FLOWERY BRANCH -- The smallest of details meant the worst of results.
To play cornerback, technique and positioning are critical to preventing big plays, especially if you’re on an island in man-to-man coverage. For Falcons cornerback Isaiah Oliver, one small step turned into a disastrous result for his team.
During the third quarter of the Seattle Seahawks' 38-25 win over the Falcons on Sunday, on a fourth-and-5 play, Oliver lined up to guard receiver DK Metcalf without any safety help. After the snap, Oliver extended his arms to reroute Metcalf off of the line of scrimmage. But at the same time, Oliver moved his left foot backward -- in what he called a “drop step” -- without turning his body to a 45-degree angle. This simple mistake gave Metcalf better position to be able to pick up speed in a straight line.
Metcalf fought through Oliver’s jam without being moved to the sideline or inside. Metcalf got a fairly free release and ran behind Oliver en route to a 38-yard touchdown reception.
“It was definitely a technique issue,” Oliver said. “I drop-stepped with my left foot, which is going to put me behind the receiver immediately. The hands part of it was fine, I wasn’t worried about that. But it’s with the feet. I have to move more with a 45 (degree angle) than drop-stepping and opening up like that. When you do that with a good receiver, you’re always going to be a couple of yards behind, kind of on any route he runs. That’s what happened there.”
Oliver said that if you’re not constantly thinking about it, that small but critical error can occur. Sometimes you can get away with it. In this instance, with a speedy receiver like Metcalf running a go-route, the mistake resulted in the worst-case scenario.
“With you starting backwards, turning and running -- unless you’re just flat-out faster than the receiver -- the receiver’s going to beat you in a race going forward, obviously,” Oliver said. “So that’s kind of what happened. He was able to move me off the spot. I drop-stepped, turned, open and ran while he was running forward, so he was able to get ahead of me by a couple of yards.”
Oliver, a second-round selection in the 2018 NFL draft, is in his third season with the Falcons. This is the second year in a row he’s opened as a starter in the Falcons' secondary. Before the touchdown, and with Oliver drawing him quite a bit, Metcalf was held to two catches for 20 yards on four targets. One of the passes thrown Metcalf’s way was inexplicably dropped, however.
But with the Seahawks leading 14-12, the Metcalf touchdown helped spark the Seahawks to their decisive victory. In the end, Metcalf finished the game with four catches for 95 yards and the aforementioned score.
“It was a heck of a play from DK. I don’t want to take any credit away from him,” Falcons defensive coordinator Raheem Morris said. “But Oliver definitely has some lessons to learn with his footwork and his hands being connected. The guy made a great move, Oliver got good hands on him early. The guy was able to power through and keep running. He’s a strong, big receiver, and physical.”
Said Falcons coach Dan Quinn: “Making the player work through the release is challenging. On that particular play, (Oliver) kind of inched back and gave Metcalf a freer release than Isaiah would’ve liked. ... Line-of-scrimmage play for a corner is different than line-of-scrimmage play for an inside guy. But the ability to stay down as long as you can and challenge the guys at the line of scrimmage, that’s one of the things both corners (Oliver and A.J. Terrell) are continuing to work through."
Oliver ran with the first team at right cornerback through the majority of the preseason. While he did rotate with second-year cornerback Kendall Sheffield on occasion, Oliver took the majority of the first-team reps when practice was open to reporters. However, Sheffield is dealing with a foot injury that Quinn said has bothered him since training camp. Sheffield was wearing a walking boot last week and was unable to practice Wednesday.
Although Oliver and Terrell are the starting outside cornerbacks, with Darqueze Dennard starting at nickel, Quinn said Sheffield will see playing time when he returns. This might suggest that Oliver’s margin for error could be small over the next week or two.
“As soon as he can get back and get rolling, we certainly feel like (Sheffield’s) going to have a significant role for us,” Quinn said. “We’re just working through that. I know he’s working as hard as he can to get back. Once we feel he can throw some good practices and feel like he’s in the flow, then we’ll get him back out there.”
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