Spotlighting Jarrad Davis’s Issues in Zone Coverage vs. Green Bay

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Jarrad Davis has some shortcomings to overcome in his rookie year

I am not in the business of fearmongering, nor do I believe a single game portends a career, but Jarrad Davis’s work in zone coverage against the Packers left a lot to be desired. It’s something the rookie linebacker has struggled with throughout the year, but it’s not uncommon for rookies to have growing pains in that area. In the NFL, route concepts are more varied, the athletes are better, and quarterbacks read the field more quickly, all of which make playing zone defense more challenging on Sundays. However, the first-round pick has to pick it up at some point.

His Green Bay tape was my first in-depth exposure to him, but I noticed that he’s a tick slow to diagnose and process what’s happening in zone coverage. He doesn’t respond quickly to the movements of the quarterback and fails to immediately click-and-close on throws in front of him.

Jarrad Davis in Cover 4 vs. Tare Concept

This 1st & 10 play with 2:44 to go in the second quarter is a perfect example of that. The Lions appear to be in a Cover 4 against a 3×2 alignment, and Jordy Nelson is the slot receiver to the trips side. The Packers are executing a tare concept on the left side of the formation, which features a go route on the outside and two quick outs on the inside. Nelson’s quick out develops right in front of Davis, but, for some reason, he’s hesitant to trigger on it. To make matters worse, he takes a suboptimal closing angle, which allows Nelson to pick up a few yards after the catch.

Jarrad Davis in Hook Zone vs. Crossing Route

A 46-yard gain in the fourth quarter by Randall Cobb also raises some questions about Davis’s feel for routes entering his zones. Cobb runs a crosser from the field-side slot, and Quandre Diggs carries him to Davis, who’s in a hook zone. Davis has his eyes trained on Brett Hundley, but he should see green flash in his periphery and escort Cobb over to Tahir Whitehead. Without knowing how Teryl Austin installed that coverage, I don’t feel 100% confident in blaming Davis, but I generally side with the veteran player when breakdowns occur.

Jarrad Davis in Cover 4 vs. Checkdown

There’s cause for optimism, though. On a 3rd & 18 play with 6:37 to go in the fourth quarter, Davis clicks-and-closes quickly on a Richard Rodgers checkdown. Hundley turns parallel to the line of scrimmage and Davis immediately reacts to Rodgers leaking out. However, we see him take another marginal angle to the ballcarrier. He wrangles Rodgers down, but this again allows more yardage after the catch than necessary because of it.

Davis’s issues in zone coverage could speak to a variety of things. It could be that he’s simply adjusting to the pro game and doesn’t have as much confidence in what he’s seeing, or it could be indicative of his mental processing in general. It’s too early to return a verdict on him, but it’s clear to see how he’s struggled, if not why. As former NFL scout Dan Hatman once told me, “Sometimes, in evaluation, all you come up with is a good question.” Once Davis acclimates to the pro game more, we should have a better picture of why he has struggled in zone coverage early.

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