Johnathan Joseph came to Texas with a phat contract and a reputation as a burgeoning upper-echelon NFL “cover cornerback.” He didn’t disappoint in ‘11 with four picks and 15 pass deflections, en route to making his first Pro Bowl.
Last season, he made another Pro Bowl but was criticized for a decline in performance. He was still a solid edge-defender and run-stopper, displaying similar quickness and agility, but he only had two picks and his coverage skills could have used a tummy tuck.
When proven players dip in production, it’s often the result of injury. Such was the case with Joseph, who suffered through hamstring and groin problems as well as gutting through the season with two sports hernias.
In ‘11, Pro Football Focus graded him a plus-11.3 in coverage, tying him for ninth overall in the league among cornerbacks. Last year he posted only a plus-2.5 in coverage and was 43rd overall. “JaJo” as his teammates call him, never made excuses. He just sucked it up and went hard.
“You want to be sound. You don’t want to be banged up, nicked up,” Joseph told ESPN.com. “You have to go out and play through it.”
Despite the criticism—which comes in abundance when you are a crucial component of a constantly under-achieving squad—Houston still ranked No. 1 in passes defended and are third-overall since JaJo’s arrival.
Joseph had to alter his game a bit to compensate for his injury-induced deficiencies. With QBs feasting on his side of the field, the usually aggressive, ball-hawk played to give up short gains rather than the long bomb. He kept the rock in front of him, preferring a receiver to go ‘01 Keyshawn Johnson (106 catches, 1 TD) against him, than ’11 Calvin Johnson (16 TDs). He actually allowed a lower percentage of passes to be completed in 2012 than he did in 2011. He just didn’t put in that INT-work that fans expect from a corner with a $48.75 million contract.
With Joseph at full strength, plus the big-game experience and intelligence that free agent Ed Reed brings to the mix, ’13 should be a stingy year for the Texan’s already-popping defense.
“I'm just glad to have it behind me," Joseph said to cnnhouston.com, in May. "I'm feeling better than I've ever felt. I was just excited that I got it fixed just to see where I am at on the field.”