Defensive back Nate Hobbs was one of the Las Vegas Raiders' most impressive players during the Raiders’ Week 1 victory over the Denver Broncos. Hobbs recorded a team-high 12 total tackles and earned an 81.7 defensive grade from Pro Football Focus which was 15th among defensive backs across the league.
But what was interesting about his performance is he played more as a strong safety and slot corner rather than just the latter like he had been doing during the first two years of his career. For example, Hobbs took 57 snaps in the box all of last season but had 23 reps in the box against the Broncos.
So, let’s take a look at the film and see what made him successful.
The Broncos run a screen to the running back off of a play-action fake and Hobbs is quick to sniff it out. Once he reads it, he stays measured and knows he isn’t going to win versus an offensive lineman if he just comes downhill at full speed, so he varies his tempo and picks his spot to attack. The change in speed or acceleration is what makes the offensive tackle miss in space, allowing the defensive back to trip up Javonte Williams for a tackle right at the line.
That’s a great job of using instincts and knowing how you’re built to make an impact play in coverage.
Denver runs duo on this play and Hobbs is going to initially work inside—maybe a little bit too far—to keep that tight end (No. 80 Greg Dulcich) on a 45-degree path to block him. However, when Hobbs sees the running back bounce outside, he has the quickness and athleticism to make Dulcich miss and bring down the running back for another great play near the line of scrimmage.
Hobbs’ capability to use his athletic ability to defeat blocks is something that kept popping up on film and we’ll see that on a few other clips as well.
This next clip isn’t a dominating rep by Hobbs, but the Broncos run outside zone with a tight end blocking a defensive back and a natural cornerback at that. So, they’re hoping to at least push Hobbs to the sideline if they can’t pin him inside.
However, he gets his hands up to take on the block and is able to get extension versus Dulchich to set the edge and force the running back to cut up the middle. The back then goes into the teeth of the defense as Maxx Crosby and John Jenkins get the glory off of the defensive back’s hard work.
Again, this isn’t a rep that will show up on the highlight reel, but this is a good play by a guy who is starting to take more reps in the box.
This is a two-man route off of play-action so Denver is trying to throw deep here. However, Hobbs blitzes off the edge and beats the tight end around the corner, and that forces Russell Wilson to get rid of the ball as Wilson tries to check it down to the running back who wasn’t even looking.
This won’t show up on the stat sheet but it’s a very impactful play. Take a look at Jakorian Bennett as the wide corner at the bottom of the screen. Bennett ends up getting beat on an out-breaking route, so this could have been a big play had Hobbs not won as a pass-rusher.
He had a similar rep in the second half too, but Wilson made a nice throw to complete the pass on that one.
We’ll get another screen in the clip above and see Hobbs do another great job of sniffing it out and using his athleticism to redirect and get inside the tight end’s block. Then, he finishes the play off with a nice tackle for the third-down stop and forces the Broncos to punt.
Here, the Broncos run counter and put the tight end in motion to give him a headstart to go block the edge. But Hobbs read the play and crashes downhill hard, using his acceleration, change of direction skills and a good shoulder dip move to defeat the block. That allows him to get a hand on Williams to slow Williams down enough so that Marcus Epps can come clean it up.
Another great example of Hobbs knowing how he’s built and using his strengths to defeat blocks and make an impact as a run defender.
This next play is a more traditional coverage rep from Hobbs that we’ve become accustomed to over the last few years. The Raiders are running Cover 4 and he has the back on the flat route but stays deep until Wilson starts to throw.
Once Wilson rears back, Hobbs breaks on the route and makes a beautiful open-field tackle to force a third down. That’s not an easy play to make against a guy like Williams, who is known for being able to make defenders miss.
We’ll wrap up here with one of Denver’s last plays of the game where Hobbs helps seal the W for Las Vegas.
With the pre-snap motion, it looks like the Raiders switch from having Robert Spillane blitz to having Hobbs attack the backside B-gap. Hobbs uses his speed to get to the spot and breaks down in the backfield so that he can change directions and go make the chase-down tackle from the backside for a TFL.
That put the Broncos behind schedule on what ended up being their last opportunity to win the game.