Humphrey Continues Ascension as Top CB Baltimore Ravens/Shawn Hubbard

Game Changers Humphrey Continues Ascension as Top CB

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Game Changers – Week 15

There are plays in every football game that impact who wins and who loses. They can occur on offense, defense or special teams. Sometimes it’s a play everyone sees, like a long touchdown run or pass, a sack, or turnover. Other times it’s a play that goes unnoticed. It could be a key block on offense or a defender who doesn’t make the tackle himself but executes his assignment, allowing a teammate to make the play.

In the locker room after Sunday’s 20-12 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Strong Safety Tony Jefferson had this to say about CB Marlon Humphrey:

“It’s starting to click for him more in the film room. Obviously [he] has the intangibles to be a top-3/top-5 corner in this league, so I think it’s always been more mental, getting more the feel of it for him, coming along with that, and that’s just excelling his game.”

I think Jefferson makes an excellent point and you can see evidence of how Humphrey is improving in terms of the mental side of the game when you watch the film. Let’s take a look at a few plays from Sunday’s win that illustrate how Humphrey is combining mental processing, technique and athletic ability.

Humphrey tackles Ronald Jones II for a 1-yard loss

Q1, 5:42, 1st & 10 at TB25

Humphrey is a physical corner who is not hesitant about coming up to make tackles. On this play, Humphrey takes a shallow drop and is reading through WR Mike Evans into the backfield. Because Marlon has eyes on Bucs QB Jameis Winston, he’s able to see the throw to RB Ronald Jones. Humphrey breaks to the flat, gathers his feet to square up on Jones, then runs through contact. This is a textbook open-field tackle.

I really like how Humphrey gathers his feet as he approaches Jones instead of breaking down. Sometimes you’ll hear that a player should “break down as they approach the ball carrier.” But breaking down can lead to a defender stopping his feet. The last thing you want to do in an open field, 1-on-1 tackle situation, is stop your feet. Once you stop your feet, you have to restart them in order to react to the ball carrier. Stop your feet against NFL athletes in space and they’ll embarrass you.

Humphrey pbu on WR Adam Humphries

Q1, 4:23, 3rd & 8 at TB27

The Bucs are in a shotgun 2×2 formation with RB Jacquizz Rodgers in the backfield off-set to Winston’s right. Godwin is lined up out wide and TE Cameron Brate is in a ‘nasty’ split tight to the formation.

At the snap, Humphrey uses a half-turn technique as he drops. As he opens his hips inside and shuffles his feet, he’s reading through the #1 receiver (Godwin) to the #2 receiver (Brate). The half-turn technique can make a CB susceptible to out-breaking routes because their hips are locked inside, but it allows a CB to react more quickly to in-breaking routes.

Humphrey initially sinks with Godwin’s vertical release, then drives on the out route and separates Brate from the ball. Humphrey combines mental processing (understanding route concepts), physical attributes (agility, explosiveness) and competitive toughness (physicality at the catch point) to make this stop on 3rd down, forcing the Bucs to punt.

Interception by Humphrey

Q4, 13:26, 1st & 10 at TB23

The Bucs are in a shotgun empty formation. Let’s focus on the right side of the formation. WR Humphries is aligned outside the numbers and Mike Evans is in the slot, tight to the formation.

[Related: FILMSTUDY – Humphrey Finishes Bucs]

At the snap, WR Humphries takes a jab step upfield then turns to face Winston, while Evans releases vertically. The Ravens are in zone coverage so slot CB Tavon Young drives on the ‘smoke’ route by WR Humphries while Humphrey sinks with Evans’ vertical release from the slot.

Humphrey has deep help from FS Eric Weddle so he’s able to play a trail technique vs Evans. In trail, the CB plays slightly behind the WR to take away any underneath breaking routes (e.g. dig, comeback or out). He’s also using the half-turn again so he’s able to see the ball coming out of Winston’s hand. As Evans runs downfield, Humphrey is able to turn and match his speed then locate the ball.

Humphrey makes a nice adjustment to the ball that’s low and behind Evans. The ball gets through Humphrey’s hands, but watch how concentrates on the ball. He keeps his focus on the ball, even using his legs to help him regain possession.

Humphrey pbu vs Godwin

Q4, 7:12 4th & 4 at BLT33

On this critical 4th down play, the Bucs come out in a shotgun 2×2 set. Godwin and Brate are in a stacked look on the right side of the formation. RB Peyton Barber is in the backfield, off-set to Winston’s right. Let’s take a look at the routes from these three receivers.

The Bucs are running a variation of the ‘snag’ concept that some call ‘snag return.’ If you’re old school like me, you may even call snag – ‘triangle’ because of the triangle read it can create for the QB.

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The concept gets its name, snag, from the route run by the #1 WR, which is essentially an angled curl route.

In the Bucs’ variation, #1 (Godwin) runs the snag-return, #2 (Brate) runs what looks like a post, and #3 (Barber) runs the flat. The ‘return’ part of ‘snag-return’ is when Godwin runs a traditional looking snag route inside but then pivots and returns back outside. This is a really good route to work off a defender’s leverage if he plays heavy inside.

Pre-snap, Winston sends Godwin in motion to give him a read on the Ravens coverage. Humphrey follows Godwin and this indicates that the Ravens are playing man coverage. But the way they end up playing this concept is perhaps not the way you’d expect based on their pre-snap alignment.

Safety Chuck Clark is showing a press alignment vs Brate. Strong Safety Tony Jefferson is stacked three yards behind Clark and Humphrey is six yards off Godwin with inside leverage. From this alignment, you might expect Clark to jam Brate and take him, leaving Jefferson and Humphrey to play the routes from Godwin and Barber (if he releases).

But that’s not what happens. At the snap, Clark pushes to the flat to take Barber’s route. Jefferson plays Brate on his vertical release. Humphrey sees Godwin’s inside release, keeps his depth (over Clark) and slides inside to mirror Godwin.

Here’s where it gets good.

I love Humphrey’s patience! Watch how Marlon stays square and shuffles to his right like he’s playing man-to-man defense in basketball. He doesn’t open his hips and immediately drive downhill to try and cut Godwin off inside. By staying square and shuffling, Humphrey is able to react more efficiently to Godwin when he changes direction and pivots back outside.

As Godwin pivots outside, Humphrey plants and drives to an undercut position. As he dives, he extends his off hand in an attempt to deflect the ball. From this angle, it doesn’t look like he actually gets his hand on the ball, but I’d argue that his coverage and effort added to the degree of difficulty of this catch. The ball goes through Godwin’s hands, the Ravens offense takes over on downs with 7:08 left in the game and the Bucs never get the ball back.

The Future is Now

In my opinion, Marlon Humphrey has already established himself as one of the top cornerbacks in the league. He’s only in his 2nd year, but if he’s able to stay healthy and continues to combine his ever-increasing mental processing with his physical abilities, the sky’s the limit for where his career can go.

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