It's overreaction week. So to celebrate this time honored tradition we annually put ourselves through, I thought I would spotlight one of the Free Agent acquisitions the Chargers made over the offseason.
So let's all sit down around the proverbial Bolts From The Blue campfire and tell tales of players who will have dominating seasons and players who will certainly be awful. And you can enjoy (or suffer through, to-may-to/to-mah-to) my unique writing style*. Let's start with Jarret Johnson after the jump.
* Parenthesis > Asterisks^
^ And with that one statement, I have just alienated approximately 97% of my readers, and at least 50% of the staff.
Even his ears outside contain.
I like the Outside Linebacker position. I think it might be my favorite position and it was certainly my favorite to play. One of the things that is great about the OLB position is the amount of hype a player can get if he is great a rushing the passer as an OLB, and how anonymous he can be if he is great at stopping the rusher. Jarret Johnson (JJ) falls in the latter category. He was a largely anonymous player on an otherwise stellar Baltimore Ravens Defense.
To be completely honest, when JJ was first signed, I had no idea who he was. So I scoured the internet to see what I could find. I came across the following quote in particular:
"Jarret Johnson may be the best LB in football at setting the edge vs the run. Specialist, but a great one" - Pro Football Focus
This piqued my curiosity, so I went to work watching all of his snaps from last season as a Raven (Charger obsessed? Maybe a little, why do you ask?). My takeaways from watching those games, are that Jarret rarely straight up pass rushes. When he isn't dropping into coverage, he is setting the edge and watching the backfield. The Ravens would rotate in Kruger on passing downs and attempt to create pressure without JJ.
I've got to admit, when I saw how he was used, coupled with the stats that PFF had taken on him, I was intrigued. I thought that having one of the best Force Defenders in the league, in a division with speedy backs who excel at beating the Defense to the edge in McFadden and Charles, would be a perfect addition to this team. Especially since he would be replacing Travis Laboy's lack of production (I'm pretty sure I can hear pitchforks getting sharpened at the very mention).
So, how did he do? Well let's start by looking at his stat line for the game:
5 solo tackles and 1 assist
That's a pretty uninteresting stat line, but looking at his history with the Ravens, that's actually a bit above average for him. But, as we all know, stats don't tell the entire story. Let's go to the tape and see how he did there.
This was a designed run to JJ's side of the field, and you can see that Johnson has moved up the field to keep outside contain. Now, on this particular play, he actually does make the tackle, but that is not going to happen every time, nor is it necessarily expected to.
That might sound a little bit conflicting so let me explain. The Defense is always trying to limit the space on the field. Anything you can do to limit the amount of area the Offense has to work with, the better the chance that you can get all of your playmakers in that area. So for an Outside Linebacker in the 3-4 scheme, in the run game your most important job is outside contain.
Do not let the runner get outside of you and turn the corner. All of your help is toward the middle of the field. If the runner successfully gets outside of you, they only need to beat the CB (who is probably being blocked by the WR) and the back has a chance to run for a big gain.
In order to do this, you need to put yourself in a position where it forces the running back to cut back inside, or risk getting led out of bounds. By doing that, you might not pick up a lot of gaudy stats, but you will be shrinking the field, allowing your middle linebackers to make a play on the ball and give them gaudier stats, and more importantly, stopping the runner from gashing you outside. For example, McFadden's longest rush of the night (8 yards) came when Shaun Phillips lost contain, and Spikes had to squeeze McFadden towards the sideline (he didn't really have much choice), allowing Weddle to come up and force him out of bounds.
That being said, he is still expected to get off of his blocks so he can make a play on the Running Back and there were times where he struggled with that. JJ wasn't a dominating force, but he was well disciplined and got to where he needed to be. He never let McFadden get outside of him.
So, getting back to the play above (which was pretty indicative of how Johnson did), as you can see, Johnson has put himself in a position that forces McFadden to cut inside. If McFadden was to try and run outside of Johnson, JJ could corral McFadden, thus delaying him, and allowing the rest of the defenders to catch up, thus shortening the field that way (and probably forcing McFadden out of bounds as well).
Overall, I will say that JJ is about as advertised. He had a little trouble getting off of his blocks at points during the game, but his positioning was usually good enough, that it would allow someone else (usually Spikes, Butler, Weddle, or Bigby) to make a play on the runner in his stead.
In the Running Game, I'll give him a solid B+. He didn't take over the game, but he did improve those around him by staying disciplined and taking care of his assignments.
JJ really didn't drop back into coverage all that often, so this is a very small sample size, but when he did, most of the time it looked like this:
JJ did a decent job of jamming receivers and forcing them off their routes in the limited number of times he dropped back. There were only 3 throws that were in JJ's vicinity the entire night. Once, in the second quarter, where he dropped way back in coverage (covering the curl for the outside receiver) and the ball was thrown underneath to a wide open McFadden (4 yards):
And then once more in the 4th quarter (Oakland's only TD scoring drive of the game), there was a miss-communication between JJ and Ingram (Ingram was lined up at the ILB position), where both thought they had the underneath receiver:
You can see Ingram and JJ at the top of the picture there where it looks like JJ is coming up to play the RB (McFadden) while Ingram stays on the WR (Myers). McFadden cuts across the middle and Ingram comes shooting up, and Palmer fires it over his head to the now wide open Myers for a first down. It's hard to tell who was at fault here, but I'll just chalk it up to both of them.
The final throw in JJ's vicinity, where he ends up making the tackle, wasn't even his responsibility. Jammer was playing well off the line, and Darius Heyward-Bey caught it underneath. JJ happened to be in the neighborhood because the receiver that he was covering (FB Marcel Reece) was running an out route.
Overall, with the small sample size, I'll give JJ a C+. He played good coverage most of the time, but had at least 2 blown coverages in the limited amount of times he dropped back to defend the pass.
Ok, now we come to the most maligned of JJ's responsibilities. Johnson is not known for his pass rushing, and for good reason. On most passing plays he runs up as if he is going to rush, hits a lineman, and pushes off of him and drops back into coverage.
When he does rush though, he appears to have a limited repertoire of moves. Most of the time he either looks like this:
In the first picture, Palmer stepped up, and evaded the pressure entirely. But JJ tried to either speed rush around the tackle, or bull rush on the majority of pass rushes that I saw. In the second picture, JJ ended up behind other rushers, and looking for a hole to plug in case the play turns out to be a screen pass or a draw.
Overall, He didn't rush the passer all that much, but when he did it was pretty ineffective. I'll give him a C- for his lack of pressure . He was pretty much just another body for most of the rushes. His only real positive is that he never gives up on a play, so he might be good enough to get a coverage sack or two, otherwise I wouldn't expect too much out of him when it comes to pass rush.
So, Johnson is pretty much as good as he was expected to be. He is an asset in the rushing game, who looks average in coverage and poor rushing the passer. He is probably not going to completely take over a game in any one of these phases, but his well disciplined play will improve those around him and make them look better as a result. I predict that he will be a solid player, that most casual fans won't really notice who will help make the Defense more stout against the run.
Thoughts? Comments? Concerns? Think I'm completely right, or way off base? Then let me know in the comments, and let's celebrate Overreaction Week the way it was meant to be celebrated: Nervously wringing our hands!