Our look at the Colts' free-agent acquisitions continues here with a breakdown of LaRon Landry – signed to a 4 year, $24m deal last week, subsequent to the signings of the first day. Along with Greg Toler and Darius Butler, Landry is tasked with providing solidity on the back end and appropriate accompaniment for Antoine Bethea – something we haven't seen for years.
Safety play is something I've always enjoyed watching and breaking down – particularly those safeties with rare athletic skills and the ability to knock ball carriers into next week. Landry runs a 4.3 40 while standing at 6'0, 220lb – so he definitely qualifies. As I elaborated when assessing Toler, my main issue with the Colts' acquisitions and depth in the defensive backfield is a seeming focus on the run game – all of our starters are in my mind above average in stopping the run, though questionable as a unit when considering pass coverage. Landry is no exception, though a more thorough look at Landry's 2012 season helped alleviate my concerns slightly.
I'll dive right into the analysis, as i've spent a fair bit of time watching Landry and choosing appropriate coverage plays to highlight certain aspects of his game in pass defense. The first play I've chosen comes from the Redskins vs. Colts game of 2010 – Aaron Francisco, a game sealing interception, etc etc. The play in question comes from the 4th quarter and the last Colts possession – they're trying to burn both the clock and the remaining Washington timeouts. It's a 2nd and 10, with the first play in the series an incomplete pass – thus, the following is very important in the context of the game.
I've highlighted Dallas Clark's route on the play, along with the position of Landry at the snap. Upon taking the snap, Peyton will execute a play fake to Joseph Addai, clearing out the middle of the field for a man-on-man matchup between Clark and Landry, the former on a crossing route aiming for the marker.
As aforementioned, Peyton play-fakes to Addai and the Washington LBs get caught in the moment. Given the context, it's a reasonable reaction – the Colts need to run clock, so stopping the run is absolutely the priority.
After executing the play-fake, Peyton processes what's in front of him along with the routes on the play and rolls left. He's waiting for Dallas to break open in the middle of the field, and a clean alley exists due to the deceived linebackers. It's now all down to Landry and his lateral coverage skills, and he's up against one of the best in the business in Dallas.
Better perspective necessitates a change in angle, and from here we can really see every detail. Not many safeties would be capable of covering Clark in this situation.
Landry stays with him every step of the way, lurking behind so as to read Clark and Peyton simultaneously.
Eventually, Peyton creates a steady base from which to throw and releases the ball into Dallas' path.
Landry makes a perfectly timed break for the ball, and inserts his hand so as to prevent the reception. Dallas can't reel it in.
The salt in the wound for the Colts is what happens afterwards – Landry has by this point broken up the pass, but to complete the play he takes a hold of Clark..
…and smashes him into the turf. Clark sustains a season-ending wrist injury, which essentially puts a nail into the Colts hopes for 2010 when combined with the Austin Collie concussion saga.
So – he can cover at times. That much is certainly true, and given the pedigree of QB we face in the AFC South – varying from middling to atrocious – perhaps that'll be adequate in the regular season. The next play I've chosen comes from the Jets vs. Dolphins game in Week 3 of 2012.
The Dolphins are backed up at the start of the 3rd Quarter on a 2nd and 10. It's only Week 3, so Tannehill can still be considered new to the NFL game. The receiver you'll want to watch is TE Anthony Fasano (yellow) – with Landry circled in black.
As the play develops, Tannehill receives adequate protection and has room to throw – admittedly that room is in the endzone. Fasano's up and out route becomes viable when he's cleared the linebacker, into a theoretically available gap. At this point Tannehill also has the outside receiver as an option, limiting Landry's commitment to the underneath receiver.
The outside receiver ceases as an option when Tannehill makes the decision to roll right – he's now going to be throwing from an unsteady base, and clearly won't be able to gun it down the field appropriately. The underneath receiver – who he's also been staring at for a few seconds – now becomes the obvious target. Landry flattens his body like a missile and aims to intercept.
Landry slides underneath Fasano and picks the ball off. With a clear path to the endzone, there's only one result.
He uses his formidable speed to reach the pylon, and it's a tie game again.
The rear broadcast angle shows just how egregious the mistakes made by Tannehill are.
We can see from this angle that Tannehill is clearly staring Fasano down. His standing base makes it necessary for Landry to adjust to the outside receiver, which he does by opening his hips to the sideline. All the while, he's aware of Tannehill's focus on Fasano.
Tannehill moves, and for him to still be staring at Fasano simply isn't good enough at this level. Landry tracks it all the way.
The throw matches the decision-making throughout the play from the signal caller, and it's time for the defense to collect.
Landry showcases good anticipation skills to drive on the ball and make the pick. The icing on the cake is the touchdown to make it a tie game.
So – we've seen the good. Now it's time to take a look at the bad. The next play you'll see comes from the Jets vs. Patriots game in Week 12 of 2012.
The game from which I've taken this play was absolutely ridiculous – some of the turnovers and mistakes committed by the Jets were the worst you'll see. This doesn't even compare, poor though it was. Landry is playing FS, and the Jets are in something approximating Quarters coverage – essentially, each DB covers a deep quarter of the field. The depth from the safeties isn't enough to begin with, and it's exacerbated by fantastic Patriots execution. Aaron Hernandez is the TE, while Julian Edelman is the outside receiver who'll go deep on a post route.
Brady receives good protection after taking the snap, and Landry backs up five or so yards to try and take in what's developing in front of him. Unfortunately for him, Edelman's deceptive speed isn't taken into account.
Hernandez breaks out at the 50 as planned, and both Landry and the outside corner bite on it. Landry doesn't linger for long, it must be said – but his forward movement is enough to completely skew the play from a defensive standpoint.
Landry corrects himself fairly quickly and accelerates to try and catch Edelman. On a slower receiver, he's perhaps have compensated and made a play on the ball. Julian Edelman isn't slow, and with the formidable execution of the Patriots offense, it's a touchdown.
Brady drops it right into the bread basket..
And with a subtle skip to the left, Edelman leaves Landry in the dirt.
From this angle we can really get an idea of Landry's quandary, and his initial step to deal with the threat of Hernandez. Had he maintained a wider view of the play and not had to make jerky compensatory movements, he may have been able to stop the reception.
After stepping towards Hernandez, he realises his mistake. He sticks a foot in the turf and turns upfield.
The wasted movement allows Edelman the perfect opportunity to shade inside and make the reception over the top. It's a fairly comfortable throw for Brady, who has the perennial excellent protection from the Patriots OL.
Edelman simply has to stretch out his hands and he's got a 56 yard reception for a TD. Laundry got hung out to dry (forgive me).
The following also falls on the negative side of the assessment – though I've chosen it as much for the brilliant play design of Chan Gailey. It's from the Jets vs. Bills game of Week 17, 2012 – the last game in which Landry played.
The design is for a throwback screen left, with CJ Spiller in the slot to take advantage of mismatches. Given his speed and agility, every DB in the NFL can be regarded as a mismatch, and the unfortunate task falls to Landry on this occasion. The execution of the play from an offensive standpoint is what I enjoy the most – the three interior linemen are tasked with making their way upfield after initial quick blocks, while the tackles remain as pass protectors to complete the illusion. The role of the two Bills G's really deserves highlighting.
Spiller makes his initial cut left to draw Landry to the outside before cutting back viciously to the inside. At this point, the Bills interior linemen are looking to release upfield to provide a lane for Spiller.
Spiller shows great patience to wait for the reception and the blocking to unfold in front of him. Landry pursues in the hope of cutting Spiller off for a short gain.
Unfortunately for LaRon, the absolutely fantastic work of Andy Levitre at LG renders him null and void.
Levitre (yellow circle furthest right) gets a great block on the pursuing Jets linebacker which completely seals Landry off from the lane of Spiller. The latter reads the play perfectly and begins his surge.
Landry simply has to chase Spiller in the vain hope that he can catch him, having read the play wrongly and fallen victim to the designed trap. Eric Wood and Kraig Urbik are roaming downfield to conssumate the screen.
Wood completely misses his block, though the elusiveness of Spiller accounts for the roaming DB.
Urbik seals the back end off brilliantly, and there aren't many who'll catch Spiller from behind.
Landry attempts to in vain, and it's a touchdown for the Bills in what eventually becomes a rout.
I can't hide my enthusiasm for the play design and execution – the crackback block by Levtire is absolutely immense. Spiller's patience and willingness to read blockers is also superb.
Landry gets caught in the trap, and is punished by an upcoming superstar in CJ Spiller.
In an attempt to get a true feel for Landry's coverage abilities, I've spent a lot of time focusing on that side of his game and have thus chosen pass plays exclusively to illustrate. He's a capable run defender who can deliver bruising hits – that much is obvious to anyone even slightly familiar with his game.
When it comes to his coverage, I think he's an upgrade on our other potential starters irrespective of issues that may exist. The inferior quarterbacking we're likely to see should suit our defensive backfield well – it's when it comes to crunch time in the playoffs and against great teams that we may see the defense disintegrate on the back end. Landry is clearly capable when it comes to reading the quarterback and making a ball on the ball, but he doesn't possess that next level of awareness which stops teams scheming against you dependent on what they see on tape. I think Landry can be manipulated if an appropriate game plan is designed – something illustrated to a degree by the Edelman touchdown above.
The biggest concern with Landry for me is injury-wise. Having followed him for a period of time, I'm aware of Redskins fans and their opinion of him – an injury-prone guy who's a bit of a diva. He missed 15 games in a two year period prior to his season with the Jets, burning bridges along the way with his opinion of the Redskins medical staff. It's a question mark that's certainly worth watching.
Ultimately, he's a certain upgrade on Zbikowski in both the run and pass game. His 4.3 speed on the back end will help cover up for mistakes in anticipation, and the ability to deliver a punishing hit is something we've treasured since Bob Sanders left the building. He'll likely be an adequate pass defender in the AFC South, though I predict shaky times ahead when we have to face the elite QBs in the league.
When it comes to usage, I'd expect Landry and Bethea to be interchanged. I consider the two to be fairly similar, with the main differences being Landry's outrageous athletic ability and Bethea's appreciation for angles and tackling in the run game.
At $24m for 4 years with $14m guaranteed, it could be a lot worse. Along with Greg Toler I think the signing of Landry can be lauded, certainly relative to the rest of our Free Agency efforts.