We will learn a lot about the upside of Chicago Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson based on his play in week 6
You will not find this account disparaging Jaylon Johnson much. We have been hyping him up since before the draft, and his first five weeks have everything you could hope for and more. However, like any rookie, there are going to be holes in his game to nitpick. While it may not look like it on the surface, his matchup against the Carolina Panthers could be his toughest yet.
One of the greatest strengths of Johnson has been his physicality at the catch point, and his downfield ball tracking. This was always positive of his game going back to Utah, and he has always used the sideline as his friend to dictate the direction of receivers.
Again, you can see him excel in the play below. He forces the receiver towards the sidelines, and shuffles with him down the field while staying within contact, but turning his head to play the ball and knock it loose.
You are not going to beat Johnson down the field on the sideline. In the first two weeks, he saw Marvin Jones, and Darius Slayton, two players who specialize in the nine-route and making plays down the field. Stylistically, this was a perfect opening to the career of Johnson.
In Week 3, he gave up a few quick passes to Olamide Zaccheaus, which was not very alarming. However, it was worth noting that while Johnson protected the sideline and deep ball, it was quick slants where Zaccheaus found space.
Defending the middle of the field
Zaccheaus did not expose issues for Johnson, but he showed a different style of player than what Johnson had faced in the first two weeks. In week four, Johnson saw T.Y. Hilton and Zach Pascal. While Hilton was ineffective, he typically is a deep ball player down the sidelines. Pascal did not have much success either, but he did twist Johnson around in the play below.
One catch to Pascal and a few quick slants to Zaccheaus are not alarming, but after the slants got him week three, it was notable that early into his week-four match, Johnson bit hard on the slant and then got beat off of a double move.
Finally, in week five, Tyler Johnson saw a big catch on Johnson with a post over the middle.
This time Jaylon Johnson was playing off coverage and was a bit passive. He sold out early and flipped his hips to protect the sideline where he feels comfortable. The rookie Tyler Johnson beat him easily to the inside. Beyond that, Johnson gave up a quick touchdown to Mike Evans. Once again, this was a quick slant. Johnson has yet to allow a fade or nine-route to be completed, but when he has to turn into the middle of the field, he is much less comfortable.
How Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore matchup
One notable factor for Jaylon Johnson against Carolina is that D.J. Moore lines up on his side 46% of the time, and Robby Anderson lines up on his side 31% of the time. It will be interesting to see if this holds true Sunday, but Johnson should expect to see a heavy dose of both.
What makes this such a big game is that stylistically, both of these receivers will test him more than any others. With the Jets and Adam Gase, Robby Anderson was looked at as a one-trick pony who had a role similar to Marvin Jones and Darius Slayton. We know that Johnson can handle those types of players.
However, since signing with Carolina, Anderson has been a much more complete receiver, and one of the biggest additions to his game has been going over the middle with quick routes.
In the play below, you can see some excellent route running. He sells a quick step to the sideline and freezes the cornerback. He crosses him over and creates quick separation on the slant.
As noted, Anderson is moving sides as well. In the play below he would be lined up on Johnson’s side. Once again you see his crisp footwork to keep the cornerback off balance for as long as possible before he breaks to the inside. In this play you see Anderson work for yards after the catch as well.
Johnson will see Anderson, but Moore is the most likely target to see Johnson. In 2019, nobody had more yards on slant routes than D.J. Moore. Talk about a differing skillset from Darius Slayton and Marvin Jones. Below, you can see what Moore can do off of his perception as a skilled player over the middle.
He can sink his hips, change direction, and take off after the catch. The cornerback biting hard and losing on the second move is similar to Johnson early in the Colts game.
It can be easy to brush this off and say that the Bears cornerbacks are much better than the Falcons cornerbacks. However, through five games, Anderson leads the NFL in yards after the catch per PFF. Moore ranks 18th. This is not some fluke. The Panthers are highlighting quick passing and getting speedsters like Anderson in space with the ball in their hands.
Johnson should be looking to press both receivers off of the line of scrimmage. His advantage over both is his physicality. If he gives both a free release, the rookie is in a guessing game whether to bite on the slant or stay cautious for the second move. Guessing wrong can be more dangerous against the duo of Anderson and Moore than Zach Pascal and Tyler Johnson.
If Johnson can show growth in this game and shut down the Panthers, who will certainly attack this area, it will be a true statement of how advanced Johnson is, and what his ceiling can be.