Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

20 Oct 2016

Film Room: Odell Beckham, Jr.

by Cian Fahey

We are predictable in how we treat great players. When you're great, at first we marvel at you and overstate how great you are, then we criticize you for not existing in a permanent state of greatness. We make everything about you, then criticize you because everything is about you. We build you up to tear you down. It's a routine that we have practiced to the point of perfection and predictability over the years.

If you're a somber personality, you're more likely to slip through this process quickly.

If you've got a bleached-blonde frohawk and a penchant for expressing your emotions overtly, we'll feast on you for a while.

Odell Beckham, Jr., had the most productive game of his young career on Sunday. Beckham caught eight passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns. Included in that was a 66-yard go-ahead score in the final minutes.

After that score, Beckham took his helmet off while running off the field. That drew a penalty. Had Beckham's outburst of euphoria occurred in a different spot 3 yards away, it would have been legal. But it didn't, so the Ravens got 15 free yards for their final drive. Had the Ravens come back and won, Beckham's penalty would have been the story.

Three weeks ago, when the Giants were summarily swept aside by the Minnesota Vikings, the focus wasn't on Eli Manning's poor play, the demolition of the Giants offensive line, or the inability of their defense to cope with the Vikings offense. Instead the focus was fully on Beckham for drawing a 15-yard taunting penalty during the second quarter. Three officials surrounded Beckham, and none of them threw the flag. An official who was more than 15 yards away threw it from afar.

That flag didn't appear to be deserved, but the context was irrelevant as onlookers set about tying it to his expressive actions on the sideline. The story was no longer about Beckham the great football player -- we had torn him down to the point that he was a "distraction," that beautifully meaningless word that we use to distort reality.

On Monday, Giants head coach Ben McAdoo publicly admonished Beckham (ironically fitting the bill of a "distraction") for the final penalty. This was ludicrous. Without Beckham, the Giants lose that game, a game where the opponent was missing at least five of its best players to injury, and where McAdoo himself was the Giants' greatest problem. His game plan repeatedly kept the ball away from his receivers and put it in the hands of his ineffective running backs and tight ends.

Four Giants receivers caught 16 passes. Beckham caught eight of those for 222 yards -- even if we subtract the penalty yardage, he still had 207. The team's running backs and tight ends combined for 33 touches. Thirty-three touches for 139 yards, 68 fewer than Beckham's on 25 more opportunities.

So who exactly hurt the team on Sunday?

Reality is, Odell Beckham is a superstar. Ninety-five percent of what he does helps his team win. If you're focused on the other five percent, you're missing something special.

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Beckham fumbled his first target thanks to a well-timed and well-placed hit from safety Eric Weddle. He made one spectacular catch downfield on a throw that Manning pushed too far over the sideline, and almost pulled in another missed throw from Manning down the seam on a play where he hurt his hip. Beckham went to the sideline but eventually returned. Through three quarters, Beckham primarily worked on underneath routes as cornerbacks sat off of him. He created one first down with his acceleration after the catch. His first big play came when Beckham used the soft alignment of the cornerback against him.

It's easy to celebrate Beckham's physical talent and his ball skills. Both traits immediately stand out when you watch him play. This play highlights his fluid movement and acceleration, but it's primarily created by his awareness and work ethic.

Beckham is on the backside of this play. It's possible that he is running a double move, but the route combinations and the timing suggest that he is running a curl route by design. Manning has nobody open to his left as Victor Cruz can't win in his route. With Cruz covered, Manning works back to the middle of the field where his tight end is open, but only for a short gain with defenders in position to come up and tackle him.

At the top of the screen, Beckham advances through his stem vertically towards the cornerback, who has lined up off the line of scrimmage. The cornerback doesn't drop back and his weight has his momentum tipping forward slightly. Beckham recognizes this. He knows the curl route isn't there. He also trusts that his quarterback will see this. With the cornerback sitting on the curl route, Beckham sells that route but doesn't ever commit to it. With great fluidity, he twists away from the cornerback as he moves in the opposite direction.

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The above GIF has been slowed down as Beckham enters his break. His right foot plants outside of the defensive back and is pointed forward with his weight on the front of his foot. This allows him to shift his weight and turn without putting his left foot on the ground. The first hard plant Beckham makes is the second action when his right foot is parallel to the sideline and his left foot is leading his body towards the sideline. Beckham glides through this route at speed while still selling the curl route. The defensive back had been waiting to bite on the curl from the beginning of the play. Beckham knew it and he exploited it. It's possible that this was a designed double move. Either way, the route was spectacular.

Early in the fourth quarter, Beckham ran another precise route for a 40-plus-yard play.

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On this occasion the defensive back sat off the line of scrimmage from the start, then dropped deeper as Beckham ran his stem. When Beckham tried to sell him the slant, he didn't bite on it hard. Beckham did make him stop for a split-second, though, and that was important. The light feet that Beckham showed off and the way he sold the slant didn't slow him down. He was moving at or close to full speed from the moment he left the line of scrimmage. When the defensive back stopped, Beckham accelerated, which allowed him to close the ground between himself and the defensive back. Because the defensive back was straining to keep up with Beckham, he couldn't turn his head to locate the football.

With a well-placed hand, Beckham slightly leaned on the cornerback while looking back for the ball. This afforded the ball a pocket of space to fall into. Beckham's actions prevented the cornerback from looking for the ball when it arrived, so he could catch the ball into his stomach instead of having to reach for it in the air. (This was also a perfect throw from Manning.)

Beckham is one of the best receivers in the NFL because he can beat you in every way imaginable His route-running is precise and timely, while his ball skills allow him to consistently make contested catches.

And on his game-winning play, he showed off his YAC ability.

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On fourth-and-1 with the game on the line, Beckham ran a good route to negate the cornerbacks' inside leverage against his slant. That did enough to get positioning for the first down, but Weddle is the reason he was wide-open. Weddle is the safety to Beckham's side of the field. He is covering the tight end in off-man coverage. Weddle not only plays his coverage terribly, he trips up the cornerback trailing Beckham. Instead of trying to keep his eyes on the quarterback and the tight end, Weddle needed to understand the situation and sell out for the tight end's initial action into the flat. By keeping his head up and watching the ball, he never realizes the cornerback is coming across his face, and the space between them is cut off. Beckham benefits from the defense's mistake, but then he sets about punishing them for it.

Before looking at what Beckham does with the ball, we have to look at the grave error the Ravens made with their play call. Beckham initially lined up alone outside the numbers on the narrow side of the field. There was an in-line tight end to the same side, with two receivers and a running back on the other side of the offense. Because Beckham was on the narrow side of the field and the Giants had three receiving options to the wide side, the deep safety drops to that side of the field at the snap. Manning moves the underneath linebacker with his eyes at the beginning of the play. This means that Beckham, the Giants' best receiver and one of the most dangerous players in the NFL, is left in space against single coverage on fourth-and-1.

This is awful coaching. The Ravens should have adjusted their approach to account for a scheme-breaking talent such as Beckham. The end result gives Beckham the first down, but it also means he is immediately in wide-open space when he turns upfield.

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When Beckham catches the ball, the obvious option is to stick to his side of the field and sprint down the sideline. The deep safety, Lardarius Webb, is the only defender he has to be concerned with. A smart receiver would not immediately bend his trajectory towards the sideline. He would run vertically to prevent the deep safety from sprinting across the field. By running vertically, you keep the cutback option available, which forces the safety to worry about you running past both shoulders.

Beckham runs vertically, but cuts across the field surprisingly early. His athleticism allows him to make this work, but at first it looks like a bad decision. What Beckham did was use the safety's momentum and his posture against him by cutting early. That exposed him to trailing defenders coming from the line of scrimmage, which would be a problem for average athletes at the position.

As we know, Beckham isn't an average athlete, so he is able to comfortably cut between the deep safety and recovering defenders before sprinting to the end zone. Had he continued down the sideline, he would likely have gained more than 50 yards, but his chances of scoring a touchdown wouldn't have been as high. Webb had a good angle to close off the space before he reached the pylon.

"I see one safety and he's kinda angling towards the right and I know that for somebody to be able to open their hips and run at the same time and run me down they're going to be a very fast," Beckham explained after the game. " So I just decided I went left and it all worked out."

The 15-yard penalty that Beckham received ultimately meant that the Ravens started at their own 32-yard line instead of a likely touchback where they would have started at their own 25-yard line. Even if they had started at the 50 or even run the ball back for a touchdown, Beckham's penalty would not have been the primary reason for a loss. It wouldn't have even been in the top 10 reasons for it.

Furthermore, Beckham's penalty was somewhat bogus. He took his helmet off after running through the back of the end zone. He never stepped back onto the field of play, instead running outside of the pylon. If we really want to sap the emotion and joy from this sport then by all means, criticize him for not following the rules to the final permutation, but that's just irrational in the context of what he brings to his team and what we want to see as the audience.

Posted by: Cian Fahey on 20 Oct 2016

8 comments, Last at 21 Oct 2016, 9:34am by billprudden

Comments

1
by brenthutto :: Thu, 10/20/2016 - 3:26pm

I am all for not sapping the emotion out of Football. The league is full of beans on all this no-fun stuff.

That said, having the awareness that you play in Goodell's No Fun League is no different than having the awareness to notice which way a DB is leaning as you come out of a cut. Playing without drawing ticky-tack flags is a skill he can develop.

But the main gist of this article is true. He does have amazing fluidity, awareness and grace when running routes. To go along with the highlight reel one-handed stuff.

2
by billprudden :: Thu, 10/20/2016 - 4:43pm

Cian -

Remind us why he "slipped" to the NYG in the draft? 12 seems low, of course, in retrospect...

Bill

3
by Cian Fahey :: Thu, 10/20/2016 - 5:19pm

Zac Mettenberger can't throw a football.

4
by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 10/20/2016 - 6:55pm

Don't temember bim being talked about as top 10 pick ever. Do recall him being discussed as 2nd rounder or late 1. Mived up In people's thinking as draft closed in

6
by Cian Fahey :: Thu, 10/20/2016 - 8:56pm

I can't speak for others but I thought he was a star http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1996862-nfl-draft-2014-odell-beckham-...

8
by billprudden :: Fri, 10/21/2016 - 9:34am

Wow. Indeed you did...

5
by BearDown103 :: Thu, 10/20/2016 - 8:09pm

I have been longing for the NFL to adopt the NCAA's rules on post-TD dead ball fouls: Give the opponent the option of enforcing the penalty on the extra point play or the ensuing kickoff. That was a big extra point, and a penalty would knock the success rate down to around 65-70%.

7
by Will Allen :: Fri, 10/21/2016 - 7:38am

It is better to be a defensive player, coached by Les Miles, than an offensive player coached by Les Miles, if you want to be drafted as high as possible.

The guy's great. He'd be better if he didn't allow the better dbs to distract him from his job, with all the extra stuff. This is eminently correctable, whereas a guy with insufficient talent is not. The sideline stuff? Who gives a sh*t?