Everyone’s prayers have been answered.
Tyrann Mathieu will be suiting up for his hometown team this fall. A huge move for both sides as the New Orleans Saints were in need of a replacement at the safety position. But also, being an unbelievable story for Mathieu to be able to represent his state and his city on the biggest platform in sports.
Saints reporter Nick Underhill of @neworleans.football did an amazing job of giving us insight on how the Saints intentionally did not address safety in the draft knowing they would have their guy in Mathieu. With the losses of Marcus Williams and Malcolm Jenkins, the team has done a fantastic job of replacing these players as well as adding depth to the position. With a backfield loaded with versatile playmakers from the likes of Marcus Maye, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, P.J. Williams and now the Honey Badger, this Saints defense can create a ton of problems in a plethora of ways. Without further ado, let’s breakdown what Mathieu can add to this unique unit.
Physicality & Toughness
As we all know, Mathieu gets his nickname “The Honey Badger” for a reason. One of the most fearless animals on the planet, unphased by any predator. Similar to how Mathieu plays the game.
Mathieu provides this type of play in all areas. He is willing in the run game, as a pressure player and when the ball is put in the air. For a player of his stature, he plays much, much bigger.
Here are some examples of that.
On this play, Mathieu reads the quarterback and reacts on the throw to deliver a jaw-dropping blow on Corey Davis.
Here are some clips of his effectiveness as a blitzer. Much like some of the defensive backs on the team, this is something Mathieu excels in for sure.
What you can appreciate is how he always has his throttle down no matter who’s in front of him. Something that many coaches rave about is high motor players. Mathieu is one of them. That type of motor often results in errant throws and possible turnovers for his team.
That motor is just as evident in the run game. The speed and intensity in every step is something that brings value to a defense that plays in that same manner. You can see how throwing 5 foot 9, 190-pound Braxton Berrios looks equally as easy as swinging down 6 foot 3, 230-pound Latavius Murray.
Mathieu is not a master in one specific aspect of coverage as a Marcus Williams type player would. But he is most definitely a jack-of-all-trades. Mathieu has the ability to play as a robber down low, cover his half of the field, play as the deep safety and man up slot receivers and tight ends.
Part of the reason that Mathieu is able to do this is because of his natural instincts and feel for the game. He understands leverage, space and when to get his eyes on the quarterback. Mathieu is not the biggest, fastest, most athletic guy on the field. But there probably is not a guy that is more of a pure football player than himself.
On this play, Mathieu stays over top of the over route across the middle. He does a great job of keeping inside leverage while keeping his eyes on the quarterback. Mathieu is able to do this because he understands the concept. He has positioned himself to be able to read Jackson’s eyes freely. He knows that if Jackson attempts to throw the ball across, he already has steps on the receiver and can break on the ball in a moment's notice. Had Mathieu broke on the route hard and played the receiver rather than play the quarterback, he would have never been able to break up this pass.
This is another great example of Mathieu understanding the coverage. The Chiefs are playing a variation of two high safety. Mathieu does a great job of not biting on the underneath routes in front of him and is able to pick this ball off from the backside of the play.
This is one of my favorite ones. Here Mathieu is playing man-to-man on Hollywood Brown, one of the fastest players in pro football. Overall a tough task but once again, Mathieu understands the game and his ability. He knows he has to position himself the right way and do whatever he can to make sure Brown is not able to use his speed against him.
What does Tyrann do? He squares him up at the top of his route, gets hands on Brown to disrupt the timing of the play and then smartly plays right underneath the route to force Jackson and Brown to make a difficult throw and catch. Jackson does not even attempt the throw. Textbook work by the Honey Badger.
Here Mathieu is lined up as the deep safety on another deep play-action attempt similar to the one above. This is a spot where former Saint Marcus Williams was excellent. His range was something that is rare to have with safeties in the league today. With him no longer in New Orleans, it will be Mathieu’s job to provide at least a portion of that aspect to the game.
Mathieu does a fantastic job of holding inside leverage of the receiver, not allowing him to break open into the middle of the field. Once the receiver makes his break, Mathieu performs a perfect speed turn, not losing his eyes or speed in the process. Therefore, he puts himself in great position to cut off the receiver's route and force a coverage sack.
His level of intelligence and instinct is what continues to separate him from his peers.
A true veteran at the position.
Probably the most important aspect of all sports.
Tyrann Mathieu is a natural born leader. He has an infectious aura about him that makes his teammates want to go to war with him on Sundays. It is something that is very unique and is something that usually cannot be gained. Players, coaches, general managers and owners all have a respect for the player and person that Tyrann Mathieu is. Losing Drew Brees, Malcolm Jenkins, Terron Armstead and Sean Payton all in the past two years are hard things to overcome at a leadership standpoint. But bringing in a guy like Mathieu can change it all. Especially when he is New Orleans’ own. The passion and emotion that he will play with on Sundays is something that probably will never be replicated. His new teammates understand what it means for him to be in New Orleans now. They will go the extra mile for him just off that alone. I might be reaching here but I would not be surprised if he has just as big an impact as Drew Brees, not only to the team but to the city of New Orleans and to the state of Louisiana. Not even so much as a football player, but as the face of his home. There is a special, emotional connection with Mathieu and New Orleans, and he has stated how bought in he is to that area. I truly believe that could be one of the biggest factors in what takes this team far this season.