Escape from Revis Island
Escape from Revis Island
Ordinarily in our Marquee Matchups column we take a look at three of the more intriguing one-on-one matchups that the week’s action threw up. However, this week allowed us to review the matchup between Darrelle Revis and the man who earlier this season put up more yards in Revis’ coverage than any individual receiver has managed in the last four seasons against him, Stevie Johnson.
Back in that Week 9 encounter, Johnson amassed an impressive – for Revis’ coverage – 84 yards on three receptions. In the return game this week at the new Meadowlands Stadium, Johnson put up 75 yards … the second highest mark on Revis over the last four seasons.
Johnson may have the escape plan from Revis Island, but in neither contest was it a game-winning performance. Other sides have had success going away from Revis and not even trying to get anything against him, so would the Bills have been better off doing that? We will never know, but what we can take a look at is the plays that led to this “career day” for Revis. So join us as we go target-by-target through this head-to-head in this week’s Marquee Matchup.
Q1 13:26 – 2nd-and-9 – Incomplete Pass
The first target of the game was a slant route showing the absolute best of Revis. The Jets’ corner has close-but-not-press coverage and as soon as Johnson tries to break inside to the pass, Revis has hands on him and doesn’t allow a quick release to the ball. Ryan Fitzpatrick sees the close coverage and tries to adjust the throw to Johnson’s back shoulder away from Revis but Johnson can’t get two hands free to reach it. Revis has arms both sides of Johnson and is able to knock the ball down. This is what Revis does so well, pushing to the envelope everything that is legal to play the receiver physically and break-up the pass.
Q1 7:44 – 2nd-and-13 – 8-yard Completion
One play after a hold by right tackle Erik Pears, the Bills find themselves in a long-yardage situation in need of a good pick-up to keep them out of 3rd-and-long and away from the Jets’ blitz packages. Johnson learns his lesson from the first target of the game and takes Revis a few steps further up the field before cutting underneath him to the pass. The 8-yard completion isn’t a conversion as Revis closes back quickly to make the tackle just across midfield but a 3rd-and-5 is far more manageable and the Bills convert with a pass to tight end Scott Chandler.
Q1 5:54 – 1st-and-20 – 15-yard Completion
After another hold by an offensive lineman, this time Chad Rinehart, the Bills again find themselves in long yardage and out of the scoring range they were so close to at the Jets’ 36-yard-line a play earlier. Johnson takes Revis up the field on the left numbers before breaking back towards the line of scrimmage, leaving Revis trailing and Jim Leonhard unable to undercut the route. Johnson’s 15-yard gain puts the Bills back in manageable yardage within long field goal range at the Jets’ 31-yard-line. Two first downs later and the Bills established a 3-0 lead.
Q2 10:21 – 2nd-and-15 – 9-yard Completion
After another penalty on a Bills offensive lineman (a common theme it would seem) and a deep incompletion to Brad Smith, the Bills are again staring a possible 3rd-and-long in the face. Once again, Johnson comes through with a play that doesn’t break the back of the Jets’ defense but alters the circumstances of the upcoming third down. The route is again a delayed slant as Johnson shimmies off of the line before cutting underneath Revis’ coverage to pick up 9 yards, taking a 3rd-and-15 play down to a 3rd-and-6 … 3rd-and-manageable.
Q2 9:38 – 3rd-and-6 – 7-yard Completion
Johnson followed that play up with his only first down conversion of the game on the ensuing third down play set up by his 9-yard gain. Johnson masks his route on this play, he runs a similar stem to his slant routes, almost drifting up the field to Revis’ outside shoulder. But instead of then undercutting Revis he continued upfield and turned back on a hitch to make the catch just past the first down markers. Revis had turned his back to the inside of the field completely cutting off the slant that he had already picked up two completions on but that then leaves him in poor position for the hitch. First down Bills.
Q2 2:09 – 1st-and-goal – 5-yard Touchdown
Next came the first touchdown against Revis all season on a 5-yard score. There was no shadow boxing on this play, Johnson didn’t adjust any routes he’d run earlier or disguise to manipulate Revis’ coverage. This was a simple case of Revis backing off from press coverage at the Jets’ 5 to sitting 5 yards off, at the goal line. Johnson just slants straight to the goal line inside the right numbers and makes the catch. Revis drives on the route and makes contact short of the line but Johnson’s momentum takes him into the end zone for the go-ahead score just prior to half time.
Q2 0:59 – 2nd-and-10 – Incomplete Pass
The last target before half time is of little consequence to either player. With the Jets at their own 20 and no real shot at driving the field, Johnson takes a step upfield before then sitting at the line of scrimmage and Fitzpatrick short hops him on the route. Revis wasn’t fooled by the step and was right there to make the tackle had the pass been on target.
Q3 15:00 – 1st-and-10 – 8-yard Completion
As if to emphasize the point they made in the first game, the Bills show that they are not intimidated by Revis and go straight after him on the first play of the second half. After the touchdown pass on the quick incisive slant, we’re back to the shadow boxing on this play. Johnson releases to Revis’ outside shoulder and again Revis turns to square up to the sideline and cut off the slant. Again Johnson reacts by running the hitch and making a grab for eight yards in tight coverage. Not a big play but again some intriguing give-and-take between the two, each looking for an edge and Johnson fighting for the catch.
Q3 3:45 – 1st-and-10 – 7-yard Completion
Later in the third quarter it’s another comeback by Johnson, this time back to the left sideline with Revis immediately turning and cutting off his path to the middle of the field. Johnson is at least able to get something out of the play in the tight avenue that Revis gave him to work with. The series led to a three-and-out as the Bills only picked up 1 yard on the subsequent two plays.
Q4 15:00 – 2nd-and-21 – 16-yard Completion
For the third straight quarter the Bills open up with a pass to Johnson in Revis’ coverage and Johnson picks up his longest reception of the day on Revis. Much like his 9-yard gain in the second quarter, he shimmies off of the line and cuts underneath on a slant; Revis this time doesn’t close off the middle of the field. The combination of Johnson’s cut to the slant and Fitzpatrick’s throw beats the coverage of Revis (and David Harris to the inside) as the Bills pick up big yardage to get themselves out of a bad down-and-distance situation. Johnson left the play injured having been a step away from breaking Revis’ shadow and pulling away for a big gain.
Q4 10:04, 2nd-and-9 – Incomplete Pass
It seems fitting that the final word goes to Revis as for the first time in this matchup the Bills actually look to really go after the Jets’ star corner and try for the big play. Johnson again drifts off the line of scrimmage with his release to Revis’ outside shoulder but then drives up the field, looking for the deep pass down the sideline. Revis has position on Johnson the whole route and simply ushers the Bills’ receiver to the sideline. Johnson gets a hand to the ball, but Revis has control of the play and is able to close Johnson out of anything but an improbable circus catch that he couldn’t quite pull off in bounds.
There are few corners who read the game, route combinations, and entire plays better than Revis and the Bills showed a clear intent in this game not to let him read anyone but Johnson. On only three of these eleven targets did Johnson have another Bills offensive player between himself and the nearest offensive lineman. The Bills left Johnson in isolation and let him go to work against Revis’ coverage rather than trying to get guys open on set plays. Johnson had success, but was it enough to make it a worthwhile line of attack for other teams in the remaining five weeks of the season?
The story of Johnson’s game against Revis was one of constant contribution. He may have recorded only one first down in addition to his touchdown grab but four more on top of that took the Bills from long yardage situations into manageable situations, crucial plays in their own right against a Jets defense that likes to dial up pressure in those obvious passing spots. What his performance lacked was a really big play, the decisive play to turn it in the Bills’ favor.
Instead, the decisive play in this game – and in this matchup – came on a play that he didn’t make. A play that won’t be recorded positively or negatively on any stat sheet. On a play nullified by an offsides penalty by former Bill Aaron Maybin, Johnson was lost by both Revis and Brodney Pool down the middle in a Cover-2 defense.
Johnson had a chance at a score – at very least a sizable gain putting the Bills into the Jets’ red zone. With two timeouts they would have had multiple shots to capture the lead and break their slide. The ball hit the deck, though, through Johnson’s hands and the chance was gone. The Bills never reached the redzone and the game was lost.
This was a big day for Johnson and showed what was possible against Revis, but as with the Bills’ season, it’s a performance that offers such hope but ultimately failed to deliver when it counts.
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.