Keenan Allen Spends an Evening on Revis Island

New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis locked down San Diego Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen Sunday, holding him to just two catches for three yards. The Chargers tried different tactics to generate offense, but, as Dave Archibald demonstrates (again), they ultimately proved fruitless.

In just his second season, wide receiver Keenan Allen has already established himself as one of the game’s brightest young stars, logging a 1,000-yard season as a rookie and leading the San Diego Chargers in receptions (74) and receiving yards (765) in 2014. The 22-year-old posted back-to-back 100-yard receiving games in Weeks 12 and 13 but was almost invisible in San Diego’s 23-14 loss to the New England Patriots in Week 14, finishing with just two catches for three yards despite playing every snap. There’s one major reason for Allen’s disappearing act: Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis, who lined up across from him all game.

Darrelle Revis: Good at Football

Revis’s excellence should be no mystery to our faithful readers, as we’ve written about his dominance before. Of 41 pass plays on Sunday, the film shows Revis playing man-to-man coverage on Allen in 34 of them, and he completely erases the young receiver. This play shows some of the veteran corner’s ability:

Revis-coverage-on-Allen-makes-tackle

Allen lines up in the slot – he played five snaps there in the contest – and Revis follows. At the snap, Allen angles in and Revis hand-checks him. The receiver angles back out and Revis spins towards him. Allen angles in yet again and Revis opens his hips and side-shuffles, then recognizes that the pass went underneath and makes a strong, effective tackle on tight end Ladarius Green. Revis runs mostly backwards and sideways and stays within a foot or two of Allen the entire time with a minimum of contact. His fluid movement in space brings to mind the grace of ballet, but then he shows physical tackling ability on the same play.

Revis stayed glued to him all day – Allen didn’t have his first catch until late in the third quarter, and even that play features outstanding coverage as Revis stays in Allen’s hip pocket and tackles him immediately after the catch for a gain of only three yards:

Keenan-Allen-3-yard-catch-on-Revis

A Deep Decoy

The Chargers aren’t stupid ‒ they know Revis is a fantastic defender and can cover Allen with little or no help. At times, they used Allen as a decoy to create space for other players:

Antonio-Gates-12-yard-catch

On this first-quarter play, the Chargers line up three receivers left and just Allen on the right. Revis plays press-man coverage on Allen and sticks with him as the receiver runs a fly up the right sideline. Deep routes aren’t Allen’s game, as only 16.8% of his targets are officially classified as deep, the lowest mark on the Chargers and one of the lowest league-wide.

His route draws Revis deep and, as Revis is the only defender on the right side, it opens up space underneath. Tight end Antonio Gates makes the catch on a crossing route running towards the vacated right side, allowing him to add another six or seven yards after the catch. Allen ran deep routes on 26 of the 34 snaps where Revis covered him man-to-man, but wasn’t targeted on any of them. It appears the Chargers used Allen as a decoy, having him run deep routes to draw Revis away from the action and create space for other receivers.

Zoning Out

The Chargers showed another tactic to neutralize Revis: getting the Patriots into zone coverage, then running Allen away from Revis and leaving the cornerback covering no one. To entice New England into playing zone, the Bolts used short splits, formations where the receivers stayed close to the middle of the field rather than spreading towards the sideline. In tight spaces, man coverage can be vulnerable to pick routes and other man-beating concepts, so the Patriots will often counter with zone coverage, as seen here:

Patriots-Cover-3-Philip-Rivers-2-yard-scramble

These are short splits, with all four receivers lined up within the numbers. As in the play above, Revis and Allen are alone on one side (the offensive left this time) with the other three receivers to the right. The Patriots show a hybrid defense before the snap, with Revis showing press-man while Brandon Browner, the corner on the opposite side, shows zone. After the snap, the Patriots shift into Cover 3, with Revis and Browner dropping into a deep zones. Allen runs a shallow cross away from Revis, so ultimately the corner is defending a zone that doesn’t have anyone in it. It’s a clever play design to avoid Revis.

There’s only one problem: it doesn’t work. The Patriots underneath defenders clog the middle, the pass rush gets some pressure on Rivers, and the Chargers quarterback scrambles for a gain of only two yards. Forcing the Patriots into zone might have helped avoid Revis, but it didn’t produce results for San Diego ‒ besides this harmless run, Rivers completed just two of six passes for six yards against Cover 3, including his only interception. Avoiding Revis is ideal, but an offense must be able to capitalize elsewhere, and the Chargers could not.

A Game-Changer

New England’s pass defense throttled San Diego’s air attack on Sunday, holding the Bolts to just 4.4 yards per attempt. The biggest key to that dominance was Revis eliminating Allen, but even when the Chargers schemed to get other players open, the rest of the Patriots defense stepped up to the challenge. No San Diego pass catcher had more than five receptions or 54 yards, and the Chargers converted just 4 of 13 third downs. With Revis leading the way, the Patriots appear poised to finish out the season with their best pass defense in years – a unit that can shut down opposing offenses come playoff time.

All video and images courtesy NFL.com and NFL Game Rewind.

Follow Dave on Twitter @davearchie.

Dave Archibald knows pass defense, specifically how coverage, the pass rush, excellent cornerbacks, versatile safeties and in-game adjustments can make a big difference.

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