Aqib Talib had a bad day at the office on Sunday. That should be no surprise to anyone who watched the game, or even the statline. When your main opponent goes off for 199 yards, you are not doing well. And that's what happened: Talib was singled up on Hakeem Nicks for most of the game, and Nicks proceeded to catch 10 of 15 passes for 199 yards and a touchdown, with a long of 50 yards. That's just not good enough, no matter the mitigating circumstances. But boy, there were a lot of mitigating circumstances on Sunday for Aqib Talib. Let's go over a few:
- The Bucs played almost exclusively single-high safety - which means that safety is never going to be in time to actually help Talib with Nicks.
- Nicks is actually a really, really good receiver, so getting beat by him on occasion is nothing to be ashamed of. This is even more true when the elite receiver is being thrown to by an elite quarterback. Of course, when it happens to the tune of 199 yards and a few penalties, you've got issues.
- The Bucs blitzed a lot. That meant very little help for Talib, while Manning was more or less forced to go to Nicks over and over again (15 times in total during the game). When the Bucs blitzed, they forced Manning to get rid of the ball quickly. Talib actually won a lot of these quick throws on slants, but got burned when Nicks got just a little more time to create separation. I skipped most of those quick throws below because they really weren't very interesting, but it's important to keep in mind when evaluating Talib's day as a whole.
Still mitigating circumstances or not, Aqib Talib got burned. Let us examine exactly how this happens, with GIFs!
Q1 2-2-NYG 38 (14:22) E.Manning pass deep right to H.Nicks to TB 22 for 40 yards (A.Talib)
This was the second play from scrimmage for the New York Giants, and they went right after Aqib Talib. A few things of note here: this is just a four-man rush, but the Giants are going for the deep shot, keeping in two backs in pass protection. Manning gets a little time, hangs the ball in the air and Talib - well, he just doesn't react. It looks like he's a little late to get his helmet up, as Nicks slows down and he can't react with him. It's an easy catch for Nicks, simply because Talib ran ahead of him and can't get in position to interfere with the catch.
Q1 3-7-TB 19 (12:54) (Shotgun) E.Manning pass incomplete deep right to H.Nicks (A.Talib).
Three plays later, and the Giants go for the touchdown to Nicks on third down. This is an example of Talib doing a great job. That starts at the line of scrimmage: he isn't fooled by Nicks' stutter step, tracks him down the field, stays in position and knocks away the ball. Manning trusted Nicks to go up and beat Talib here, and Talib was having none of it. He got his hands on Nicks to push him to the sideline, giving him very little space, and making it easy for himself to make the play. Talib had a bad day, but he had a few good plays too.
Q2 1-10-TB 23 (1:59) (Shotgun) E.Manning pass short middle to H.Nicks for 23 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Touchdown, Giants. Talib's troubles start early, here: at the release point. He doesn't get his hands on Nicks, but more importantly: he gets fooled. Nicks executes an excellent fake (compare to the fake in the last play), dips his hips to one side, then goes the other way. Talib bites - and it's game over. There's no way Talib can recover after biting, and it's an easy touchdown for Nicks. This is just a bad play, and a demonstration of what not to do as a cornerback: biting on a fake at the line. If you mess that up, you're doomed.
Q3 2-10-NYG 46 (3:07) (Shotgun) E.Manning pass incomplete deep left to H.Nicks
Now compare this release point to the last play: Talib isn't fooled, doesn't open his hips until Nicks starts his route, and gets his hands on the receive. It allows him to stay in sync with the receiver, who can't make the catch on a badly thrown ball in part because Talib is in position and doesn't give Manning an easy throw, as he did on the last play. This pass could still have been completed had the ball been more on target, but Talib was in position to make a play on the ball - all because he didn't bit at the line of scrimmage.
Q4 1-10-NYG 33 (5:43) E.Manning pass incomplete deep right to H.Nicks (A.Talib)
Are you starting to notice a pattern yet? Talib doesn't get fooled at the line of scrimmage, runs with Nicks, and is able to knock away the pass at the last second exactly because he won at the release point. This is why when receivers come into the NFL, the question is always: can you beat press coverage. Win at the release point, and you can win down the field. That's what happened here.
Q4 1-15-NYG 39 (1:28) (Shotgun) E.Manning pass deep right to H.Nicks pushed ob at TB 11 for 50 yards (A.Black)
50 yards and the game down the drain. Why? Because Aqib Talib lost at the line of scrimmage. Do you see it? Talib is just a little early to react to Nicks' footwork, but that isn't the major problem. The issue is that Talib can't get his hands on Nicks, which is why he's trailing from the start. Nicks knocks away his hands, giving him a positional advantage in the release - and Talib can't correct it. To make matters worse, Talib turns his head to find the ball early (following Nicks' lead), slowing him down - and that gives Nicks an extra step of separation to prevent Talib from making the tackle as well.
Overall, you can see some good plays and bad plays here. There were, in fact, more good plays on Talib's side than bad play, but when you give up this many yards to one player there are simply too many bad plays. Aqib Talib had a bad day at the office, and especially at the line of scrimmage. That happens: players sometimes have bad days, and they often go unnoticed - unless they're ruthlessly exploited by the opposition, that is. That's what happened to Talib, who can (and does) do much better than this. Consistency has been an issue throughout his career, however, and until he can be good week-in, week-out and play-in, play-out he'll never be elite.