Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley making progress in pass coverage

Ravens inside linebacker C.J. Mosley deflects a pass intended for Denver Broncos running back C.J. Anderson during the 2015 season opener at Mile High Stadium.

An offseason when second-year inside linebacker C.J. Mosley's injured wrist limited his work on pass coverage didn't hinder his improvement in that area.

To hear him tell it, it's not the footwork or the upper-body position that's most important when he's tasked with covering athletic backs or tight ends but his eyes — following the quarterback, recognizing who he should be covering and determining the best way to neutralize him.


"Besides you physically covering a guy, it really comes down to where your eyes are," Mosley said.

When he looks up Sunday, it'll be a fearsome stable of non-wide receiver weapons, including running back Giovani Bernard and tight end Tyler Eifert, that he'll be tasked with covering — an assignment Mosley and defensive coordinator Dean Pees recognize as tricky.


"They can get five good ones out there in the pass route," Pees said. "It's always a challenge. It just happens to be this week it's probably even more of a challenge, just because of the running backs that they have.

"Bernard, he's a very fast, quick guy. He's a very explosive guy. He's a guy that can take it the distance on any one play. We know that about him, so we just have to do a good job of [containing him]. It's going to be a tremendous challenge."

The Ravens' main response to that challenge is Mosley, who was one of the most targeted linebackers in the NFL during his Pro Bowl rookie season. Opponents at times picked on him to the tune of 80 catches on 96 targets for 660 yards when Mosley was in coverage, according to Pro Football Focus. Fellow starting inside linebacker Daryl Smith was frequently targeted as well.

Part of that comes down to scheme. Mosley and Smith are responsible for large swaths of the field when the Ravens drop into zone coverages, with the cornerbacks responsible for the sidelines and safeties protecting over the top.

No one in the inside linebacker room would compare it to anyone else's responsibility, though Albert McClellan, who this year has shifted to the outside but has spent several years as an inside linebacker, allowed that it's "a lot of field."

"That's why most linebackers are those athletic big guys that can really run and cover ground," he said. "It does put a little responsibility on us on that end, and as far as the offensive scheme, it's designed to give us that much space so the running backs can have somewhat of a mismatch depending on the backs."

For Mosley, the coverage improvements he sought last season have manifested themselves through two weeks, though the results have been uneven. Against the Denver Broncos in Week 1, he allowed one catch for 1 yard in one of his most dynamic games as a Raven.

A week later, according to Pro Football Focus, the Oakland Raiders completed six passes for 38 yards against him. He has broken up a pass, though, in each of the first two games this year. He had eight breakups in 16 games last season.


"He's been putting the time in, and you see it by some of the plays," Smith said.

Mosley cited his own indecision as a source of struggle this year. On one particular play last Sunday, fullback Marcel Reece ran across the formation and into Mosley's zone as quarterback Derek Carr rolled out to his right. Mosley appeared torn between staying with the streaking Reece and maintaining his zone.

"When plays develop like that, you've got to turn to find a man," Mosley said. "I kind of covered him, but I felt him, and when he threw it he was in a completely different spot. Sometimes you've got to just turn around and find a man [to cover]."

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Those in-game choices are made easier through the team's mid-week film and study sessions, and the ability to use his eyes and quickly draw on a year of experience and film study to make a quick decision.

"I wouldn't say it made it easier, but you get a little bit more comfortable, with one year in the system, one year under your belt," Mosley said. "You feel more confident when you're going in that space. It's all about who you're going against. If you're going against a shifty guy, you kind of know to leverage. The monsters, you've got to take them quick. You want to get to them fast so they don't have too much space. It all comes down to who you're going against and how you play them."

On Sunday, it will be the former in Bernard, who through two games has caught nine passes — second-most on the team — and eluded tackles at nearly every turn. Eifert, the breakout tight end who has three touchdown catches through two games, leads the team with 13 receptions.


The cornerbacks will have their hands full with standout receiver A.J. Green and his athletic complements, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. But they've seen enough to trust that Mosley and Smith will have the underneath weapons locked down.

"I was comfortable last year putting him on them," safety Will Hill said. "It was never a doubt in his ability. … Throughout this offseason and up to this point, he always has to drop into coverage and D guys, and coaches have put him in one-on-one situations. He's come up with a lot of pass breakups and a lot of picks. He's just been grinding that way. He wants to really work at that, and he has."