There were only 31 seconds left in the fourth quarter when Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones made the unfathomable 70-yard catch. He managed to get behind the Denver Broncos' zone coverage, twist his body to adjust to the ball and haul it in. It was tied at 35, and the Broncos couldn't believe it.
What exactly happened on the stunning reception, and who is to blame for the defensive lapse?
There's only one man to blame on this play, and it's Rahim Moore.
Moore, the deep safety of the Broncos, was charged with covering one-third of field. The Broncos played a soft Cover 2 variation on this play that was similar to the Tampa 2. This meant that there were three deep defenders, consisting of two safeties and the middle linebacker dropping down the seam in a Tampa 2 cover style. Underneath, five defenders played very soft zone coverage.
This defensive play call is one that's common throughout the NFL, as many revert to it because it (usually) keeps the ball in front of the defenders, thus making it one of the safest coverages to play. The responsibility of the zone defenders is to get to their landmarks, which are areas of the field that they're assigned to run to at the snap.
On the Ravens' side of the ball, they also went to a common play call known as "four verticals." It's one of the most dangerous and successful passing concepts in football, as it stretches the defense both horizontally and vertically. It puts pressure on the safeties because they are forced to watch the bend routes run by the slot receivers while the outside receivers simultaneously run vertically.
The Ravens had two bend routes attacking the middle of the field and two go-routes on the outsides, one of which was Jones. Jones was at the far right (top of the screen) of quarterback Joe Flacco and had to beat cornerback Tony Carter if there was any chance of a touchdown on the play.
In a typical Cover 2, Carter is assigned the flats, but because this is a soft shell, he's responsible for dropping deeper and carrying the receiver until the safety has rolled over him. The issue here was that Moore never rolled over the top of Jones.
Instead of widening out at the snap, Moore went in reverse and never worked to the outside. This was poor technique, as his job was to not only work to the outside, but also to split the difference between Jones and the slot receiver. However, he was too far to the inside.
As one can see below, Moore has his eyes on the No. 2 receiver (slot) and his back nearly turned to the sideline. This is something that he absolutely cannot do in Cover 2 because he won't be able to cover his assigned real estate. If he tries to from this angle, he'll end up taking too narrow of an angle. A narrow angle will always result in the defender falling behind the receiver.
And that's exactly what happened. Moore turned his hips too late and fell behind as he tried to locate the ball in the air. The ball landed into the hands of Jones, who ran the final 20 yards to score the game-tying, 70-yard touchdown.
After the game, Moore was apologetic for his mistake.
It was my fault. If they wouldn't have scored on us on the last play, we'd be in here rejoicing so if people don't like me after that, I'm sorry. That is my fault and I am going to take full responsibility for it.
He further commented, stating that he didn't time the ball correctly.
I just misjudged it. I let it get over my head first of all and I didn't do what I do best which is watch the flight of the ball and I didn't do that right. I didn't capitalize and it hurt us. I'm speechless right now. I don't know even know what to say.
The biggest issue with Moore's play is that he forgot about his fundamentals and technique, which are the two most important aspects of playing Cover 2.
At the beginning of training camp, coaches drill these two things into their players' heads when installing the coverage because they tell the players what to do and where to go in every situation.
Moore can't have his hips turned to the inside and be focused only on the No. 2 receiver because that isn't his only job. He has to be able to rotate outside and in between the slot and outside receiver to make sure that neither gets behind him.
Moreover, although Moore is responsible for the touchdown, there is likely to be some critics of defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio's play call. When facing "four verticals," Cover 2 is not always the best answer because it places a significant amount of stress on the safeties.
As noted, the safeties have to split the receivers and only declare in one direction when the ball has been thrown, which shouldn't be a problem when they follow their teachings of working through the backpedal and keeping everything in front. However, it was a problem in this case because Flacco was able to slightly hold Moore with his eyes. With Moore held, Jones worked behind the coverage for the big catch.
All in all, Rahim Moore is the most to blame for this specific play. The entire Broncos secondary struggled with the Ravens' receivers, and the game shouldn't have ever come down to one play, but it did.