I think personnel men still don’t know the true value of a quality safety in their defensive backfield. They don’t invest in them enough just yet, be it in free agency with a lucrative contract or in the draft with a high selection. They don’t do it because they’re afraid of how long the safeties’ bodies can hold up after contact and, of course, their money’s tied up in their mighty pass-rush.
But as great as a pass-rush can be, it needs a quality defensive backfield to accompany it, especially in the modern age of the National Football League.
The Detroit Lions found that out last season. Their defensive backfield was ravaged with injuries, and their defense fell apart at times as a result. That’s why they made a conscious effort to upgrade the area this offseason, drafting Mississippi State cornerback Darius Slay in the second round, re-signing cornerback Chris Houston, and perhaps most importantly, signing strong safety Glover Quin from the Houston Texans for $23.5 million.
Quin is the type of safety that you, generally speaking, want to have in your backfield. He’s a former cornerback whose ball-tracking skills and light feet have carried over to the safety position. He’s also versatile, having the ability to play in the box or middle of the field, and physical. He can play the run well and beat up receivers and tight ends while mirroring them in the middle of the field. He’s a great asset against multiple tight end offenses, which the Lions could start to defend fairly well because of Quin’s skills.
During Week 3 of the 2012 regular season against the Denver Broncos, Quin matched up well with tight end Jacob Tamme. Tamme, a 6’3″ favorite of quarterback Peyton Manning’s, is not the most fleet of foot, but he’s a savvy veteran who knows how to get open by using his tall frame. On one play, Tamme failed to get open and catch the ball because of Quin’s physicality, quickness, and ball skills.
It was early in the fourth quarter, the 14:56 mark to be exact, and the play clock was ticking down. The Broncos were down 20 points (31-to-11), and were faced with a potentially drive-ending 3rd-and-7. Manning was in the shotgun set, and Tamme was flexed at the right end of the trenches while Quin was just inside of Tamme.
The ball was snapped and Tamme fired off the line, releasing outside to run a bend route from the outside-in. At the same time, Quin opened his body and matched the tight end foot-for-foot. As he ran with the tight end, he placed his right arm on the back of Tamme’s jersey, pulling on the numbers slightly to slow him down.
Once Tamme passed the Texans’ 40-yard line, he bent his route inside and looked back for the ball while Quin placed his hands on Tamme’s left shoulder to further slow him down.
Then Quin made another move. He turned his body to look back for the ball and craftily grabbed Tamme’s left arm with his right, making it even more difficult for Tamme to fully turn his body and get open.
Eventually Manning’s throw came in, and into the wrong hands as Quin jumped in front of the football and nearly intercepted the throw like he used to do as a cornerback at the University of New Mexico.
Quin’s ability to matchup with tight ends bigger than him with physicality and quickness is something that more teams need to find at the safety position as they continue to evolve defensively and find ways to matchup with multidimensional offenses. Although Quin’s skillset is highly sought after, teams are still not valuing the position highly enough because they’re not investing enough in it. That should change moving forward, however, or defenses will continue to fall behind offenses.
In the Lions’ case, they’ve made the right moves to upgrade their decimated secondary from a year ago and keep up with offenses. Now it’s up to them to use Quin correctly. They’ve hinted at using him interchangeably as a free or strong safety, but he’s at his best in the box where he can match play the run, blitz, and matchup with the towering tight ends of the NFC North.