Eric Berry, safety for the Kansas City Chiefs. Just seeing those words is enough to make every single Chiefs fan swell up with pride.
While some fan bases suffer through watching their team implode because of clashing egos, or seeing their coach leave an obviously concussed player in the game, Chiefs fans get to watch the single greatest story in the NFL unfold every Sunday. The fact I’ve heard more about Greg Hardy’s twitter bio than Eric Berry’s play from the NFL Network this past month is absolutely dumb-founding, but that’s a rant for another day. So let’s go ahead and talk about Berry’s play, because man, has it been fantastic.
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First thing you’ll notice when watching EB this year is he’s now a full-time free safety, as he should be. John Dorsey deserves a lot of credit for making the transition from strong safety possible. If there’s one thing the Chiefs defense has, it’s safety depth. Berry, Parker, Abdullah, and Branch are all legitimate starters on pretty much any of the other 31 teams in the league.
Having this much depth and versatility in the back end (all four guys have lined up at multiple DB positions in their respective careers) has allowed Sutton to move Berry to free safety while having Abdullah or Branch play in the box.
Check out Berry’s career numbers and you’ll see the effects of the positional change. He’s currently on pace for his lowest number of tackles in a full season, but at the same time he’s on track for a career high in passes defensed. And that’s completely expected when you go from playing in the box majority of the time to center field.
Berry has all the traits you could want in a FS: he’s got a knack for being around the ball on both runs and passes, he shows great range, is a tremendous tackler, and shows the ability to cover 1-on-1 when asked.
When we talk about Eric Berry and being around the ball, the best example of that is when he single handily blew up a screen pass against the Chargers. While that play is already completely awesome, it gets even better when you see it from the all-22 angle (he’s the safety on the left from the QB’s perspective).
The Chargers called the perfect play in this scenario – Sutton sends a CB blitz, which leaves Berry responsible for the slot receiver while playing 10 yards off the line of scrimmage. However, just look how fast Berry breaks on the ball when Rivers throws it. He closes the gap between himself and the blockers ridiculously fast. And then, as we all know, the tackle is an absolute thing of beauty.
If Berry doesn’t make that play, the Chargers are ripping off a monster gain on that screen. A free safety’s primary job is to prevent the big play, and Berry does that to perfection.
He starts the play in man coverage on the WR going in motion. He then proceeds to hand him off to Sean Smith, knifes through the line of scrimmage at the snap, and brings the ball carrier down for no gain on fourth & 1. Doesn’t matter if it’s a pass or a run, Eric Berry is going to find his way to the ball.
Those are two examples showing Eric Berry constantly being around the ball carrier, but now let’s take a look at a play that shows why he’s such an effective center fielder.
This is a third & 7 with Berry having complete freedom to roam the middle of the field. The only thing he’s focusing on pre-snap is the QB, trying to get a sense of where he wants to go with the ball.
See how he’s keeping his eyes on both the QB and the receiver to the right the whole time but doesn’t quite commit to that route? That’s because look at what’s happening on his left:
If Berry commits to the slot receiver, the WR at the top of the screen has a ton of room in the middle to gain separation. Since Berry hold his position central to both receivers, he makes it difficult for Rivers to decide where to go with the ball.
When Rivers rolls out, Berry follows him but doesn’t get sucked towards the ball and maintains his great positioning. The play ends with Rivers being forced to scramble for a minimal gain. Mission accomplished on third down.
Berry did a fantastic job of following the QB’s eyes, maintaining position, and showing good discipline to not over-commit to any of the routes or the QB scramble. These are the traits that have put Berry on pace to record a career high in pass deflections, and are a big reason why the Chiefs haven’t given up many big passing plays in recent weeks.
Eric Berry has always possessed all the tools needed to become a top-notch free safety in the NFL. Now he’s finally gotten the chance to prove exactly what we thought he was capable of all this time. The fact he’s doing all of it less than a year removed from being diagnosed with cancer, incredible. From being a great story to playing like a great safety, that is exactly how I think Eric Berry drew it up.
Chiefs GIF of the Week
“I didn’t know he was going to jump over.”– Andy Reid.
Neither did we coach. Neither did we.