BGA: Linebackers – Gaining an edge

I want to open up by talking about Demario Davis. I think we’re deep enough into his first season as a full time player to assess his game. While his speed has been a boost to a unit that was aging last year, he’s not the finished article yet and I’m interested to get your thoughts on whether he has the potential to be really good, or is he already at his ceiling?

Davis has been pretty good against the run and, although his nine missed tackles leads the team, that’s not too bad on a league-wide scale as 19 other inside linebackers around the NFL have at least as many as that. In coverage, he’s blown some assignments and been picked on a lot more than you might realize. He’s given up a completion on over 80% of his targets for a total of 470 yards. By contrast, Bart Scott, who we were told by the media was repeatedly exploited in coverage, never gave up more than 333 yards in a season with the Jets. I do think Davis is a pretty good blitzer, although the Jets haven’t been blitzing much recently, so he only has one pressure in the last five games (after racking up 11 in the first seven).

Yesterday’s game was a typical Davis performance. He was in on a couple of tackles near the line of scrimmage, including one in coverage, but was beaten for a couple of first downs and picked on a couple of screen plays that also went for first downs. He also had a costly missed tackle on the first touchdown. Last year, I remarked that Davis always seemed to be a step slow at the snap and that once he got more comfortable that would disappear and make him a more effective player. That’s been the case, but there are still times when he reacts a beat late and those are the occasions when he’s exploited.

Alongside Davis, David Harris continues to be much more consistent this year than he was last year. He was in on several tackles near the line and got credit for a tackle for a loss when he stretched a running play all the way out to the sideline. He did get beaten for one first down in coverage, but otherwise did well. Harris has given up a catch on 86% of his targets, but that’s only translated to approximately half the yardage Davis has allowed.

Calvin Pace was blocked out of a few running plays, missed a tackle and lost contain once, but he continues to contribute better than expected as a pass rusher. He had two pressures, one of which led to Quinton Coples’ sack. He did make one good play against the run, coming off the edge unassisted to make a stop for no gain.

Coples continues to impress as a pass rusher, gaining the edge repeatedly on Bryant McKinnie and beating him inside a couple of times too. He had seven total pressures for the second time in four games and it could have been more as he beat his man and Ryan Tannehill released the ball just before he got there a few times on top of that. An interesting wrinkle over the last couple of games has seen them matching him up with a guard once or twice a game, something they had stopped doing over the previous month. He did do most of his damage off the edge, though. Against the run he had his ups and downs, but mixed in a couple of run stuffs with being blocked out of some plays, some of which could perhaps be attributed to fatigue.

Finally, Jermaine Cunningham was in for six plays and rushed the quarterback five times, but didn’t get close.

Next up…defensive backs and the root of all the problems…