As the Buffalo Bills tried to correct their defense after a three-game skid in 2017, they turned heavily to nickel defense. Despite solid play from Leonard Johnson in the slot corner position, the Bills let him walk. Enter Phillip Gaines, signed from the Kansas City Chiefs and Taron Johnson, fourth round rookie to battle for the slot role. Both players have found themselves with the starting unit this offseason and it’s possible the rookie gets the nod come opening day. Let’s see how he’s done through two weeks.
Expect better defensive back analysis during the regular season when the coaches film becomes available. Despite this limitation, Taron Johnson has put some good things on film already. As a heads up, against Carolina Johnson was running mostly with the second unit. That doesn’t negate the nice backpedal while scanning his zone. Curtis Samuel makes the catch after running uncontested across the field. Johnson is downhill fast and takes a nice angle to make sure Samuel is heading for the sideline. Rather than going for a highlight reel hit, Johnson corrals Samuel, pushing him to the sideline.
Here’s the highlight reel hit. This time, Taron Johnson has Samuel closer to the sideline. With nowhere to go, Johnson accelerates and makes a clean tackle at speed. Notice the backpedal while scanning again. As the play pauses, you can see that Johnson starts driving back to the ball while it’s still in the air.
Taron Johnson knows that he and Vontae Davis are responsible for making sure no one leaks out to their side. Both show excellent discipline and trust in one another. With only Jarvis Landry to block both of them, they allow the play to develop before attacking. As you can see, Landry is completely ineffective as a result.
Johnson sees the play coming a mile away. If anything, he’s too quick to the play. Because of his aggressiveness, Rashard Higgins pushes him toward Tre’Davious White. This allows the cut back and some extra yards for Cleveland. Johnson would have been better served by coming into Higgins’ left side more.
Jarvis Landry does an adequate job of blocking Johnson on this play. Landry is a little bigger than Taron Johnson, but not enough to make this a true mismatch. Johnson will need some time to adjust to being blocked by NFL talent. This isn’t a total loss for Johnson though. Between the two players, it’s easy to see who gives up before the whistle.
The pauses speak for themselves for this play. One thing to note to Johnson’s credit is that he ends up in position despite not looking where he’s running. If the ball were placed to Jarvis Landry rather than out of bounds, Johnson may have made life miserable for Tyrod Taylor and Landry. There’s a good chance this pass is broken up if not intercepted.