his size to be in. Initially, he takes a good angle to Conner, but then changes direction as Peterman carries out the bootleg.
This leaves a massive cutback lane, and Conner hits it. This was another fine example of the offense utilizing everything in their arsenal to cause elite defenders to hesitate instead of play fast.
Pat Narduzzi’s Pittsburgh Panthers definitely threw a wrench in Clemson’s perfect season. However, the credit should go to the Panthers’ offense and offensive coordinator Matt Canada. Canada used an array of deception to cause the Tigers’ defenders to play at a much slower pace. He challenged their ability to mentally process plays at their typical game speed by using pre snap motions, shifts, and creative play designs. This game was an exercise in how a well coached and executed scheme can be the equalizer on gameday.
Players who stuck out on film:
Nathan Peterman-Displayed very good eye discipline, the ability to manipulate defenders with his eyes in order to get the ball to his primary wide receiver. Absolutely loved his decision making in the game. Pre-snap he was often asked to decipher the defensive coverages or alignments based on the myriad of motions, keep the play called or kill it. On the read shovel passes made the correct reads and decisions on whether to give, keep or shovel. Flashed his underrated athletic ability to extend plays or to get outside of the pocket and throw on the run. Displayed the ability to make accurate throws while under duress from inside the pocket and with defenders at his feet. Consistently kept his eyes downfield even when he had to slide in the pocket and or climb the pocket. His mechanics are top notch. Exhibits very good ball handling skills on hand offs and play action fakes, carries out ‘QB keepers’, and overall made every play look the same making it difficult on defenders. Lastly, he was always poised and in control. Late in the game he led the offense down the field with great decision making and two very accurate passes to Orndoff to put his kicker in position to win the game.
His throwing on the run was much worse in this game than other games viewed this season. His accuracy suffered, he failed to complete a few passes due to an improper amount of velocity on the throw.
James Conner-Conner was the catalyst for the Panthers offense and that was with the Tigers knowing he would be. Showed good balance and lateral agility especially immediately prior to contact. Conner exhibited very good patience, pressing the line of scrimmage on zone runs. His vision was top notch in this game, worked through front side reads and cut it back if needed. Consistently used his off-hand to stiff arm or to sift through garbage. In the passing game, he did a solid job of cutting defenders when he needed to and knowing when to check release into a route. He also did a great job of carrying out all play action fakes and displayed soft hands in the passing game.
Dexter Lawrence-I thought Dexter was almost un-blockable in the run game. The Pitt offensive line could not block him one on one. Versus the run he did a great job of keying the ball, maintaining gap integrity then bench pressing the offensive players en route to the running back. Overall was hit or miss as a pass rusher. Exhibited good burst off the ball early in drives along with solid lateral agility on stunts and twists. Displayed a nice arm over move and bull rush but at times looked gassed after a series of 4-5plays.
Dexter Lawrence 6’5″ 340 pound FRESHMAN didn’t disappoint in ’16 or in this game. pic.twitter.com/gcrRApY3i1
— Cover 1 (@Cover1Bills) June 21, 2017
As everyone knows, the NFL is a passing league. That’s why there aren’t many fullbacks left in today’s game. According to Football Outsiders (FO), only six fullbacks played over 25% of their teams’ offensive snaps in 2016. Former lead back for Buffalo, Jerome Felton, was one of those six, having participated in 30.5% of the team’s offensive snaps. He truly made a difference for Buffalo’s #1 rushing attack and really seized his opportunity after being cut early in the season.
— Cover 1 (@Cover1Bills) December 7, 2016
The problem with Felton was that he is cut from the same cloth as fullbacks of yore: downhill thumpers who use power and contact to clear holes for backs. But the role of fullbacks in today’s game has advanced. Enter Patrick DiMarco.
Buffalo signed the talented fullback early on in free agency, and it was a sign that Buffalo was not going to change their offensive philosophy. Rather, they were just going to tweak it. As much as Felton brought in the run game, he was not a player that could be relied upon to block moving defenders in the open field or make a difference in the passing game like DiMarco.
According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), he was the fourth highest graded fullback overall, first in run blocking, and the third highest graded receiver out of the backfield (FBs with over 100 receiving snaps). DiMarco is one of the best fullbacks in the game, and it’s because he offers more athleticism and versatility than what we’re used to.
Bills offensive coordinator Rick Dennison is used to having fullbacks who bring that style of play. In Dennison’s zone blocking scheme, the fullback isn’t asked to just get downhill and put a helmet on a helmet. DiMarco, who played in the same exact system in Atlanta, is asked to move a lot pre-snap to outflank defenses and use angles to seal off defenders.
In zone blocking, simply put, the lineman are working combo blocks to the second level in the direction of the run. This moves gaps horizontally, in turn testing defenders’ run gap integrity.
This is a far cry from a power run game where the tailback has a specific landmark to aim for (e.g. the 4 or 6 hole). DiMarco is asked to lead, read the flow of the linebackers, and use angles to block defenders, all while keeping options open for the running back. This is something that he is very adept at doing.
As you will see in the following clips, DiMarco utilized his athleticism to get out into the open and cut defenders down, which opened up creases for Devonta Freeman. The one cut ability of Freeman and Tevin Coleman, paired with DiMarco’s ability to create lanes for backs at the second level, led to the league’s 5th best rushing attack.
Did you notice anything in the prior two clips? They were runs to the weak side. Why is that important? It’s the cornerstone to the play action passing game that has made this system famous. Matt Ryan ran play action 27.6% (#1) of his passing snaps in 2016, and a lot of those passes were off of run actions like these. The zone run game helped Ryan increase his yards per attempt by +2.8 yards on play action vs. normal drop back passes. The defense is going to have one hell of a time defending these zone runs with Shady and Tyrod Taylor at the helm . . . but that’s an analysis for another day.
Let’s get back on track. As I mentioned earlier, Dennison is used to having a fullback with similar skills to DiMarco. Here’s a clip from Rico’s tenure in Baltimore when he had FB Kyle Juszczyk. Juszczyk uses angles to take Kuechly where he wants to go, giving RB Justin Forsett the ability to cut it back. How important is the role of DiMarco and Juszczyk? Juszczyk hit the jackpot by signing a 21 million dollar deal in San Francisco with new Head Coach Kyle Shanahan . . .
I don’t want to sell DiMarco short. Yes, he uses his speed, angles, and ability to target, but can he lead with power at the point of attack? Absolutely. He can dominate safeties and linebackers, which is often a difficult task to carry out, due to those types of players’ athletic prowess.
Having a guy like DiMarco on the field also helps dictate matchups. Yes, I said it; a fullback helps dictate matchups. This occurs in the run and the pass game. In the run game, DiMarco’s movement often helps the offense outflank a defense or gives blockers angles to execute.
For example, on the following play, DiMarco aligns in the backfield. In this 21 personnel set, the defense will have eight to nine people in or around the line of scrimmage, but more importantly, they will have a sound defensive structure.
As he motions out wide, the defenders bump out, which lightens the box to around seven/eight, but more importantly, the defense loses a linebacker in the tackle box. This is because by motioning wide, the offense is creating another run gap that the defense must account for.
This creates a HUGE bubble for the offense, and Shanahan attacks with inside zone.
This was all set up from a little movement by DiMarco. When used correctly, it is like poetry in motion. Watch it unfold.
Atlanta used him EVERYWHERE. There were times where he was split wide in empty sets, in the slot in 3×1 sets, and even as the lone back in the backfield with check release responsibilities.
A staple of this offense is by aligning the fullback out wide then motioning him to the backfield. The Falcons do just that to help Ryan decipher that it is zone coverage, so he puts them in the correct play. Post snap, he sells the run, which holds the second level defenders. He finds the single high safety, alerting him that it is zone coverage, and he is able complete the dig to Jones. That motion by DiMarco seems minor, but it makes plays like this much easier on a QB. Deciphering coverages is more than half the battle with Tyrod Taylor.
Fullbacks like Juszczyk and DiMarco are legitimate receiving threats because they are able to release into routes from the backfield. DiMarco was in a passing route 34% of his snaps in 2016, compared to Felton’s 15.5%. The ability to catch and run by a fullback allows coaches to devise ways to not only get them the ball . . .
But it can also open up passing windows for others. On the following play, the Steelers are in a cover three defense, and Juszczyk runs the wheel up the sideline. This forces Polamalu to carry him deep. This leaves a nice window for WR Steve Smith to run a pivot route. So coordinators can devise ways to get 2-3 guys into a route, all while being in 21 personnel (which will keep defenses in base personnel).
Flashback to 2016. Ryan carries out the play fake that forces the cover 2 middle defender to come screaming towards the line of scrimmage. DiMarco releases into the flat, and that widens the hook/curl defender just enough to open a gaping window for the receiver to hook up his route. This is another example of the Falcons running a three man route from 21 personnel.
DiMarco’s presence will allow the offense to maintain it’s run first philosophy, but ultimately, he will augment the passing game. Dennison will move DiMarco around and use a lot of pre snap motion to outflank defensive run fits, but also to dictate coverages.
Dennison’s wide zone runs to Shady, in addition to play action and getting Taylor on the perimeter versus zone coverage, will be tough to stop. Taylor will have not only his physical skills to rely on, but also a scheme that puts him and others in position to be more efficient. This isn’t just a boom or bust offense, but rather an offense that can stretch zone coverage horizontally, not just vertically.
So, for as much flak as the Bills took for signing fullbacks Patrick DiMarco and Mike Tolbert, their skills will be crucial to what Dennison can do in his first year coordinating an offense.
Don’t forget to tune into Cover 1 | Live Sunday May 21, 2017
One of Micah Hyde’s Many Roles
Offenses in today’s NFL are in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs) a majority of the game, so defenses have had to adjust. This means that defenses now have to play more nickel. But due to offensive alignments when in 11 personnel, this often causes defenses to be at a disadvantage versus the run. The amount of defenders in the box will now typically be even with the offense, and that means the offense can get a hat on a hat, which usually equates to considerable gains. That is not even taking into account the many ways that offenses can get a +1 on the defense when running plays like zone reads. So defensive coordinators have to scheme ways to combat those offensive advantages.
One way that coaches do that is with run blitzes. These are in every playbook and are often called in early down situations. Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier are well versed in this concept and strategy. That’s why they went out and got versatile safety Micah Hyde. Hyde was one of the better pass blitzers in 2016. According to Pro Football Focus, he blitzed the 2nd most in all of the league from the slot corner position, blitzing on 7.4% of his pass snaps. One can only imagine how many times he was sent as a blitzer during a run down.
There is no doubt that he will be aligned in the slot in nickel situations and asked to be the force defender, often asked to blitz on run and pass downs. It’s something that he is good at, as he displays very good key and diagnose skills. He certainly shows the ability to read run/pass quickly, take great angles on the ball, and make the tackle.
So, let’s take a look at how McDermott utilized this strategy in Carolina last season.
Other articles on Sean McDermott’s defense:
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The Buffalo Bills have signed defensive lineman Ryan Davis to a two year contract. Davis has been in the league for five seasons and has spent most of his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars. That was up until they cut him during final cuts prior to the 2016 season.
Davis signed with the Dallas Cowboys eleven days later and appeared in 155 total snaps during the 2016 season. He didn’t register a sack with Dallas, but he contributed 2 QB hits and 5 QB hurries.
According to Pro Football Focus, Davis has only appeared in 24.9% of his teams’ snaps, but has put together some decent pass rushing statistics. He has compiled 11 sacks, 16 QB hits, and 42 QB hurries, which equates to a QB pressure just about every 8 snaps in his career.
Davis has a knack for making a play on the ball, causes strip sacks and recovers fumbles. Three FF and 4 FR
— Cover 1 (@Cover1Bills) March 13, 2017
He is a bigger defensive player that fits new head coach Sean McDermott‘s and defensive coordinator Leslie Frasier’s typical defensive end mold now weighing 275 pounds.
But when you turn on the film, it becomes clear that his skills will be best utilized on pass rushing downs. The Bills will be able to line him up on the inside at 3 tech or 4i on obvious pass rushing downs. He has the quickness to win versus centers and guards. On this play, he beats the guard inside for the sack.
***The following plays will be in the video below***
He shows speed off the snap, an arm over move, and the athleticism to change direction for the sack.
Having a rotational player with his skill set will allow the Bills to have fresh legs when the defensive tackles and defensive ends need a blow or in sub packages, something McDermott loves to implement.
He displayed some very good pass rushing moves, including the swipe, double handed swipe, swim, arm over, rip, and bull rush. The consistency to win with those moves needs to improve, but he has shown the ability to counter offensive linemen. Having an initial move, then a counter for the offensive lineman’s technique is something not many role players possess.
Davis causes a strip sack versus the Colts on this play by chopping down on the LT’s left arm and swatting it outward to give him the edge.
He then rips through, en route to QB Hasselbeck.
Doug Whaley has always done a phenomenal job of picking up talent in free agency. That talent has paid off on the field, and I expect that Davis will be another player along those lines.
Ryan Davis’ career:
He has a skill set that should pay off in a defensive system that covets players with versatility along the line. With how the staff loves to move guys around, you can be sure Davis will see his fair share of the field.
It only took about a half an hour into free agency for the Buffalo Bills to make their first big splash by signing defensive back Micah Hyde. Hyde was one of the most versatile defenders in all of free agency, and the Bills hit a home run in terms of his scheme fit and contract.
The money is modest annually, basically paying Hyde the same amount they were paying Aaron Williams. As we all know, Williams’ long term health was in question, and the organization made the right move by releasing him. The annual amount falls in line with the pay of most #3 corners (slot CB), which is where I think he will play most of his snaps.
In my opinion, Hyde offers more versatility and obviously more stability long term than Williams, at this point. Last season was Hyde’s 5th with the Packers, who drafted him in the 5th round. As much as I love the signing, I will acknowledge that it is surprising that the Packers organization didn’t re-sign him. Typically, GM Ted Thompson likes to re-sign the talent that he has hand picked. But, in the end, they have a bunch of young guys on the roster that they will move forward with.
In 2016, Hyde started most of the games from the slot corner position in Dom Capers’ defense, where he had a very productive season. He concluded the season with 50 solo tackles, including 2 sacks, 2 QB hurries, and 6 QB pressures. That’s incredible production for a guy that was labeled a ‘tweener’ coming out of college from the University of Iowa.
Hyde is 6’0″, 197 pounds and has good arm length at 31.5 inches. With Buffalo having needs at safety and cornerback, where do they plan on playing him? You’re guess is as good as mine, but he has some very good traits that will translate.
Doug Whaley has always valued speed since becoming GM of the Bills, but Hyde is not necessarily cut from that cloth. He ran the forty yard dash back in 2013 in the 4.56 range, which is right in line with safeties Tre Boston and Kurt Coleman, who were on McDermott’s defense in Carolina.
The Packers utilized Hyde as a force player in their nickel package. This is an important role nowadays because of the run support responsibilities and the type of receivers that align in the slot.
As you can imagine, Hyde has to make up for his lack of top end speed with intelligence. His ability to diagnose, process and execute is much faster than his forty time. Scouts refer to this as play speed. The root of it can manifest on the field in many ways, including knowing how an offense is going to attack a certain defense and recognizing route combinations, but it can also come from many hours of film study and and applying it on the field. While in Green Bay, Hyde would attend both safety and corner meetings on a daily basis and it is abundantly clear that Hyde does his homework.
In week six of the 2016 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys, Dak Prescott runs a simple run-pass option (RPO) against the Packers’ defense. The offense is in a stacked WR set and the Packers defend it with Hyde in press versus WR Butler and CB Goodson in off coverage. With that much space, Prescott fires it outside to Beasley. Hyde holds his leverage and Goodson comes up for the tackle. A three yard gain and not much harm done.
Flash forward to the Divisional round of the playoffs against the same team. Hyde shows off his mental processing, play speed, and ball skills in dramatic fashion. The Cowboys utilize the same motion from a trips bunch set, and on the snap Dak one steps and fires it out wide. Bryant is unable to get a piece of Hyde, and he picks it off to end Dallas’ drive. Incredible recognition displayed by Hyde.
That type of intelligence and instincts is something that the Bills’ staff will welcome after a down year in 2016. Hyde should flourish in this defense with the multitude of disguised and trap coverages that the staff will implement.
Based on his years in Green Bay, in my opinion, Hyde is primarily a zone defender. Although he is listed as a safety, he plays with zone corner instincts. He has very disciplined ‘zone eyes’ and is very good at recognizing routes and combinations with the depth of the QB’s drop.
On this play, the Vikings are in the red zone and employ a 3×1 WR set to the top of the screen. Hyde is the hook to curl defender to the top. Post snap, the Packers drop into cover 2 with a defensive lineman dropping into the shallow zone. Hyde checks the vertical release of the #2 WR, then gets his eyes on Bradford. Sam gets sloppy with his eye discipline and zeroes in on the TE Rudolph. Hyde recognizes that Sam’s front shoulder and eyes are aimed at Rudolph, so he plants and makes a play on the ball.
This was just a heady play by the veteran, and that kind of spatial awareness could lead to opportunities on the defensive side in 2017.
He possesses the recognition of a corner, and the thought of him possibly playing outside crossed my mind, but is not likely. He’s aligned in the slot to the top of the screen. Hyde diagnoses the combo and takes away the in breaking route right at the first down marker. This shows very good awareness, communication, and change of direction.
The former Hawkeye has been groomed in one of the most diverse defenses in the NFL. It is a defense that utilizes a lot of coverage concepts. Hyde appeared to be one of the leaders in that secondary; anytime there was motion and the coverage changed, you would see him setting the defense. On this play, he does just that. The offense motions to get Hyde matched up versus Dez Bryant. Hyde has inside leverage as the ball is snapped, and he opens up to the sideline expecting Bryant to run deep. Bryant runs a dig, but Hyde remains calm, quickly flips his hips, and helps take away Dak’s primary WR.
His lack of speed can sometimes lead to struggles in man coverage versus fast/shifty WRs. The Packers did a great job of preventing that kind of matchup for most of the year, but it isn’t totally preventable. Take this play versus the Vikings. Hyde has inside leverage on 3rd down and is matched up with the WR Diggs. Diggs sticks inside and runs to the back corner of the end zone, while narrowly catching the pass for the touchdown.
He is a competitive player who doesn’t get intimidated. In fact, he likes the challenge. The Vikings routinely attacked him with speed. Hyde utilizes the 5 yard contact box, gets his hands on the receiver, and as the receiver breaks inside he quickly peeks in the backfield and changes direction with Diggs. This is a fantastic display of mental toughness and belief in his skills to force fourth down.
Hyde possesses very good ball skills for a so called ‘safety’. On this play, he is in off coverage in the slot to the top of the screen. He shuffles until the receiver exceeds the ‘quick’ route depth. The receiver bends it to the post, so Hyde breaks on it and makes another play on the ball.
In man coverage he will give up his fair share of catches. In 2016, he allowed 58 receptions for 642 yards and 6 TDs (in 19 games). The longest reception he gave up was this 32-yarder to Rishard Matthews. Hyde actually is with Matthews step for step, but as he begins tracking the ball over his shoulders he slightly loses balance. This doesn’t allow Hyde to make a play on the ball at the catch point. It’s a display of good coverage and ball tracking skills, but he just has to clean up at the catch point.
He may not be your typical cover 1/3 center fielder, but he can still run with most NFL talent. Don’t believe me? Watch him cover running back Theo Riddick down the field. He does a great job of playing the man, then squeezing the running back to the sideline.
After looking over several games from his past two seasons, one thing I noticed was that he really wasn’t utilized like a normal safety. He wasn’t used a often in single high looks or two high sets; he mainly played the slot. As a result, he was rarely in the tackle box making run stops. This was one of those rare occasions where he dropped into the box and made a run stop.
Most of the run stops were off the edge on run blitzes like this or tackles several yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
This is not a bad thing, but that is the way the Packers utilized him. According to Pro Football Focus, he registered 11 total tackles versus the run all season. It will certainly be interesting to see how the Bills plan on using him.
Part of the reason the coaching staff and front office targeted Micah Hyde was due to his pass rushing ability. In 2016, McDermott rushed his corners a total of 42 times. Between the two corners that split duty as the slot corner in Carolina, they rushed the QB 23 times and created nine total pressures. The main rusher was Leonard Johnson, and he finished the season 3rd in pass rush productivity (22.6%) among all corners who started 50% of snaps. Hyde rushed the passer the 2nd most in 2016. He attacked the QB 7.4% of the time (32 snaps) and registered two QB hits and five QB hurries. On this play, Hyde rushes from field. As Witten crosses the formation to pick him up, Dak senses pressure so he hops up into the pocket. Hyde recognizes it and changes the angle of his rush. The sudden change of direction is too much for Witten, and Hyde registers the sack.
Check out this play. Hyde is aligned as an outside linebacker, and he rushes Andrew Luck. He temporarily loses contain, but continues to pressure, and it leads to an interception.
Micah Hyde was a very, very smart signing. He is pegged as a ‘versatile’ player for good reasons. He has good size and speed. He could quite easily play any of the defensive back positions in Frazier’s cover 2 defense or McDermott’s cover 3 defense. According to NFL.com, he was a three team captain in high school, and held the captain title for the Packers in their play off matchup against the Giants.
He is a leader on the field; he consistently helped get the secondary in their proper coverages. His prized trait, though, is his intelligence. He displays the ability to process and react accordingly to what is going on in front of him. This includes diagnosing run vs. pass, routes, and concepts. From the safety position he has just enough range to play center field if needed, but will fit perfectly in a half field role.
His main role in Green Bay was as a slot corner. He leverages the ball and takes really good angles versus the run. In the passing game, he can matchup with any tight end and/or running back in man coverage. He uses his hands well within the contact box to help him stay in phase during the receiver’s drive phase. He can struggle at times versus shifty receivers due to slight stiffness in his hips, but he will never back down from the challenge. In fact, that competitive toughness is what makes him a great player. Overall, the Bills’ staff should feel comfortable with him playing man coverage in the short to intermediate areas versus any style of receiver.
Teams tried attacking him on multiple occasions on 3rd and medium. Hyde sometimes gave up the reception, but made a sure tackle in the open field to force 4th down.
His open field tackling on bigger WRs and tight ends is one of his strengths. In zone coverage, he possesses very good ‘zone eyes’, trusts them, and utilizes his instincts to make plays on the ball.
The defensive staff will enjoy having a player like Hyde on the roster. He gives them freedom. He can tackle, blitz and cover. But where he can be maximized is versus tight ends and running backs. If the staff is able to match him up versus the Gronkowskis, Dwayne Allens, Julius Thomases of the league, then that will help defend the middle of the field to a greater extent. Hyde will be able to neutralize those big bodied tight ends and receivers and will not intimidated by them. If he loses a play and they catch the ball, then he will minimize yards after the catch with his sure tackling.
Hyde displays the ability to carry bigger receivers and tight ends down the seam if necessary, something that will assuredly be asked of him if McDermott incorporates his cover 3 match defensive concepts. This is important, considering the utilization of receivers and tight ends down the seams by the Pats and many other teams to open up the underneath routes for the smaller, shiftier receivers.
All in all, Hyde is going to be McDermott’s ‘swiss army knife’. He has the ability to return punts and contribute on all of the special teams units. But there is no doubt that McDermott and Frazier will use him all over the field, match him up with tight ends and running backs, and ask him to be the leader of the secondary. This is the most important role on a Sean McDermott led team.
Safeties play a pivotal role in Sean McDermott’s defensive scheme. Their role in Buffalo, however, will ultimately depend on how he molds the defensive scheme to his new personnel.
One thing is certain: having played the position, McDermott expects a lot out of safeties. He likes well balanced players at that position, but not necessarily the most gifted athletes. His starting safeties in 2016, Kurt Coleman and Tre Boston, were some of the steadiest players on the Carolina Panthers defense.
Due to the type of scheme McDermott runs, which often leaves safeties manning center field, his ideal starting safeties must have range and must take proper angles.
Safeties in today’s NFL must be able to tackle, and that tackling ability is particularly important in McDermott’s scheme. He often uses his safeties in run fits and run gap responsibilities. That’s why Kurt Coleman finished third on the team with 74 tackles, 15 assists, and 22 stops. Boston was seventh on the team with 46 tackles, 2 assists, and 15 stops.
One of McDermott’s signature strengths is his ability to disguise. Specifically, he is very good at disguising blitzes and coverages. Last season, McDermott blitzed his safeties 34 times. This is something that he learned in Philadelphia with the late Jim Johnson, who loved to incorporate blitzes with his safeties Michael Lewis and Quentin Mikell.
One virtual certainty is that the Bills will have to add at least one safety this offseason in free agency and/or the draft. The Bills only have 3 safeties under contract in 2017, and safety was one of the positions that struggled to produce during this season.
Expect new Head Coach Sean McDermott to bring in guys that can do it all. They may not be the fastest or strongest athletes. But you can bet the players will be well rounded and they will be expected to contribute early and often.