New York Jets free safety Marcus Maye used smarts and positioning to intercept Russell Wilson when he looked for DK Metcalf last Sunday.
It was spectacular. To describe it as anything other than a spectacular interception would be a silly move. The question is: Which interception was more spectacular?
Marcus Maye has two thefts on his ledger in 2020. The first came in Miami when he produced the “butt interception.”
THE BUTT INTERCEPTION 🤯
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 18, 2020
His second ball swipe came this past Sunday in Seattle when he met DK Metcalf along the sideline and tipped the ball to himself for a beauty of a defensive play.
While both plays showcase sterling athleticism, there’s much more to the results. The New York Jets free safety’s positioning is what set up both plays, especially the Metcalf instance.
Safeties must put themselves ahead of the play. What’s between the ears will set up a safety’s production more than any attribute possible. Jets fans saw it with Jamal Adams for three years—a man who took pride in understanding the game and displaying an unteachable sense for everything happening on the field.
Maye is similar to Adams in that regard; he just gets it done from a deep safety perspective.
- Seattle’s possession
- 4:27 remaining in the first quarter
- 11 personnel vs. Nickel
The Jets defense comes out in a soft two-deep or four-across look. The corners are lined up seven and 10 yards off the No. 1 weapons, respectively. Maye is lined up on the field side of a pre-snap 2-deep look.
Seattle’s offense is lined up in a two-by-two look while operating out of a gun. The Z receiver’s split is a close one, right on the boundary-side numbers.
The Seahawks are looking for the sticks. Or, at the very least, they’re looking to set up a third-and-short. Each of the three wideouts run an out, while the tight end comfortably sits in the middle of the defense.
It’s important to think about responsibilities rather than a strict man or zone coverage, courtesy of the fact that Frank Bush brings five players. Harvey Langi loops to the strong side in the hopes a little bit of confusion creates pressure on Russell Wilson.
Therefore, matching up the two safeties and the two corners with the four weapons is our starting point.
With the off-coverage from the corners, the defense carries Cover 4 principles through the play. This means Blessuan Austin, Marcus Maye, Matthias Farley and Bryce Hall are playing a quarters defense with a heavy focus on each respective No. 1 read.
Why Frankie Luvu drops so close to the slot corner, Arthur Maulet, while leaving the strong side underneath zone completely open is unknown to me. Throughout the game, the Jets defense miscommunicated and allowed receivers to run uncontested. This is simply one of many examples.
Nonetheless, by the time all four weapons make an initial break, the four quarters are locked in on the No. 1 read. Maye is the lone defensive back with tremendous help, as both Maulet and Luvu are all over the slot.
What Maye does to recognize Austin’s aggressive undercutting of Metcalf’s out-route is tremendous.
It could have been extremely easy for Maye to not react to Metcalf’s backyard move. (It’s possible the out-and-up was designed, but it’s also unlikely based on Metcalf’s reaction to seeing Wilson break the pocket his way.)
Maye first turns his hips appropriately once he recognizes the slot running an out. Not doing that would have prevented him from getting over to Metcalf in time. But understanding his first and secondary reads will both run to that lone side, Maye’s right, puts him in a smart position.
Then, once the hips are turned and he recognizes the out-and-up, Maye takes the perfect angle.
Maye heads to where Metcalf is going to be rather than where he was at the moment. This places him in a perfect spot: not too far over the top yet still manning down inside leverage.
From the tight view, how Maye plays Metcalf is revealed. Instead of losing his angle—as many safeties do when looking back for the ball too early—Maye peeks briefly and stays on track.
He gets there in time, gets both hands-on (contact is always the defensive back’s friend as long as it doesn’t influence the receiver to the point of a defensive pass interference call) and looks back at the perfect time in order to get a hand on it and come up with the theft.
This interception is a classic example of a safety’s overall smarts and awareness making things look easier than it actually was. That’s true save for the actual finish; the pick was as athletically skillful as it gets.
The strong safety experiment is thankfully over. Marcus Maye’s excellent smarts provide him suffocating position against Russell Wilson and DK Metcalf on this one.
(1 of 2) Marcus Maye's pick of Russell Wilson was athletic, no doubt, but it was his smarts and positioning that really got it done. A safety needs to be ahead of the play to really dominate. #TakeFlight pic.twitter.com/YbFnzHrOYA
— Robby Sabo (@RobbySabo) December 19, 2020
(2 of 2) Watch Maye's head. He literally turns just in time to get a hand on the ball. Two hands-on contact works here, but his positioning makes it happen. #TakeFlight pic.twitter.com/PAC3I7IViP
— Robby Sabo (@RobbySabo) December 19, 2020