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Film Study: Comparing Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Adrian Amos

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Robert S. dives into the film vault to evaluate both new Bears and old, analyzing the play tendencies of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Adrian Amos.

NFL: New York Giants at Washington Redskins
Clinton-Dix tracks Barkley out of the backfield
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers have a historic rivalry. Their fanbases don’t like each other, so when the teams swapped safeties in free agency no one was surprised to see each side proclaim their new safety to be the better safety of the two.

But which safety is better? And how do they fit into their defenses? I’ll attempt to answer these questions and more in this two-part film study!

We’ll discuss Clinton-Dix and Amos as players in this article, part 1, before assessing how they fit into their new defenses in part 2. As usual, if the videos don’t show up on your platform simply look for the italicized portion of the paragraph, it’ll be a link to the video I’m referencing. Without any further ado, let’s get into it!

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

Watching HCD play the pass is, simply put, a lot of fun. He exhibits all the traits you’d expect of a true free safety, namely range and anticipation on deep throws like those shown here. When the ball is in the air, Ha Ha’s at his best.

Pay close attention to Clinton-Dix’s hips at the release point of each throw and you’ll see what makes him so effective — Ha Ha’s big plays come from his ability to get his hips turned towards the intended receiver before the QB’s even finished throwing the ball. This is what “instinct” looks like, and it’s quintessential to making plays as a free safety. Ha Ha’s instincts make him dangerous.

But the ball isn’t always in the air, and that’s bad news for Clinton-Dix. Whether he’s missing tackles outright, giving up extra yardage, or getting blocked into oblivion, Ha Ha rarely contributes positively against the run/short pass game. The play where Jason Witten blocks him from stopping a touchdown bothers me the most — Ha Ha doesn’t seem to make much of an effort to escape Witten’s grasp, and the Packers give up a touchdown because of it.

HCD also tends to struggle when taking angles towards runners, often overrunning them altogether. While obviously not a good trait, this does help explain why HCD so rarely plays downhill — there’s no sense attacking an RB/WR downfield if you’re not confident you can finish the tackle. Regardless, his angles and tackling cost his defenses yards.

All of this said, it should be noted that Ha Ha can still fill holes against the run (play 1) and actually plays quite well when moving laterally. He seems comfortable shuffling sideways, even taking on blocks well while doing so. He misses many less tackles from his shuffle too. This gives me the impression that Clinton-Dix’s tackling problems come primarily from situations where he has to attack downfield and that he becomes a much more consistent tackler when allowed to let the runner come to him.

The Verdict: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix displays traits of a classic free safety, doing his best work with the ball in the air. He has experience playing single-high, two-deep and NCB, making him a versatile tool for Pagano to use. Tackling/downhill play is a legitimate concern, but his instinct in coverage and turnover generation skills go a long way towards making up for his poor tackling.

Now let’s move on to...

Adrian Amos

Let’s start with what he’s best known for — reliable positioning and great form tackling. Amos plays fearless, active football and consistently meets runners as they breach the line. I love this last play because it highlights’ Amos tenacity when rallying to runners.

Amos also has a reputation among Bears fans as being a lackluster cover safety, and that’s simply not fair. Amos does a great job covering anything in front of him, tracking short throws well and demolishing WRs at the catch point. He’s also sound in man-to-man coverage (play 3).

Amos’s coverage struggles come in situations that ask for instinct rather than speed, namely deeper throws. The helmet-to-helmet hit on Ertz, for example, could’ve been avoided if he’d reached the sidelines quickly enough to play the ball. Instead, what should’ve been a 3rd down stop becomes a 1st down due to penalty.

Instinct (or lack thereof) is a funny trait, and it’s one that’s certainly more visible on film than it is on a stat sheet. Amos’s tape is littered with plays like these that could’ve been INTs, but weren’t. His inability to generate takeaways is no-doubt his biggest “flaw”.

It’s worth pointing out that this deep coverage issue is pretty much the only major flaw I see in Amos’s game, and I mean that as a compliment. Amos is positionally sound, covers well, attacks downfield, and can tackle both in a pile and the open field. He’s a very, very good player, and a great pick out of the 5th round.

The Verdict: Adrian Amos has all the tools that make up a great box safety. He’s actually faster than Jackson/Clinton-Dix when it comes to sheer footspeed, but his utter lack of anticipation tends to make him look slower. He struggles with the nuances of deep coverage, often leaving him vulnerable to deeper sideline throws as well as lobs over the middle. But if you can protect him in coverage, he’ll offer all of the run/short pass support you could ask for from a safety.

As for who’s better? From a pure player perspective, I think it’s Amos. Jackson proved that a great free safety can cover his weaknesses, but you can’t cover for bad tackling. Every player on the defensive side of the ball is expected to tackle eventually, so I have little doubt that Clinton-Dix’s weakness will hurt the Bears regardless of the talent placed around him. Whether he’ll outright miss tackles or simply give up enough yardage to allow first downs is something I can’t predict because we don’t know his role in the defense yet.

That’s the problem with evaluating “Ha Ha versus Amos” right now — we don’t know their defensive roles. Amos’s effectiveness will totally depend on whether he’s asked to play in the box versus playing deep coverage, and Ha Ha should spend as little time in the box as possible. We’ll cover what each defense generally looks like as well as a strategy I think the Bears may employ to help Ha Ha in part 2.