After not exactly being the most popular second-round pick ever in the 2021 NFL Draft, Pete Werner displayed the traits of a high-quality high-round pick in his first start on Sunday vs. the New England Patriots.
Playing Will (weak-side) linebacker only in Nickel (5 DBs, 2 LBs) Personnel packages, the Ohio State product often found himself in positions where he was either manning up a slot receiver or dropping into zone coverage versus the pass on Sunday. And he looked very comfortable for the most part.
As the Patriots were down by multiple scores for most of the game, Werner naturally saw mostly passing downs when he was in the game. Out of his 35 total snaps, he was in coverage on 24 of them and rushing the passer on three — leaving only eight run defense snaps.
And on the few run snaps he experienced, very little occurred from his point of view. But in coverage, I thought he did a great job.
He was targeted twice and gave up one catch for three yards in which he showed great closing speed and burst to swallow the receiver for a non substantial gain.
He’s the curl/hook in Cover 2 zone here and makes a good break on the ball. You can see him reading Mac Jones’s eyes and identifying the receiver in his zone, before cutting quickly in that direction. That’s good technique and execution against a West Coast passing attack.
Plays like this are why he earned a 76.1 PFF coverage grade for this game.
Another example would be his sticky coverage on slot receiver Jakobi Meyers in the second quarter.
He’s what looks like the underneath curl/flat defender in Cover 4 zone here. He re-routes Meyers within 5 yards, reads the out route, flips his hips and undercuts the route, making it a very small window to throw into.
What impresses me so much here is the recognition, knowing that it’s second-and-long and the Pats are probably going to be throwing. He also sees that the receiver has outside leverage on him, meaning that if it’s an option route, he’ll run the out.
So, he initiates the contact and gets in his hip pocket to force him and the QB into making a great play in order to get a reception out of it, which they don’t do.
Even on passing plays where he wasn’t targeted, Werner was in the right position at the right time to prevent big plays from happening over his head.
Take this play for example:
The Saints are in a three-deep shell as the Pats attempt a play-action pass on first down.
Werner respects the run fake at first, but is quick to diagnose the play action and get depth in his drop to cut off a throwing lane.
This causes Jones to throw the ball out of bounds.
Plays like this are the ones that may go unnoticed, but also are the ones that good players make on a regular basis to make things harder on the offense it’s facing.
The main aspect of Werner’s game that impressed me while watching his first start was his composure and positioning. Part of the appeal of drafting a guy like him is that you expect him to be able to come in and make an impact right off the bat and his first performance definitely supported theory.
We’ll see at what level he can keep up this type of play, but it definitely seems like Werner is a player you can plug in and immediately be confident that, at the very least, he won’t be a liability for your defense.
What did you think of Pete Werner’s first start? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @AndrewBell_98.