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Coach’s Film Room: Tony Jefferson

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What does the marquee free agent bring to Baltimore?

NFL: New England Patriots at Arizona Cardinals Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Sorry it’s been awhile since the last All-22 film piece. With free agency there have been a lot of topics to cover, but I knew from the moment the team signed free agent safety Tony Jefferson that he would merit his own article. I was finally able to finish watching all of Jefferson’s 2016 tape and I must say I’m impressed and I’ve gained a better understanding of why he was so highly sought after! Without further adieu, lets dive into what makes Jefferson a great addition to the roster.

Run Defense

I saw a lot of fans chiming that Jefferson was merely a box safety, so they didn't want the team to pay him. Jefferson does play in the box a lot, but he's not limited to that (more on that later). Jefferson is an asset in the box as he can be an imposing run stopper. In the play above, Jefferson goes low on LeGarrette Blount and brings him down. It’s an example of great play recognition to come up from 15 yards deep to make the tackle on the bruising back.

Similar to the last play, Jefferson is able to bring down Blount (with a little help) but what I liked about the play was how Jefferson just threw the wide receiver who tried to block him out of the way in order to make the stop. You typically don't see that type of aggressiveness and ability from defensive backs, so it fits in well with the mentality the Ravens instill in their players.

Once again, Jefferson’s ability to play in the box and play well against the run allows him to drop Blount by himself. Jefferson packs quite the punch and his fearlessness is one of his attributes that has allowed him to be so succesful. One thing the Cardinals did frequently was blitz Jefferson and he blitzed rather effectively. The Ravens like to play a lot of cover 2, but disguise their formations pre-snap, so I'm interested in seeing if they'll utilize Jefferson as a blitzer.

Box Coverage

Part of Jefferson’s versatility is his ability to come up in the box and cover tight ends. In the play above he gets physical with the tight end off of the line and again when he breaks off the stem of the route. This allows the pressure to get to Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston before he can deliver a clean, accurate pass.

I only used this play because it effectively summed up what Jefferson can do against tight ends. He was able to matchup well with more dynamic players at the position such as Jimmy Graham and Martellus Bennett. Jefferson should help to counter players such as Travis Kelce, Rob Gronkowski, Tyler Eiffert and Delanie Walker and Le’Veon Bell who can impact a game with his pass catching abilities.

Once again, Jefferson is able to get physical with a bigger tight end and contest this pass by running the receiver’s route for him by the end of it. After the tight end’s initial break upfield, it does look like Jefferson takes a weird angle, but recovers and gets ahead of him to display a good change of direction.

This is the final play I’ll show on his awareness and ability to cover tight ends. He recognizes the tight end leaking out after initially staying in to protect. Jefferson is able to explode up field and drop the much bigger tight end for a gain of only two. Ravens fans will love the tenacity that Jefferson brings to this team!

Deep Coverage

One of the main responsibilities of a safety is to make sure nobody gets behind him. In all of the film I watched, I can only remember Jefferson getting beat deep once with that being against Jamison Crowder, but when watching the play, it appeared as though he thought he had help in the middle of the field and the deep safety playing behind him didn't get over in time.

On the play above the Cardinals are in cover 2, with Jefferson being the deep safety at the bottom of the clip. Former Raven Tyrod Taylor is flushed to his right and looks to make a play. Jefferson is able to secure his man and stick with him to eliminate that option for Taylor. I wanted to show as many of these plays as possible to eliminate the stigma that he's limited to being a box safety.

Initially this is going to look like a bad play and it is (on the cornerback’s part) but it’s another example of Jefferson playing the deep safety roll. The corner doesn't realize that they're in a cover 3 zone and gets caught looking back at the quarterback, thinking he has safety help, which he doesn't. Once again my intent was to showcase Jefferson can and does play deep single high when asked.

In this clip, Jefferson starts deep around the 40 yard line and appears to read Matt Ryan’s eyes to cut off the middle of the field. I saw a little more of this as the season progressed, but it didn't appear as though the Cardinals were comfortable with his ability to read QBs, as they rarely put him in situations such as robber coverage that Kam Chancellor plays a lot. This coverage allows for a linebacker or safety to roam freely and read the QBs eyes to make plays. I’m curious to see if that’s something the Ravens will allow him to do as they did with Orr.

Negatives

As far as negatives go, there weren't any consistent ones with Jefferson. He was rarely beat deep, played the run well and was extremely effective as a blitzer. The lack of interceptions could be pointed to as a negative, but QBs never put Jefferson in the position to make a play against them. He was rarely targeted deep as offenses surprisingly opted to go after Patrick Peterson deep (a bad idea) or the Honey Badger underneath (a visibly injured Honey Badger). My only grievance with Jefferson is that I think he can improve upon reading QBs and anticipating their throws.

Conclusion

Jefferson was a tremendous signing for a team that hasn't been known to sign free agents that are looking for their second contract. Jefferson comes in exemplifying the tough hard nosed mentality that the Raven’s organization has always been known for. With Jefferson, the Ravens are afforded more flexibility with how they use him and Eric Weddle. Both Weddle and Jefferson can play in the box or play deep, whereas the box seemed to be an area that Ladarius Webb struggled last year. I’m optimistic about the Raven’s new addition, especially with the league’s transition to pass happy offenses.