Two weeks have gone by in the 2021 NFL season, and it looks like the Bengals’ investments in their defense are paying off.
While we still haven’t see Trae Waynes at cornerback over a year after he joined the team, Chidobe Awuzie has looked impressive so far. Add in Vonn Bell and Mike Hilton, and you have a secondary that was almost completely overhauled in the past two years, with Jessie Bates being the only carryover. In the same time span they have invested heavily in the defensive line, adding D.J. Reader, Larry Ogunjobi, Trey Hendrickson, and most recently B.J. Hill.
They haven’t, however, spent their free agency dollars on linebackers. Fortunately, Logan Wilson looks like a star two games into his sophomore campaign, and the guy the selected right after him has been excellent in limited reps.
Akeem Davis-Gaither looked good as a rookie, and continues to sneak up on people. Playing 16 snaps in each of the team’s first two games, he has been very good, particularly in pass coverage.
He’s smart, athletic, versatile, and he needs to get more playing time.
We’ll start simple.
Here Davis-Gaither lines up near the line of scrimmage and threatens to blitz. On the snap he mirrors the running back, who ends up check-releasing (looks for the blitz before getting into the route). Davis-Gaither is patient as the back tries to square him up and make a cut. As the back gets into his route, Davis-Gaither is all over him.
Davis-Gaither is an excellent athlete who matches up will with running backs.
At the beginning of this clip, Davis-Gaither is on the top hash at the 39 yard-line.
When the ball is snapped, he drops into the curl/flat, gaining depth and width. This takes him underneath the deep curl route, which is where Bear’s quarterback, Justin Fields, wants to go with the ball. Seeing the cornerback bail out, Fields looks to throw the curl, but pulls it down at the last second. That’s because he sees that Davis-Gaither is in position to make a play.
This is an excellent pass drop by Davis-Gaither and you can clearly see him reading the quarterback. If Fields hadn’t changed his mind at the last second, this could have been an interception.
Of course, the play was not over at that point since Fields scrambled out of the pocket. Davis-Gaither was aware that Fields was moving, but didn’t abandon his coverage responsibility until Fields crossed the line of scrimmage. The running back came to block Davis-Gaither, but Davis-Gathier got extension with his arms, so he could play off either side of the block. Showing to the inside. he forced Fields to run out of bounds.
The shorter route holds ADG, he should drop under this deeper route and provide inside help for Awuzie pic.twitter.com/YmrEqmi1J7— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) September 20, 2021
Earlier in the game, Davis-Gaither got himself in trouble by not gaining enough depth. In this clip, he is lined up where the upper hash meets the first down line. Once again, this is a Cover 3 look, but this time, Davis-Gaither is responsible for the hook rather than the flat.
Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie is exactly where he should be, with outside leverage on the receiver, but he should have help inside from Davis-Gaither.
A key principle of zone coverage is that you defend the deeper routes and pursue and tackle the shorter routes. Linebackers are often coached that if there is someone deep, there is someone short. So when they see routes break off short, they should continue to drop off, knowing that there is likely a deeper route coming behind them.
Here, Davis-Gaither sees the tight end in front of him in position to get the first down, and sits on the route. In this case, the first down is the lesser of two evils. He needs to drop off and be under the slant to prevent the touchdown.
Bears quarterback Andy Dalton (that sounds weird) throws a beautiful pass for the team’s only offensive touchdown of the day.
Calling plays offensively is about putting defensive players in conflict, and that’s exactly what they did to Davis-Gaither here. He needs to prevent the touchdown by dropping for depth. Even though the play would have likely resulted in a first down, the defense would have lived to fight another day.
ADG on edge, drops off into coverage pic.twitter.com/kAnCLNDDAg— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) September 20, 2021
Davis-Gaither was not a traditional linebacker at Appalachian State. He played more of a hybrid edge rusher/nickelback, and we have been waiting for the Bengals to use his versatility to create pressure. This isn’t exactly what we were talking about, but it is a promising sign.
Davis-Gaither is lined up as the end man on the line of scrimmage to the top of the screen in what is essentially a 3-4 look. This is a Tampa 2 defense. Even though you can’t see the safeties, you can see Logan Wilson turn and run as the Tampa middle linebacker (technically Tampa-extra with Trey Hendrickson playing the short middle of the field underneath Wilson).
Davis-Gaither drops off into the hook and when the ball is thrown to the flat, he breaks and makes the tackle.
Once again, you see a great read and great speed from Davis-Gaither. As the ball comes out, he breaks, beating the cornerback there even though the ball is completed in the cornerback’s zone.
He over-pursues the play, but is still able to make the tackle. He should be aiming for the ball-carrier’s inside hip. This would prevent the ball-carrier from cutting to the inside (as he tries to do) and corral him to the cornerback. Defenses want to create a funnel. In this case, the cornerback would be the tip, Davis-Gaither would be one edge, and the sideline would be the final edge.
Overall, Davis-Gaither does an excellent job of reading the quarterback, breaking on the ball, and making the tackle for a short gain. This is good defense.
This guy needs to play.
Here, we get to see Davis-Gaither rushing the passer, but not from the edge. He blitzes from the middle linebacker position.
He doesn’t show the blitz at all, he just loops around on the snap. Fields gets rid of the ball quickly, and it’s a good thing for the Bears that he does. When the ball is released, Davis-Gaither has a clear path to the quarterback.
Davis-Gaither has some skill as a pass rusher and should be used more as a blitzer.
Akeem Davis-Gaither didn’t get a lot of playing time as a rookie, but he had some really nice flashes. That has continued into Year 2 where he has been very impressive in a limited number of snaps. He needs to get more playing time and should be pushing for a starting role on the Bengals defense.