All-22 Lab: Alan Ball (Part II)

Can eight-year veteran Alan Ball start for Chicago’s defense this season? We break down All-22 game film of the Bears’ newest cornerback to find out.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW PART I OF OUR ALL-22 LAB ON CB ALAN BALL

We continue our All-22 coaches film evaluation of new Chicago Bears cornerback Alan Ball.

PLAY IV

Ball (blue) is in press coverage two yards across from the wide receiver.

As we mentioned in Part I, Ball does not put a hand on the receiver, instead allowing him a free release down the field. Yet Ball is out of his backpedal in a hurry and sticks right in the wideout’s hip pocket.

The receiver is breaking toward the middle of the field. Ball sinks his hips in accordance with the wideout and never leaves his side.

Even as the quarterback buys time in the backfield, Ball is still on the receiver like a glove.

Analysis: Ball shows very good burst and speed on this play. He’s in total control even at full speed and is able to mirror the receiver in and out of his break. In terms of shadowing a pass catcher, this is as good as it gets.

PLAY V

The Jaguars use zone coverage near the goal line. Ball (blue) is responsible for the deep left half. Tight end Brent Celek (red) will run a deep drag to the back left pylon.

The Eagles attempt to flood Ball’s zone. The hope here is he’ll focus too much on the running back underneath (white) and allow Ertz room to sneak into the back corner of the end zone. The key here is the outside linebacker, who has squared up on the running back out of the backfield. Ball sees this and knows he has help underneath.

Ball breaks toward the back of the end zone and is able to keep his eyes in the backfield. He sees the pass coming.

Ball undercuts the tight end and high-points the ball for the impressive interception.

Analysis: Ball shows outstanding awareness on this snap. He doesn’t get fooled by the overload and puts himself in a position to make a play on the ball. The pass is underthrown and because he’s where he should be, Ball picks up the interception.

PLAY VI

WR Riley Cooper (white) will run a deep hitch route. He’ll stem 12 yards before breaking back to the quarterback. Ball is giving a seven-yard cushion.

As the receiver makes his break, Ball gets caught flat-footed. He’s slow to react and Cooper gets good separation.

As Cooper catches the pass, notice Ball is still two yards away from the play.

Analysis: Ball either took this play off or he misread it completely. Cooper is the only pass catcher anywhere near him, yet Ball just watches the receiver turn inside and make the easy catch. This was far too easy for the Eagles’ offense.

PLAY VII

Ball is in press coverage on Cooper.

Again, Ball makes no effort to redirect the route, instead bailing almost immediately out of his backpedal. Notice there isn’t another defender within 20 yards, so Ball is truly on an island.

Ball stays in Cooper’s hip pocket and sits on his break. Cooper can’t get any separation and the pass falls harmlessly to the turf.

Analysis: Here is another example of Ball’s ability to mirror receivers down the field. Even though he refuses to use his hands at the line of scrimmage, his quickness and change-of-direction ability allows him stay on the receiver like glue.

PLAY VIII

This will be another deep out route by Cooper with Ball in his face at the line of scrimmage.

Once again, Ball declines to use his hands in the chuck zone. Cooper releases outside and up the sideline. At 15 yards, he breaks on a back-shoulder hitch. Ball is slow to diagnose the play and reaches out for the receiver, getting a handful of jersey.

Ball then falls down.

As the pass is being caught, notice Ball three yards away from the receiver, as well as two separate pass interference flags in mid-flight.

Analysis: Down the field, Ball has a tendency to get a bit handsy. When he’s late reacting to a receiver’s break, he reaches out with his hands, as we saw on this play. That often leads to crucial pass interference penalties.

PLAY IX

The Jaguars have one deep safety. Ball is in off coverage against WR DeSean Jackson, giving a six-yard cushion. Ball has deep responsibility.

Jackson runs a go route and Ball immediately breaks into a full sprint. At the 50-yard line, they are neck in neck.

By the 25-yard line, Jackson has a two-yard cushion. A good pass here goes for an easy touchdown.

Analysis: Ball has decent speed – he ran a 4.52 40-yard dash in 2007 – but he’s not elite. On this play Jackson, one of the fastest receivers in the league, blows right by him. This could be a problem for Bears coordinator Vic Fangio, who is going to put Ball on island more often than not.

CAN BALL START IN CHICAGO?

If Bears defensive backs coach Ed Donatell can get Ball to use his hands at the line of scrimmage, it will go a long way toward his success in man-to-man coverage.

He has the size, speed and quickness to mirror receivers, yet he does himself a disservice by allowing a free releases on every play. Disrupting opposing receivers at the line of scrimmage would help him immensely in coverage.

Otherwise, there’s no reason Ball can’t start in Chicago. Kyle Fuller may need more time to develop, while Tim Jennings struggles in press-man. Ball, while not perfect, has the height and experience to step in right away and be an island corner under Fangio.

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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fifth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.

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