As an NFL offensive coordinator, there are a short list of things you simply cannot account for in game planning. A dominant edge rusher can be chipped, press coverage neutralized by motion and stack alignment, and blitzing can be countered with screens. But one thing a defense can’t account for is a safety with damn near unlimited range and elite ball skills. No matter which way you slice it, a defense with a safety the likes of Earl Thomas, Harrison Smith, Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed is downright frustrating to try to move the ball against. It takes patience with the ability to strike in seconds, a poker face the likes of Phil Hellmuth, and a little bit of luck.
The NFC championship game is set tonight against the 1 Seed New York Giants and the 2 Seed Arizona Cardinals and this game features not one, not two, not three, but four safeties that fit the description above. While we have seen dominant SS ability defenses in teams like Cleveland, Minnesota, and New England, these two safety duos are clearly the leagues best at the position. Lets take a look at the each of the Duos and discuss how the opposing quarterback and offense can find ways to win.
Julian Love and Jabrill Peppers
Julian Love – 93 OVR, (Secure Tackler/Pick Artist) – 63 T 11 INT 1 TD
Pros: Love is a sure tackler with great range. His elite zone coverage skills make him perfect for any scheme and hes down right filthy with the ball in his hands on the returns.
Cons: Love is not a very strong player with just 60 strength and 52 hit power. He will be helpful in the run game but Reddick or Johnson break the open field, he could be a liability in bringing them down.
Jabrill Peppers – 96 OVR (Selfless/Reach Elite/Universal Coverage) – 53 T 1 FF 7 INT
Pros: Jabrill is such a wildcard. His ability to line up anywhere and be efficient will be very confusing for the Cardinal offense. Univeral Coverage makes him perfect for blitz schemes as he can cover any player on the field and his tackling and power can cause a few turnovers if the Arizona ball carriers get careless.
Cons: Height is Peppers only knock but at 5ft11 that’s a reach. Theres virtually nothing he can’t do and what makes him a top 1% safety in this league.
The Cardinals focus has been running the football through their two SS running backs. In the week 2 matchup against the Giants both Reddick and Johnson topped 120 yards. Forcing the Giants to over commit to the run game could open up more 1 on 1 coverage against the Giants corners where there is a greater chance of success. Banks was not the quarterback in the first matchup so this will be the first time he will be challenged to throw the ball against such a stout secondary.
Buddha Baker and Ellis Reese
Buddha Baker – 92 OVR – (Shutdown/Unfakeable/Pick Artist) – 44 T 3 INT
Pros: With no disrespect to Buddha, he is Jabrill Peppers-lite. A great tackler with unfakeable is huge against a Saquon matchup and he has elite man and zone coverage skills making him suitable in all coverages and secondary positions. Expect to see him mainly at free safety but nickel isn’t out of the questions.
Cons: Hasn’t really stood out this season. His work is done quietly as deep balls are routinely swatted away and he tackles efficiently in the open field. Not the best jump ball athlete and needs to be careful if left alone vs taller targets.
Ellis Reese – 96 OVR – (Acrobat/Lurker) – 48 T 3 Sacks 18 INT 4 TD
Pros: There is only one safety even remotely like him in Top [Obi Melifonwu] and even then, Reese is the only player with lurker in the entire league. At 6ft4 Reese is an elite athlete with elite speed. He is the top coverage player in the league with 18 INT on the year and is not too shabby a run defender. Will be moved around a ton to play both SS, FS, and nickel.
Cons: A reason Reese is moved around so much is that the Cardinals have a hole in their secondary. Bouye is talented but not the best option vs speedy offenses, and when Reese fills in at nickel, Ricardo Allen is a huge drop in terms of deep coverage ability at SS. Seeing and attacking that gap will be necessary for the Giants to move the ball. Reese also isn’t a man coverage specialist by any means so seeing him in the nickel can lead to predictable defensive schemes giving the Giants a tip on the read.
Matt Ryan is a different puzzle to solve than Daniel Jones. What he loses in mobility he gains in SS abilities and veteran ability. Working the ball patiently to unlock the Omaha XF is a huge advantage for the Giants who then have all the info they need on offense to attack. Forcing the safeties to tackle and keeping run personnel on the field will lead to openings for mismatch players like Evan Engram and Darius Slayton.