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Hazard's Huddle: Duke Ihenacho in Pass Coverage

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An All-22 film look at Duke Iheancho's pass coverage skills.

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY

If you missed part 1 on Duke Ihenacho (run support), you can find it HERE. Needless to say, we determined that he was everything we wanted in a downhill safety. The comments section provided a lot of good discussion on our recent waiver claim. I saw a "if Paul approves this signing, then I approve." I want to highlight that I haven't said that yet. I said I originally brought up Duke Ihenacho because of the lack of options, he had starting experience, and wouldn't have taken much to get. This is where I get to highlight the difference between watching a game and seeing a player flash vs. watching tape and seeing a player as a prospect. Let's take a look at Ihenacho's pass coverage:

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1. Here is Duke Ihenacho about 15 yards off the line of scrimmage. He is covering the speed out route.

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As soon as he sees the speed out, he accelerates towards the route.

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Duke arrives at the same time as the ball and he delivers a hit that separates the ball from Dallas Clark.

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2. Here Ihenacho in the box on Jacoby Jones. The Ravens are running a play-action and Jones is running underneath where Flacco is rolling out.

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When Ihenacho recognizes it, he bursts across the field to follow Jones.

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Jacoby Jones makes the reception but Duke Ihenacho is there to bring down Jones for a 2 yard loss.

Why did I show you those last two plays? Because once again, when moving DOWNHILL, he is what you want from safety. I saw a lot of comments on the last piece about Ihenacho "looking like he diagnoses plays quick." A good run support safety is not necessarily a good in-the-box safety. Sometimes the in-the-box safety is required to cover people in man coverage (especially in current NFL). Let's take a look at Duke Ihenacho when he can't attack downhill and has to drop.

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3. Here is Ihenacho vs. the Eagles in man coverage against Brent Celek who is running a deep crosser.

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Duke stays too flat-footed and lets Celek run by him. Ihenacho then makes the mistake of looking into the backfield, while trying to trail Celek creating even more separation from the TE.

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Celek is catching the ball here and that is just far too much separation and ends up being a 24 yard gain. Later in the game, he covers the same route much better but I don't know if the play would be flagged with the new rules.

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4. Later in the season, the same scenario comes up. This time against Rob Gronkowski and the Patriots. Same deep crosser with Duke in coverage.

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I understand you need to respect Gronkowski's ability to stretch the field deep and down the seam but this is just free eating. Too much separation.

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Duke brings him down but not until after a 15 yard gain.

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5. Here is Duke Ihenacho against Rob Gronkowski again. This is obviously a pick play in order to beat man coverage. Gronkowski is running the wheel route.

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Duke tries to go underneath the pick instead of staying over top of it. That's something you can't do especially against Gronkowski.

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Gronkowski catches it down the sideline with plenty of separation. Duke eventually forces him out of bounds after a big gain.

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6. Here is Duke in a Cover 2 man. The deep curl on this play is designed to suck up the safety so the deep crosser comes open.

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Duke bites on the curl route as does the cornerback who has him in man coverage.

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The receiver catches the ball here for a huge gain down near the end zone.

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7. Against the Chiefs, here is 3 pass catchers and 3 defenders. All in man coverage. Duke has the most inside WR who is running a wheel route up the seam.

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Duke stays flat-footed again and tries to make contact as the receiver goes around him.

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Alex Smith identifies it immediately and hits the receiver in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.

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8. The Patriots run a concept called spacing. Basically, a bunch of hitch/stick routes getting players in zone to commit to players which opens up holes on the opposite side of defender. Here's two hitch routes with Duke Ihenacho between them.

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Ihenacho has to commit to one of them and take him away but instead hesitates and doesn't make a choice which leaves them both open.

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Personally, I would have given help on Gronkowski who now gets an easy touchdown catch with Ihenacho watching.

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9. Here is Duke covering a deep slant route from the slot against the Ravens.

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The receiver gives an outside step and makes the move inside, Ihenacho is beat and holds the receiver.

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Ihenacho continues to hold while the receiver tries to get away until he is flagged for the holding call.

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10. Patriots running a two man route concept. The deep post with the wheel in behind it.

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When no one but the RB releases from his side of the formation, Duke comes up the field (to pick up RB if he runs deep?).

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When Duke sees the route combination, he starts running across the field abandoning his deep responsibility. I can't tell if he is running at the wheel route or trying to run directly at the receiver running the post.

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As the post comes so far inside, the Broncos defender releases him to Ihenacho but Duke is in no position to cover this route now. Luckily for him, Tom Brady doesn't see it.

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11. That whole downhill safety thing? It can work against him as well. Here vs. the Giants, Duke is lined up over TE Brandon Myers.

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Brandon Myers comes slow off the line of scrimmage and looks to Eli immediately. This gets Duke to come sprinting downhill. Of course, after just a second, Myers turns on the jets towards the end zone.

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Iheancho, knowing that he is beat, just spears Myers in the open field bringing him to the turf. Somehow, this wasn't flagged.

The bottom line is this: Ihenacho, while showing promise, is a much better safety moving forward than backwards. Duke runs a 4.68 40 without pads. He is too slow to be taking this many false steps in coverage. He needs work on his technique. Not saying he can't develop technique but the picture that was painted the other day is not nearly as bright as it was before. He was a raw prospect coming out and still needs to work on understanding the game/route concepts. I still like the pick-up because he does provide good qualities but has work to do before becoming a good all-around safety.

The silver lining?

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Here is a seam pass with Ihenacho lined up for a kill shot (against the Ravens, no less).

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Ihenacho comes in low and separates the receiver from the ball. No penalty. No suspension.

Previous Hazard's Huddles: