Analysis Notebook: Week 6

Sam Monson takes a look at the best three cornerbacks in football through six weeks, none of whom are named Sherman, Peterson, Haden or Revis.

| 2 years ago
2014-10-15_10-22-50

Analysis Notebook: Week 6


analysis notebook copyEarlier in the season we checked in on the four big-money corners in today’s NFL in Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson, Joe Haden and Darrelle Revis to see how they were performing. Those four represent not only the big-money at the position, but also the generally accepted best players at the position in some order or another. So far none of the four is having a vintage season, though some are struggling more than others, and it is other players that are setting the pace this year.

This piece from Mike Tanier talked about the myth of the shutdown corner in today’s NFL and he certainly has a point. What is more interesting to me here is that if these four are not among the best corners so far in 2014, who are?

Would you believe that the best three corners of this season are a castoff, a former first round pick that flirted with bust status and a guy coming off an ACL tear in January? If you extend that list to five (though this is obviously subjective) I think you bring in another castoff and a rookie as 2014 seems set to confound at the position.

Now let’s take a look at our top three before I get too deep into honorable mentions.

Chris Harris Jr.

Everybody is talking up Rolando McClain as the clear Comeback Player of the Year, and while I can’t argue too hard against that opinion, what Harris is doing this closely removed from ACL surgery is bordering on silly. Let’s remember it was the playoffs when Harris went down last year and tore his ACL! Admittedly it wasn’t a complete tear of his ACL, so the rehab was apparently relatively smooth, but any time a cornerback in particular suffers a major knee injury you expect a decline in form once he returns.

Harris was already one of the league’s best corners and if anything seems to be playing even better than before the injury.

He has been thrown at 27 times this season and has allowed just ten receptions. That 37% completion rate leads the league. As does the passer rating of 31.9 he has surrendered on those targets. In fact, he has yet to give up 100 receiving yards. Not in a game…period. He has given up no touchdowns, has an interception and has broken up eight of the 27 passes thrown his way. The longest pass he has given up all season is just 22 yards long.

Harris has played outside and in the slot in the past, but this season he has been primarily a perimeter corner with Bradley Roby covering the inside. Despite being less than a year removed from major knee surgery Harris is outperforming all of the big-name cornerbacks, and might be playing as well as anybody at the position.

As we can see from this play against the Chiefs, he can still cover inside, and this is the most interesting thing to me because the slot is what will test your knee more than any other spot as a corner. You’re in more space and have to respect the two-way go the receiver has off the line. On this play Harris reads the slant quickly and breaks on it with speed to break up the pass intended for Dwayne Bowe.

Chris Harris

 

Needless to say, that is some pretty high level stuff.

The other play I wanted to focus on was this one against the Cardinals. It was Drew Stanton at quarterback, and because of the way Harris plays this, it looks like a very bad decision and throw from the backup signal-caller, but I’m not so sure it was.

2014-10-15_10-22-50

 

Stanton wanted to throw to the slot receiver on an out-pattern while the outside receiver (covered by Harris) runs off the coverage down the field. It’s a basic route combination in the NFL, and because the Broncos are in man coverage, it should be open. In man coverage, Harris covering the outside guy will turn to the outside – with his back to the quarterback – to run with his receiver down the field. With his back to the passer, Stanton knows he should be able to throw the ball close to where Harris is because he won’t be looking for it the way he would be if it was zone coverage.

ANHarris

From the first image here, the route he wanted was open. The out pattern from the slot has beaten man coverage and it should be a routine pass, but Harris screws all that up by getting his head around early and reading what was coming. He was able to break off his man and attack the ball, almost picking it off, and making it look like Stanton had a bad read on the play. This is a play most cornerbacks in the league don’t make.

Jimmy Smith

Though he was drafted in the first round by the Ravens back in 2011, Jimmy Smith has never quite lived up to that billing, until this season. He always looked like a player long on talent, but that wasn’t translating to the field consistently. He had ups and downs, but coming into this season his career coverage grade at PFF was just -1.4, not a disastrous figure, but not enough to justify his draft position. With Patrick Peterson and Richard Sherman also coming in that 2011 Draft, Smith had always been in the shadows of that draft class.

This season though we are seeing the realization of all of that talent. Through six games his coverage grade is already +6.2, and he has graded positively in five of his six games, with a nondescript -0.3 being the only minor blemish. Smith has allowed a passer rating of just 50.5 when targeted and on the 18 passes he has allowed to be caught he has given up just 135 yards, an average of just 7.5.

With that kind of ability to limit receivers on the underneath stuff you would think Smith would be vulnerable to the occasional deep lapse, being caught too eager to jump on the first move or just not respecting the deep threat enough, but that hasn’t been the case.

He hasn’t been beaten for a catch longer than 24 yards and has yet to give up a touchdown score.

Check this play from back against Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals:

JimmySmith

 

Smith had the deep sideline against the vertical threat of the outside receiver Brandon Tate. He was playing off coverage and reading the quarterback and all too often you will see a corner just lapse in his responsibility here and not get enough depth to stay over the top of the route. There is the slightest hint of this happening when Smith has to decide to come out of his pedal, turn and run with Tait. Once he does though he plays it perfectly, squeezing the route to the sideline, reducing the window for the throw and then breaking it up at its highest point.

This is textbook deep coverage and I highlight it specifically because his numbers are so impressive on the underneath stuff. Smith isn’t just playing aggressive coverage, but complete football at a very high level.

Brandon Flowers

There might not be a better example of how schemes can affect a player than Brandon Flowers. It’s easy to forget how highly regarded he once was because of the way his tenure in Kansas City ended. With a new defensive scheme in place Flowers was clearly not playing to his strengths. The Chiefs made the decision that they were paying too much to try to hammer a square peg into a round hole and in June they released him. Flowers was on the open market for over ten days before finally being picked up by the Chargers on just a one-year contract.

We’re talking about a guy whose last season with the Chiefs was bad enough that it basically scared the entire league away from him. But what about before that?

Flowers had the prototypical career arc for a talented cornerback coming into the NFL. His rookie year he flashed, but was ultimately a little exposed as he adjusted to life in the big leagues, but from that rookie grade of -5.5 he progressed to +18.6 as a sophomore, +21.4 as a third year starter and at that point was in the discussion as ‘the best cornerback not named Revis’ in the league. He was certainly one of a handful of young starters making waves. His next two seasons were more modest before a 2013 that saw him post a -3.7 and the worst coverage numbers of his career.

He gave up five touchdowns last year and was beaten for a passer rating of 101.6 when targeted. He surrendered a completion percentage of 66.7%, and was generally not a player quarterbacks shied away from. This season we are watching a totally different player. The passer rating he is allowing has dropped to 62.6 and would be even lower but for the first touchdown score he allowed against the Raiders this week. He is allowing just 56.7% of passes thrown his way to be caught and is playing like the guy that we saw earlier in his career.

There are other corners with slightly better raw numbers, but his PFF grade – a play by play analysis of his play – is clear of the pack at +12.1, almost 150% that of the next best mark (Harris).

This interception against the Jaguars and Blake Bortles is one of the reasons why. This throw is definitely late, and not a good one from Bortles, but watch the way Flowers plays it.

Brandon Flowers

 

While most corners would be happy enough just breaking the pass up, as soon as Flowers reads the pass he wants the football himself. Instead of working to a position to break it up, he breaks around the receiver to give himself a shot at the catch. As we all know, turnovers are game-changing plays. There are some corners that are only ever concerned with stopping somebody else from catching the ball. Now, if a corner can read the play quick enough to get a chance at catching it himself, then we are off to the races.

It isn’t just his ball skills that earns Flowers such a high grade. This play against Arizona highlights his skill set to perfection.

2014-10-15_10-36-11

 

He has always been an aggressive player against the run and receivers with the ball in their hands, a little like Antoine Winfield, and less inclined to make the ‘business decisions’ that some corners will. The Cardinals fire the ball out to Michael Floyd with Flowers playing well off the line in coverage. At this point he has to come a long way to prevent any kind of gain, but he shoots up quickly, breaks down well and limits this play to just a gain of two yards in the tackle. That’s an impressive coverage play even if it won’t necessarily make any highlight reels, and it’s the type of play Flowers is all about.

Improving and Honorable Mentions

It isn’t just this trio that have taken big steps forward in 2014, in fact this year seems to be something of a reclamation one. Here is a few other corners having impressive seasons, some unexpected, some not:

Jason Verrett, San Diego: Our 3rd graded CB in the league so far, is allowing a passer rating of just 54.4

Perrish Cox, San Francisco: Would be even higher but for some dropped interceptions, has more combined interceptions and passes defensed than any other corner.

Corey Graham, Buffalo: Has allowed only 40% of the passes thrown his way to be caught.

Josh Robinson, Minnesota: Is allowing a passer rating of just 53.3, almost 75 points lower than a year ago.

 

Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam

 

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • n

    Great article sam

  • d_colt86

    Agreed. Good breakdowns, informative. Good to see C. Graham getting some praise.

  • Chris

    Lul that flat foot read by Harris – complete disrespect for both the Chiefs aerial attack and Smith himself.

    • Troll Chris

      Believe it or not, Chris Harris is better at football than you will ever be.

      • Chris

        LOL please reread my post, I was complimenting Harris for being aggressive against a crappy QB.

        • HowieLO6

          Agreed. Total belief that his own ability would trump that of Smiths. Loving his aggression in this instance.

        • Troll Chris

          You call Alex Smith a crappy QB, yet you probably can’t even throw a football more than a couple yards. I dare you to call him a crappy QB to his face.

          • Chris

            LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

          • [email protected]

            Alex Smith isnt awful, he’s Andy Dalton. Mediocre.

    • donnie johnson

      A nice combo of knowing the Chiefs’ tendencies as well as a complete lack of respect for Dwayne Bowe’s speed. Also, how about the trust in that reconstructed knee of his?

  • Jason Williams

    still incredibly frustrated that the Bears never saw fit to give Graham a shot although I don’t dislike the group of corners they have now.

    • Dohkay

      Felt the same way about the Lions taking a pass.

  • Chris

    Not really sure that Harris was in man coverage on that 2nd gif:

    http://imgur.com/a/5Xd2l

    Thoughts?

    • Troll Chris

      My thoughts? Shut up.

      • Chris

        Why are you here?

        • Troll Chris

          Because I enjoy trolling you.

          • Chris

            Do you get paid for it or do you do it for free?

          • [email protected]

            That’s not me, i don’t create extra accounts 😛 As you pointed out before when you were logging in to agree with yourself: i was the only one on my side of the argument.

          • Chris

            When did I say anything about multiple accounts? I simply asked if he got paid for his efforts or not.

          • [email protected]

            Imitation is the truest form of flattery, so i guess i should be flattered?

          • Chris

            You should be used to it by now.

          • Troll Chris

            I do it for enjoyment

    • PFFSamMonson

      I think he was. Likely a combination coverage but everything that happens on the near side says man coverage on that route combination.

      • Chris

        Hard to tell – it does seem like a combination coverage but the slot CB’s reaction after the ball was thrown is really weird then. But still a heads up play by Harris to look back for the ball when his receiver did.

        • Troll Chris

          Literally every person on this Earth doesn’t give a shit about what you just said.

  • MachoMenos

    Funny how the top rated CB by PFF gets relegated to the bottom of the article even though, as the article states, he’s 150% better than the Donkey. Oh, and BTW, Malcolm Floyd is going to win the comeback player of the year award, not Harris. #BoltUp

    • bobrulz

      It should be Rolando McClain at this point tbh. Dude was a complete bust and basically retired, now he’s tearing it up like everyone expected him to coming out of college.

      • nogoodnamesleft90210

        There should be separate awards for “injury ” vs. “I was a bust” comebacks.

        The injury comeback is almost a thing of luck; bad luck that you got injured in the first place, good luck that your body was able to fully (or close to fully) recover.

        The bust who comes back and becomes a player seems more of a case of either the guy getting his head screwed back on straight, or just being utilized better by a new team.

        • [email protected]

          You shouldn’t get an award for coming back from being bad. That just shows how you cheated your previous employer. Certainly not for quitting football like he was overcoming cancer.

      • MachoMenos

        Malcolm Floyd was sleeping in a neck brace this past March trying to decide if his career was over at 33. Now he has come back to be better than he was before.

    • jody

      I guess you just skimmed over this part:

      That 37% completion rate leads the league. As does the passer rating of 31.9 he has surrendered on those targets. In fact, he has yet to give up 100 receiving yards. Not in a game…period. He has given up no touchdowns, has an interception and has broken up eight of the 27 passes thrown his way. The longest pass he has given up all season is just 22 yards long.

      You can have the 150% grade, we’ll take Harris. Thanks for playing, homer…

      • [email protected]

        How do you know what his coverage is? NFL coverages are very complex. The whole point is to confuse the offense. Even the whole idea that he is covering one guy or another. Corners will midpoint a route combo and try to jump a pass.

      • MachoMenos

        I guess you just conveniently forgot that Flowers covers the opponent’s best receiver while Harris covers the other team’s second best receiver (Talib covers the other team’s best receiver for the Donkeys). So you can keep Harris and Talib. We’re very happy having the #1 and #2 rated cornerbacks in the NFL.

        • chargersfansaredelusional’0SB’

          hmmmm i guess well see how good they are when these “donkeys” face them.You seem to forget flowers played for KC last year and he and the other KC corner got burned for 4 TD by ERIC DECKER hahahahahah.Wow youve faced who palmer,manuel,geno smith,derk carr,and blake bortles?The only good QB being wilson.Like i said well see how good these corners are.

  • Kevin

    Obviously a good jump on the ball by Flowers against the Jags, but let’s also point out that Shorts ran a terrible route. He doesn’t sell the deep route, doesn’t make a crisp cut, and he doesn’t come back to the ball. He just kind of jogged to his spot and turned around. Flowers was able to sit on that one the whole way because Shorts ran a lazy hitch.

    • Chris

      He did come back to it a bit at the end, but agree 100% on the lazy jog. He basically telegraphed to Flowers what he was doing.

      • Troll Chris

        You call out Shorts for being lazy, yet you spend all your time on a football website dedicated to made-up statistics.

        • Chris

          You got it.

          • [email protected]

            The dedicated effort to use statistics to understand football over the past 3 years has worked out real well for the Jacksonville Jaguars?

          • Chris

            Blaine Gabbert?

          • Troll Chris

            You’re still a worse football player than he is

          • Chris

            If you gave Blaine Gabbert Seattle’s defense and Marshawn Lynch he’d be the reigning MVP.

          • [email protected]

            Then why is he no longer in Jacksonville? They are the king of using statistics to understand football. If he is so good.

          • Chris

            Because he didn’t have a great defense and running game. Almost any QB would fail under that scenario.

          • [email protected]

            Mark Sanchez had a great defense and a running game. Didn’t make him a good QB.

          • Chris

            He also ran into his teammates asses. So he had that going for him.

          • Troll Chris

            Bullshit and you know it. In 2011, he had the NFL’s leading rusher in MJD and the 11th ranked scoring defense. If he wasn’t so shitty that year (passer rating of 65.8), his team would’ve made the playoffs

          • Chris

            That’s a likely story but we all know Lynch > MJD and the Seahawks near greatest defense of all time > the 11th best defense that year.

          • Barron Buc

            I would say MJD in his prime was better than Lynch

    • [email protected]

      It was a terrible throw, it never should have been made. If you were going to throw that ball you have to throw it 2 seconds sooner. Its possible Shorts was just caught off guard that such a bad decision was made.

      To give the QB a pass and blame Shorts is backwards.

      • Chris

        I can agree to this, but to a point. Dropping an easy INT should be the equivalent of a receiver dropping a TD.

        • [email protected]

          No, its worse than that. Your team still has the ball and can still score a TD or kick a field goal. Most interceptions are not easy, the QB is not throwing to you. If you want to make your evaluations mean anything, then you have to equate them to things that win and lose football games and takeaways are #1.

          • Chris

            Then why are you here if you don’t value the grading system?

          • Troll Chris

            Because he, like everyone else, hates you.

          • [email protected]

            I am here to make fun of it. To discredit it and statistics in general.

          • Troll Chris

            IKR, Chris freakin worships PFF

          • [email protected]

            PFF is like chickens clucking to each other as if they understood higher mathematics.

          • Chris

            Sounds like a good way to spend your time.

          • [email protected]

            I think it is, should i mention again how statistics played a big part in the holocaust?

          • Chris

            Lul yes please enlighten me.

          • [email protected]

            The founders of statistics and the founders of Eugenics were in large part the same exact people. Statistics was a big part of Eugenics. When they talk about Nazi pseudo-science they mean statistics/Eugenics. We’ve all heard of the famous case where they measured the head diameter of various people and constructed some statistics to prove that white people were superior. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_eugenics

          • Chris

            What a flawed argument.

            Eugenics relies on statistics, so everything else that uses statistics is whimsical in nature. Lul

          • [email protected]

            Not at all whimsical. Untrue and dangerous.

          • Chris

            I will wait while you describe to me how keeping statistics for football is dangerous.

          • [email protected]

            Its dangerous because it makes statistics seem more legitimate. Statistics are loved by those who want to subvert the truth, our politicians can’t get enough of them.

          • Chris

            So you’ve cited politicians and the Nazis as reasons statistics are dangerous. Those have precisely zero to do with football.

            How do you propose you judge a CB at the combine or during his senior year without using any sort of statistic.

          • [email protected]

            No, the point is that theyre total bs. They’re bs when politicians use them to pass corrupt laws. Theyre bs when Nazi’s use them to pack people into death camps. Theyre bs when you use them in football.

          • Chris

            1. Yes
            2. Yes
            3. No

          • [email protected]

            LOL

          • Chris

            So in your opinion, this site is, like politicians, using vague statistics to further their agenda?

          • [email protected]

            No.

          • Chris

            Then what is this site doing, in your opinion.

          • [email protected]

            Turning bs into money.

          • Troll Chris

            Says the person who comes on here to worship a football website with made-up statistics

          • [email protected]

            Statistics are math in the same way that Astrology is science.

          • Chris

            Lmao okay

    • PFFSamMonson

      It’s a timing play. Ball (if it’s going there at all) needs to hit him as he turns. Can’t come to that late for exactly the reason that we saw

  • http://www.rockmnation.com @FullbackU

    “the pass intended for Dwayne Bowe.”

    Not to nitpick, but I bet you even Chiefs fans would chime in like, “Yeah.. but it’s Dwayne Bowe.”

    • [email protected]

      It looks to me like the corner was playing the run and thought Bowe was trying to block him until he saw the ball coming. If you’ve played actual football you know its hard as hell to tell who actually has the ball.

  • Ferguson1015

    Great article, but I had a nitpick.

    “We’re talking about a guy whose last season with the Chiefs was bad enough that it basically scared the entire league away from him. But what about before that?”

    The Chargers contacted Flowers to bring him in within hours of him getting released. Much of that week was spent in San Diego with his friend and former college teammate Eddie Royal. Yes, he did leave SD briefly, but he announced that he was signing with SD shortly thereafter. I could be mistaken about this (can’t find the source at the moment), but he only interviewed with one other team (SF) despite reported interest from teams like Minnesota, Baltimore and the Jets.

    So to say that he was “bad enough that it basically scared the entire league away from him.” is a bit inaccurate. San Diego appears to have had the signing in the bag from the beginning and they didn’t let go.

  • Victor Miranda

    How about Vontae Davis?

  • Anonymous

    Would have been nice to get the stats and grades for the “Big 4″ as well for comparison.

    Also, because when that week 1 article was written it was implying that Revis and Peterson were not going follow a receiver and that Sherman never will.

    Well since that time, Revis has done a good amount of following, and Sherman actually followed Dez for (a little more?) than a half against the Cowboys.

    • Guest

      Sherman only did because Maxwell was injured.

      • Anonymous

        I understand that, I just was hoping the charting of the “Big Four” was going to be covered more often. I wanted to see how each was doing week to week and what roles they were playing.