The New England Patriots secondary looks much different headed into 2015, losing the irreplaceable Darrelle Revis, the much-flagged Brandon Browner and the underappreciated Kyle Arrington from last season’s Super Bowl champions. One of the players who needs to step into a prominent role is third year cornerback Logan Ryan. Pass defense aficionado Dave Archibald looks at Ryan’s struggles against double moves and his potential to improve.
Through his first two seasons, Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan has shown many positive qualities – tremendous versatility, a nose for playmaking (his seven interceptions over that span leads all Patriots), and enough mental and physical skill to compete against most receivers. On tape, however, one weakness stands out: defending the double move, where a receiver executes two cuts in one route to fool the cornerback.
Whether it is a stop-and-start hesitation, a slant-and-go, or an out-and-up, Ryan tends to overplay the initial cut and finds himself off-balance on the second movement. The aftermath leads to holding penalties or long completions. Too many negative plays could overshadow Ryan’s positive attributes and relegate him to the bench.
Double moves are not very common, so Ryan did not see many of them even while playing extensively early in the 2014 season. They require skillful route-running by the receiver and an offensive line that can hold up in pass protection long enough for the route to develop. The Jets tried to hit a big play on a double move out of a trick set in Week 7:
Ryan lines up against David Nelson (#86). Nelson gets an outside release, runs a few steps, then hesitates like he’s going to cut. Rather than cut, he resumes running up the sideline. Ryan overplays the hesitation and gets caught flat-footed. To recover, he grabs Nelson’s jersey and is flagged for a hold. The Jets use a funky formation here with backup quarterback Michael Vick (#7) lined up at halfback and taking a pitch. Vick is looking to throw when he’s taken down, but the Ryan’s penalty nullifies the sack. New York would go on to score a touchdown on the drive.
A Pack of Mistakes
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy draws criticism for conservative in-game tactics, but he is a master of identifying and attacking his opponents’ weaknesses. The Packers badgered Ryan relentlessly with double moves, apparently aware of his flaws on tape. Three times in the game’s first four minutes, Green Bay sent rookie wideout Davante Adams on a double move with Ryan in coverage. The Packers didn’t connect on any of these plays, but Ryan still showed vulnerability:
On just their fifth offensive play, the Packers line up in the shotgun with Adams the sole receiver on the left side. The Patriots show Cover 1, their favorite pass defense in 2014, with free safety Devin McCourty (#32) shaded towards the twins (two-receiver) side, away from Adams. The receiver gets an outside release, hesitates, then dashes upfield away from Ryan’s press coverage. The corner grabs Adams to keep from being burned for a long play. It’s almost a carbon-copy of the Jets play above. The referees keep their flags in their pockets this time, but they could have called Ryan for a holding penalty. Instead, the pass sails incomplete.
Despite failing to connect on their early attempts to capitalize on the double moves on Ryan, Green Bay went back to the well:
On 3rd-and-2, the Packers deploy a stack to the left side, with Adams on the outside. Ryan picks him up in man coverage, but plays off due to the stack. Adams runs an out-and-up. When he cuts to the outside, Ryan jumps the route, only to see the wideout cut upfield and blow by him deep. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers shows the touch that made him the NFL’s MVP, arcing a perfect deep ball to Adams for a 45-yard gain. The Packers scored a touchdown on the very next play, and Ryan sat on the bench for most of the remainder of the game.
No team attempted to take advantage of Ryan’s weakness after the Packers game. Part of that was less exposure – he didn’t see the field the following week against the San Diego Chargers – but even when he played, teams didn’t attack him with double moves. With a full offseason to review film, offensive coaching staffs might test the third-year cornerback, particularly if he takes a bigger role in the New England defense.
Ryan will need to maintain his balance through improved footwork and not over-commit to jumping routes if he is to shore up his issues this season. Will he make these improvements? Will trying to guard against double moves make him too tentative and erase his playmaking ability? Will a potentially improved pass rush make these long-developing routes less viable and reduce Ryan’s exposure? The answers to these questions will play a major role not only in Ryan’s personal success, but also in that of the New England secondary as a whole.
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Dave Archibald knows pass defense, specifically how coverage, the pass rush, excellent cornerbacks, versatile safeties and in-game adjustments can make a big difference.
All video and images courtesy the NFL and NFL Game Rewind.