Jordan Poyer is one of the best safeties in the NFL, perhaps in the midst of an All-Pro season. When Poyer was ruled out of the Buffalo Bills’ game against the New York Jets due to an elbow injury, Jaquan Johnson was tasked with stepping up in his place. Let’s review some of the film to see how things went for Johnson.
Johnson loses upper hand in short order
Pre-snap, Johnson is in the box and creeping up. At the snap, he fires forward to the right in pursuit of running back James Robinson, who’s heading left. As Robinson turns upfield, Johnson loses the angle in his pursuit and tries to make a tackle from behind, which he misses as Robinson continues to run. It’s important to remember that Johnson started out in front of Robinson, then had an angle in pursuit, and then ended up behind him—all in short order.
Johnson vs. air
At the snap, Johnson comes downhill hard to make a play in the run game. There are four blockers, all of whom are occupied. With this, Johnson has a clear shot to tackle the running back. Johnson gets to the hole (in perfect tackle position) and then whiffs on the tackle, to the point where he falls on the ground and the running back runs by him.
Johnson completely removed from play
Johnson gets pushed out of the play here. When the ball snaps, the wideout runs away from the corner and goes right to Johnson. Johnson was easily blocked and pushed out of the play. Fortunately, this doesn’t end up mattering due to the running back being tackled for a minimal gain. These types of situations can cause issues because the safety’s main job is to save the play—so when the first and second levels of defense are compromised, the play isn’t a lost cause for the defense. When Johnson gets blocked by a receiver and taken out of the play, there is no one as a last line of defense.
Jaquan Johnson 0, Zach Wilson 1
This was Johnson’s most disappointing play against the Jets. Quarterback Zach Wilson utilizes a read option with the back, then pulls the ball out to run toward the edge. As Wilson runs up the sideline, Johnson comes in to make the tackle and is in perfect position. As Johnson makes contact with Wilson, the QB lowers his shoulder and drags the safety for a few extra yards. Under no circumstances—unless the quarterback is Jalen Hurts, Justin Fields, Josh Allen, or Lamar Jackson—should an opposing QB be able to lower his shoulder and drag an NFL safety for extra yards.
Jaquan Johnson for sure had his fair share of struggles against the Jets. There were a ton of missed tackles during the game that proved costly—ones the likes of which Poyer doesn’t miss. Johnson displayed a lack of physicality, and he struggled to get off of blockers at times and to avoid them as well, in general.
Given that Johnson is a backup, how do you rate his performance in New Jersey when taking that into context? Furthermore, how can he improve in the event he needs to start again?