Ja'Marr Chase's Great Hands Lead Bengals to AFC North Division Title
Chase's "late hands" made all the difference on several big completions
There were questions raised by many in the media this preseason about Ja’Marr Chase’s hands and his “issues” dropping passes. After spending the entire season easily putting those concerns to bed, Chase spent Week 17 tearing apart the Chiefs’ secondary with a record-setting performance, largely because of his talented hands.
There are many components to playing receiver. I won’t get into all of them in this post. One component is what coaches like to call “late hands.” Receivers want to be late putting their hands up to catch the ball because it prevents their defenders from getting a read on them and either knowing when to turn around to play the ball or when to knock down the receiver’s hands.
Chase’s “late hands” against the Chiefs had the effect on TV of making it seem like he was snatching the ball out of nowhere at the last second, as you could see on this play:
Chase used a bit of a push-off there. I’d prefer to call it hand-jockeying with the defensive back. But because of his ability to pick the ball out of the air late in the throw, he was able to control his defender (Charvarius Ward) until the last possible moment and still make the back-shoulder catch.
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You could see it again on this completion over Ward later in the game. Focus on the top of the screen:
Ward turned his back to the quarterback and focused on Chase right from the snap. He tried to read his body to get a feel for how close the ball was. His timing was off, though, as you could see him look back early and then turn all the way around. That’s because Chase didn’t provide a tell. So while the coverage was tight and Ward even ended up getting a hand on the ball, he wasn’t in good enough position to defend the pass.
On this next play, the 3rd-and-27 that would all but give Cincinnati the win, Chase again picked a back-shoulder throw out of the air at the last moment:
This time Ward ran with Chase, looked back, and then felt for him, grabbing his hand towards the top of his route. Because Chase didn’t put his hands up until late, it appeared that Ward couldn’t get a good feel for where the ball was and if Chase was about to go up for it. That was all it took to create the separation for this completion:
Again, you’ll notice that Ward wasn’t necessarily getting burned by Chase on these plays. He actually had pretty tight coverage on all three. The late hands made all the difference, though.
The Chiefs kept leaving Chase in 1-on-1 coverage all afternoon, and Joe Burrow was more than happy to take advantage. He’s had a knack for attacking 1-on-1 opportunities whenever he sees them, and the results with Chase have resembled the look of a Peyton Manning/Marvin Harrison early-career connection.
Nick wrote this offseason that Joe Burrow has championship traits, and it’s just a matter of the Bengals putting the right pieces around him. Chase appears to be one of those key pieces. It will be exciting to watch what this combo does during the postseason.