It’s tough to be recognized as a good player on a bad team. A year ago, Johnathan Joseph was viewed as one of the best cornerbacks in the league, and now he is rarely mentioned. He’s still playing well, however, attacking the football with his usual prowess and sticking on receivers like glue. The Jaguars’ receivers know this and are going to have their hands full tonight like they did a couple of weeks ago with Joseph. In that game, he showed why he continues to be one of the better cornerbacks in the league.
The Texans lost that Week 12 game 13-6, but Joseph did his job. He held the Jaguars receivers to only a few catches even though it may have seemed like more because of the bad safety play behind him. He was aggressive in driving on the ball, reading route combinations and mirroring receivers throughout their routes, everything that a cornerback is supposed to do at a high level.
A minute and half into the first quarter, Joseph’s coverage ability was already on display. It was 1st-and-10 and the Jaguars had the ball on their own 35-yard line. Quarterback Chad Henne was in a shotgun set and had 12 personnel around him. That meant one running back to his near left and two tight ends at each end of the offensive line. It also meant two separate receivers out to each side. Covering the left receiver in the short side of the field was Joseph. He was rolled up to the line of scrimmage in tight press-man coverage as part of the Texans’ Cover 1 Man-Free concept. This meant he was isolated with the receiver in coverage — typically a tough task, but one found easy by Joseph.
The receiver took two big strides at the snap to test Joseph. Usually cornerbacks, particularly those inexperienced, open their hips up immediately when quickly tested and give a free path downfield to receivers. Joseph doesn’t, however. He maintains composure and opens his hips up once the receiver finally releases outside.
As the receiver runs downfield, Joseph stays in his right hip up until the 35-yard line. That’s when the stem of the route is broken off and the receiver runs a comeback route to the sideline. It doesn’t fool Joseph, as he drives his left foot into the ground and explodes downhill, mirroring the receiver’s footwork thoroughly.
Nearly 12 minutes later in the first quarter, Joseph makes another big play, this time showing off his veteran experience by reading a common route combination.
It’s 3rd-and-8, and the Jaguars, who are leading 7-0, are looking to keep their drive alive at the 32-yard line. They’re lined up in a shotgun set, with 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end). Three receivers form a Trips set on the left side of the formation, forcing the Texans to rotate down a safety and go from a two-deep shell to one. This doesn’t change anything for Joseph’s positioning, however, as he remains more than half a dozen yards from the receiver outside the numbers.
The play begins and Joseph immediately turns his back to the sideline. He watches the quarterback and shuffles his feet as the receiver runs vertically in hopes of clearing out him for a short route to get open underneath. But Joseph knows that the Jaguars aren’t going to try to vertical ball on 3rd-and-8 — that’s bad football — so he sits on the short routes.
One of the short routes is a deep out ran by the slot receiver. He runs straight for nine yards before sticking his right foot in the ground and turning outside at the 41-yard line. At that point, he gains more depth on his out route and looks to haul in the ball at the 43 or 44-yard line. Joseph is sitting right there, though. The slot receiver didn’t know that Joseph stopped covering the vertical route the second the slot man made his break outside. As a result, he’s there for the tackle on the receiver quickly after the catch.
Later in the third quarter, Joseph’s coverage forces a sack. With less than two minutes to go in the quarter, the Jaguars line up in 11 personnel again. Three receivers, two to the left and one to the right, occupy the room outside of the trenches. To the short side of the field on the right is Joseph with a single receiver again. He’s playing nearly 10 yards off the receiver and with his eyes on the quarterback before the snap. This suggests zone coverage.
While the receiver takes three steps off the line to run what is eventually a square-in route, Joseph slides inside and turns his back to the middle of the field. He’s playing man coverage and watching the predictable route unfold right in front of his eyes. Once the receiver turns inside to complete his route, Joseph becomes aggressive and jumps the route, forcing Henne to double-pump before fumbling and taking the sack.
Joseph hasn’t been as great this season as he was last, but he’s still been good. He’s attacked the football and stuck to receivers amid the disaster that is the safety play behind him. It’s not easy to play well this way, but he has done so and it’s certain that the Jaguars receivers have taken notice on film. After all, he did cover them well only a couple of weeks ago.