Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden continued to revamp the secondary this week with the signing of cornerback Nevin Lawson. The 5-year veteran has been able to fight and win a starting spot across from Darius Slay in Detroit despite plenty of competition at the position.
Lawson brings starting experience as well as terrific speed to the secondary. He also has a total of zero interceptions in his NFL career despite numerous opportunities to come down with one. He’s not a perfect player but still can contribute in multiple ways. Here’s a look at his game.
Playing through the catch point
The play above against the Packers Lawson gets his hands on the receiver at the line and slides into a back shoulder position. He doesn’t panic when the receiver is 3 yards away from him and instead shows off his top end speed. When he gets close enough and sees the receiver begin to adjust for the catch, the former Lions CB gets his head around for a pass break up.
The 5-9, 192-pounder gets in a similar spot here against the Rams. He is in tight man coverage against Robert Woods near the top of the screen. Woods runs a “wheel route” across the formation which at first looks like a shallow cross before it turns into a deep route up the opposite sideline. Lawson doesn’t panic when he realizes he in trailing the speedy wide-receiver. Instead he shows savvy cornerback skills by playing the receivers hands through the catch point to get this pass break up.
This rep from off-coverage shows Lawson’s ability to disrupt the receiver from catching the ball. Lawson stays square and maintains his outside leverage. He is in a good place to break on the skinny post from Allen Robinson and is in a spot that prevents the receiver from adjusting to the ball.
Lawson has a lot of up and down technique on film. There are plays where he uses text-book fundamentals and others where he makes clear mental mistakes.
This time in press coverage, Lawson "opens the gate" against Robert Woods. The point of press coverage is to re-route the receiver, not just give him a free release. pic.twitter.com/1vmEov23tU— DWillSkills (@BDWilliams18) March 21, 2019
Lawson is lined up in press coverage at the bottom of the screen. He allows the receiver to get a free release by guessing instead of trusting his technique and staying square. It just so happens that the receiver runs his route right where Lawson recovers. If this was a fade route he’s on the wrong side of a highlight.
Minnesota also took advantage of Lawson’s inconsistent technique in the redzone. Lawson commits two sins on this play. First he overplays his leverage by jumping outside of Adam Thielen. Second he peeks into the back field making him late to transition against the double move.
Against Chicago we see Lawson get on his heels in press coverage and fail to disrupt the receivers release. He actually recovers and is in a good position, getting his head around to play the back shoulder pass. But inexplicably he turns back around when the ball is in the air forcing the referee to throw the flag for pass interference. If Lawson doesn’t make that final turn to face guard at the end of the play, he’s in good shape and this is an incompletion instead of a automatic first down.
Lawson isn’t a surefire starter but he adds competition to the secondary. Expect him and Daryl Worley to battle for the starting position opposite Gareon Conley. Lawson will also get consideration in the slot where he played about half of his coverage snaps for Detroit this past season. Defensive Coordinator Guenther gains some flexibility by adding Lawson to go along with Joyner and now has a secondary where a few players can play multiple positions.
Guenther asks his corners use a different press technique that what was on film above. Instead of a hard press, Oakland’s corners play a “motor” technique where they inch backwards before getting their hands of the receiver. Perhaps the change in technique can be what Lawson needs to maximize his potential. Either way, he needs to do a better job of re-routing WRs in 2019.