We saw it in 2013 with Keenan Allen. In 2014 with Jason Verrett. In 2015 with Denzel Perryman. It doesn’t take long at all to realize you’re dealing with a playmaker. Unfortunately, the Chargers had to find out the hard way by losing captain Manti Te’o to a season-ending Achilles injury. Today we’ll look at the player who replaced Te’o last Sunday and what he means to the team moving forward. You may be thinking it’s too early to label a player a “playmaker” when he hasn’t even started a game in the NFL. In 38 games play, Te’o had 9 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble, and 1.5 sacks. In 82 snaps, rookie Jatavis Brown has 4 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble, and a sack.
Brown’s athleticism speaks for itself, and that’ll be obvious in these clips below. The fact that he’s been around the ball that much this soon compared to the linebackers on this team is so promising. Let’s go over the 3 different phases on defense that will be asked of Brown.
Turning and Running
In coverage, Brown will be asked to turn and run sideline to sideline as well as turn and run with his back turned to the QB. At times, it can be in press man coverage like this:
It can be as simple as that, where he’s asked to guard a running back with no safety help down the sideline.
Where Brown flourishes is when he’s asked to run sideline to sideline. He has the makeup speed to recover and put him in position to make plays on the ball. Like we saw Sunday.
Here we see Brown recovering after he steps towards the run fake, then is able to get back to the Colts tight end and jar the ball loose.
Probably the most jaw-dropping play from Sunday was on a screen pass. Brown steps the wrong way here then looks like he is shot out of a cannon as he zooms past the Colts lineman to chase down the back.
Woo boy, he covers some ground there. Browns raw physical tools will put him in a position that few LBs in the league would be in. That alone makes him a better coverage LB than any other LB the Chargers could field. Everyone gets beat in the NFL, and Brown will have to learn that he can’t have his speed bail him out everytime. However, his recovery speed should help Brown limit the big plays and more importantly, yards after the catch that we were previously used to seeing with the previous LB duo.
Attacking the line of scrimmage
After the catch
Speaking of limiting yards after catch, Brown has shown to be a solid open field tackler. Something that is lacking on the defense. The Jacksonville game there were 2 plays that stood out. There was a swing pass where Brown was 1-on-1 against T.J. Yeldon and made the play. Then, there was a screen pass where he avoided an oncoming lineman to make the play. Both of these plays were 3rd downs.
I shouldn’t have to tell you how important limiting yards after catch is, but it’s just another aspect in the game where Brown can help this defense.
As a blitzer
Probably one of the more frustrating things over the last couple of years to was was Pagano asking Te’o to blitz. Te’o is contact-averse and as a blitzer you either have to be super speedy to be a lineman to a spot or have a bull in a china shop mentality and run through whoever is in your way to get to the QB. Manti is much better moving backward than coming forward. Over the 1st couple weeks of the season, we’ve seen Brown be disruptive around the line of scrimmage.
The second 3rd down of the season he was able to get in the line of vision of Alex Smith to break a pass up and get the defense off the field.
Often times Te’o and Perryman get caught in no man’s land. Brown showed early on he’s aware enough to know if he can’t get there, he’d stop his rush and get his hands up in the throwing lane.
We also saw his closing speed coming forward. The issue with the previous LBs is if they were to disguise their blitz like this there’s no chance they hit the QB here. Which is no fault of theirs. The timing and closing of this s play is great. The majority of QBs in the NFL eat this and it’s a sack.
Sidebar: Plays like this are why Corey Liuget is so valuable. Gives himself up by launching himself into the center, which in turn allows Brown to come free.
And of course, there was Browns sack fumble. The play that kept the Chargers in the game against the Colts.
Jumping over the running back, staying on his feet, and keeping his eyes on the quarterback is an impressive feat in itself. Having the wherewithal to go for the ball, that’s the playmaker in Brown taking over. That is next level stuff from him.
As a blitzer Brown will have to show more physicality and on a consistent basis, but again, the plays are already being made which is a good sign for him moving forward.
Against the run
Like all state, Brown is in good hands against the run. He’s being protected by Brandon Mebane, Liuget, and Denzel Perryman. Soon enough the 1st round draft pick. Several times Sunday the former 2 completely reset the line of scrimmage leaving the LBs free to make a play. With Brown, so long as he’s attacking, he’ll be able to make as many plays as he wants. That’s going to be the key with him. Here are 2 plays that stuck out Sunday that were very encouraging when watching the rookie from Akron.
This is about as well as you can play the run. You have Liuget in the backfield 2.5 yards, which certainly helps. Brown has the right mentality here as he attacks the fullback but simultaneously makes him miss without stopping his feet. Finished the play for a tackle for loss.
This is the very next run play. It’s easy when there’s a clear lane for you to fill. When there’s no gap to shoot, the best of the best linebackers still find a way to make a play. Brown did that.
If Brown can continue to play downhill like this, he’s going to make a ton of plays in this defense. He just has to trust himself. Something Te’o never fully grasped.
Brown is far from flawless but in this specific defense, he brings so much to the table. Against the Saints, I’m not really worried about him in coverage. I’m interested to see how he performs when the Saints spread the defense out, and run the ball at Brown. There are going to be some rookie growing pains with Brown, but early on in the season, all signs point to a star in the making. He was a star on Sunday, let’s see if he can build on that performance for the rest of the season.