Aside from the quarterback situation, Josh Morgan has been the next biggest story over the last ten days. He was making a name for himself with the coaching stafff in practice as he got first team reps due to Ashley Lelie, Bryant Johnson and Arnaz Battle suffering injuries. Then in game situations against the Raiders and Packers, the 6th round pick out of Virginia Tech took it up a notch, making a name for himself on a more national level.
After last week's game, I broke down each of Morgan's four impact plays (all receptions). Morgan had an even better game against the Packers, so it only seemed right to break down his performance. Morgan was involved in eight passing plays, finishing with 5 receptions, 114 yards and 1 touchdown.
Play #1 - Incomplete Pass - Morgan was covered by Al Harris - He ran a short 2-yard crossing route across the middle of the field (Harris had dropped back into a zone coverage and nobody picked up Morgan); O'Sullivan just overthrew Morgan so that it went off the very tips of his left hand. Had the pass been on the money, the safety was closing in and would have likely stopped him for a short gain. Nothing Morgan could really do there
Play #2 - Incomplete Pass - Morgan was covered by Charles Woodson - I couldn't tell where he lined up or what the route was because of a graphic CBS had up at the snap. Woodson broke up the pass with a nice little reach, however it looked a little underthrown. in reviewing O'Sullivan's throw, he had some decent protection but a couple guys were breaking through and he seemed to short arm the pass just a little bit. A little more behind it and he could have thrown it into Morgan's outstretched hands beyond Woodson's reach.
Play #3 - 3-yard reception - Morgan lined up to the right and was covered by nickel back Tramon Williams. He ran a very quick 3-yard pattern on 3rd and 2, giving him enough space to make the first down. Last week on 3rd and 18 or so he ran 15 yards out and after the catch couldn't get the first down. Obviously it is easier to get past the sticks when you only have to go 3 yards, but it was still a good thing to see him do.
Play #4 - 22-yard reception - Morgan lined up to the short left covered by Jarrett Bush, a 2nd or 3rd string CB (depending on who you ask). Hill had been split out wide to the other side of the field, but went in motion to line up just past Morgan. Morgan ran a corner route and O'Sullivan dropped the pass right over his left shoulder. It bobbled a little but he gained possession before going out of bounds at the Packers 3. It wasn't the prettiest pass from O'Sullivan but the location probably could not have been more perfect.
Play #5 - 59-yard TD reception - Morgan lined up to the far right and was covered by Jarrett Bush. Bush gave Morgan a push at the line but Morgan just pushed Bush away and ran what appeared to just be a go route. On the replay, it appeared Bush was playing a short zone coverage, expecting the free safety, Nick Collins to cover him over the top. A key to breaking such a big play was that Collins went to cover Jason Hill when Hill ran a short out pattern, even though Bush had Hill covered in his zone. That allowed Morgan to blow right past him (Collins) and with the money pass from O'Sullivan, Morgan was going to the house. Atari Bigby got a hand on Morgan's leg at the 10 but Morgan kicked it away pretty easily.
Play #6 - Incomplete Pass - Morgan lined up to the left in the slot, covered by Bush. He had Bush beat easily by a couple yards but Smith underthrew it. If it had been thrown in stride Morgan has his 2nd TD of the game.
Play #7 - 3-yard reception - Morgan lined up to the right in the slot, covered by 2nd string linebacker Tracy White. Morgan zigged in and then quickly cut out on a play-action by Smith. Morgan appeared to be the dump off option after Smith rolled out looking down field. He went down to his knees and had to reach a little to haul it in, and I thought he showed good hands as he had to bring it in while sliding out of bounds.
Play #8 - 27-yard reception - Morgan was split out wide to the right, covered again by Jarrett Bush. He ran what appeared to be a long 20-yard curl pattern. Smith threw it a bit high, but Morgan was able to jump up and haul it in and pick up an additional 7 yards thanks in part to a nice stiff arm on Bush.
The running theme in most of these plays? Jarrett Bush was Josh Morgan's personal bitch. Bush's scouting report indicates he's more of a special teams dynamo who lacks deep speed and recovery ability when working as a cornerback. Over at the Packers website, Bush is listed as a third teamer so clearly he's not going to see a ton of action at corner.
While I definitely enjoyed the 59-yard touchdown reception, it was in large part a product of a mistake by Nick Collins. The two plays I enjoyed the most were actually play #6, an incompletion and play #8, the 27 yard reception. In the first one he clearly burned Bush and was ready to make the big play. In the latter play, he appeared to find a perfect seam in the zone and then used his physicality to gain an additional 7 yards.
In re-watching Morgan I'm able to temper my enthusiasm somewhat. I still think he's got all the tools to be a very solid cornerback and in two games he's shown steady improvements in his game. One key for any young receiver is recognizing mistakes in the defense and taking advantage of them. At the same time, stick a #1 or #2 corner on him and he will probably struggle a little bit; not exactly a shocking statement considering he is only a rookie. I certainly hope I'm not coming across as Debbie Downer. I simply want to present both sides of the case. Trust me, I'm still excited for what Josh Morgan is capable of doing.
This Thursday against the Bears will be the next test in the youngster's developing career. The Bears bring very solid cornerbacks so we'll see if Morgan can make some plays early against the #1s.