As you may recall, in this week's BGA I said this:
Eric Smith obviously stood out for the wrong reasons again, with Antonio Gates easily beating him across the field for a 34-yard touchdown. However, Smith was playing him with outside technique the whole way, suggesting he thought he’d have some safety support if Gates broke across the field the way he did. I’d have to get a look at the coaches film to tell whether someone else blew the coverage there. From what I could tell, Cromartie’s man, who lined up on the opposite side to Gates, ran a deep post pattern, so the safety on the right hand side might have been drawn out of position by that.
After the jump, I break down what happened.
Pre-snap, you can see the Jets are in their "Big Nickel" personnel package. Four down linemen, Harris and Scott at linebacker, the two cornerbacks matched up against the Chargers receivers (both on the weak side) and two safeties in the box, one (Smith) matched up with Gates on the left side and the other (Landry) creeping up towards the line. A third safety (Bell) is deep, off the screen.
The reason I wanted to go back and look at this play was that on the replay, it seems clear that Smith is playing Gates with outside technique. As you can see from the image, he is shading Gates to the inside, indicating that he perhaps was expecting help to come from the inside in the event of a cross-field route.
This doesn't absolve Smith entirely though. Gates gets separation by making a hard step to the right to get Smith slightly off balance, as you can see.
In fact, Gates made a similar jab-step type move as the ball was snapped. Smith again was thrown slightly off balance, but as you can see, his reaction is to step to the left. Again, this lends weight to the fact that getting beaten outside was the main thing Smith knew he couldn't allow to happen in this coverage, but his slow response to this may have contributed to him being thrown even more off balance when Gates made his secondary break.
Let's now focus on where any help to Smith's inside might have been. Here's the long-range view of the alignment at the snap. As you can see, Scott had moved over to the outside as the ball was snapped and Bell was backed up in deep center field all the way back at the 15. Scott would drop off initially at the snap but ended up coming on a delayed blitz and pressuring Rivers as he threw.
The Chargers leave both backs in to pass block, ensuring a clean pocket, and run three receivers downfield initially. Smith, Wilson and Cromartie run with their men until they make their breaks.
Here's the point at which Gates makes his break. Clearly the play has been designed for the other two receivers to get downfield and clear out the left hand side of the field. The slot receiver also makes his break to the inside at this moment. It's worth nothing that both Cromartie and Wilson are playing with outside technique.
Here's the key moment. Bell makes the decision to pick up Cromartie's man and Cromartie seems to pass him off to Bell. That's probably what Bell is supposed to do in that situation, although if Bell stays at home, Cromartie probably could have stayed with his man across the field. We should also note that Wilson has been beaten by a step. Most importantly of all, the one thing neither Wilson, Cromartie or Bell reacts to is the fact that Rivers has released the pass.
Having passed off his man to Bell, Cromartie drops off and initially seems to react to the fact Wilson could be in trouble. In doing so, he gets turned around and when he finally looks back over his shoulder, it's too late for him to get over and prevent Gates from scoring. Wilson didn't get a chance to turn round and look at the ball because he was too busy trying to catch up, so he also realizes Gates has the ball too late. Smith is too far off and Gates basically has a walk-in touchdown.
As I always have to say in situations like this we don't know what the coverage was in that situation, but it looks more like a blown quarters coverage than a man-to-man with one deep safety due to the way Cromartie reacts. While Smith clearly gets beaten for the catch, if Cromartie had read the play a bit better he should have been able to drop off and stop Gates at about the 15 or 20 yard line as you can see in the penultimate image. However, his reaction to the play might have been influenced by the fact that Wilson also got himself in trouble.
In the NFL, it's rare that you get a completion to an open receiver who can run untouched to the endzone with relative ease like this. The Chargers designed this play well and capitalized on a good match-up to complete the pass. However, it definitely looks like there was more than one player at fault and that's the reason the play was a touchdown rather than just a routine completion.
It's obvious how much talent the Jets do have in their secondary. However, it's also clear that many of the touchdowns and big plays they've given up this year have been due to mix-ups in the defensive backfield. While mixing up your coverages is a good way to confuse a quarterback when you can't generate constant pressure with your pass rush, it's clear what the downside is. It'll be interesting to see the make-up of this secondary next year and whether their approach will change.