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Styles make fights, right? That’s been said about boxing for decades, and it’s more true than ever in an NFL that is now a matchup league above all else. Yes, scheme plays a major part in what teams do on offense and defense, but when the playoffs come around, there’s enough tape on every team and every player to go around. You’re less likely to be surprised schematically at this point, which brings it down to one thing — one great player against another.
Adams has been trouble for every cornerback he’s faced this season with his speed, understanding of defenses, and next-level route-running. This season, he’s caught 115 passes on 149 targets for 1,374 yards, 11.9 yards per catch, and a league-high 18 touchdowns.
Ramsey has been nightmare fuel for most every receiver he’s faced this season, and here are his numbers:
“I think it changes the math in how you can approach covering their eligible receivers,” Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley said this week regarding the value of having a true shutdown cornerback. “Traditionally, if you need to help a cornerback on a premium wideout, there are going to be individual matchups elsewhere that affect the other players on your defense. When you have a corner like Jalen, it affects the math. You know when you have a player who is as versatile as Jalen, where you can put him several different places within a formation, it increases his value and the value he creates for his teammates.”
So, yeah. Game on. How it turns out will go a long way to deciding who advances to the NFC Championship… and based on Ramsey’s and Adams’ skill sets, Staley’s comments about Ramsey’s versatility could be very telling.
The past is not prologue.
(Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
Adams and Ramsey have faced each other just once before -- in Week 1 of the 2016 season, which marked Adams' breakout year, and this was Ramsey's first regular-season game after the Jaguars selected him with the fifth overall pick out of Florida State. Not that Ramsey was on Adams that often -- per Pro Football Focus, the rookie had 28 coverage snaps that day, and he spent 23 in the slot, while Adams spent just five of his 35 snaps in the slot. The one play where Ramsey stopped Adams came with 5:34 left in the first half. Ramsey started off in the slot against Randall Cobb, but after beating Cobb up at the line of scrimmage, passed Cobb off to cornerback Prince Amukamara (who was Adams' primary defender in the game) before cornering Adams for a five-yard gain with the help of edge-rusher Yannick Ngakoue. Not primary coverage, and nothing challenging from a deep-ball sense, but there you go. Also, I'm guessing we'll see the same kind of chippiness on Saturday afternoon. (Side note: The Jaguars had one hell of a defense before they let Tom Coughlin kill it by telling everyone to get off his lawn). Ramsey did announce his presence with authority on one play -- Rodgers' 29-yard touchdown pass to Adams with 20 seconds left in the first half. Ramsey wasn't in coverage; he pressured Rodgers heavily on a slot blitz, and Rodgers did his usual Rodgers thing, throwing an amazing pass despite that pressure. Both Ramsey and Adams have developed exponentially as players since then, which makes this reunion a real treat. So, what we have to go on is the traits and characteristics of the individual players, as opposed to any mano a mano tape.
Ramsey struggles against certain kinds of routes......
(Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)
Ramsey obviously does a lot of things very well, but like most bigger cornerbacks, he can be beaten with quicker, more angular routes against which he's forced to move more quickly in short areas than he would prefer.. This season, per Pro Football Focus, Ramsey has allowed 35 catches on 70 targets for 342 yards, 120 yards after the catch, three touchdowns, one interception, and an opponent passer rating of 72.4. Two of those touchdowns came in Week 3 against the Bills, and this four-yard touchdown to Stefon Diggs -- who is one of Adams' few true rivals in terms of off-the-line release and route skullduggery -- is an indicator of how Adams may try to beat Ramsey if and when Ramsey follows Adams wherever he goes. Watch Diggs, at the top of the screen, neutralize Ramsey with the foot-fake, work him with outside leverage to the top of the route, and then beat Ramsey's tight coverage with the quick inside move. https://twitter.com/NFL/status/1310290069752655872 Of the 342 yards Ramsey has allowed this season, 101 of them have come on curls and comebacks -- again, quick-changing routes that force Ramsey to adjust more quickly than he might be able to. The numbers here could be even worse for Ramsey. Here, with 44 seconds left in the first quarter of the Week 16 Ramsey-DK Metcalf matchup, Metcalf looks like he’s going straight downfield on a boundary vertical route, which is about the worst thing you can do against Ramsey. But he pulls up after 15 yards, and if end Terrell Lewis doesn’t bat this ball down at the line of scrimmage, it’s an easy completion for chunk yardage. And here's another missed opportunity for the Seahawks, this time in Week 10, and this time with another concept that could be bad news for Ramsey against Adams. On this deep throw with 2:02 left in the game, Metcalf leads Ramsey to the boundary with a route nod before cutting to the quick comeback. Score one for those who don’t still believe that Metcalf can’t run routes. If the timing of this throw doesn’t take Metcalf out of bounds, Ramsey has mo' problems.
...and that's a big problem against Adams' specific skill set.
Per Sports Info Solutions, on out routes and dig routes, Adams is one of the NFL's most prolific receivers -- he has a league-leading 28 receptions on a league-leading 36 targets for 259 yards, 194 yards after the catch, and three touchdowns. Out and dig routes are complementary opposites -- on an out, the receiver runs what looks like a straight vertical route and then cuts sharply outside. On a dig, the receiver runs the vert and then cuts sharply inside. My Touchdown Wire colleague Mark Schofield has a great breakdown of the dig route here. Against outs and digs this season -- again, quick-breaking routes that force immediate responses -- Ramsey has allowed 14 receptions on 19 targets for 58 yards and two touchdowns. And again, as we have seen, if Russell Wilson was a bit more on point with Metcalf on a few throws, these numbers would be worse. Adams also has a special gift for turning one route into another. https://twitter.com/BookOfEli_NFL/status/1349178054673911808 Adams recently discussed this on the Cris Collinsworth Podcast featuring Richard Sherman: "Here's a little secret some people don't know about me -- just so you know my mentality about route-running and how I attack everything. I don't want people anywhere near me when I catch the ball. Let's say I have a 15-yard stop route or a comeback or something. If Rich[ard Sherman] was to undercut that thing, and A-Rod [Aaron Rodgers] is not throwing it, what I do is loop straight up the field every time -- almost in the same motion, to make you feel every time that this was the route. I know you covered it well, but I don't want you to know that you covered it well." Yet another issue for Ramsey to deal with, if he's the follow throughout the game.
How do the Rams deal with this? Very Dariously, making Ramsey the STAR.
First of all, no matter who's covering Adams close up, if there isn't safety help. you're going to get torched. The Eagles discovered this in Week 13, when Adams caught this 42-yard pass against cornerback Darius Slay, who's playing bail/trail with nothing up top. This is an "Ohio State Cover-3 base vs. Alabama Four Verts" level of defensive badness. https://twitter.com/NFL_DougFarrar/status/1349390444963233792 Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley is a very smart guy, so let's assume he doesn't follow ex-Eagles DB Jim Schwartz down the rabbit hole, and let's assume the Rams' safeties don't bite on play-action like safety Rodney McLeod did. For Staley's purposes, it may be smarter, instead of having Ramsey trail Adams wherever he goes, to put cornerback Darious Williams on Adams with aligned safety help up top. Take the Bill Belichick approach of putting your best cornerback on the No. 2 receiver, and bracket the No. 1 receiver with everything else. It's not as if Williams is a scrub option -- this season, he's allowed 34 receptions on 68 targets for 504 yards, 165 yards after the catch, two touchdowns, four interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 59.9. Williams is also a quicker-twitch athlete in shorter areas, as he shows on this ridiculous 42-yard pick-six against the Seahawks in the wild-card round. https://twitter.com/RamsNFL/status/1348039413943554050 The aforementioned Mr. Sherman was impressed. https://twitter.com/RSherman_25/status/1348039557321609217 Two-deep coverage is another key. This season, against two-safety coverage (Cover-2, 2-Man, Cover-4, Cover-6, and Tampa-2), Adams has 18 catches on 27 targets for 223 yards, 51 yards after the catch, and one touchdown. Against single-high coverage this season (Cover-1, Cover-3, and we'll say combo just for the heck of it), Adams has 72 catches on 95 targets for 970 yards, 576 yards after the catch, and 14 touchdowns. Let that marinate for a minute. The Rams have played some variant of two-deep on 208 pass defense snaps, allowing 128 completions for 1,475 yards, three touchdowns, three interceptions, and four more dropped interceptions. That tells you all you need to know about a "bend-but-don't-break" defense which rarely breaks. Putting Williams and a safety on Adams would also allow Ramsey to move around the formation in the "STAR" position, which he's done well with the Rams, the Jaguars, and at Florida State. ESPN's Matt Bowen pointed out the schematic advantage here: https://twitter.com/MattBowen41/status/1349400106206982144 If Ramsey is matching as the nickel in Quarters -- again, the kind of two-deep defense against which Rodgers generally looks for other targets -- that could make things confusing for the Packers. The Ramsey-Adams matchup will be one of the most compelling of the divisional round if it happens, but there are several reasons why the Rams might be better off if it doesn't.