One very disheartening thing that happened during the Saints' 21-18 win over the Cleveland Browns and a narrow escape from a 2nd straight embarrassing loss to what most League observers consider to be an inferior opponent; was the play specifically in pass coverage by 3rd year Saints and starting #2 / outside boundary CB Ken Crawley.
After he got "lit up" the previous week before by Buccaneers WR DeSean Jackson time and time again when he gave up 5 catches for 146 receiving yards and 2 TD's during a 48-40 loss last week, Crawley was victimized yet again yesterday, though not nearly as bad.
But it was still nearly very costly to the Saints defense, who were trying to stop the Browns from making a last-minute comeback after New Orleans had taken the lead with 2:40 remaining.
With the Browns trailing 18-12, Cleveland's offense drove down to the Saints 47-yard line, but were facing a 4th Down-and-5 situation.
Browns QB Tyrod Taylor then took the snap from center in the shotgun, and essentially threw up what was a "Hail Mary" pass towards the Saints end zone.
It was at that point that former University of Florida star and Browns rookie WR Antonio Callaway turned on his afterburner speed, got behind Crawley on a post route in the end zone and caught the ball from Taylor with his outstretched hands in full stride with Crawley right on his back.
Tyrod Taylor finds Antonio Callaway for SIX! 😱 pic.twitter.com/BCWPGQ7PWL
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) September 16, 2018
As noted by cleveland.com writer Mary Kay Cabot, Callaway then also had the awareness to keep both feet inbounds in the back of the end zone for the TD, tying the score at 18-18 with 1:17 remaining on the game clock.
Unfortunately for the Browns, kicker Zane Gonzalez missed the extra point — and three other kicks — and the Saints managed to "escape" with the 21-18 victory.
"That's just a taste of what I can do,'' said Callaway, who caught three of four targets for 81 yards in his first NFL start while matched up one-on-one with Crawley.
Callaway used his natural speed to dash past Crawley at about the 20, and then his excellent hands came through.
"When he (Taylor) stepped into the pocket, he launched it,'' Callaway said. "I saw the release. I knew it was coming but then it disappeared in the light a little bit, so I knew I still had to run, so I just kept running and when I looked up again, I saw the ball.''
In Crawley's defense, he likely NEVER expected Callaway to actually make the catch, but nevertheless it was evident that Crawley was clearly beaten on the play.
And given his performance against Jackson last week, today many Saints fans are wondering: what's going on with Crawley all of a sudden?
Hopefully the former undrafted University of Colorado star isn't experiencing any sort of regression; after being considered for the past year and a half to be one of the NFL's most improved players.
As noted by Canal Street Chronicles football analyst Ellias J. Williams in an article a few weeks back: Crawley tallied 54 Tackles, 17 pass deflections, and one interception last season, and at one point in Week #4, he was Pro Football Focus’ highest graded corner (click HERE to read).
Crawley went on to finish the season as the #39 ranked CB in the League overall, suggesting he played like a "high-end" #2 CB and was considered an above average player at his position.
As a result: the combination of Crawley and 2017 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Marshon Lattimore became recognized as one of the NFL's premier CB starting tandems; as most observers felt that the 25-year old was one of the most underrated players in the entire League at the outside boundary / "cover" corner position and became an integral part of the Saints secondary last year.
Williams even goes so far as to compare Crawley's skill-set to former Texans and current Jaguars cover man A.J. Bouye; who Williams notes is another current undrafted free agent corner who is making the impact that Crawley made last season, and that (UDFA cornerbacks becoming among the very best players at their position) just doesn’t happen that often historically.
Yet the 6-foot-1, 180 pound Crawley obviously is struggling as the late, and as Canal Street Chronicles' Williams had cautioned: at times Crawley's ball skills at the catch point can some times leave a little bit to be desired, his slim frame can cause him to get dragged by running backs, and he doesn’t necessarily make all that many plays in zone coverage.
But the improvement for Crawley from his rookie season in 2016 to now still has been damn near remarkable; and clearly the lack of respect from his most vocal of detractors — again the majority of whom seemingly are from a segment of Saints fans that just seem to have a inexplicable dislike for the personable young star — would seem to be both misguided, and certainly unwarranted.
Or at least that WAS the case, until yesterday's near disastrous results for the Saints defense for what would have been a 2nd straight game.
If that wasn't bad enough: next week Crawley gets to face another dynamic rookie in brand new #2 Falcons wide receiver and former University of Alabama star Calvin Ridley when the Saints visit Atlanta next Sunday.
Ridley yesterday caught four of five targets for 64 yards and a touchdown during Sunday's 31-24 win over the Panthers.
Ridley finished second on the team in targets and tied Falcons #1 WR Julio Jones for the lead in receiving yards, scoring his first career NFL touchdown on an 11-yard reception in the 2nd quarter.
Ridley didn't record a catch and was targeted just twice in Week #1 at Philadelphia, but his role expanded notably with yesterday with Falcons RB Devonta Freeman (knee) sidelined and the opposition keying in on Jones.
Ridley's role could fluctuate throughout the season, but he certainly could be similarly involved next week against the Saints.
With Crawley struggling as he has? You can almost BANK ON IT happening.