Kerby Joseph: Breaking down the Lions rookie safety in Week 8

This week’s game film spotlight is on Lions rookie safety Kerby Joseph. The third-round pick from Illinois has emerged as not only a full-time starter but one of the leaders of the defense in just his seventh NFL game.

Joseph played all 68 snaps against the Miami Dolphins in the Lions’ Week 8 loss at Ford Field. I watched every single one of them from both the broadcast feed and the All-22 coach’s tape and took fastidious notes on what I witnessed.

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The methodology here is pretty simple. Plays where Joseph wins his individual matchup or performs the role on the play correctly earn a plus; plays where he loses his matchup or does the wrong thing get a minus. Not every play earns a mark. For a safety playing predominately single-high formation starting most plays 15 yards deep, most of those plays with no marks are on runs or short/quick passes — plays where Joseph should be inconsequential unless the players in front of him don’t do their jobs.

Joseph did not have a great start to the Dolphins game. He earned two marks on the opening Miami drive, both minuses. One was for getting beaten over the top–the cardinal sin for single-high safeties. The other was for a poor pursuit angle to a tackle where the rookie was fortunate Alex Anzalone made a very nice play or else Joseph would’ve been in serious trouble.

(sidenote–this was Anzalone’s best game in a Lions uniform)

Joseph got his head into the game quickly thereafter. He finished the first half with six plusses and three minuses, a figure that includes the two from the first drive.

One of those six plusses came on a fantastic play. Joseph forced a fumble with a big, clean hit where he properly attacked the ball without sacrificing good tackling position. This is beautiful:

Joseph also earned a plus with his one pass rush, a play where he forced Tagovailoa to throw the ball a count earlier than expected.

He kept up the strong play after the half, even as the secondary around him (looks at Amani Oruwariye and AJ Parker) played some truly awful football. In the second half, Joseph picked up eight more plusses against just two minuses. His savvy work in bracket coverage on speedy Tyreek Hill was very good. One of the minuses came in coverage, a play where he lost Jaylen Waddle on a deep seam route after Parker inexplicably turned him loose.

I wanted to give Joseph another minus for not intercepting a bad overthrow on Miami’s final drive of the third quarter, but the reverse angle of the play showed it was an impossible catch to make. Alas, his last minus came at a very bad time. Joseph was too passive and stayed deep too long on Miami’s final third-down conversion that sealed the game. That might have been by coaching design — Aubrey Pleasant did get fired after the game, after all — but his primary mark on the play was helping Will Harris cover Hill and he did not do that.

Overall

For the full game, Joseph earned 14 plusses and five minuses. Given the speed of the Miami receivers and the poor CB play around him, that’s a very impressive outing for a rookie in his fourth career game. Joseph showed solid instincts and very twitchy reactions in most situations.

One thing that really stood out was the lack of wasted motion or energy. Joseph almost never took a false step, and when he comes forward there isn’t a “bucket” step needed to launch him. Very promising effort and performance from No. 31.

Story originally appeared on Lions Wire