I went into the tape for Jordan Cameron not looking for anything in particular. He is a player who has exploded onto the scene after having a huge preseason and carrying that momentum into the season. Cameron’s bulk production is way, way up from last year. He caught 20 passes for 226 yards and 1 TD then. This year, he has already caught 45 balls for 515 yards and 6 TDs.
Looking at other stats tells a similar story. His yards per reception over the two years (11.3 in 2012; 11.4, this year) are nearly identical. This may just be typical of the TE position. For example, Jason Witten’s yards per reception has always hovered in the 11.0-11.9 range; Tony Gonzalez has some seasons above that, but also sees a lot of seasons in the 11.0-12.3 range).
Cameron’s catch rate has improved. In 2012 he saw 31 targets at a catch rate of 64.5%, with 2 drops. So far through this season, he has the same number of drops, but he has seen 57 targets at a 78.9% catch rate. That may not be a sustainable number, but Jason Witten has seen his catch rate hover that high over the course of a season at times in his career.
So I’m saying a lot of the obvious: Cameron is a great receiver. I think this play shows just how deadly he can be. Cameron is a matchup nightmare, especially in these goal-line situations:
Here is Cameron lined up as basically a stand up TE, in a goal-to-go from the 7 yard line. He is matched up in man-to-man coverage against Harrison Smith, the Vikings safety. Now, Smith isn’t a sieve in pass coverage, but I wouldn’t put him in the top class of coverage safeties, like an Eric Weddle. What we see out of Cameron on this play is a quick stutter route to the corner. He is running for that back left pylon on this play. Smith is playing an off-man coverage.
Here is Cameron mid-route. This is his stutter step. He has Smith off-balance with his quick feet. Smith may have been expecting a slant in this spot, and tried to rally to get underneath the route (off man is not the best spot to be if they throw the slant, as Cameron could shield Smith with his body).
Cameron, due to that stutter, now has a step advantage on Smith.
This led to quite an easy pass from Hoyer to hit Cameron for the TD. The play was won by Cameron’s threat to the inside while still having the athleticism to beat the DB to the outside, despite the DB being in perfect position pre-snap to stop this route. It’s a very impressive thing to see.
What else can Cameron bring to the table?
Here again, we see Cameron in that stand-up TE position. The Vikings are showing a 2-deep safety look, with the CBs and nickel back playing close to the line of scrimmage. The defense has not shown any interest to “push” towards Cameron nor have someone directly over him; this is an indication of zone pre-snap.
I’ve circled Cameron in yellow. The Vikings defenders dropping into zone are in purple. Cameron is running right into the teeth of this defense. Cameron has two sets of eyes directly looking at him– a guy over the top and another LB under him. It’s almost a bracket coverage in this zone scheme the Vikes are showing. Even to Cameron’s right, a DB is sitting in the space, and in the back I have the safety highlighted. Now, his attention is on that WR running the fly route at him, but an eye will be kept inside to see if the TE runs the fly instead. (If both go, he has responsibility for the WR due to positioning).
Right before the pass. Our WR has fallen down (circled in orange). This now leaves four guys to cover Cameron. The safety would have had the WR in his coverage. which is why I have him as a dotted circle. Cameron ran a stop route. Cameron has forced three (actually four, thanks to the fallen down WR) sets of eyes on him from the defense.
Let’s look elsewhere on the play. At the bottom left we see a WR breaking for the corner route. He has a safety (off screen) over him and a CB trailing him. This is not a good pass for Hoyer to try to fit in here. The top middle shows a WR with good separation on his DB while he is running the out route. This pass has to be on line for a big play to happen but is definitely an option. But the guy I circled in green, the running back, is the option here. He does not have one defensive player looking at him, and all three of the guys on screen that have a shot at tackling him are moving in the opposite direction. This is the rare time we have a safe throw and the big play potential in the same route.
So who would you throw to?
I think the vast majority of us would check down to the RB. Hoyer decided to try to fit it into the tiniest of windows to Cameron. The underneath LB gets a relatively easy interception here (purple circle). I boxed the area which Cameron occupied. Look at how the defense was reacting to him. Very few guys in the NFL will get this type of attention. And Cameron is getting it despite having Josh Gordon on the field and seeing 17 targets, burning the Vikings for 146 yards and a TD on 10 catches. This shows the respect Cameron is getting and how it should leave the other options on the offense to have some big games this season.
Really, from watching the tape, there is one consistent way to beat Cameron:
And that is the quarterback play that the Browns are getting.
There was one other thing I wanted to look at with Cameron: His run blocking. I don’t think I care too much about his pass blocking. He showed he can chip a little bit but mostly didn’t do anything in the pass game. That’s fine for me; you are more likely to have a successful play by having him in a route than chipping or blocking overall. But he has to be able to run block if he wants to be more successful in the NFL. He’ll see better matchups against LBs in man-to-man coverage if he has his hand in the ground more often, and for teams to respect his hand in the ground he has to be able to block.
Here we see Cameron against the Bills. He was in a traditional TE position with his hand in the ground on the line next to the left tackle. He has a simple job on this play and that is to block down and maybe cut off this LB.
Well he does get his hands on the DT, but due to the LB shooting the gap that Cameron is supposed to be protecting, he has to slide off and block the LB. Let’s see how he does.
I watched the play a few times– in awe, actually. I just couldn’t figure out what I was watching from Cameron. Can you find him?
If you said, “the beached whale on the ground that looks like he may be having a serious injury” you would be correct. Don’t worry, Cameron is fine and dandy. Well, his pride may not be, as the Bills LB (that’s Bills standout rookie Kiko Alonso) is darting past him and about to get an assist on the tackle. No, Cameron’s lack of blocking on the play ultimately did not hurt the play, but did get his RB an extra hit he shouldn’t have to take and really did not put that fear into the Bills that they have to be concerned when his hand is in the ground.
OK, let’s see if Cameron can redeem himself. Again, he’s in that traditional TE spot with a wing behind him. Our offensive linemen in the orange rectangle are double-teaming at the point of attack (where the ball is being ran) and have the backside linebacker to block as well. So those two will the DT and backside LB. The wing will out block the defensive end (off-screen), and Cameron has the front side linebacker on a down block.
Cameron gets into the LB and actually plows open a gigantic hole, as you can see. This is a great job by Cameron getting to that second level and putting a devastating blow on that LB to move him inside. Notice also the double team in orange blocking perfectly. That backside LB has no chance to scrape across with that great double team. And we have a guard pulling through the hole for an extra blocker, hopefully onto a safety in order to spring this play. Unfortunately our wing (on the right) gets beaten on the next step and the Bills get a tackle for a short gain.
But the takeaway here is not that the play was not successful. It’s that Cameron was able to force his will in the run game. If Cameron can consistently do this, then we should in turn see him with his hand in the ground on passing downs more, which will potentially get him favorable matchups in the pass game. Cameron still has a long way to go in his blocking, but the respect he is receiving from other teams tells me all that I need to know. He is a legitimate threat in the NFL and one we should see sticking around for some time.