He’s finally back. After a mysterious knee injury suffered right before Week 1, Adoree’ Jackson made his season debut last Sunday against the Detroit Lions.
I don’t want to over-exaggerate, but Jackson looked really good in his first game back. Despite missing the first thirteen games due to injury and having minimal practice time, he displayed the necessary speed and burst to mirror vertical routes and play strength to play press man coverage — something that the Titans’ secondary has been severely lacking in his absence. Considering knee injuries often affect speed and change of direction, it was nice to see that Jackson was in good physical shape.
In his season debut, Jackson played on just 27 snaps (42%) and earned a PFF coverage grade of 89.3 along with an overall grade of 87.9. His coverage grade ranks second and his overall defensive grade ranks first among all NFL cornerbacks (yes, I know small sample size). On his 27 snaps, Jackson was targeted three times and only allowed two catches for 13 yards.
First, let’s look at Jackson’s speed and acceleration. Being injured for so long, my main concern was that he would look a bit rusty and less than 100% speed-wise. However, this was simply not the case. Jackson looked like the most athletic coverage player on the Titans defense and it wasn’t particularly close.
For example, in this first clip, Jackson is on the outside covering Lions’ speedy running back D’Andre Swift. Notice how fluidly and quickly Jackson is able to flip his hips upfield and accelerate from a still position to match Swift’s speed. This is the athleticism that has been missing from the corner spot opposite of Malcolm Butler all year long.
This speed and athleticism also showed up on Jackson’s sole deep target, against Quintez Cephus. On this deep route, Jackson does an excellent job of maintaining outside leverage, while simultaneously matching Cephus stride for stride. This outside leverage is important because he has inside help from the deep safety. When the ball arrives, Jackson is still on the receiver’s hip pocket. Incomplete.
Next, I was really impressed with Jackson’s physicality during his press coverage. This next clip was on 2nd & 8 in the red zone, matched up with 6-5, 250-pound T.J. Hockenson in the slot.
Despite being outweighed by nearly 65 lbs, Jackson displays great play strength and technique in pressing Hockenson off the line. As he deploys his two-handed jam, Jackson stays square, strikes the inside shoulders, slides his feet, and remains balanced when Hockenson fights back through the contact. This initial press prevents the tight end from getting into his route stem quickly, but Jackson also does a great job of releasing his press after the five yard contact period. Even after Hockenson pushes away to gain the outside leverage, Jackson stays glued to his hip and eliminates him as a potential end zone target.
This clip below came on the very next play, but this time Jackson is matched up alone on an island with Hockenson to the outside. Matthew Stafford obviously doesn’t look his way, but Jackson uses his length to latch onto Hockenson and is in perfect position to make a play on the ball at the catch point. Jackson shows that he is confident in his ability to press against bigger matchups without getting beat.
In this game, Adoree allowed just two catches for a total of 13 yards. However, in both instances, Adoree made the tackle immediately after the catch to make them minimal gains.
On his first allowed catch, Stafford throws the ball underneath to Swift. Jackson quickly identifies and reacts to the pass, as he bursts to the ball for a small two-yard gain.
His second allowed catch came on a 3rd & 15. The dreaded third and long that the Titans’ defense has struggled with all season long…
As you can see below, Jackson is matched up on Danny Amendola in man coverage. Amendola actually runs a really crisp dig route over the middle, making Jackson nearly fall over on the break. However, Jackson recovers nicely from the stumble and lunges at Amendola for the tackle. This play resulted in an 11-yard gain, but more importantly, it resulted in a third-down stop.
As shown in the clips above, Jackson gives the Titans a versatile matchup piece who can cover all the cornerback spots. He can cover the slot receiver underneath in Amendola, the deep threat in Cephus, and even bigger matchups like Hockenson. His combination of speed, change of direction, and length has been desperately missed by this defense.
Now, Jackson’s arrival doesn’t necessarily “fix” the defense, but he certainly does help. It was most evident at the end of the game when Chase Daniel came in for Stafford. During this two-minute, 60-yard drive, Chris Jackson came in to replace Jackson, while Daniels gashed the defense through the air. In A. Jackson’s absense, there was a glaring hole for the opposing offense to exploit and Daniels did just that, targeting C. Jackson for big gains. This has happened all season long, especially on third downs, without A. Jackson in the lineup. Opposing offenses just scheme up throws to the Titans’ third cornerback to exploit that matchup.
While we never got clarity on the specifics and severity of Jackson’s original knee injury (he was asked directly in his post-game presser and completely avoided the question), he seems to be back and healthy at the best time as the Titans prepare for a potential playoff run. Adding in a healthy Adoree Jackson and Kristian Fulton to the mix of Desmond King and Malcolm Butler should make for a competitive back-end of the defense. They are going to need it as they face some dynamic passing offenses ahead.