Marshon Lattimore has quietly been one of the most impactful players in the NFL this season. The rookie has been a leader of the New Orleans Saints defense that finally looks competent, if not good, half way through the season. The eleventh overall pick in last spring’s draft has quickly developed into a shut down corner, and seems to be overflowing with confidence only months into his NFL career.
The Ohio State product was matched up against Mike Evans during the Saints game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Sunday. Evans is one of the most talented receivers in the league. His 6’5, 225 lb frame make him a match up nightmare, but it was more of a pleasant dream for Lattimore.
Evans was held to 13 yards on only one reception on six targets. It was one of the worst games of his career and he spent much of it across from the rookie. Lattimore dominated his opponent and had the better of him on nearly every snap they were across from each other. The defensive back got into Evans head and the tension between them even reached a boiling point in the third quarter.
Evans was somehow not ejected for that hit after the play. It did reveal that he had allowed Lattimore into his head, though, and for good reason.
The two were involved in a physical battle all night. These advantages usually heavily favor Evans and his gigantic frame, but Lattimore managed to fight back to keep him check. On this second quarter play, Evans tried to use his arms and long wingspan to push his man off, but failed.
Lattimore is lined up in press coverage across from Evans like he did for much of the game. Evans comes off of the line and instantly jabs at the corner. Lattimore jabs back and stays in position as the two run downfield. They continue to jab back at each other as the play goes on, even after the ball is thrown.
Physicality isn’t all that Evans brings to the table, though. He is a pretty good route runner, and surprisingly agile for a man of his size. Lattimore almost always had enough to keep up with him, though, including this play later in the quarter.
On this play Evans is quarterback Jameis Winston’s first read. Lattimore lines up in press coverage and give Evans outside leverage presnap. Evans initially deke’s inside off of the snap, the breaks outside. Lattimore quickly jumps outside and path’s behind Evans well. Even though Evans has a step on his man nearly the entire route, there is never a moment when Lattimore is not standing in the throwing lane. The pass rush reaches the quarterback and Winston uses his feet to extend the play. Lattimore stays in front of his man the entire way and absolutely blankets Evans and Winston rolls in their direction. Unfortunately, the rush never reaches Winston, and he is able to get back to the other side of the field and complete an outlet pass for a decent gain.
Lattimore shows excellent discipline for a rookie. He does not bite on double moves, and he plays to the whistle. He understands how to block off a quarterback’s opportunity to throw even when his man is ahead of him. It is hard to beat him off the snap, and even when you do he has the speed and football IQ to blanket you anyways.
Evans tried to beat Lattimore’s press coverage with a double move again on this third quarter play, and it went even worse for him.
The receiver tries to use a hesitation before a double move to throw off Lattimore here. The defensive back plants his feet and just watches him, though. He reads Evans as he breaks outside, and they push off on each other as they run down field. Evans takes one last ditch effort to fling Lattimore away, but he holds on as the ball is thrown the other direction.
Lattimore did a great job making sure that the ball did not go Evans way, but even when he was targeted he managed to keep the ball out of Evans hand.
Evans runs a vertical route on this play. Off the snap he uses a double move to capitalize on the inside leverage Lattimore was already giving him, then broke towards the inside before turning upfield. The safety on that side of the field was drawn upfield by the running back on a shallower route, leaving them one on one heading towards the end zone. Lattimore does a good job holding on to Evans to keep up with him without doing enough to draw a penalty. The corner never has a chance to get his head around and Ryan Fitzpatrick lets it fly towards his receiver. The ball is slightly underthrown and a little off target, but it is still one that Evans had a really good chance at. Lattimore does a good job reading the eyes of his man, though, and gets a hand up to break it up at the last second.
Evans did get the better of Lattimore once, though. His only reception of the day came on a play where the rookie was absolutely beaten.
Evans slowly treads upfield and hesitates on his double move. Lattimore gets his feet lost for a second and has his hips turned the wrong way. Evans breaks back towards the inside wide open for a 13 yard catch.
This was literally the only bad play I could find from Lattimore while watching film from this game, which is extremely impressive for a rookie against one of the NFL’s best.
The Saints have raced out to surprise 6-2 record halfway through the season and are in pole position to win a tough NFC South. Their offense has always been great, and the defense that has held them back for years has finally gotten its act together. Lattimore may be the most important piece to this new formed New Orleans defense, and he could be a huge part of a Saints playoff run this winter.
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