All season teams have had success throwing quick passes over the middle against the Buccaneers zone coverage, with last week in Washington being arguably the secondary’s worst performance defending inside passes.
But while many believe the issues are related to slant routes, that’s not necessarily the case, as explained by Tim Jennings.
“It’s not an up-the-field-slant. It’s like a dart,” Jennings said Monday in open locker room. “That’s a tough play… If there’s any space in between (the corner and wide receiver), then (the wide receiver) is just going now. It’s not like he’s running up the field and then doing a slant. It’s like a dart route.”
Jennings, a former two-time Pro Bowler, explained that in order for a cornerback to defend a “dart” – a pattern where the wide receiver immediately runs diagonal towards the center without taking a step up field – it’s either a guessing game to jump the route and risk the receiver releasing to the outside, or pressing within five yards in an effort to take it away.
“You either have to anticipate it and jump it, and then you risk letting them run a fade, or you can be aggressive on a guy (within 5 yards) and try to make them run somewhere else. It’s all about anticipation – taking away the slant and making them throw the fade.”
Perhaps the most famous successfully defended dart was in last year’s Super Bowl. Without hesitation, Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler cut off Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockette as the ball was thrown and intercepted the pass. The key on that play, according to Jennings, was that Butler didn’t think about it, he just ran.
“He anticipated it and ran (the route) for him. He beat him there,” Jennings said…“The thing about it is, he didn’t think about it. He just took off and made a play on the ball. That’s the only way you can play it. If (Butler) would’ve run inside and they faked outside, then (Lockette) would’ve had the whole outside beat. But he just thought, ‘I got it. I made up my mind and now I have to go.'”
The dart route is especially common near the goal line, where Lovie Smith reminded the media on Monday that it’s always man-to-man coverage in tight zones. Therefore in order for the secondary to start contesting these quick passes, they either need to be more physical within five yards, or make quicker decisions to jump the route and make a Malcolm Butler-like play.
Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for PewterReport.com. Since 2014, he's handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org