Early in the preseason Week 2 game against the New England Patriots, Avonte Maddox got beat. When I saw the play live, I thought it was just too long to reasonably expect tight coverage. It took nearly five full seconds for Tom Brady to get the ball out of his hands and find Chris Hogan sitting in the back of the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown strike. But when you watch how things unfolded, Maddox lost the coverage early and it was just a matter of time.
The coverage Maddox was playing is called the “catch technique”. Catch is meant to make things easier for a defensive back by doing less. The basics are simply stated as such: slide, collide and run.
A defensive back in catch doesn’t back-pedal or shuffle, rather he’ll align 5-9 yards off the receiver and “buzz” his feet. If the receiver cuts his route short, the DB will stick his foot in the ground and attack downhill. If the receiver stems left or right, the DB will slide/leverage left or right and collide at the top of the route stem. Once the route is declared, the DB will turn and run, tracking the near hip of the receiver. In the red zone he plays the man, not the ball. He keeps his eyes on the bottom of the number of the receiver, not on the drop of the quarterback.
Let’s see how Maddox plays it against Hogan.
Hogan starts in a “tight” or “nasty” split, which dictates to Maddox that he play with outside leverage. He starts off fine with his feet parallel, sliding into the path of Hogan’s release. Once Hogan arrives, that’s when things start to fall apart. Maddox freezes his feet and he tilts his hips open to the outside, giving Hogan room to cross his face inside.
Watch Maddox’s feet once Hogan gets to the top of his stem in slow motion.
Once his feet stop he’s beat and stood upright, but it gets worse. Maddox then stops playing the man and loses the near hip of Hogan. Instead, he plays the ball, turns to the quarterback, and crosses his feet. This compounds his mistake and results in him desperately grabbing for Hogan. The purpose of the catch technique is disrupt timing and re-route the receiver and neither of those boxes were checked on this play.
This isn’t meant to cast judgement on Maddox; I felt he played really well for the rest of the game. This is something that Benjamin Solak pointed out as a weak spot for Maddox when watching him in camp and it will be continued to be coached up by defensive backs coach Cory Undlin. It’s not something to outright dismiss either; defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz loves to bring cover 0 blitzes and those plays typically involve catch technique. It’s simply a learning experience and not something to hit the panic button over yet.
Maddox is plenty quick, as evidence by the closing speed in the clip below. If he continues to utilize that quickness instead of freezing his feet, he’ll be just fine.
Despite size and length concerns, Maddox has impressed in camp and in the preseason on his way to earning more reps throughout the process. Regardless of how the nickel position plays out this year, there are signs that he’s going to be a valuable asset for this secondary down the road. This is just one example of a technique he’s not very comfortable with yet and it’s something to track.
Every defensive back gets beat; it’s how they rebound from those defeats and play the next rep that keeps them on the field. Maddox came back from this early misstep and had a solid outing. That’s an important check in the mental toughness box.