Jamie Collins, the 52nd overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft by the New England Patriots, is having a breakout second season, excelling as an every down linebacker in Bill Belichick‘s inventive defensive schemes. Jeremy Turner looks at Collins’ performance in a variety of roles and notes the areas still in need of improvement.
Since returning from an early-season thigh injury, Jamie Collins has played nearly every available defensive snap (save those near the ends of games with the outcomes already decided). With Jerod Mayo lost for the year to a torn patellar tendon, Collins and fellow linebacker Dont’a Hightower have taken over all the middle linebacking duties and have solidly filled the defensive captain’s shoes. While Hightower has assumed primary play-calling duties, Collins’s responsibilities have him bouncing between run support, pass coverage, and pass rush. He’s done an excellent job in most respects, though with a few areas in which he could improve.
On this play with 11:37 remaining in the 2nd quarter against the Denver Broncos, Collins is lined up as an outside linebacker in a six-man front. At the snap, Collins starts to crash down the line while still maintaining position to keep containment. While the offensive line blocks away from Collins and opens a hole between the center and left guard, he doesn’t bite and holds the edge. Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman sees Hightower filling the hole created by the offensive line and attempts to bounce outside, following Julius Thomas as he pulls across the formation. Thomas attempts to cut-block Collins but the linebacker easily sheds the poor block and makes the tackle.
Early in the 1st quarter against the Chicago Bears, Collins is lined up as the only linebacker off the front in a goal line package on 3rd and 1. He does an excellent job of diagnosing the play and filling the substantial hole created by the Bears offensive line. He closes on running back Matt Forte and makes contact behind the line of scrimmage. Unfortunately, he forgets how to tackle and merely attempts to throw his shoulder into the RB – the one sporting the 6th-most yards after contact according to ProFootballFocus. While Collins slows his momentum, Forte easily bounces past and picks up the first down.
Collins is generally outstanding in run support; here, he quickly and accurately diagnoses the play and makes an excellent effort at closing the hole or redirecting the runner. However, his failure to even attempt to wrap up the ball carrier allows the offense to gain a new set of snaps.
Pass Defense: Zone
This sequence comes in the 3rd quarter against the New York Jets. Just before the snap with 11:46 left in the period, Patrick Chung begins to retreat from the line of scrimmage to a normal safety position. As the play begins, Collins quickly drops back into a typical Tampa 2, covering nearly 10 yards in short order. While the pass is completed in front of him, he quickly closes for the tackle.
Another interesting play highlighting Collins’s skillset comes later in the same quarter. With 3:09 remaining in the period, Collins is assigned zone coverage against the Jets for the short middle of the field. Hightower sees the running back staying to block and rushes in on a delayed blitz. Tight end Zach Sudfeld comes over the field on a short crossing route and Collins quickly closes in coverage. As the pressure comes against Geno Smith, he looks to Sudfeld, sees the tight coverage, and pulls the ball down. The hesitation creates enough time for the defense to close in for the sack.
Not all of Collins’s work in zone has yielded positive results. With 8:03 remaining in the 2nd quarter against Chicago, Collins again is assigned short zone coverage. The defense attempts the disguise the coverage with Collins lined up tight on Brandon Marshall. After getting a good jam on Marshall he begins to follow him inside leaving the flat uncovered. Cutler sees this and hits Forte on a flare route out of the backfield. Collins recovers to make the tackle, but not until Forte has gained 18 yards.
Collins clearly has the skills to play zone coverage in the Patriots scheme. While he occasionally gets sucked away from his primary responsibility, he has the awareness and speed to recover in time to prevent a massive breakdown.
Pass Defense: Man
With 4:08 remaining in the 1st quarter against Denver, Collins lines up against Hillman split wide to the left. Quarterback Peyton Manning sees the running back with one-on-one coverage against a linebacker and locks in. The Denver RB runs a 5-yard in cut while Collins maintains good position to prevent a deep run or outside cut. He quickly recognizes the in route and makes a fast break as the ball is thrown. Although he arrives slightly after the pass, he’s able to make contact with the running back and prevent the completion.
With 5:40 remaining in the 2nd quarter against Chicago, Collins has a man coverage assignment on Forte out of the backfield. The RB hesitates in the backfield momentarily to ensure he doesn’t need to pick up a blitzer, then releases. He runs a quick stop-and-go route and Collins bites hard on the stop, allowing Forte to easily burst past the linebacker. Cutler lofts the ball up for an easy touchdown pass over the trailing Collins.
While he has shown susceptible to double moves, Collins is typically able to keep up with running backs out of the backfield showing excellent coverage instincts. The defensive scheme generally doesn’t leave the deep portion of the field open without safety help, but offensive play design can exploit this occasionally.
Throughout the games reviewed, Collins showed versatility in supporting the run and covering receivers downfield. His few negative plays have come in situations where the defensive scheme has left him little room for error (for instance, lack of safety help) or from breakdowns in fundamentals that are non-recurring. Moving forward, expect his growth and adaptability to enable the New England defense to throw varied looks at their opponents and keep them off balance.
All video and images courtesy NFL.com and NFL Game Rewind.
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