Johnathan Joseph: The Numbers, The Tape, The Verdict

He only missed two games, but Johnathan Joseph could have missed many more games last season.

It’s not fair to use Johnathan Joseph’s 2012 season as an example of his talent or as a way to compare him to the other elite cornerbacks in the NFL. While playing for the Houston Texans last year, Joseph was continually battling with injuries and missed two games during the regular season because of those issues.

His determination to play through the pain and lack of comfort was very admirable, but his product on the field was undoubtedly affected by his physical limitations. Still, defensive coordinator Wade Philips still thought highly enough of Joseph’s overall ability to trust him in his usual role for the team. There was no special plan to try and hide Joseph in the secondary. He wasn’t moved onto lesser receivers, in fact he did the opposite.

Even when he was playing notably slower than he is used to, Joseph repeatedly took assignments against the opposition’s top receiver. This was the reason the Texans invested in him and just like he wasn’t succumbing to his health problems, he wasn’t going to let his role change. Joseph followed players such as Brandon Marshall, AJ Green, Jordy Nelson and Demaryius Thomas from sideline-to-sideline and into either slot during the 2012 season.

Every NFL defensive back is athletic, but not every defensive back has the right combination of physical traits to allow them to play in different positions without having to sacrifice something. Most who can’t move around the field find a spot on the field that best fits their skill-set and they stick to it. For example, Brandon Flowers rarely moved from the left cornerback  position, because he excelled to an elite degree in that area of the field, whereas Patrick Peterson did move around, but struggled(in relative terms) lining up over the slot because of his lesser quickness and fluidity.

From a sheer athletic point of view, Joseph has everything that Leon Hall, Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis have, even though his height is something some receivers can exploit. His athleticism is a very important part of his game, but when a part of it was taken away this past season, how well did he do?

Well, he wasn’t perfect, but considering the situation, he was very impressive.

Explaining the Process

Qualifying Plays:
Plays that count:

  • Every snap that has the cornerback in man coverage no matter where the ball is thrown.
  • The above includes sacks, quarterback scrambles and plays where the defensive back has safety help.

Plays that don’t count:

  • Screen plays. Even if the receiver isn’t part of the screen, these plays do not count.
  • Plays where either the receiver or cornerback doesn’t follow through his whole assignment.
  • Zone plays. Any ambiguity in this area will disqualify a play.
  • Any prevent coverage situations.
  • Receptions in the flat without a route run.
  • Running plays(duh!). Including designed quarterback runs.

Failed Coverages:

The ball does not have to be thrown in Joseph’s direction for the coverage to fail. This is NOT an alysis of how many completions Joseph allowed, that can be found elsewhere, this is an analysis of how good his coverage is on any given play.

Failed coverages can come at any point of the route, but it is subjective to where the players are on the field in relation to the quarterback. Typically, defensive backs must be within arms reach for underneath/intermediate routes. On deeper passes, there is greater leeway given to the defender.

Failed coverages can be subjective. They must be determined by the situation considering the length of the play and other such variables.

Shut Down:

This category is reserved for those plays when receivers would have to make superhuman catches to beat the coverage. The best example of this is when receivers line up wide and try to run down the sideline, but the defensive back gradually guides them towards the sideline, suffocating the space they have to catch the football in. If a receiver is on the white sideline, he is shut down.

In Position:

This is the opposite of a failed coverage. In order to be ‘In Position’, a defensive back has to be in a position to prevent a relatively well-thrown pass to his assignment.

Wide Receiver Success-Individual Matchups

No.

Player

Successful Snaps/Coverage Snaps

Percentage

1 Brandon Marshall 8/16 50%
2 AJ Green 6/14 42.9%
3 Jeremy Kerley 3/7 42.9%
4 Torrey Smith 8/19 42.1%
5 Donnie Avery 5/19 26.3%
6 Brandon Lloyd 11/42 26.2%
7 Jordy Nelson 5/22 22.7%
8 Cecil Shorts 2/8 25%
9 Justin Blackmon 1/4 25%
10 Chaz Schilens 1/4 25%
11 Stevie Johnson 3/14 21.4%
12 Lauren Robinson 2/10 20%
13 Edmund Gates 1/5 20%
14 Davone Bess 1/8 12.5%
15 Damian Williams 1/8 12.5%
16 Jerome Simpson 1/8 12.5%
17 Michael Jenkins 1/9 11%
18 Anthony Armstrong 1/9 11%
19 Demaryius Thomas 2/21 9.5%
20 Devin Aromoshodou 0/4 0%
  Totals 63/ 238  
  Averages 3.15 / 11.9 22.93%

*Those with less than four snaps against Joseph were not included.

 

 Joseph’s Success and Weekly Breakdown from the 2012 Season

Joseph’s high standards may not have been reached, but he was still one of the Texans’ best players last year.

2012 NFL Season Total:
Total qualifying plays: 282
Failed coverages: 71
Shutdowns: 46
In Position: 165
Joseph’s success rate for the season: 74.8%

In Slot:
Total qualifying plays: 15
Failed coverages: 5
Joseph’s success rate: 66.6%

 Left cornerback:
Total qualifying plays: 131
Failed coverages: 43
Joseph’s success rate: 67.2%

 Right cornerback:
Total qualifying plays: 136
Failed coverages: 23
Joseph’s success rate: 83.1%

Success v Specific Routes
1. Post  90%
2. Sideline 89%
3. Seam 80%
4. Out 73%
5. Crossing 73%
6. Slant 72% 
7. Comeback 69%
8. Flat 66%
9. Curl 61%
10. Double Move 57%
11. In 57%

Weekly Breakdown

Joseph isn’t the type of cornerback to shy away from a challenge.

Week 1: Miami Dolphins
Total qualifying plays: 20
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 3
In Position: 15

Joseph was brilliant during his first game of the season. He was only beaten twice, once when Anthony Armstrong bounced off of his physical coverage and once against Davone Bess when he was caught in traffic against a shallow crossing route from off coverage. Joseph spent the first part of the game following Bess, before eventually moving onto Armstrong.

His dominant coverage also brought with it an interception.

With seven minutes left in the second quarter, the Dolphins are facing a second and 12. The Dolphins have a 3-0 lead at this stage of the game, but Joseph makes the play that turns momentum against them.

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After covering Bess for the first quarter and into the second, Joseph spent two snaps on Legedu Naanee. Here, Joseph is lined up across from Naanee giving up nearly 10 yards of a cushion. Naanee is his sole responsibility on this play as his closest teammate is covering Davone Bess in the slot.

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At the snap, Joseph turns his body so that his shoulders are facing the sideline, but they are not in a parallel position. Joseph is trusting his speed and baiting Naanee to run deep down the sideline with this stance. However, he is also has his feet perfectly underneath him if he wants to react to any underneath route. To this point, Naanee has run straight at him.

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Naanee is running an in route, but his route isn’t crisp or sharp. His route is rounded so it takes him longer to break inside. As soon as he starts to turn his hips, Joseph has already shifted his weight forward and is pushing forward with his back foot.

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With one of the fastest bursts of speed that you will see from a defensive back at this level, Joseph beats Naanee to the football. The red X is the point where Naanee entered his break, while Joseph meets him as he is coming parallel to the line of scrimmage. Had Naanee run a better route, he may have caught the football ahead of Joseph, but Joseph would still have been in a perfect position to tackle him at the very least.

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Just getting there wasn’t enough for the interception however. Joseph and Naanee came together as the football arrived, they bounced off of each other and the ball ricocheted into the air. Joseph did very well to track it from the instant it bounced free. He kept his eyes on the football at all times through the play after Naanee turned inside.

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It doesn’t look like anything spectacular, but Joseph shows off very good ball-skills to maintain his focus and concentration before eventually snatching the ball from the air. This is a tip-drill play that many cornerbacks will find a way to falter because they panic and rush with their hands.

Screen shot 2013-06-09 at 13.59.27

From there, he showed off excellent returner skills to get to the sideline and sprint downfield.

Throughout this game, Joseph showed off his superior athleticism and how he is able to use it in his favour. Joseph’s superior speed, understated physicality and fluidity is what allows him to consistently track the best players in the NFL

Week 2: Jacksonville Jaguars
Total qualifying plays: 11
Failed coverages: 3
Shutdowns: 5
In Position: 3

On the relatively few plays when Joseph was asked to cover a specific receiver, the Jaguars’ players looked overmatched. Joseph shut down Laurent Robinson, Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon on different occasions, only giving up a comeback route to Blackmon and two plays to Robinson because of his height.

Height is a big issue for Joseph. He is only 5’11 and doesn’t have the wingspan of his former teammate Leon Hall. At least, he doesn’t use his length as well as Hall if it’s there. Joseph is still able to play with taller receivers because of his physical coverage style and strength, however there were many moments throughout the season that exposed him.

I’ll get to that at a later point though.

Week 3: Denver Broncos
Total qualifying plays: 22
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 5
In Position: 15

For all but one snap against Brandon Stokley, Joseph followed Demaryius Thomas all over the field. Thomas isn’t a refined receiver, he makes plays int he NFL still because of his overwhelming physical skills. Those physical skills didn’t give him an advantage against Joseph however. Joseph has the speed and strength to stick with him in the open field, while his experience and technical advantage playing the cornerback position made it easy for him to be proactive in stopping Thomas.

Screen shot 2013-06-09 at 14.14.21

Thomas only beat Joseph on an in and curl route. That in route came in the first quarter and is detailed above(click on image to see bigger version if needed). Although Thomas came up with the reception in this scenario and it counted as a failed coverage, this was a positive play for the Texans. Joseph was lined up in off coverage 10 yards deep, while Thomas was running a five yard in.

Simple logic says that Joseph should have no chance of preventing this reception if it’s run anyway close to what the offense would expect. With Thomas, the idea is not to gain five yards with the catch, but instead to put him in space with the football. Most defensive backs will have to sacrifice something to him because of his speed and size, but even though Joseph is set up to stop the deep ball here, he doesn’t give up anything underneath.

Joseph shows off otherworldly levels of closing speed in this scenario and takes Thomas down before he can gain any yards after the catch. Although the defense has surrendered five yards, this was nothing but a positive play considering what the offense was trying to do.

This closing speed affords Joseph a certain level of comfort in what he can do on the field. He doesn’t have to worry about double moves or receivers coming in and out of breaks as much because he always knows that he will be able to recover.

On the very next play, it’s third and five. With the previous play in mind, the Broncos want to attack Joseph by using his aggressive play against him. Thomas is going to run the same route again, except this time he will break off the in route and look to beat Joseph deep down the field. This is a nightmare scenario on third and five for most defensive backs. If you sag off of the in route, Thomas will get an easy third down conversion, if you play it aggressively, you open up the sideline for Thomas to potentially make a huge play down the field.

Screen shot 2013-06-09 at 14.31.10

Joseph is in a similar position against Thomas, but this time he has come across to the other side of the field to cover him. There are two other receivers to his side of the field, but there are also two defensive backs who are playing man coverage against them. Joseph’s only assignment is Thomas.

Screen shot 2013-06-09 at 14.31.31

The combination of the play-call from the offense and the defense means that Johnson has no help. The deep safety is too far infield to be a factor deep, while he wouldn’t have a chance of stopping Thomas from getting the first down if he came across the field. Therefore, when Thomas gets to this point in his route and plants his foot to motion inside, Joseph still has to consider the sideline instead of pushing hard onto the in route.

As the image shows, he does that by keeping his weight behind his heels and not moving it forward.

Screen shot 2013-06-09 at 14.31.57

Because Joseph knows that he has the speed to stop Thomas in the open field on an in route, he doesn’t play the route before Thomas is parallel with the line of scrimmage. The first section of the above image shows the point when Thomas is entering his break, I have drawn straight lines through Joseph’s feet to clearly show that his weight isn’t shifted either back or forward. He is in a semi-crouched position that he can quickly turn out of but also spring forward from.

In the second section of the image, Thomas has gone through his break and is now parallel with the sideline. Joseph understands that for Thomas to beat him down the sideline, he will have to make another cut and turn downfield. Knowing that, he now feels comfortable enough to commit forward to the in route. He moves his feet forward, but he doesn’t allow his weight to push his momentum towards the receiver. This means that when Thomas plants his feet to go back down the sideline, Joseph is in a perfect position to react and keep the receiver between he and the quarterback.

Ultimately the only thing Joseph does wrong on this play is not catch the football when he was in perfect position to come up with the turnover.

Screen shot 2013-06-09 at 14.47.51

Still, an incomplete pass on third and five is almost as good as a direct turnover. Especially considering the situation Joseph was put in.

The Broncos couldn’t have called these two plays any better. They set Joseph up with the first route, before coming back with a similar route that should have exposed him deep. Joseph’s intelligence and ability allowed him to handle it with relative ease, even though he was helped by Thomas’ less than stellar route running.

Week 4: Tennessee Titans
Total qualifying plays: 17
Failed coverages: 4
Shutdowns: 0
In Position: 13

He didn’t see Kenny Britt and only covered Kendall Wright three times. Instead, Joseph spent most of his day in first gear covering the likes of Damian Wiliams, Craig Stevans and Nate Washington. Joseph let Washington free on one deep in route when he overplayed the sideline, while Williams came free on the same route against off coverage underneath. Kendall Wright beat him on a quick slant against off coverage also, while question marks of pass interference hung over Lavelle Hawkins’ successful curl route.

Week 5: New York Jets
Total qualifying plays: 21
Failed coverages: 7
Shutdowns: 4
In Position: 10

This is when Joseph’s health issues finally started to affect his play. Since Week 1, a variety of issues had put Joseph on the official injury report each week and the cumulative effect was starting to affect his play.

Screen shot 2013-06-09 at 17.24.09

 Image courtesy of KFFL

Each of Jeremy Kerley, Edmund Gates, Antonio Cromartie, Chaz Schilens and Jason Hill were able to lose Joseph during this game as he looked very lethargic compared to his previous displays. Joseph was called for pass interference, fell weakly at the line of scrimmage, was more hesitant than in previous games and gave up two very notable deep routes. One of those deep routes was a double from Cromartie, a cornerback, that could easily have been a touchdown.

Week 6: Green Bay Packers
Total qualifying plays: 23
Failed coverages: 5
Shutdowns: 2
In Position: 16

Early on, it appeared that Joseph was going to be a liability again in this game. He would follow Jordy Nelson on all but one snap. Nelson started off by beating him underneath when he was too quick on a curl route, before following up with a deep touchdown down the sideline two coverages later. It was way too easy for the Packers as Nelson simply ran right by Joseph without the cornerback looking to disrupt him at all.

Nelson had three touchdowns in this game, but after the first one, Joseph had a relatively good game. Neither of the receiver’s other two touchdowns came at Joseph’s expense, and he only beat him again with two curls and a post route.

Week 7: Baltimore Ravens
Total qualifying plays: 20
Failed coverages: 8
Shutdowns: 4
In Position: 8

Joseph followed Torrey Smith around the field. Half of Smith’s eight successful coverages came against off coverage as the Ravens took what the Texans were giving them and Joseph had an interception in the second quarter against him. Joseph played Smith perfectly from off coverage as the receiver ran an out route. He was in position to cover Smith, but he was also in the perfect position to react to a pass that was tipped into the air by JJ Watt. Joseph used his speed to return the pass down the sideline for a touchdown.

Smith did give Joseph some notable issues however. Twice he drew pass interference penalties on the receiver, once when he never turned his head and took him out down the sideline and another at the top of a curl route. Joseph looked slower than Smith, something he normally would anyway because Smith is one of the fastest receivers in the league, but he was so much slower that he didn’t look comfortable in the way he had early in the season.

Week 9: Buffalo Bills
Total qualifying plays: 22
Failed coverages: 6
Shutdowns: 6
In Position: 10

Joseph passed the Stevie Johnson test with flying colours, but an assist must be given to the defense as a whole. Johnson rarely got to space to work his excellent route-running because the Texans were able to control the running game with their front seven. Outside of Johnson, the Bills had speedster receivers who weren’t refined enough to manipulate Joseph with their route running. He had a relatively easy outing because of that.

Week 10: Chicago Bears
Total qualifying plays: 16
Failed coverages: 8
Shutdowns: 3
In Position: 5

There were times during this game when Joseph played perfect coverage, but Marshall was able to manipulate him on a few occasions with his route running while his size presented serious problems for Joseph on a few plays.

Screen shot 2013-06-09 at 17.51.52

Marshall ran a sideline route after hesitating to get slight position on Joseph down the left sideline. In spite of that, Joseph still ran with him and was in a good position to play the football as it was coming out of the air. However, Marshall’s sheer size completely took him out of the play. Even though Marshall didn’t fully extend for the football, he caught it at a high enough point for Joseph to be completely out of the play as his frame overshadowed him.

Week 11: Jacksonville Jaguars
Total qualifying plays: 11
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 8

Outside of a curl and in route from Cecil Shorts, Joseph’s class alone allowed him to contain the variety of Jaguars’ receivers.

Week 12: Injured

Week 13: Injured

Week 14: New England Patriots
Total qualifying plays: 24
Failed coverages: 7
Shutdowns: 5
In Position: 12

Although the Texans were completely taken apart by the Patriots’ high-powered offense, Joseph spent the day on Brandon Lloyd and got the better of him for the most part. Lloyd only had consistent success on out routes and didn’t make any real impact on the game.

Week 15: Indianapolis Colts
Total qualifying plays: 10
Failed coverages: 4
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 5

Joseph exclusively covered Donnie Avery in this game. Avery is a receiver who relies on big plays to be impactful, but against Joseph, he was limited to a handful of successful slant routes, one out route and a comeback.

Week 16: Minnesota Vikings
Total qualifying plays: 21
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 4
In Position: 15

One of Joseph’s two coverages was a shallow crossing route against off coverage, while Simpson was too quick for him on a comeback when he looked lethargic. Outside of that however, Joseph was able to contain the Vikings’ less talented receivers who were running simple routes for the most part.

Week 17: Indianapolis Colts
Total qualifying plays: 10
Failed coverages: 1
Shutdowns: 0
In Position: 9

Joseph followed Avery around the field again, but this time he took away every single route he tried to run.

Wildcard Round: Cincinnati Bengals
Total qualifying plays: 14
Failed coverages: 6
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 7

After missing two games during the regular season, Joseph was looking more and more comfortable on the field. For the first game of the playoffs, he started out very well and battled AJ Green throughout the game, but Green was able to expose him deep down the field twice.

On the first occasion, Green created space inside of Joseph before sprinting away down the sideline. A slightly underthrown pass from Dalton allowed Joseph to recover. Dalton bailed Joseph out again on the second play as his pass hung in the air allowing Joseph to recover and tip it away in the endzone.

Divisional Round: New England Patriots
Total qualifying plays: 19
Failed coverages: 4
Shutdowns: 3
In Position: 12

Just like he had done in their previous meeting, Joseph was all over Brandon Lloyd. Outside of one snap against Aaron Hernandez, Joseph covered Lloyd throughout the game and only gave up two curl routes and two in routes later in the game. Lloyd did catch a touchdown pass with Lloyd lined up over him, but it was at the goalline when Lloyd didn’t run a route. he caught it in the flat and Joseph missed the tackle in space.

 Verdict

Joseph is a pivotal piece of the Houston Texans’ success.

When fully healthy, Joseph is an outlandish athlete who uses his physical traits to be a shutdown cornerback. He is an intelligent defender who can play well in both man and zone coverage, with the flexibility to move around the field and cover a variety of receivers. The only thing working against him is his height, but his physical style of play somewhat makes up for that.

When he’s not fully healthy, Joseph is still a very, very good cornerback. His comfort on the field took a major hit at times during the season last year, but he was still able to make plays on a consistent basis, making him one of the team’s most important pieces.

Joseph is a top-tier cornerback who can cover better than most players playing his position across the league. Does he benefit from playing with an excellent supporting cast in Houston? Probably, but do they benefit as much from his play as they do from him? Definitely.

Screen shot 2013-06-09 at 18.58.12

It’s not just his coverage however. When he’s late to assignments, Joseph can blow up receivers to knock the ball free. Joseph is short, but he’s definitely not small. His 5’11 frame is built closer to that of a linebacker than a defensive back. He not only abuses smaller defensive backs, he also hits running-backs in run-support and on the edge.

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According to ProFootballFocus, Joseph has played 2,015 snaps since signing with the Houston Texans two years ago. Despite following number one receivers all over the field and being an aggressive tackler, he has missed just 13 tackles during that time on 131 total attempts. Joseph has the size to come inside and tackle bigger backs to complement that ability to punish smaller receivers/runners.

You can follow Cian Fahey on twitter @Cianaf

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