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All-Pro v. New Pro: Jalen Ramsey v. DeAndre Hopkins

Join BRB as we chronicle the match-up of one of the game’s best receivers versus one of its newest defensive stars.

NFL: Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Jalen Ramsey’s rookie season has seen him go up against a few of the NFL’s incredibly deep wide receiving talent. From the physicality of Alshon Jeffery to the speed and quick route running of T.Y Hilton, Ramsey has seen a few of the different flavours of WRs that the NFL has to offer. Last Sunday, he got to match up against one of the league premier technicians in DeAndre Hopkins.

Coming out of Florida State, Ramsey initially was seen a safety who projected to play cornerback due to his incredible physical attributes (he had a legitmate chance at being an Olympian). The question regarding Ramsey would be his technique and how he would handle someone like Hopkins, who wins in areas where physicality isn’t the most prevalent. Stuff like hand placement, leverage, footwork, and route running are all what make Hopkins so good. For Ramsey, it would all be about keeping ahead and trying to not fall for any of Nuk’s arsenal of moves.

On the whole, Hopkins’ day looks rather poor from a statistical standpoint. Five receptions on thirteen targets for 48 yards is not great no matter how you cut it. The Texans tried multiple times to get the ball to Hopkins when the defense gave specific looks. The lined him up in the slot and allowed him to run across the defense or sit in the gaps between the zones when he could. What I want to highlight here today are the cases when Ramsey and Hopkins were matched up on one another and the learning progression of Jalen Ramsey as the game goes on. I will also further exalt DeAndre Hopkins for just how amazing he can be.

Let’s start off with this:

This is a quick three step drop passing play to Hopkins, who is running a comeback that stops at around the 40 yard line. The Jags play to the Texans’ apparent run formation by bringing one of their safeties down into the box. This is a shell, however, for the deeper safety, who will come on a blitz at the last second. The remaining DBs will switch to zone looks with the two cornerbacks playing the boundary zones and the safety dropping into a single high look. In essence, it’s a Cover 3 look with the two cornerbacks trying to keep the routes in front of them. As the ball is snapped, this is the look.

Brock Osweiler, to his credit, stops the count and calls out the safety. The Jags are now out of their shell, but Osweiler has missed the other safety creeping down into the box. With the corners turned in on the quarterback, it’s a risk that one of corners might loose his receiver if the extra pressure doesn’t get home. Once the ball is snapped, Ramsey backs into his zone, giving Hopkins about a yard and a half worth of room. As he sees Osweiler go into his throwing motion and Hopkins spin back towards the QB, Ramsey flips his hips and drives back towards the receiver and the ball.

This is a completion, but it could so easily not have been. Osweiler is forced to rush the throw due to the clean rush from the safety. The ironic thing is the throw actually makes it impossible for Ramsey to get anywhere near the ball. If the throw is more back towards Hopkins, Ramsey can attack Hopkins and try to force an incompletion; it’s not and Hopkins make a wonderful adjustment to secure the catch and bail out his QB. Ramsey maintained perfect depth and read the throw quick enough to break on the ball.

(Please also note Alfred Blue in the backfield completely missing his block and almost allowing Brock to get drilled by the safety. This was a recurring theme throughout the day when Blue was in the backfield)

That was a zone look. Let’s look at a straight Hopkins versus Ramsey snap:

The pre-snap here is all about confusing the crap out of the QB. To do this, the Jaguars have brought down the safeties and linebackers to the line of scrimmage. #31 down towards the bottom is Davon House. Just before the snap, House bails into a deep coverage role. Osweiler again sees it and calls it out. The two corners at the top of the screen are playing a zone look while Ramsey has been left to go man-to-man with Hopkins. The safety remaining in the box is going to loop around the left tackle for a blitz. Two of the linebackers are going to drop into coverage underneath while the remaining one, Paul Posluszny, is going to blitz the A-gap right up the middle.

Once the ball is snapped, Hopkins bursts off the line. Ramsey is not expecting it and can’t even get a hand in. Hopkins releases to the inside with Ramsey chasing after him. Hopkins is running an out route towards the sideline; having Ramsey behind him is just what he wants. As Hopkins goes to break to the outside, he swims over the chasing Ramsey and cuts to the outside. To his credit, Ramsey is quick to recover but he still got played. Hopkins uses his own momentum and leveraged enough separation to make an easy 18 yard completion.

To add insult to injury, Ramsey gets called for pass interference, which is declined. All in all, this was a learning experience for Ramsey.

We’re going to jump forward to the end of the first half. There are four seconds left and the Texans are going for it. They’re on the Jacksonville 37 yard line. Everyone and their mother knows it’s time for a draw play pass to the end zone. For this, the Texans are going to go to DeAndre Hopkins, who will be matched up on Ramsey. Ramsey is playing press man again. The previous two plays, Ramsey was matched up with Hopkins and allowed Hopkins to get separation over the top but the pass fell incomplete due to a bad throw. The other incompletion was this:

Top of the screen sees DeAndre Hopkins faking Ramsey to the outside before swimming inside to a wide open part of the field. The pass is tipped at the line of scrimmage, and Hopkins can’t bring it in for a completion. The thing I want to point out here is the move that Hopkins makes. Remember it. It’ll be important later.

Anyway, four seconds to go in the half and it’s fourth down:

Jacksonville is going with a single high safety look with man coverage across the board, except for Posluszny, who is sitting in a short zone over the middle. Everyone else is blitzing. The past three targets have been towards Hopkins. This one is following the same path.

At this point, Ramsey had enough of this kitten and is going to start challenging Hopkins at the line of scrimmage. Ramsey gets his left arm into Hopkins’ body as soon as the ball is snapped. He’s looking to push him towards the boundary, but Hopkins counters by attempting to knock down Ramsey’s hands. Ramsey isn’t having it and gets his right hand to Hopkins’ outside shoulder, further pushing him towards the boundary while at the same time killing any momentum Hopkins is trying to generate. Hopkins attempts to counter again by trying to shift his weight, which removes Ramsey’s leverage and allows him to slip up the sideline. Ramsey doesn’t lose Hopkins, though; once Hopkins slips up the sideline, Ramsey flips his hips out towards Hopkins and all but wins the route. Hopkins isn’t going to out-pace Ramsey, and Ramsey is playing ahead of Hopkins so he has any leverage against any cuts Hopkins might make. This is irrelevant, however, as it’s the end of the half; the Texans are going all in, so chances are there isn’t going to be a break in the route. In order for this to succeed, Hopkins had to get a release to get some separation to run down the sideline. Ramsey never lets that happen. He sits on Hopkins all the way down the sideline as Osweiler majestically arm punts the ball over all of their heads.

This small victory seemed to cause Ramsey to grow in confidence. That, or at halftime the Jacksonville coaches told him to start pressing Hopkins more. Regardless, in the second half, it was a completely different story. It shows on this snap:

The Jaguars went to more man and single high safety looks in the second half. As ballsy as it was, it was probably correct, considering just how little the Texans were looking down the field for passing yardage. Here, the Jags are manned up across the board with Ramsey and Hopkins tied together at the top. Before we get to the Hopkins-Ramsey battle, let’s just look a few seconds into the future at how this play progressed as a whole.

It’s moments like these that sting most of all. Here, your TE is wide open after a rather nifty move against a baffled safety, with the entire field in front of him, yet can’t seem to get the QB to look his way. In fact, no one can because the QB never looks anywhere but towards DeAndre Hopkins who, as you can probably tell, is getting stifled by Jalen Ramsey.

How does Ramsey do it? Well, much like at the end of the first half, Ramsey gets his hands on Hopkins early. Ramsey’s left hand shoots inside, trapping one of Hopkins’ hands so he can’t swim straight out. Ramsey also uses his right to slow Hopkins’ momentum and push him towards the sideline. To counter, Hopkins attempts to rip through by trying to throw Ramsey behind him. Ramsey ain’t having that kitten and stands his ground, forcing Hopkins to release towards the sideline, all the while keeping him right in his hip pocket. Hopkins attempts to spin out and in an attempt to create some kind of separation from Ramsey, Hopkins pushes off, leading to an offensive pass interference penalty against Hopkins.

Ramsey shows fantastic strength and agility to stop Hopkins before he can even think to move and forces him to commit a penalty in frustration. If the snap at the end of the half was a confidence booster, this would have put him and his coaches on cloud nine.

DeAndre Hopkins isn’t the receiver he is because he let things like this happen regularly. He’s still got some tricks left. On this next snap, he’s going to go all Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca and play it again. Jacksonvile has just driven down the field and scored a touchdown. They also added a two point conversion to bring the Texans’ lead down to three points. There’s two minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Jags have three timeouts left. The Texans will force the Jags to burn one of those before the two minute warning. All the Texans need to do is make a first down and they can run out the clock. The first down is an unimpressive run up the gut that’s doomed when C.J. Fiedorowicz can’t block a linebacker from coming down on Lamar Miller’s cutback lane. That play nets three yards. Second down is another running play; again, the interior blocking doesn’t allow for a cutback lane as the Jags’ defense washes over the Texans blocking and stops Miller after two yards. It’s now 3rd and 5. The Texans need the first down in a bad way.

It’s the exact same look as the last play, albeit with a different offensive alignment. Single high safety, single linebacker in the short zone, and man-to-man coverage everywhere else. Remember earlier when I showed you that incompletion where Hopkins faked Ramsey out of his shoes on a slant route? Guess what happens here.

Hopkins bursts off the line towards the sideline. Ramsey sees this and shifts his weight to his outside foot, reaching out with his left hand towards Hopkins. Hopkins shuffles his feet quickly, adjusting before planting on his outside foot and driving inside. As Hopkins does this, he swats Ramsey’s attempt at a jam aside, which further causes Ramsey’s momentum to go against where Hopkins is now moving, to the open field inside the numbers. Ramsey has to pivot back inside, but it’s too late. Hopkins has more than enough room to work. Osweiler slings it to him for the first down. All it took was a few quick steps for Hopkins showing why he’s so good.

While Hopkins won at the end, Ramsey’s work throughout the day was very impressive, especially as the game went on. His athleticism gets him by for now. On routes where Hopkins would beat him with technique, Ramsey could still play a part in defending the route purely because of how quick and strong he is. Once the technical aspects start to come to Ramsey, he is going to become more and more of an issue for opposing teams. He’s strong enough to bully smaller receivers and quick enough to hold burners in check. If this is the appetizer of what’s to come for the next few years when the Jaguars play the Texans, it’s going to be fun as kitten to watch Ramsey take on Hopkins.