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The part of Eric Berry’s game that often goes unnoticed

Kansas City Chiefs v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

So apparently Eric Berry’s recovery is going pretty well.

At the very least, Chris Conley thinks so, given that he’s comparing rehabbing with him to jogging with Captain America. And Friday, we’ve got Berry’s agent releasing a video showing him doing workouts that stress the Achilles and looking quite comfortable doing so (though it’s quite short).

There are very few people on Earth I believe in more than Eric Berry when it comes to this kind of thing. I have almost zero doubt that he’ll return as good as ever. Besides being a physical freak, his work ethic and drive have reached the stuff of legend. When I think of Berry, I think of the monologue about John Wick being “a man of focus, of commitment, of sheer will.”

Anyway, thinking about Berry returning got me thinking about the value he brings as both a run and pass defender.

When most people think of Berry’s value, they think of big hits, pick-sixes, stops on fourth-and-1 (Week 1 of 2017 was forever ago, but I won’t forget that play), and other such big plays. However, that’s not the big-play area I think Berry will have the biggest impact. Rather, I believe Berry’s biggest impact is in big plays PREVENTED.

Here’s what I mean by this... if you judge a player by value above replacement (a term I’m borrowing from Football Outsiders), you’re really asking yourself, “What does this player bring to the game that an average player would not?” In Berry’s case, in addition to the obvious stuff, it’s his ability to solve problems caused by failures elsewhere on defense.

In football, there are a million things that happen on any given play. Because of this, we tend to only analyze exactly what happened. However, there’s another layer to it when looking at a player’s value. What DIDN’T happen on a play due to a player’s action or inaction is often overlooked. However, it’s wildly important. And quite often, with Eric Berry on the field, what doesn’t happen is nearly as important as what does.

In this case, bad plays don’t happen against the Chiefs with nearly as much frequency when Berry is on the field as they do when he is off it.

Let me give you a demonstration of the concept I’m talking about, using (of course) Berry. The following gifs are 2 views of the same play.

This play goes down on paper as a 3-yard gain. It’s nothing to write home about statistically and is easy to ignore when searching for “impact plays.”

However, when you watch both views of the play you can see that a singular effort from Eric Berry was the difference between a 3-yard gain and a big play for the Patriots.

Berry plays right at the line of scrimmage here to start off, I assume with the task of covering Gronk (though the alignment makes me question that, but I can’t be sure). When the Patriots snap the ball, Berry appears to diagnose the play as a run but does NOT simply dive into the fray. Instead, he waits just a beat, which keeps him off the guard’s radar and gives him a shot at the running back (if he closes with freakish quickness, which of course he does). This isn’t necessarily an easy tackle to make from that angle, but Berry wraps up and finishes.

Again, on the surface, it’s an OK play, but nothing more. But when you watch the all-22 view combined with the Madden camera, you see the danger that existed prior to Berry doing Berry things.

Both Derrick Johnson and Ron Parker allow themselves to get sucked to their left by the action on the play. DJ isn’t too bad, but Parker’s is brutal. In the meantime, Chris Jones is able to get penetration but Allen Bailey is driven way, way back. This creates a massive cutback lane for the running back to use, and the blockers are able to reach DJ (who is still moving left) and slow him up. Dee Ford is completely walled off because, well, he’s not a good run defender.

In short, the running back had a massive lane with only the corner and Daniel Sorensen to beat. If the back isn’t slowed by Berry, he hits that lane running and has a very good chance at putting both defenders in a bad position angle-wise. Sorensen was already getting sucked in and would have been in a rough spot to make the play.

We’ll never know how it would’ve turned out, though, because Eric Berry did what he often does: he erased the mistakes of others.

It’ll never show up in the box score, but preventing big plays is an incredibly valuable trait. Last season, we saw the Chiefs give up big play after big play, quite often in the running game. Erase Berry from the play and imagine it is instead Eric Murray, who quite likely barrels in and gets mauled by the guard OR is unable to read, react and reach the running back in time. Try to imagine what that play looks like. it isn’t hard, because we saw it happen dozens of times last season.

I’m looking forward to seeing Eric Berry make big plays, and I’m sure he will.

But the plays he prevents will be more impactful, even if most fans (not you all, of course) never even notice.

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