All Jets fans remember the 99 yard touchdown catch made by Giant’s wide receiver Victor Cruz which may have very well sunk the Jets 2011 playoff hopes. With the safety position being a concern video analysis of the Cruz play helps in understanding specific defensive formations along with the safeties responsibilities and what the Jets will be looking for when addressing this position.
The Giants were in an obvious passing situation so the Jets put in their dime defensive personnel (2 safeties, 4 cornerbacks). The Giants came out in a 3-by-1 look which means 3 receivers to one side 1 receiver to the other.
The Jets showed, cover 1 man-free, which is a defensive formation Rex Ryan likes to run because it allows for bringing pressure. One safety, Brodney Pool (#22), is in the deep middle of the field and is responsible to cover sideline to sideline not allowing any receiver to get over top of him. The cornerbacks are man to man on the receivers and another player will be responsible for covering the running back.
Looking at either video before the ball is snapped shows the cover 1 alignment, so what are the options and how do the safeties play a role? Pool is the deep safety but the other safety, Eric Smith (#33), is free to do a variety of things. He could blitz and a linebacker could cover the running back, he could cover the running back allowing the Jets to use the front five to rush the passer, one of the cornerbacks could blitz and Smith would pick up the vacated receiver, he could drop back deep covering half the field while Pool moves to cover the other half or Smith could play zone coverage in the middle of the field underneath Pool while a linebacker covers the running back, better known as cover 1 robber.
Eli Manning (#10) realizes the coverage as soon as he sees the defense and assumes blitz. Notice the running back Ahmad Bradshaw (#44) stays in to pass protect and never going out on a route. Just before the play begins Smith backs out and Pool moves to his right providing over the top support for Darrelle Revis (#24) covering Hakeem Nicks (#88).
The Jets do not send the blitz instead they drop out of cover 1 and into a different coverage, cover 2, two deep safeties responsible for half the field each providing over the top support to the man coverage underneath, known as cover 2 man under. Linebacker Josh Mauga (#53) spies Bradshaw, so now all potential receivers are covered with 2 safeties deep.
Manning originally looks at Nicks but realizes he is now covered high and low, if you watch Revis he forces Nicks to the outside and trails him underneath knowing he has Pool to help up the field. Donald Strickland (#30) presses tight end Travis Beckum (#47) pushing him outside where he now has help from Smith. Once Manning realizes the defense is now cover 2 man under he looks towards the three receiver side where he hits Victor Cruz (#80), covered by Kyle Wilson (#20), on an out-route after Ramses Barden (#13) cleared Antonio Cromartie (#31). While both Wilson and Cromartie miss-tackle Cruz it was up to Smith to save the touchdown but he moved to far towards the middle of the field putting him out of position to make the stop.
The Patriots often run the same 3-by-1 formation as the Giants but with 2 wide receivers and 2 tight ends (Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez). Since the personnel has two tight ends it is not always possible to play a pass based dime defense since the run is more probably. The Jets would more likely have their nickel package on the field meaning one less cornerback.
If the Patriots come out in a 3-by-1 formation the corners will cover the wide receivers and Gronkowski would be the single receiver in the Nicks location, so a corner will cover him. If Hernandez is where Beckum lined up a safety or linebacker would have to cover him man to man if the defense were cover 1 man free. Eric Smith on Aaron Hernandez is a mismatch that Tom Brady would exploit all game long so a better man coverage safety would have to take Hernandez forcing Smith to play deep zone.
So what does all this mean and what will the the Jets be looking for in a safety? They will want the ‘tweener type’ safety, a player that can cover man-to-man and has ball skills like a cornerback. He’ll have to be a good tackler with excellent range while in zone coverage not only to breakup/intercept passes but to chase down receivers after the catch. Versatile players that are interchangeable and can succeed in the various situational roles safeties have, whether in coverage, supporting the run or going after the quarterback.
Hopefully the Jets can find safeties which fit their defensive strategies and avoid season changing big pass plays like the one Cruz made against the Jets.