The Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals chose opposing positions in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. The Bengals selected WR Ja’Marr Chase with the fifth pick, while the Browns selected CB Greg Newsome at 26. Now, nine weeks into the NFL season, both have performed as top-five rookies. But they aren’t just performing at a high level for first-year players. No, these two youngsters are serving as a few of the league’s greats.
We’ll look at all 8 targets Chase received with Newsome in the general area to conclude who had the upper hand in the matchup.
Ja’Marr Chase vs. Greg Newsome: A battle between future superstars
We’re going to go through these targets in timeline order. It’s interesting to see how players from each side adjust throughout a game.
They’re at the bottom of the screen here. Ja’Marr Chase wears #1, and Greg Newsome wears #20.
Note: Newsome wearing 20 and Ward wearing 21 is the type of synergy I like to see in my cornerback duo. (Both are elite DB numbers to boot!)
Now, back to the play. This one looks simple. The ball is on the left hash and creates space for this slant/flat concept. The pre-snap motion by the back brings the safety down, and the safety continues to widen with the back upon the snap.
Because this is a spot-drop Cover 3 look, the Bengals end up with advantageous numbers to both sides, as the rat in the hole (the linebacker) plants himself inside the hashes reading the QBs intentions. This became an easy pitch and catch between the space created by the formation and nature of the coverage.
This play specifically sums up the strengths of both players perfectly.
Chase is at his best on the vertical plane. He’s already one of the premier downfield threats in the league. This play shows why. He does a great job of pacing himself as he climbs his route stem and then drops a gear and drives vertically. Because Newsome was playing with inside leverage and his shoulders facing inward, Chase attacks his “blind spot” in an attempt to spin him around before he drives to the post.
There are a lot of cornerbacks out there that, on most occasions, are technically proficient and have sweet feet. Few decide not to panic in this particular situation. Newsome doesn’t flip the whole way outside. Instead, he turns to carry vertically and turns just his head to peak outside, where he catches Chase driving back in.
From there, it’s just hip fluidity, speed, and tracking ability to mirror him across the field and break up what was a great ball from Joe Burrow.
There isn’t much to discuss here. Newsome is in off coverage, and Chase runs a speed out. A good leverage read from Burrow and a timely pass make this a pitch and catch.
The above play is an excellent call from the Bengals. They go 3×1 bunch to the boundary with Chase isolated to the field against Newsome. This is the same look from “Target 1” pre-snap, with what I call “fast motion” from the running back.
This time the Browns aren’t in Cover 3. Newsome is in press-man coverage with inside leverage. He must think he has help from the safety because he takes a risk to jump the slant.
That is what makes Chase so challenging to cover, even if he doesn’t possess a route tree with lush greenery. He’s very, very good at the line of scrimmage at either hiding his intentions or selling others. Even though physically he won’t wow with the Hunter Renfrow quadruple moves, he doesn’t need to.
I do not know how Newsome even semi-recovered from this. Please don’t be confused, Chase dropped this, and the pass was SLIGHTLY misplaced, but the fact he contested this at all shows how special he is as a mover. But he was toasty on this one.
Condensed formations are the devil for pass defense in crowded areas like the red zone. Newsome is probably using the goal line as his last retreat steps, which means when Chase pushes vertical toward him at 5 yards, he’s still retreating, allowing for 3 yards of cushion.
From there, a speed out and a QB/WR relationship that is closer than most marriages make this an easy completion. Chase is a densely built, explosive human who is not easy to tackle. Keeping him out of the end zone here by Newsome is impressive.
This is almost an unbelievable throw and catch from Chase and Burrow. The outside leverage from Newsome makes it appear as if he should have safety help here, but he receives no such reprieve.
Chase stems inside to avoid the jam before getting vertical, and then it’s a foot race. The result of the coverage looks like Cover 3 everywhere except for Chase and Newsome. Nobody appears to be matching either, which means it’s a spot-drop coverage everywhere else.
It’s incredible that, as Chase pressed outside on Newsome before turning on the jets, Newsome didn’t grab that shoulder pad. Again, he didn’t panic and allowed a low-percentage throw to run its course, resulting in an incompletion.
It’s not fair for anybody to have to cover for 8+ seconds, which is how long my very scientific phone app start/stop told me was the time between snap and throw. This is a third-and-15 with the Bengals down big, and the Browns are playing soft zone coverage.
The only critique I can have on this play is when Chase sneaks behind him, Newsome could have turned to face guard and play through the ball instead of bringing his eyes back to Burrow.
However, that criticism is a bit far-fetched because he’s probably anticipating John Johnson III carrying the vertical from #2 to his side, which would mean the safety to his side pre-snap is still on that hash and could defend Chase.
This target is fairly inconsequential, given the situation. Burrow is no longer in the game, and Newsome is sitting on this stop route on second-and-short. Newsome clicks on this pass as Brandon Allen begins to load up. I really thought he was going to house this one, but unfortunately, he must settle for an incompletion.
Ja’Marr Chase vs. Greg Newsome: What the rest looked like
It was a pretty quiet day otherwise. A few times, they faced one another when Chase wasn’t targeted, and Newsome played things well. Chase runs a lot of vertical routes, and Newsome had no issues keeping the pace in those situations.
Newsome isn’t the most … aggressive … run defender. So in run-blocking instances, Chase held the upper hand as a blocker. With Denzel Ward aligned opposite Newsome, I doubt we will see a day soon where Newsome travels exclusively with Chase. But we can dream.
Greg Newsome’s performance elsewhere
He’s my fourth-ranked rookie in the rankings I do each week. He elevated past Chase with his performance this week, but he is not above reproach. He isn’t shy about making business decisions against the run when large blockers are running free towards him (that includes tight ends).
But he’s so technically sound in coverage that even when guys are winning reps, they aren’t dominating them. He makes things difficult on both quarterbacks and receivers. This week, he performed admirably against both Chase and Higgins.
Ja’Marr Chase’s performance elsewhere
Sunday wasn’t his best day at the office. A fumble in the second quarter led to a field goal, making the game 24-7 in the Browns’ favor. He also dropped the pass in the end zone from above, and he couldn’t quite finish the diving catch on the vertical against Newsome either.
I also don’t believe he ran a particularly good whip route on the pick-six, but that is all conjecture without knowing the exact coaching points. It’s my opinion that the drive-step-plant was not enough to sell the slant against Ward, which led to him mirroring and jumping the route. But I’ll let you decide.