There is no doubt that Jadeveon Clowney is going to wreak havoc on opposing offenses this season. Did you see him going beast mode on the Arizona offensive line last weekend?
The ball had to come out quick on passes, and he was a disruptive force against the run too. His ability to both rush the passer and blow up run plays in the backfield is second to none.
While studying tape of his first preseason game, however, I saw one area of major concern: Clowney’s coverage skills. He was awful in getting his run-pass reads, and he was undisciplined with his eyes in coverage.
It’s still early in camp, but Week 1 of the regular season will be here soon. If Clowney doesn’t correct this weakness in his game, opposing offenses will continue to attack it. If he does, he’ll soon be the league’s most dominant force.
What exactly must Clowney fix and how can he do it?
Here are two plays where Clowney got burned against the Cardinals when he was playing pass coverage from his outside linebacker position. Let’s dig into them and diagnose the problem.
(yellow circle). Houston is playing man-to-man coverage and Clowney’s responsibility is the down tight end on the line of scrimmage (red arrow — not the one off the ball in the wing position).
In man-to-man coverage, your first responsibility and most vital technique is to keep your eyes on your man. At the snap of the ball, his action will tell you whether or not it is a run or a pass.
Clowney obviously broke this cardinal rule and did not have his eyes on his matchup. At the snap of the ball, Clowney had his eyes in the backfield and — biting on the play-action fake — he shot into the backfield. In the meantime, his coverage responsibility — tight end Rob Housler — sprinted freely up the field into his route.
Clowney realized that it was a pass way too late, but he turned and tried to find his man.
His teammates tried to cover for him and make up for his poor technique, but this play was a win for Arizona at the snap of the ball and Housler torched the Texans’ defense for a 38-yard gain.
Clowney can outrun any tight end in the NFL, but if he doesn’t clean up his technique and learn to get good run-pass reads he will get burned by every one of them.
On this play, the Texans are playing quarters coverage. Clowney is on the line of scrimmage once again (yellow circle). His responsibility against this pass as the “quarter-flat” defender is as follows:
* Align on the outside edge of the No. 2 receiver
* See the number No. 2 and No. 3 receivers/threats.
* Re-route the No. 2 and take the first player to the flat – which ends up being tight end John Carlson, who starts in the No. 3 position here.
Starting at the No. 3 position, Carlson immediately becomes Clowney’s coverage responsibility (No. 2) when he runs to the flat at the snap of the ball.
But because of another bad run-pass read by Clowney – being bad with his eyes – he gets out-leveraged to the flat by Carlson.
Then, when Carlson turns up the field on his wheel route, Clowney gets toasted making it an easy 13-yard touchdown toss for Arizona.
Fortunately for the Texans, this touchdown was negated due to a “hands-to-the-face” penalty that was called on an Arizona offensive lineman. However, it doesn’t erase the fact that Clowney’s suspect coverage skills have been exposed.
If Clowney isn’t able to refine his technique in pass coverage, Houston’s defense will get torched on first and second downs this season. The Texans would love to be able to cross-train Clowney as an outside linebacker who can be trusted in pass coverage, but if he can’t they might be forced to keep his hand in the dirt and be a disruptive force off the edge.
If, however, Clowney shows that he has a sharp football IQ and is coachable – being able to learn simple techniques that will allow him to get good run-pass reads – he has the potential to be more dominant than any force on defense in the NFL this season.
Hey, Atlanta, you’re next. You probably won’t game plan much for the upcoming preseason game against Houston, so here’s one scouting report nugget for you: Run play action out of an I-formation – sending your tight end screaming up the field – and see if you can pick up some quick yardage off of busted coverage by Clowney.
If you can, it’s likely Clowney still has more work to do. If not, look out NFL offenses – Clowney is a quick learner.
Coy Wire played college football at Stanford before a nine-year NFL career in Buffalo and Atlanta. He’s currently a college football analyst for FOX Sports 1 and writes for FOXsports.com. Follow him on Twitter @CoyWire.