Julius Thomas announced his presence to the NFL world -- and to fantasy football owners everywhere -- with a pair of touchdown catches against Baltimore. Thomas, who had all of one catch for five yards prior to Thursday night, hauled in four passes for 97 yards in the first half alone.
His first touchdown came on a nice double move, as Peyton Manning pump-faked and then dropped one in over the defense to a wide-open Thomas. On the second Thomas victimized new Ravens safety Michael Huff and his partner in the secondary, James Ihedigbo.
"They're just singling that guy," Broncos coach John Fox said of Thomas. "They're covering all our other targets, so we're going to continue to go to him as long as they do that."
The Broncos opened the latter play with Thomas (boxed in yellow below) and three receivers on the field, and a running back next to Manning. Baltimore countered with a nickel package (five defensive backs) and a man-to-man, Cover-1 alignment. Ihedigbo was the lone deep safety on the play; Huff (red box) lined up six yards off the line, on Thomas' outside shoulder.
Thomas stayed in very briefly to chip Terrell Suggs, then released upfield. Huff stayed on his outside shoulder and turned his hips inside, no doubt expecting help deep from Ihedigbo.
Ihedigbo did not get to the ball in time (more on that in a second), but the Ravens' problems here really started with Huff. Because he was so far off the line, Huff was not able to provide any sort of jam on Thomas as he broke toward the post. Huff did put both hands up on Thomas' shoulders to try to slow him down, but Thomas then adjusted his route inside of Huff toward the open field behind him.
Here's where Ihedigbo should have been faster to the football. Baltimore's deep safety did not close nearly fast enough to prevent the Manning-to-Thomas connection.
Both Huff and Ihedigbo appear to be almost equally at fault for this play, though -- with Ihedigbo maybe scoring an extra negative point or two by whiffing a tackle attempt to allow Thomas into the end zone.
Though Ihedigbo should have been able to react on the play far more rapidly than he did, especially if he was responsible for help deep on Thomas, Huff has to do a better job both putting up resistance and sticking with his man. Huff did not really accomplish much of anything. Instead, he was slow to turn his hips and run with Thomas, allowing the athletic tight end to clear the second level of defenders and find a soft spot.
Huff drew a tough task in his first Baltimore game up against the 6-foot-5 Thomas, with Manning at the helm, but the Ravens no doubt expect more from him. There likely is room for the chemistry between Huff and Ihedigbo to improve -- as the season goes along, each player should get a better feel for what his counterpart can and cannot do. Still, for as nice a pitch-and-catch as this was between Manning and Thomas, it was a near complete breakdown in coverage by Huff and Ihedigbo that allowed it to happen.