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Analysis of man coverage: CB Christian Matthew vs. WR Michael Wilson

Who won this training camp rep and why

Arizona Cardinals v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

According to fans and media members who have been attending practices, the Arizona Cardinals’ 2nd year CB Christian Matthew and their 3rd round rookie WR Michael Wilson have been two of the team’s early standouts during the first full week of training camp.

Both Matthew and Wilson have been getting their fair share of 1st team reps and, at times, have been a matchup to watch.

Have a look at this particular man coverage rep that occurred today, the first day that the team has donned full pads.

Just yesterday Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon explained to the media that the one area that he and the coaches are trying to focus on for WR Michael Wilson is his ability to get off of press coverage. JG’s caveat was that getting off press coverage in the NFL is a lot more daunting than it is in college.

JG also recently spoke to the media about his philosophy of allowing his CBs to decide for themselves whether they are more comfortable playing press or “off the ball” coverage.

In this matchup, Christian Matthew is showing press coverage.

What is curious about Matthew’s straight up stance is that typically in this situation, particularly with no clear linebacker or safety help over the middle, CBs want to shade their stance to the inside in order to establish inside leverage.

Shading his stance to the inside means that the CB is a tad more susceptible to betting beat to the outside, but in press coverage, if the CB employs the proper technique, he can use the sideline as an extra defender.

Sometimes CBs come up to show press coverage, but when the ball is snapped, they don’t initiate contact with the WR in favor of “mirroring” the WR’s route.

Such appears to be the case on this rep, because on the snap of the ball, Matthew essentially gives Wilson a clean release.

After a couple of steps into the route Matthew tries to stiff-arm Wilson to try to knock him off his route, but is entirely unsuccessful —- with causes Matthew to lose a little of his balance, as well as any possible leverage to the inside.

Wilson deserves a good deal of credit here because as easy as it is to make a clean break over the middle, he maintains his vertical push on what turns out to be a “post” route. Notice how well Wilson has worked his feet to be able to plant his outside foot at the top of the route and make a swift burst into the middle of the field.

Wilson’s separation technique here is textbook.

Matthew, After missing on his stiff-arm attempt near the bottom of the route, mirrors the vertical part of Wilson’s post route, but has lost leverage to the inside, which Wilson exploits.

When CBs are beaten by a WRs plant and cut move, as they often are, this phase of the coverage is called “recover.”

The problem for Christian Matthew on this rep is that he does not plant his outside foot or flip his hips quickly enough to change his direction. Thus he is unable to continue to “mirror” Wilson’s route and winds up having to take a “rounded” turn that essentially eliminates his chances for a complete “recover.”

This early in Christian Matthew’s career he has been at his best in “off the ball” coverage. However, this rep is a significantly coachable moment for JG and the defensive coaches. Matthew is a big, strong CB who should be able to practice and hone his press techniques so as to be able to disrupt the timing of routes in ways that CBs have more difficulty doing playing “off the ball” coverage. But, mastering those techniques take time.

As a general rule, if CBs do not get physical with the WR on his first couple of steps into the route, then press coverage does little to nothing for the CB, except the ones who have the quickest of feet and hips to master “mirror” techniques —- however, those type of CBs are rare to find. The best Cardinal to ever do it, imo, was Aeneas Williams.

The other general rule is —- if a CB is playing press coverage and knows that on this particular play he does not have immediate 2nd (LB) help and/or 3rd level (FS) help over the middle —- then doing all he can to establish “inside leverage” is of paramount importance.

Can you think of a game over the past few years where the Cardinals lost a 4th quarter lead and lost the game because of it, when a man in coverage gave up inside leverage while the defensive coordinator had called a safety blitz and left deep middle vacated?

Uggh. Do the names Chandler Jones and Jeff Wilson come to mind?

Now, shifting back to Michael Wilson.

The sheer beauty of this play?

Count Michael Wilson’s footsteps on the vertical part of the post route.

A perfect 7, my friends.

That’s a WR and QB’s dream —- the timing of a perfect 7.

The coaches will stress to Christian Matthew that effective press coverage means getting the WR to have to alter his footsteps and, in this case, limit his first 7 steps to 4 or 5. That’s called “knocking the man off his route.” Which then causes the QB to have to reset his timing of the pass. And which gives the CB and his “help” defenders the extra second or two to be in a position to break up or pick off the pass.