The Buffalo Bills’ strong secondary faces a few questions this offseason, but on Monday night fans received one clear answer. Vontae Davis and the Bills came to terms on a one-year deal, bringing the nine-year veteran to Western New York. Most fans are somewhat familiar with Davis with his time spent on the Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts. There’s little need then to worry about whether he’s been good in his career. Hint; players don’t reach the decade mark without being pretty good.
An injury-shortened 2017 campaign is cause for some reluctance despite the name recognition attached to Davis. What should Bills fans expect from this signing?
Davis’ first game in 2017 came in Week four against the Seattle Seahawks. This play was on the first drive of the game and a quick move by the receiver makes Davis look pretty bad. A solid recovery and a hell of a dive lead to a tackle by Davis, but this is far from his best snap. Note the speed on the recovery and the commitment on the dive as we’ll discuss “hustle” again shortly.
The Colts use much more man defense than the Bills as is illustrated here. Davis follows his man across the formation. Of note is the fluid weaving around traffic and patience to make the tackle. Davis trusts his teammates to make the stop and maintains good discipline in becoming the insurance policy.
This snap was right after Davis was burned. Note the receiver’s first step tries to get Davis to bite on the inside route. Davis doesn’t fall for it and blankets his man. Despite nearing 30 years old, Davis shows up well stride for stride.
It’s a safe bet this is the kind of play Sean McDermott salivates over. Vontae Davis highlights excellent read-and-react skills. While he doesn’t make the tackle, he’s all over he play.
Bear with the numerous pauses on this play. The first and second pause are there to show Davis starting his backpedal one frame ahead of the snap (about 1/20 of a second). Not only does he anticipate the snap timing well, his backpedal may as well run the route for the receiver. He disrupts the receiver with a solid jam. Finally, the last pause shows a wide gap that grows to ludicrous size. A quick glance might suggest that Davis has given up on the play. This is partially correct. Remember the hustle on the first play. Davis shows up frequently as a player who “quits” on plays. However, he’s almost always right about when he can no longer impact a play.
Here’s an example of zones gone wrong. The pauses show what appears to be Davis passing off his initial responsibility to the back end. But the three identified defenders have all keyed in on the same receiver leaving Davis’ guy wide open after “The Davis Zone.” While the Colts as a team seem to have a tenuous grasp on this style of play, this was the bread and butter of the 2017 Buffalo Bills. Davis should have less to worry about behind him with the combination of Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Tre’Davious White and (probably) Leonard Johnson comfortable with this concept.
With Davis having surgery after this game, leading to his release by the Colts, I wanted to make sure we took at least a quick peek at what he offered right before prematurely ending his season. Davis’ speed isn’t top end, but was surely adequate to good all game. His fast reaction time and play anticipation more than make up for the missing half step or so. This pass breakup shows plenty of promise.
Despite a groin injury, Vontae Davis showed good athleticism for a ninth-year player. No player is perfect, and Davis’ error above (in play one) was the exception rather than the rule. The Colts used less zone coverage, but in limited snaps, Davis appeared to be one of the most comfortable players in the secondary of the Colts.
It should be noted that Davis was asked to play right corner mostly. With Tre’Davious White lining up left and Leonard Johnson in the slot as the nickel man, Davis will almost certainly be taking over the spot of E.J. Gaines.
Davis looks the part of a veteran player and seemed to have plenty left in the tank in 2017. If he’s recovered well from injury, he should help the 2018 defense continue their success under Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier.