Yes. The New Orleans Saints lost this game to the Green Bay Packers. If you asked veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins about his individual performance in this game, he’d probably remind you that winning is what’s most important. But despite falling short of that goal as a team, Jenkins was all over the field in this matchup against one of the most prolific offenses of the 2020 season and played a remarkable game.
Many may remember this play, a touchdown surrendered to Mercedes Lewis as the defining play for Jenkins’ day.
But even though the play ends in a score for the opposition, off of what many described as a push-off by Lewis, you can see just how ready Jenkins was for this Green Bay offense. Before Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has even engaged the play action, the 12-year veteran is all over the tight end’s wheel route headed to the sideline. This was something you’d see all through the evening. Jenkins was everywhere and consistently in the right place.
Here’s another example of Jenkins’ being both anticipatory and assignment sound. This play looks to be defended by the Saints in cover one. Man coverage underneath with a single high safety. Jenkins and linebacker Demario Davis are threatening the double A-gap pressure until the snap, at which time Jenkins bails to pick up a crossing Alan Lazard. Crossing routes and pre-snap motion are integral to the Packers’ system and Jenkins continuously capitalized on how both are used throughout this matchup.
There’s a similar example to this, but we’ll save it for last. First, let’s look at his recognition for concepts based on pre-snap motion. The Packers will run a lot of movement behind the line of scrimmage, particularly with receiving options passing behind the line of scrimmage just before the snap. You can see here a play drawn up which includes just that. The crossing player, Aaron Jones looks to be Rodgers’ first read, but Jenkins has taken him away without allowing Jones to get lost in the shuffle.
After having to pass up on Jones as his immediate read, pressure comes off the play side and Rodgers is forced to scramble away. He still gets a target in at the pylon, but a much less successful attempt than what was originally drawn up. Great rep by Cam Jordan here as well.
Jenkins didn’t just make his plays in coverage, he also had nine total tackles on the day. That would end up being his second highest total of the season outside of the Week 17 Panthers trashing. That game could also be chosen as one of his top performances of the season, but this game against Rodgers and LaFleur’s offense is special and far more nuanced.
Jenkins was asked to do a lot early on in the season for this Saints defense. As a true veteran, he rose to the occasion and contributed in a variety of different ways.
He was particularly pesky for the Packers closer to the line of scrimmage. Adding on to the play he helped to take away to Aaron Jones earlier, here he is slicing through a hole in the offensive line after a confident read and well-timed burst to make a stop behind the line of scrimmage. Jenkins has been asked to play in the box a ton over his career, this is a perfect example as to why.
The Packers did score a couple of times in goal line situations. But in both, they went away from the three-time Pro Bowler.
While Jenkins can be a reliable run defender in the box, he was also asked on certain occasions to help cover deep. Dennis Allen’s pre-snap disguises sometimes require a player to sell a look near the line of scrimmage but be able to bail out into coverage in time to take away deep options.
In this example, Jenkins takes away another early option for Rodgers, forcing him deeper into his progression. This play is also an example of both good coverage downfield by all of the Saints defenders along with the symbiotic relationship with the pass rush. As Rodgers is forced to run to one side of the field, his options are limited in regard to which receivers have the ability to work their way open. A benefit for the Saints who were facing a team very adept as working off-script.
In this next play, Jenkins is asked to cover deep from the start. No bailing out from the A-gaps in this one. He and fellow safety Marcus Williams take on coverage deep in a cover 2 look and do so extremely well. Jenkins is carrying Marquez Valdez-Scantling across the field on this one. and allows no separation as the safeties pass coverage from one to the other.
Jenkins is all over this game’s tape. Making stops against the run, bailing into coverage from the line of scrimmage, being asked to cover deep, and he even got a hit in on Rodgers as a pass rusher later in the game. But the best moment came in the second quarter.
First, watch the moments before the snap. It’s always said that football can be a bit of a game of chess. Here are Malcolm Jenkins and Demario Davis doing their best Queen’s Gambit with Rodgers. Rodgers sees pressure is coming from the left after Saints 2020 sack leader Trey Hendrickson and defensive back P.J. Williams both threaten. Rodgers knowingly adjusts the play. In response, Davis and Jenkins (in their common third-down A-gaps) begin communicating a change to the Saints defense as well. Just before the snap (where the first clip ends), you can see P.J. Williams pull away from the line of scrimmage on the offensive left, which Marcus Williams comes down to the box on the right.
No fans in the stands during this moment sort of made it even better because you could clearly hear both sides adjusting their teammates. In this instance, the defense wins the rep. Here’s the rest of the play starting from the safety swap.
Aaron Jones does a great job picking up the new blitz off the right side, but on this pivotal third down, Rodgers is forced to make a desperation heave on third and eight. Partly because he looks to still be rushed even though the pass rush was picked up, a clear sign of some confusion or miscommunication brought upon by the defense adequately matching play-calls and partly due to Jenkins taking away another clean middle of the field read for the opposing QB.
Jenkins sprints from his pre-snap location to pick up another Alan Lazard crossing route coming from the opposite side of the field, just like the play observed earlier in this piece.
This incomplete pass forced the Packers to punt with just under three minutes left. The defense got the ball back in the hands of Drew Brees for a two-minute drill which lead to a 17-13 halftime lead.
Ultimately, New Orleans would go on to drop this game at home, their first consecutive regular season losses since 2016. But Malcolm Jenkins showed why his return to New Orleans was a no-brainer for the coaching staff as he executed well throughout the game and would go on to have a very solid season in his return.
Without an offseason ahead of 2020, you have to imagine that Jenkins led with experience and instinct at least early in the year while adjusting to a new system. That alone should make fans excited about the potential of his contributions in 2021. Sometimes it’s hard to see individual success when part of a team. But in this instance, despite the bumps and bruises, Malcolm Jenkins’ tools, leadership, and knowledge of the game were on full display.
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