Was he great?
The Buffalo Bills and their Super Bowl dreams took a huge hit when shutdown corner Tre’Davious White was lost for the season. Due to weather, the Bills didn’t get tested in the passing game until the second contest without White. Enter Dane Jackson, the second-year man to fill in. How did he do? Let’s take a look.
This is right out of the gate and shows off the “White effect.” It’s not that Tre’Davious White is never helped by a safety, but it stood out that Dane Jackson was being helped out. That’s 100 percent expected but it does mean the tandem of Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde have a little less freedom to their usual thing.
Another thing that will stand out: Take a look at alignment. There’s no shadowing a specific player like White is often asked to do. Jackson was exclusively outside corner on this side of the formation.
Defensive backs will make mistakes. I’m not trying to point out a glaring flaw in route recognition. Rather, I’m showing a major reason that there weren’t headlines about Jackson after the game. The quick hip flip gets him back in decent position. Defensive backs will make mistakes, but good physical tools and recognition of when to use them help mitigate those mistakes.
This is pretty common in the Bills’ system where players are allowed to break off when they see the play developing and cover for each other. With everyone’s eyes on the ball nearly all the time, this is pretty common. With that said, this can be a dangerous game to play when you’re inserting a player on the fly. Between the large cushions and some minor hiccups like the play above, there were some opportunities for shots against Jackson. Being fair, while I think the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could have gone after Jackson and had some success, it’s not like they didn’t find success elsewhere on the field.
Here’s one of those opportunities for reference. Jackson isn’t far behind on the play, but he’s definitely behind on the play. This should have been an easy first down.
Ignore the flag because we all knew the refs blew it this week and I didn’t like this call all that much. This is right after the play above. There are a few things to note. As noted, the Bills lined the backs up regardless of who the Bucs shuffled around. A 6’ sub-200-lb defender man-on-man with Gronk? Sure, why not. And Jackson did admirably. I’d also note that Buffalo mixed up coverage styles mid-drive, further showing trust in Jackson.
I avoided late fourth-quarter plays because they were a little too highlight/lowlight for me. I wanted more of Jackson’s average on display. There’s an even better victory over Gronk to be seen there; also, a play where he’s torched out of his cleats.
I like Jackson’s response speed here. He’s driving pretty soon after the running back gets the ball. I also like the willingness to mix it up on the line. Because…
This is why the Bills can get away with a nickel-heavy defense against just about every other team in the league. Dane Jackson is right there taking on a wrecking ball by himself. This is a trait the Bills seem to gravitate to with their defensive backs. Buffalo will likely never be a team that can create a true wall through sheer mass. Instead, they look to have faster players recognize and fill gaps at speed, and tackle solo if necessary.
How did Tom Brady, a QB with Methuselah levels of experience, not adapt to flaws in Jackson’s game and rip the Bills apart in the second half? Buffalo doesn’t make it as easy as that. The eyes-forward nature of the defense means it’s not just the player you’re looking to exploit that you need to worry about. Dane Jackson and the cushion are being targeted again—this time with a lead blocker to create a chunk play. Taron Johnson sees it and says “nope.”
And let’s end on a high note. This near pick is a culmination of a lot of the above factors. Jackson reacts well to the play and route. He knows he has help on the back end. His eyes are forward to read the ball just as well as the intended receiver. That’s how Buffalo’s “weak link” on defense nearly came up with the ball against a future Hall of Fame QB.
The Bills will miss Tre’Davious White, make no mistake about it. Early returns on Dane Jackson are encouraging though. Buffalo showed a lot of faith in Jackson and their system. Clearly the system had some flaws in Quarters 1, 2, and 5. The system did just fine in Quarters 3 and 4. Further, even when the Bills were giving up yards and points in the first half, it wasn’t a “pick on Dane Jackson” party.