All-22 Breakdown: The Ravens Free Safeties – A multiple part series
During the Ravens Ravens 2013 Season Review Press Conference, Ozzie Newsome commented that “[The Ravens] need to have a more athletic safety in the defense”. Newsome also commented that the the Ravens “talked about a free safety [and] maybe getting a free safety that can be a playmaker.” During the offseason, the Ravens signed S Darian Stewart from the St. Louis Rams and drafted FS Terrance Brooks from Florida State in the 3rd round of the NFL Draft.
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In this series, I will take a look at both Darian Stewart and Terrance Brooks highlighting their strengths and weaknesses primarily in pass coverage as a Free Safety. Did the Ravens fulfill their desire to put a more athletic, playmaking Safety on the field? In this first part, I will take a look at Darian Stewart’s pass coverage ability during the 2013-2014 season when he was a member of the St. Louis Rams.
Darian Stewart Scouting Report
Darian Stewart’s scouting report summarized him as a big, physical safety that is a good tackler and can hit like a linebacker. In terms of strengths, he is very physical and can play shallow coverage and run support very successfully. He is very solid against the run, but was not considered to be great in coverage. His largest weakness was his deep coverage ability. The scouts felt that he didn’t have great range and won’t cover much ground if he makes a mistake in coverage.
2013-2014 Season – Free Safety for Tim Walton’s Rams defense
During the 2013-2014 season, Darian Stewart played 24 snaps (17 in coverage, 7 against the run) as a FS for the Rams. All 24 snaps were against the Seahawks in week 17. Against the Seahawks, the Rams were lined up primarily in a cover 2 defense. In a cover two defense, the Free Safety is responsible for the deep half of one side of the field. A Free Safety typically lines up 15 yards from the line of scrimmage. The primary goal of a Free Safety in a cover 2 defense is to read the release of the No. 1 wide receiver to determine if the play is a run or a pass. On a passing play, the Free Safety is responsible for covering any throw to the deep middle of the field in addition to keeping all receivers in front of them.
Free Safety coverage
On this 3rd and 8th play at the end of the first quarter, the Seahawks were in a passing down. Darian Stewart lined up as the Free Safety in a cover 2 zone defense. At the snap of the ball, Stewart reads the primary receiver and determines that the receiver is running a post route. Stewart then makes a break to where he believes that the ball would be thrown. Unfortunately, Stewart is too aggressive and gives the receiver an opportunity to release to the sidelines. This is due to poor technique by Stewart on the play. Stewart played where he thought the ball would go and lost track of his receiver. He let the receiver get behind him. This is a good example of Stewart’s weakness in deep coverage. What prevented a successful completion was the Right DE Eugene Sims getting a sack on the QB Russell Wilson.
Tackling in Pass Coverage
During the second quarter on 2nd and 9 play, we get a good example of Darian Stewart’s strength in shallow coverage. The Rams are lined up in the same cover 2 zone defense as the play highlighted above. Stewart does an excellent job of keeping the receiver in front of him and makes the adjustment to align himself to make the tackle after the receiver catches the ball. Stewart misses the tackle with poor technique and allows the receiver to gain an additional couple of yards for the first down.
Conclusions so far…
In looking at the 17 plays in pass coverage, Darian Stewart appears to confirm the scouting reports. He is not strong in deep pass coverage and can play shallow coverage very well. He does like to hit like a linebacker, going for the big hit versus the sure tackle. Although not shown in this analysis, he is a solid run defender. The positives are that both the deep coverage ability and tackling are correctable mistakes.
In the next series, I will look at Darian Stewart during the 2011 season when the Ravens Secondary Coach Steve Spagnuolo was the head coach of the Rams. Do the Ravens have a play-maker on defense with the right coach?