Eric Berry has been relatively quiet this season.
Perhaps that’s not all that surprising. Berry held out for the entirety of the offseason and wasn’t with the team until almost immediately before the regular season began. Regardless of his work ethic (unquestioned) and ability to stay in shape (I have no doubt that he did), there’s bound to be a bit of rust when you haven’t participated in the establishment of defensive schemes, even if things are relatively similar to what they were last year.
Regardless of the reason, Berry’s name just hasn’t been called all that often during broadcasts. Sometimes, as a safety, that’s a good thing. Other times I’ve sat back and wondered where the impact player we’ve seen over the years is hiding.
Well, wherever he was previously, Berry was ridiculous against Carolina on Sunday.
Now when I say that, you likely immediately think about Berry’s game-changing pick-six, which was an admittedly impressive play. While the interception itself wasn’t a particularly difficult one (Cam Newton tossed up a duck off his back foot trying to fall away from the rush), it did require Berry make a good play on the ball. Of course, as well all know, it was what Berry did AFTER the pick (weaving, spinning, and sprinting his way to a touchdown) that made the play go from good to great.
However, if you think that’s the only impact play Berry had against the Panthers, you are quite mistaken.
Ramik does a nice job here avoiding a block and keeping Cam running, but watch Berry. No other S in the league besides Kam makes this play. pic.twitter.com/4lbaL3EIzN— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) November 14, 2016
I’ve talked about this play at length as one of the plays in the series that swung the game in the Chiefs’ favor, so I won’t talk about it too in-depth. All I want to point out is that a play like this goes down on the stats sheet as a tackle. To be fair, that’s what it is. However, the problem with the tackle stat is that it does not differentiate between being the first in a gang tackle 15 yards down the field and a Herculean effort to stop a play dead in its tracks after somehow wresting yourself from the clutches of a guy with 100-plus pounds on you.
This play is the latter. I’ve said repeatedly that almost no one else in the league makes this play, with the power/skill to overcome the block, the speed to beat Newton to the sideline, and the strength to knock Cam off his feet. This was an impact play, but all the stats sheet says is tackle
The stat sheet makes that same mistake on multiple tackles Berry made against the Panthers. I credited Berry with three run stuffs on the day, stopping the play within a yard of the line of scrimmage. Again, these are not regular tackles, these are plays that halt an offense’s momentum and set up difficult second and third down situations. One of those tackles was on a reverse to Tedd Ginn Jr. that could have gone for big yardage had Berry not brought him down in the open field by himself (if you think those kinds of tackles are easy, ask the poor fool Tyreek Hill shook later in the game for a huge gain).
Berry also made a number of good plays in coverage, both in zone and man. Here’s one example:
On 3rd and 9, Berry sees pass going to Olsen and closes like a rocket. Stops him short. Gaines is there but w/out Berry it's a 1st down. pic.twitter.com/DgHGsRAPiK— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) November 17, 2016
This was a big stop early for the Chiefs, as the offense wasn’t mustering anything and the defense needed to keep Carolina at bay in order for any comeback attempt to have legs.
If you take Berry out of this play, I have absolutely no doubt Greg Olsen is able to get a first down here. Berry’s ability to stop offensive players in their tracks and allow no yards after contact becomes critical on plays like this, where even a single yard is the difference between success and failure. But yet again, all you’ll see in a stat sheet is tackle. It’s unfortunate that there’s no way to distinguish good tackles from meh tackles (though I’m sure someone, somewhere is thinking of a solution. I need to stop thinking about it right now before I try and invent a new stat).
Berry spent quite a bit of time covering Greg Olsen one-on-one, which is one of the toughest matchups you can draw as a safety. Generally, he acquitted himself very well, which is what I’ve come to expect from Berry in that situation.
Berry lined up against Olsen quite a bit one-on-one. Tough cover, Berry played it close and physical. This play a good example pic.twitter.com/csn3JisCUY— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) November 17, 2016
Berry often lined up right at the line of scrimmage against Olsen. This worked out really well, as it allowed Berry to play an active role in run support (he was a big part of the run defense’s strong play, along with the defensive line) depending on the play call. When it was a pass, Berry’s superior athleticism allowed him to stick with Olsen tightly, and he was VERY physical any time the ball was thrown the tight end’s direction.
Olsen is the most productive tight end in the NFL (I would know, he’s on my fantasy squad), and the Chiefs held him to a relatively modest five catches for 39 yards on eight targets. Berry’s aggressive man coverage and watchful eye in zone coverage was a big part of that.
Overall, Berry made multiple impact plays (stops on third down, stuffs at the line of scrimmage, passes defensed) prior to the fourth quarter and was one of the primary reasons the Chiefs were within striking distance. Then, of course, came his scoreboard-swinging interception and touchdown, which brought the game from still kinda close to seriously in doubt for the Panthers.
As I said to begin, Berry has been relatively quiet this season. Part of that has been the time he’s spent at deep safety. My hope is that after what they saw against the Panthers, the Chiefs stop swapping Berry and Parker at deep safety and allow Berry to resume his duties patrolling the shallow and intermediate zones of the field. He’s the best in the business at combining elite run defense with strong coverage (man or zone), and needs to be used as such.
In the meantime, take a moment and appreciate the game-changing efforts of Berry on Sunday. You put any other safety in his place that day and that game is quite likely a loss.