So far in the all-22 Breakdown: The Ravens Free Safeties, I have looked at the current frontrunner for the starting Free Safety, Darian Stewart. You can review both articles here and here. What we have learned from the all-22 breakdown is that Darian Stewart is a very good run defender and provides excellent coverage underneath and at the line of scrimmage. His largest weakness is his deep coverage ability. He doesn’t have the natural ability to recover from a mistake in coverage and is limited in his coverage range.
On Friday, July 25, 2014, the Ravens announced that they have signed Free safety Will Hill. From the scouting reports, Hill is very good in a cover-2 defense and can play cover 1 where he plays the role of the “center fielder”. Hill has been known to take solid routes to the football and has very good hands. According to ProFootballFocus, Hill was the third best safety in the league compared to safeties who have played with 50% or more of snaps. Quarterbacks had a rating of of 62.0 when throwing the ball into Hill’s coverage area. The longest pass given up by Hill when a player was in his coverage area was 25 yards.
Let’s take a look at Hill’s ability to play the Free Safety in cover 1 and cover 2 against deep passing. The ability to cover the field in a deep passing scenario is a weakness in Darian Stewart’s game. Does Will Hill have a role on the team with his deep pass coverage ability?
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
Free Safety in a Cover 1 Defense
In a cover 1 defense, the Free Safety must have the range to cover the entire field to help bail out defenders (CBs covering WRs, the SS covering the TE and the WLB covering the HB) in addition to take a clean route to the football to take away the seam route or post route. The Free Safety should also have the ability to identify pass concepts and adjust his coverage accordingly. In the 2013-2014 season, in Week 16 against the Lions, the Giants defense lined up in a cover 1 defense with Hill lined up at FS.
The key to a successful cover 1 defense are the Cornerbacks ability to play man coverage, and the defenders in the middle of field funneling their receivers to the FS. Receivers, running deep routes, end up in between the Free Safety playing deep and the Middle Linebacker in zone coverage underneath. Quarterbacks are forced to look elsewhere instead of throwing it in the middle of the field. The Ravens have relied on this defense in previous years utilizing Ed Reed and Ray Lewis.
As the play progresses, the Linebacker funnels the receiver to the Free safety, Hill. The Lions Quaterback, Matt Stafford, scrambles in the pocket to buy some time and attempts to direct the receiver to get open with a hand gesture. Hill plays this perfectly. He is in good position to contest for the ball and he is disciplined to keep his assignment. Younger players may tend to get caught looking in the backfield waiting for the sack or lose their assignment as the play extends.
Hill is able to react to Stafford’s throw. Stafford must make a tough throw that is away from Hill and only where his receiver has a chance to receive the ball. Hill takes a clean route to the ball and is able to contest the catch. The result of the play is an incomplete pass. This is what you want from your Free Safety.
Hill would allow the Ravens to limit offenses by playing a single-high safety defense (Cover 1 or Cover 3). The Ravens can utilize Hill on passing or running downs, allowing him to play Free Safety while dropping Matt Elam into the box. Hill as a Free Safety will allow Webb, Smith and the underneath defenders to play aggressive knowing that they have protection up top. Either Daryl Smith, Arthur Brown, or CJ Mosley can play zone coverage underneath as the Middle Linebacker. The middle of the field would not be available in the passing game, forcing quarterbacks to throw outside. Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith have demonstrated that they can play press coverage on outside. A strong pass rush could also force the Quarterback to make an ill advised throw.
Free Safety in a Cover 2 Defense
In a cover 2 defense, the two safeties are responsible for the deep routes. Each Safety takes a half of the field, watches the play develop and reacts as the ball is thrown. The Safety will also assist the cornerback in coverage. If a receiver is running a deep route, the cornerback will rely on the safety to roll over and pick up covering the receiver. The most important role for a safety in a cover 2 defense is to not allow any defender to get behind them. In the 2013-2014 season, in Week 16 against the Lions, the Giants defense lined up in a cover 2 defense with Hill lined up at FS.
Hill plays this coverage very well. At the snap of the ball, he aligns himself approximately 18 yards from the line of scrimmage at the top of the numbers. Hill’s primary read is the number 1 wide receiver. The receiver takes the outside release which signals a fade route or comeback route. Since the cornerback is in man coverage (he has inside leverage and will use the sidelines for help), Hill does not have to help out on coverage. Instead he turns to cover the Tight End.
Hill is in good position to tackle the receiver if he is able to catch the ball. Fortunately, for Hill, Matt Stafford has thrown a ball that bounces off the receivers hands into the air. Since Hill was in good coverage, he is able to come down with the interception and score a touchdown.
Hill has the skills and ability to become a starting safety. He is capable of playing the the single high free safety in a cover 1 or cover 3 or the deep half in a cover 2. At 6ft 1inches and 202 lbs, he can cover Tight Ends. Hill has the ability to intercept a ball thrown his way. Hill can definitely fill the role of a deep cover Safety for the Ravens.
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