After weeks upon weeks of this feeling like an inevitability, Jordan Battle finally took over for Nick Scott in the secondary.
Scott never seemed to settle into the starting safety role. Battle always played well in his limited action, but remained in his reserve role for the nine games of the season.
After Scott caused a 12-men on the field penalty, he never saw the field again against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 11. It was Jordan Battle’s time to shine. So how did the rookie do in his first extended action? Let’s take a look at the film:
The area that stuck out most was Battle's run support. He was consistently flying downfield to provide help in the run game. Typically he was unblocked on these plays but that is partially because he was diagnosing everything well. Take this play against GF counter for example:
Good play from Joseph Ossai on the kick out block and Jordan Battle to finish off the ball carrier when he bounces the run. pic.twitter.com/r9t3buVJQf— mike (@bengals_sans) November 18, 2023
Battle can see that Joseph Ossai did a great job of squeezing this down. Once the running back tries to bounce this outside of Ossai, Battle reacts and chases him down for a minimal gain. This is a common play that the safety has to make when they’re in the box and Battle showed that he can do it. The one area of criticism here would be that he needs to make the tackle earlier. He gets stiff armed a little bit and then has to force the ball carrier out of bounds. If he can knock that arm down or get underneath it, he can make this tackle at the line of scrimmage. Still as it stands this is a quality play from the rookie safety.
He made a similar play earlier this season against Seattle:
Sam Hubbard gives up no movement on the kick out block and Jordan Battle flies in to finish the job pic.twitter.com/CrVymrnGQl— mike (@bengals_sans) October 16, 2023
So there was a little bit of proof of concept, even before he got starting snaps on the defense. So far he has shown the ability to play within the box even though he didn't live there in this game. The one area you would like to see him challenged is taking on blocks from wide receivers and tight ends. That has not occurred just yet, but will happen if he continues to log a high number of snaps.
Battle also gave good support in the run game when he was coming from the deep safety spot. This is one of the most important jobs of the safety on defense. When everything goes wrong at the first and second level, he needs to be able to clean it up. Battle passed this test with flying colors.
Jordan Battle off of the roof of the defense to stop Lamar and prevent a TD pic.twitter.com/lnMtjRpbbg— mike (@bengals_sans) November 18, 2023
On this play, everything in front of him fails. Hendrickson squeezes down too hard to make a play, Hill takes a poor angle, and there is no one left except Battle to make this stop. Battle is in the post safety position in the deep middle of the defense on this snap.
He is one-on-one with Jackson with a touchdown on the line and makes the stop. Battle takes a good angle on this play which is why he succeeds. The angle chases down not where Jackson is on the play but where he is going. He finishes with a clean tackle and he prevents a first down.
Being one-on-one with Jackson is a scary situation for any player. He’s one of the most dynamic playmakers in the NFL, but Battle won this rep. He showed everything that fans have been clamoring for as he makes the stop on a dynamic playmaker. Furthermore, this area was where Scott was the weakest. He missed a plethora of tackles this season.
Another example of Battle's processing in the run game from the deep safety came against a quarterback draw:
Jordan Battle recognizes QB draw and takes a great angle to stop Lamar pic.twitter.com/lX6ZgXOH4T— mike (@bengals_sans) November 18, 2023
Once the center for the Ravens starts to climb to the second level, Battle can recognize that this isn't a pass, but a draw situation. He then works like a heat seeking missile to track down Jackson and prevent a touchdown.
This is the second time that Battle is essentially one-on-one with Jackson with a touchdown on the line and Battle succeeds. This one also came on third down and Battle’s quick reaction forced the Ravens to settle for a field goal.
The rookie understands angles and beat Jackson where he wanted to go. This is a very tough situation for Battle to be in, but he stepped made two big plays on Jackson. He finishes this one with a textbook alligator roll tackle to wrap up the legs and then twist. This ability to quickly bring down Jackson was necessary to prevent the first down.
Overall, Battle was a quality player in run support. He didn't miss tackles, he processed well, he took great angles, and he played the role of safety net well to prevent a few touchdowns. The test for him in this area is to continue this high level run support into next week. If he can consistently do what he did on Thursday, he will have success as a run supporting safety.
The other area to look for is how he takes on blocks from wide receivers and tight ends. A good run support safety has to beat the blocks from those players consistently. Battle was not really tested too much in that area in this game, but that should change moving forward.
A majority of this game, Battle was not tested in coverage. He played quite a bit of deep safety and the Ravens didn't throw the ball his way. They challenged the cornerbacks on the outside more than the safeties in the middle of the field. However, there is still a little bit to take away from this game in terms of his coverage ability.
The only time he was tested in man coverage was this play:
The Ravens have a boot concept on this play with a throwback option to the running back working away from the quarterback action. Battle first plays the run but then moves to cover the back as he leaks out of the backfield. He does a good job of closing the distance quickly and bringing the ball carrier down to bring up third down. Another example of Battle succeeding in a one on one situation against a dynamic player in the open field.
In zone coverage, he had a play worth analyzing as well.
Good processing and closing speed from Jordan Battle pic.twitter.com/JdwoWpj9zd— mike (@bengals_sans) November 18, 2023
Battle is playing the weak hook as part of 3-weak buzz. He's dropping to the weak hook opposite of the passing strength on this play and generally the goal of this player in this coverage is to take away crossing routes. Battle first watches the 3-receiver side to see if there is a crossing route coming so that he can take it with leverage.
Once he sees that the receiver sits he moves his eyes to Jackson and plays vision coverage. Jackson starts to throw the ball to the checkdown and Battle breaks immediately. This quick processing and closing speed is exactly what you want to see from the rookie in a coverage like this. He played this role at Alabama fairly frequently, so it’s good to see that it translated from college to the NFL.
Battle did his job in coverage for the most part in this game. Those two plays were really the only ones where he was challenged in this game. Safeties don't get challenged frequently throughout games because of the role that they play. You want to see his ball skills down the field and his ability to play when he’s in compromised positions or out of phase. Nevertheless, you cannot punish him in the evaluation process because he wasn't tested. He passed the coverage test in this game with what the Ravens threw at him.
The one play that Battle would like to have back came on a blitz in this game. Lou Anarumo dialed up a safety pressure and he got Battle a free run to the quarterback. It just did not go the way the Bengals would have liked.
While Battle did an exceptional job taking angles throughout this game to stop Jackson on rush attempts, he failed on this blitz. He has to take this angle tighter to the quarterback. It felt a little bit as if he did not fully trust that the left tackle would be occupied by Hendrickson’s slant.
The other area to take away from this play going forward for Battle is to play a little bit more under control. It doesn't help anyone to fly in with reckless abandon and miss the tackle. By playing under control he could adjust his angle and still get to Jackson on the play. Not something that is a huge concern for Battle moving forward, but maybe a play the rookie would like to have back.
Battle even showed earlier this season that he does have the ability to blitz:
I love the way Jordan Battle attacks the throwing arm of Josh Dobbs on this blitz. Veteran play from the rookie! pic.twitter.com/jcFwOx6ZBR— mike (@bengals_sans) October 10, 2023
Here he plays just a tiny bit more in control. He even finishes this blitz with a veteran move as he attacks the throwing arm of the quarterback rather than going for a big hit. His presence causes an incomplete pass and forces a fourth down.
The safeties in Anarumo’s scheme are asked to do a lot of different things. Blitzing is one of those things that Battle will have to do in this defense. While he did not succeed in his one blitz attempt against the Ravens, there’s no reason to think that he can't be better moving forward.
Battle had a heck of a game on Thursday. He was thrown into the game while presumably being the backup in practice. He passed nearly every test that the Ravens gave him and earned the right to play more snaps going forward.
His run support was spectacular, his coverage in both man and zone was nice, and he didn't miss tackles in the open field. He played the role of safety and last line of the defense very well in this game.
Battle needs to string together more good weeks going forward, but the 22 year old showed everything you’re looking to see from him. He'll start on Sunday against Pittsburgh. The cat is out of the bag, he’s a quality player.
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