We need to talk about Johnathan Joseph. The 19th highest paid cornerback in the NFL looks old. At age 31, he is, in football terms, old. In positions where speed and quickness are a foundation of the game, it's evident when athleticism dips.
The past two weeks, Joseph has had a spotlight engulfing him. Against Kansas City, he sat with a deep cushion and watched as screen passes were thrown underneath him and missed tackles after ducking his head before contact in the open field. Against Carolina, J-Jo again sat back with ten yards between him and Ted Ginn, quivering like a dog crapping razor blades, gave up five catches on nine targets for seventy-four yards, and a skin-singeing touchdown while covering another member of the Carolina Panthers UDFA All-Star team, Corey "Philly" Brown, on a pass devoid of safety help over the top.
Yesterday against the Buccaneers, it was more of the same. Joseph spent the entire game playing catch-up and running after Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. Over and over again, his back was turned to the quarterback as one of Tampa's power forwards went up for the ball. But unlike the past two weeks, Joseph kind of made plays. He used veteran craftiness to play the ball and knock completed passes out of the hands of his abusers. At the end of the game, he was credited with five batted passes.
The problem is that again, just like Kansas City, and just like Carolina, Johnathan Joseph was battered and beaten. He can't cover top receivers, and he was fortunate the teacher let him make test corrections in the form of rookie quarterback Jameis Winston's inability to lead his receivers. This isn't going away. It's an issue of athleticism. Joseph isn't going to get fast out of nowhere. As far as I know, this isn't Need for Speed Underground, where every crappy Toyota Celica comes equipped nitrous oxide. This is just the player Johnathan Joseph is now. That is fine for someone who can be hidden in zone coverage or brought out in dime packages, but not for a cornerback expected to cover the other team's best receiver.
The future solution to this problem is Kevin Johnson. The past two weeks, K-Jo has shown burst and incredible reaction speed on passes he has no business breaking up. He already seems to be another name on the long list of Rick Smith's first round picks that has allowed him to keep his job. Yet Houston has been using him sparingly in nickle packages as the second corner when the Texans move Kareem Jackson into the slot. At the moment, Houston has given no indication that he will be playing more.
This problem isn't going away this season. Barring injuries, Houston gets the centaur known as Julio Jones this weekend, two doses of T.Y. Hilton, and then one does each of A.J. Green, Eric Decker, Brandin Cooks, and Sammy Watkins for the rest of the season. All of these players are nightmares for most defensive backs, but even more so for a decrepit 31 year old.
As the season continues, get used to oceans of distance between Joseph and whoever he is covering, slow breaks on the ball, poor open field tackling, and "JOSEPH" staring at the quarterback as he scampers to catch up.
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