During the last couple of years, the Jaguars have worked to assemble a secondary capable of contending. The process has seen some veteran pieces come and go, as well as some younger talent come into their own.
Throughout this process, Gus Bradley has held onto specific attribute preferences while building this part of his defense. A kind of wobbly, presumed mold has been unearthed somewhere along the way. It seems like, in both Seattle and Jacksonville, Bradley has favored players who are physical, willing to contest passes, and able to employ a fiery passion for battling with elite receivers.
Many people like to assume Bradley is following the same blueprint that helped him construct his young secondary in Seattle, and whether that is unerringly accurate or not, a certain criteria for living up to Seattle's secondary was born somewhere along the way in Jacksonville.
And for what it's worth, Davon House fits this criteria pretty well. House, a cornerback from Green Bay, leaves a team where he saw limited opportunities in a back-up role for three years. The opportunities he did see on the Pack, however, were not the opportunities you’d expect a back-up to get. Last season, House didn't just get opportunities to battle against Julio Jones, Brandon Marshall, and Calvin Johnson - he made the most of these opportunities. It’s almost as if the Packers saved Davon House for the bigger, more physical receivers they faced during the season.
On tape, shutting down elite talent on vertical routes seems to be House’s claim to fame. House is physical when pressing up to the line, finding ways to knock bigger receivers off their routes. House also shows an outstanding knack for finding the ball in the air, and being able to make a play on the leather instead of the receiver. Both of these are things that DBs seem to struggle with in a receiver-friendly NFL.
Against Brandon Marshall in the play below, House actually doesn't win the ball. He does, however, still find a way to win the play.
House is pressing up on Marshall here. I've applied a closer view of the battle below.
There's a safety deep middle, but Marshall is going to work the sideline. House is all alone here, so he needs to find a way to limit Marshall's one-on-one advantage.
This first contact is crucial. In any situation, It's pretty hard to overpower a receiver like Brandon Marshall on his own route. Instead, House instinctively knocks Marshall off of his initial line. This seems somewhat insignificant, but you'll see that winning within the first five yards will have a huge payoff at the other end of the route.
Look where Marshall is at in the picture above. House has no safety help here, so instead, he employs help from the sideline. As House stays physical with Marshall, the sideline becomes the second defender as Marshall runs out of real estate to work with. Meanwhile, House gets his head around quickly and finds the ball in the sky. This is something House has perfected. Getting your head around quickly is crucial for DBs, as it allows them eventually make a play on the ball instead of the receiver. Above, it looks as though House finds the ball before Marshall has, allowing him to make the initial play on the pass.
This is the moment that House and Marshall make a play on the ball. House has already won, considering Marshall has no room to make the catch because of the initial contact in the third frame.
Marshall actually does find a way to overpower House and catch the ball. However, he has no space to descend back down to Earth. If you're not going to win the ball away from a receiver, the next best thing is to limit the room he has to work with. Astute plays like this are the reason why I think House could find consistent success as a starter, even after holding onto a back-up role for the entire length of his career.
If Bradley and Caldwell were looking for someone who is relentlessly physical against elite receivers, House is undoubtably the right man for the job. House didn't win the ball against Marshall, but still found a way to win the route. In the example below, he wins both.
House is playing off the line against Calvin Johnson. Johnson is going to run an out and go, eventually taking off down the sideline.
Here is where Calvin starts to dig. House respects the out route and starts to rotate his body.
Calvin starts his cut upfield. House is still rotating, never having turned his head away. House's eyes have been on the receiver the entire time, carefully judging the route direction without giving up his position.
House syncs his motions with Calvin's. House is running stride for stride, as well as looking back for the ball at the same moment Calvin is. At this point, House is just as much a receiver as the receiver he is covering. Calvin has no advantage anymore. Stafford side-arm-slings it anyway.
The race to the ball is on. House feels back for Calvin once, then takes off.
Clinton-Dix makes it over to help at this point, but this is House's kill. He makes the interception.
Davon House should encounter no trouble taking the corner job away from the Jaguars' Dwayne Gratz. Through two seasons since being drafted in 2013, Gratz has been both promising and inconsistent as a young starter. Gratz has shown a few encouraging signs of progression, but has presented even more moments or instinctual breakdowns or just flat-out incompetence. On film, House seemingly carries a lot of serviceable attributes that Gratz seems to be missing. Better instincts, better route recognition, and a more physical demeanor matched with a willingness to battle for passes are all advantages House holds onto over Dwayne Gratz. When Gratz is matched up against an elite receiver, like in the example below, the talent gap is even more obvious.
Gratz lines up out wide against Dez Bryant. Gratz doesn't play off - he decides to press one of the most physical receivers in the game.
Here's the first issue. The ball has been snapped, Romo is initiating his drop back, and Dez is taking off. Gratz, on the other hand, hasn't moved an inch. He hasn't even reacted at all. Davon House has a knack for winning initial battles, as we saw in his plays against Marshall and Johnson. Gratz isn't going to win any battles if he doesn't even bother recognizing that a play has started.
Once Gratz finally reacts, he loses the battle over the first five yards, and he loses bad. Dez has a jump, and uses it to beat the late, out-of-position Gratz.
Then Gratz stumbles trying to desperately make up ground. Good lord. Dez Bryant burns the Jags for a 68-yard TD.
Gratz isn't a capable fit for a young secondary trying to grow into a contender. Davon House could be a better fit, seeing as he is more physically capable and more capably consistent at an NFL level. However, House is by no means a proven defender. House still holds onto a certain sense of raw athleticism, which is not a bad thing when you take into account his ability to find increasingly better ways to utilize it. You can call this "learning from his mistakes" or "gaining experience with playing time," but when House gains aptitude on a back-to-back play basis, I like to assign it to his ability to play smart while reading and reacting at an NFL level. This makes him a great fit for a young secondary.
Like I said before, House is a monster in press coverage. Most of his contributions come from his ability to press up on physical receivers. Below, however, House is playing off the line once again. Julio Jones is his match-up.
House is playing 10 yards off. Jones is going to take what he can get.
When the ball is snapped, Jones sells the go route. 20 yards deep, he digs and Matt Ryan releases the ball at the break. House is 5 yards off the route. If you look at the other side of the field, the other outside receiver is running an out route as well. As you can see, the corner on that side is in much better position than House.
House eventually closes in on Jones after the ball has been secured. Easy 20 yards for the Falcons.
Two plays later, House matches up with Julio Jones again. But he's not going to get beat again.
This time, House presses. So what is Jones going to do? Try to burn House deep.
House isn't going to get charred again. He recognizes the vertical route and briskly chooses his angle. Once again, House locate the ball in the air early enough to get under and make a decent play on it.
This is outstanding pass defense. House breaks it ip, laying out to deny Julio Jones the go-route he thought he had won from the beginning.
The NFL itself is home to an immense, unpitying aquarium of receiver talent. Still, there is nothing fishy about House's track record against the biggest sharks in deep waters. Finding a way to employ physicality as an advantage over some of the most physical receivers in the game leads me to believe that House is more than capable of playing at a starting level. The way that House finds ways to constantly beat this elite talent makes me think he'll be around for a long time.
House isn't an elite lockdown defender, yet. He does, however, carry all of the tools needed to be successful in a starting corner position. House's tape makes me believe, rather confidently, that he'll be a great fit for a young secondary looking to turn from fluctuating to contending. If House can make bring any of the impact he made in Green Bay against elite talent to a starting position on the Jags, the secondary will immediately gain some credibility and stability. And that is what makes Davon House such a pivotal free agency acquisition.