Why Vontae Davis Actually Played Well Against The Vikings

Sep 09, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall (15) attempts to make a catch over Indianapolis Colts defensive back Vontae Davis (23) during the second quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-US PRESSWIRE

One of the best parts of having multiple writers on a sports blog is differing opinions. Instead of being spoon fed one person's take on topics relating to a team, readers can create their own opinion on an issue based on several arguments from several different writers.

That's my theory, at least.

For instance, Brad wrote this week that Colts cornerback Vontae Davis is "playing like poop" right now, based on stats from PFF that state quarterbacks have completed 10 of 11 targets in Davis' coverage for 143 yards, two touchdowns and a perfect 158.3 rating.

Yeah, I'll admit, that doesn't look good.

But PFF also said in its refocused article on the latest Colts game that Davis showed some improvement in Week Two.

Fellow corner Vontae Davis (+0.8) also had a decent game. He may have allowed a reception on all four targets, but he limited the damage to just 39 yards and also came up quickly to make plays when they happened in front of him.

So which Vontae Davis really showed up against the Vikings last Sunday? I went through each Colts defensive snap on All-22 film to find out.

Since there were dozens of plays that Davis had little to no impact on, I decided to pick and choose plays that he was directly involved in and analyze them.

14:17 1Q – Screen pass to Percy Harvin on the far left side. Davis is six yards away in coverage when Harvin receives the ball, and trips up Harvin as Harvin squeezes past Davis with a move to the sideline. Gain of 11 and a first down.

13:01 1Q – Slant pass to Harvin. Davis is in man coverage, lined up two yards across from the receiver. He doesn’t go for a jam once the ball is snapped, and Harvin slips over to the right in front of him to catch the pass over the middle. Gain of eight.

12:16 1Q – Run to the left by Adrian Peterson. Davis gets by Michael Jenkins' block on the outside and dives low on Peterson to force him out of bounds. Gain of six.

11:11 1Q – Davis is playing zone coverage on the left side, 10 yards off the line of scrimmage. Gerhart catches a screen pass out of the backfield and weaves through his blocking on the left side for a gain of 12 yards. Davis is the first player in on the tackle to bring him down.

00:19 1Q – Harvin comes out of the backfield with a sweep to the left. LT Matt Kalil easily blocks Davis from making the tackle. Harvin springs through a hole untouched for a gain of 20 yards.

7:12 2Q – Davis is finally tested in coverage. Playing man coverage, he stays with his receiver over the middle of the field, about 20 yards off the line of scrimmage. His man is Christian Ponder’s first read, but he’s too well covered to make the pass. Ponder tucks the ball and runs.

6:32 2Q – The Colts pass rush comes through for Davis. A Vikings receiver beats Davis with a nice fake to the inside, and moves outside on a corner route. It would have been an easy completion for Ponder, but Freeman and Redding sack him and force a fumble before he even sees it.

6:51 3Q – Once again, Davis gets beat by a corner route. He’s lined up in the slot to the right against Harvin. Harvin fakes the inside move and darts forward, turning Davis around in the process and giving him immediate separation. The Colts pass rush quickly pushes Ponder out of the pocket, forcing him to dump it into Kyle Rudolph for the shorter gain on the same side of the field. Rudolph was even covered more tightly by Kavell Conner than Harvin was by Davis.

3:12 3Q –Davis holds some great coverage on Harvin on a downfield route. Harvin was Ponder’s first read, but he had to look elsewhere, and by that point, the pass rush forced him out of the pocket and put him on the run.

3:05 3Q – Ponder throws a screen to Harvin on the left side of the field. Davis takes a bad angle on the play and gets blocked out of Harvin’s way, allowing him to streak upfield. Gain of 20. Tom Zbikowski also deserves blame for this play. He was easily pushed aside by an offensive lineman while he was in position to make a play.

0:37 3Q – Playing in zone coverage, Davis beats an attempted block to stop a screen pass to Gerhart on the left side of the field. Freeman assisted with the tackle.

13:40 4Q – Davis is lined up opposite Harvin in the left slot, appearing to be in man coverage. However, he backs off into zone once Harvin breaks to the middle of the field. A play-action fake to Peterson by Ponder pulls the Colts linebackers forward, giving Harvin enough room for an easy catch. Gain of 17 yards. No mistake by Davis here, even though it was his man initially.

1:59 4Q – Davis goes into man coverage, but quickly sees it’s a screen pass to Peterson toward his side of the field. He flies back to ball and makes a solo, open field tackle on Peterson. Gain of one yard.

0:04 4Q – Prevent defense puts Davis 25 yards off the line of scrimmage. This allows Devin Aromashodu to make an easy 19-yard reception in Davis’ coverage area. Davis quickly steps in to make the final tackle of the game.

Analysis

I can't fully analyze Davis' play without mentioning how poorly Christian Ponder played. His stats look clean, but most of that total was created through his receiver's YAC on checkdowns and screen passes. Most of those passes were Ponder's first read, and were simple routes designed to be short, easy catches that could hopefully turn into big yardage once his receivers had the ball in their hands.

Harvin may be one of most dangerous weapons in the NFL, but he will never be fully utilized if the Vikings are going to call simple plays for the quarterback and try and operate without a vertical passing game. It won't work. And if Ponder doesn't improve or the play calling doesn't let him air it out more, then I think the Vikings will draft a new quarterback in the first round next year. Ponder won't take them anywhere like this.

When it came to Davis' play throughout the game, Ponder didn't look his way while dropping back to pass for the most part. That was built off the game plan of "Either throw a screen pass to Harvin or run the ball." While Davis did line up against Harvin on several plays, Jerraud Powers was covering him more often. Powers had a fantastic game in that role, by the way.

Davis, meanwhile, was solid in coverage even when he was targeted. There were a few times that receivers got away from him and still didn't receive a pass, but those were mostly slant routes and corner routes. For the most part, he stuck to his man, which was usually Michael Jenkins, relatively well. He played most often in man coverage with a few zone coverages thrown in, and he was successful in both.

His run defense was even more impressive. Even though he badly missed a tackle on a running play late in the third quarter, there were several other times where he brought down Harvin and Peterson with open-field tackles.

The honest evaluation on Davis is he probably won't get an easier test than this all season. The receivers he faced just weren't a focal part of the offense. They could have streaked downfield without a cornerback covering them and Ponder still wouldn't have looked in their direction on some plays.

Some of that is due to the offensive play calling by the Vikings. But some of that was also due to Davis' man coverage. He wasn't extraordinary, but he didn't need to be. Davis just played a good, efficient game and made plays when he had to. That's deserving of praise, I believe, and not criticism.

Keep an eye on Davis tomorrow against the Jaguars and see if quarterback Blaine Gabbert starts targeting him in coverage. Powers came through this week with a great game against the Vikings even when he was targeted by Ponder so much. It's time to see if Davis can do the same.

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