The Philadelphia Eagles and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery have a tough challenge ahead. They are tasked with scoring points on a Minnesota defense that possesses one of the most valuable assets you can have, a shut down corner.
Known for traveling with a teams top receiving threat, Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes has come across some stiff competition in the 2017 season. He’s seen Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, AJ Green, Julio Jones and limited all of them to under 55 yards while conceding zero touchdowns when tasked with them in coverage.
Only one aberration stands out with Detroit Lions WR Marvin Jones Jr. dusting him on 9 targets for 6 catches, 109 yard and 2 touchdowns when Rhodes traveled with him. In their previous encounter, he only allowed 1 catch for 4 yards to Jones.
I scouted Jeffery in the summer for Scouting Academy and have posted my report on him on this site (HERE). What follows is a look back into his two games against Rhodes in 2016. First we’ll start with the 2016 Week 8 match-up. In the second installation we’ll unwrap their Week 17 duel.
Let’s get to the film.
On the Bears first drive, Jeffery gets open on a red zone corner route from the slot with Rhodes playing off coverage. Jeffery alters his stride heading into the break, pressing outside at first, and chopping at Rhodes’ toes to keep Rhodes static. With a jab step inside, Rhodes engages Jeffery, who absorbs the contact with plus play strength and uses his elbow as a facilitator for separation.
Jeffery wins the route, but QB Jay Cutler overthrows the route. Still, it’s an encouraging sign that Jeffery could get into Rhodes’ sphere of influence and win with play strength to gain critical space in a compressed area without fully pushing off.
Another win for Jeffery on a comeback route, which is arguably his best route or at least the one that matches his physical and athletic profile the most. The problem is there is a risk factor with this route as Jeffery has developed a reputation for pushing off and will get called for offensive pass interference on occasion.
This one doesn’t draw a flag, likely due to the positioning from Rhodes, who attempts to stack the route. It takes less the full extension and a solid understanding of leverage points to create separation. Bad Cutler shows up again, coming late to the throw and forcing Jeffery to become a defensive back for a nice pass break up.
The corner and comeback are two routes among a handful that the Eagles will utilize with Jeffery and so far, he’s had two wins with those routes. However, the stat sheet to this point shows 0 targets, 0 catches. I love analytics, but this is a fitting example of why I say stats don’t screw like film.
On 3rd & 6 from the Vikings 10, Jeffery runs a curl from a nasty split (lined up inside the numbers). He gets what he wants by boxing out Rhodes with his body, but is unable to haul in the contested catch.
Failure to make these types of catches plagued Jeffery throughout the season, improving as things progressed, but it’s just another example that those types of catches aren’t a given with him. Here, he fails to extend, allowing the ball to get to his body and lengthening the flight time which gives Rhodes an opportunity to jolt Jeffery with contact. All things considered, it’s a ball that should have been caught considering his strength.
This is exactly what the Eagles paid Jeffery to do. First, he gets the desired outside release, but uses a strong inside arm to prevent Rhodes from squeezing him to the sideline and limiting the window. Second, take Rhodes where he’s already going with a nudge to clear space at the catch-point.
The difference between separation in the route and separation at the catch-point is an important distinction. Jeffery does well to not only time his jump, but also clear Rhodes at the exact moment when he needs to begin his jump. He follows up by showing off his big catch radius and strong hands on a catch that would have been contested against other less savvy receivers.
With Rhodes temporarily out of the game, the Bears know exactly where they want to go on this red zone pass.
CB Trae Waynes is in off coverage with outside leverage and if the Eagles get this look in the red zone in the Championship Game, I would expect the same route and result. Jeffery alters his stride, almost hesitating to allow the play action to force SAF Harrison Smith to buzz down. This creates a void for Jeffery, who shows solid burst out of his break to create/maintain separation and haul in an easy 11 yard touchdown.
There were encouraging signs to take away from this game. The routes the Eagles will want to utilize Jeffery with are routes that he won against Rhodes in this game at least once. The stat sheet might not show a huge game (4-63-1), but context demonstrated that there were other factors that contributed to less than spectacular production.
In Part 2, we’ll visit the Week 17 game. Be forewarned, Jeffery has a new quarterback in that one (sound familiar?) and this time the box score shows a firm win for Rhodes. The film will tell us if the stats match the reality.
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