New York Jets CB D.J. Reed showed why he is a high-level cover man in a shutdown performance vs. Arizona
New York Jets cornerback D.J. Reed – formerly of the Seattle Seahawks – was quietly one of the most productive cornerbacks in the NFL during the 2021 season. Reed allowed 0.63 yards per cover snap, ranking sixth-best out of 96 qualified corners. That performance was good enough to earn him a three-year, $33 million contract from New York in free agency.
Reed capped off his stellar 2021 campaign with a dazzling showcase in Seattle’s Week 18 win over the Arizona Cardinals. He solidified himself as an excellent starting cornerback through a dominant performance that showed off all of the things that made him so good in coverage throughout the year.
After watching Reed’s film from his duel with the Cardinals, it was clear to me that taking a deep dive into this individual game would be a perfect way to give Jets fans an idea of what Reed is capable of when he’s at his best.
Summary of D.J. Reed’s Week 18 game against the Cardinals
You wouldn’t know Reed played so well against Arizona if you just looked at the box score or watched the game on television. His stat-line says he had five tackles (zero for loss) while failing to record an interception, pass deflection, sack, or forced fumble.
But when you look deeper – digging into the advanced numbers and then backing up the data by watching the tape – it becomes clear just how incredible Reed really was.
While playing a season-high 53 snaps in coverage, Reed allowed a season-low 2 yards on throws into his coverage. Yes, two. Kyler Murray targeted Reed 4 times and completed 2 passes for 2 yards.
Reed’s coverage was instrumental in creating a bevy of sacks and scrambles by Murray, who was sacked five times and forced into four scrambles that produced zero first downs.
Ultimately, Reed helped Seattle allow a season-low 187 passing yards while playing on the road against a top-10 passing offense. That includes only 88 receiving yards by Arizona’s wide receiver unit led by A.J. Green and Christian Kirk.
Reed was a driving force behind Seattle’s upset victory despite not making a single play that would be included in a highlight video. His work occurred behind the scenes; off the stat sheet and outside the view of the television broadcast.
Let’s see Reed in action.
D.J. Reed film
On our first play, Reed drops into zone coverage on the outside. Murray dumps the ball off to his running back, James Conner, and Reed charges downhill to make the stop for no gain. Reed does a good job of breaking down early and not overpursuing, successfully keeping Conner in front of him.
Murray again dumps the ball off to his running back, this time being Jonathan Ward. Reed forces him out of bounds for a measly two-yard gain. It’s not the prettiest stop, but Reed takes a good enough angle and gets enough contact to push the runner out.
Those first two clips were the only catches “allowed” by Reed all game. Obviously, these kinds of catches are not preventable. You just want to see the primary defender limit the damage as best as possible. That’s exactly what Reed did by allowing only two yards between the two grabs.
On this play, Reed ends up with no wide receiver on his side, so he shifts inside to what is essentially an outside linebacker alignment. After the tight end stays in to block and the running back goes to the other side, Reed is left with no threats in his area, so he flips his head downfield and looks for someone to cover. Reed finds a receiver who has a mismatch against a linebacker on a crossing route. Reed gets underneath the route to shut it down, taking away the big pass and instead forcing a short scramble.
Reed mans up against A.J. Green and sticks to him on the curl route, taking him away as a throwing option. Murray gets the first down anyway but Reed won his individual assignment. Not to mention, if Reed were beaten, a throw to Green would have been more productive than the checkdown Murray ended up taking.
Reed shuts down Antoine Wesley’s go route, getting hands-on early and staying on top of the route. Murray looks at the route early in his progression but declines the option thanks to Reed’s early contact and strong positioning atop the route. He ends up scrambling for a minuscule gain.
Reed and Wesley match up again. Murray targets Wesley this time around, but they have a miscommunication as Wesley stops for a 10-yard curl and Murray throws the deep ball. Either way, Reed was all over Wesley. Good coverage tends to discombobulate the chemistry between the quarterback and the receiver.
Reed plays the deep-third here and smoothly processes Arizona’s route combination as he gets enough depth to take away the corner route from the point man of the bunch formation. Seattle does an effective job of getting everything covered and Murray throws up a prayer that falls incomplete.
Playing man against Wesley, Reed stays patient and doesn’t fall for Wesley’s outside release. Reed mirrors Wesley as he cuts inside and continues to stay attached when Wesley tries to break back outside on a whip route. Murray is looking in this direction for a quick throw but holds onto the ball thanks to Reed’s tight coverage, and he ends up getting sacked.
I did notice one blunder from Reed so I wanted to be fair and include it. Reed gets stuck on this downfield block from Wesley and contributes to allowing a touchdown by Conner. Two other defenders are at greater fault than Reed for this touchdown, but it’s still not a good rep. We have to be fair when analyzing players. Even the greatest performances aren’t perfect.
Reed completely shuts down this out route by Christian Kirk, helping to force Murray into a scramble for minimal yardage. Kirk does create some separation coming back toward the ball on the second effort, so Reed could have matched that a little better. But the initial victory by Reed was enough to help Seattle win this play.
Reed beautifully trails A.J. Green on this deep route, once again taking away a throwing option to play his part in the creation of a Murray sack.
Playing way off the line in a two-on-two against a stack, Reed takes the inside-breaking route while his teammate on the line of scrimmage takes the out-breaking route. Reed matches the crossing route by Wesley, taking a smart anticipatory angle to meet Wesley down the field. Murray appears to consider this throw but passes on it with Reed in a good position to play the ball, and Murray is sacked again.
Reed prevents a potential game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
Reed mans up against Kirk with heavy inside leverage. Kirk uses a patient vertical release and Reed does a great job of staying equally patient as he remains square and does not commit his hips in either direction. Kirk tries to hit Reed with a fake slant before working into a fade but Reed shuts it down with physicality. Reed gets on top of the route, using his hands to stymie Kirk’s vertical momentum. Nobody’s home for Murray.
D.J. Reed excels at playing quiet football – in a good way
This game against Arizona exemplified the type of season Reed had.
Reed wasn’t necessarily a highlight machine, as he recorded modest totals of two interceptions (both were in the same game) and 10 passes defended.
What Reed excelled at was this: consistently executing his assignment and taking his matchup out of the play. While his impact occurs out of the spotlight, it can be just as profound as the flashy stuff that makes it into the highlight reel and the box score.
Reed had five games in 2021 where he was credited with allowing less than 10 yards. He is capable of putting together some remarkable performances of wire-to-wire lockdown coverage.
Sauce Gardner is the headline-grabber in New York’s defensive backfield, but don’t sleep on D.J. Reed.