Miami Dolphins cornerback provided the magic, but poor offensive technique cleared the stage…
Tis the season for Top 10 football lists, but here at FBF, we wanted to give you something more profound than the usual top-whatever quibbling. The flashy final result often catches our attention, but something else usually allows the ridiculous to happen -the thing that led to the item.
We’re counting down the Top 10 plays of last NFL season – less concerned with the final order than those little things that helped make the highlights happen.
As we advance into the Top 5, we’re delving into plays likely etched in your memory from the season – whether from YouTube clips or television replays.
Debates over what defines one play as “better” than another are commonplace, but that’s not our primary focus here.
We’d instead draw your attention to the subtle details you might have missed amidst the previous 100 viewings of the highlight.
Every so often, you’ll come across someone arguing that Miami cornerback Brent Grimes‘ one-handed interception outshines the catch by Odell Beckham Jr., frequently hailed as the most incredible catch in recent memory.
They point to Grimes’ shorter stature, his impressive leap to secure the ball and the fact that he’s the defender, not the wide receiver, which adds an extra layer of difficulty to the play.
These are valid points, and as a defensive player, I’m inclined to acknowledge them.
However, in my perspective, what truly elevates a play is the adversity one must overcome to execute it.
Grimes’ catch is undeniably jaw-dropping. Both Grimes and Beckham showcased moments of football artistry that will be remembered for years.
It’s unlikely you’ll witness a defensive player make a more awe-inspiring grab in your lifetime.
Personally, I’d be content leaving it at that. However, in our quest for nuance, we aim to dissect the intricate layers of the artistry on display.
As remarkable as Grimes’ snag was, it’s worth acknowledging that he had an unhindered, uncontested opportunity to seize the ball.
In our previous analyses, we’ve often highlighted the extra efforts made by teammates to contribute to a standout play.
What sets Grimes’ extraordinary catch apart is the notably subpar performance by the opposing player, which inadvertently paved the way for this exceptional moment.
As impressive as the elevation is by Grimes, he’s snagging the ball at a place in the air that wouldn’t be difficult at all for an athlete like Johnson to reach.
A factor that significantly amplifies the importance of Grimes’ feat here is that he’s tasked with covering one of football’s premier wide receivers, Calvin Johnson.
If tasked with listing 100 attributes of Calvin Johnson, I’d confidently wager that 99 would be laudatory.
Therefore, it was surprising when I reviewed the footage and observed how little Johnson contested for the ball in this play.
Johnson ends up several yards away from Grimes’ exposed, outstretched arm – an arm that, if even slightly impeded, likely wouldn’t have made that catch as it did.
Upon viewing the video (found below), the initial observation is that Johnson relinquishes “the line” with minimal resistance.
“The line” refers to the symbolic boundary between the numbers and sideline that vertical receivers are instructed to “maintain” by NFL wide receiver coaches.
This line is often marked on NFL practice fields. Holding this line provides space to separate from the defender as the ball approaches… room to maneuver.
When the defender pushes the wide receiver towards the sideline, and off the line, the defense gains an advantage in the early stages of the route, making the catch significantly more challenging.
In this instance, Johnson appears to concede and veer towards the sideline, inadvertently making Grimes’ task considerably more accessible, given their substantial height difference.
Upon reviewing the game tape, a glaring observation is Johnson’s failure to return for the ball, instead drifting away from the pass without anchoring and adjusting to the throw.
Wide receivers in the NFL are explicitly coached to aggressively attack passes, particularly on fade routes in the red zone, which often entail contested jump balls.
Despite possessing significant physical advantages, Johnson’s neglect to plant, leap, and keep his hands high diminishes his effectiveness in this critical moment.
If he executes any of these techniques, Grimes would, at the very least, be compelled to compete with both hands, potentially resulting in a remarkable pass breakup by the Miami cornerback rather than a one-handed interception.
As remarkable as Grimes’ elevation is, he secures the ball at a point in the air that wouldn’t pose a significant challenge for an athlete of Johnson’s caliber to reach.
This is likely a crucial point Johnson’s position coach emphasized in subsequent film sessions.
While it’s true that sometimes the opposition makes an extraordinary play, if Johnson had contested this play as he typically does, the outcome would have been drastically different.
Instead of a one-play drive by the Detroit offense (this play followed an interception by the Detroit D), we might have witnessed either a touchdown or at least an incompletion to sustain the drive.
None of this is intended to diminish Grimes’ extraordinary effort. He excelled in the situation presented to him.
However, the critical lesson here is that football hinges on seizing opportunities.
The defender capitalized on an opening provided by the wide receiver.
Grimes’ play is a microcosm of the defensive player’s experience in the NFL.
Regrettably, his exceptional interception may eventually fade into relative obscurity, akin to Janet alongside Beckham’s Michael Jackson.
Grimes made the most of the circumstances in a truly remarkable manner.
He exerted control over everything within his power and asserted dominance over the play. Nonetheless, there won’t be a Madden cover gracing his effort.