Darrelle Revis no longer an elite NFL cornerback?
“Revis Island” used to be a place no receiver could escape from. Right now, it’s become a tourist hotspot with package vacations flying there on a weekly basis offering all-inclusive deals, and A.J. Green is currently on his way home having enjoyed an opening-weekend visit.
Green versus Darrelle Revis was one of the matchups of the weekend on paper, but there was clearly only one winner. The Bengals top wideout caught 12 of 13 passes thrown his way for 180 yards and a touchdown. Not all of those targets came against Revis, but Green did catch a pass every time Revis was the primary defender in coverage.
In fact, Revis was the primary coverage defender on Green for eight targets, which resulted in eight catches for 100 yards. Those numbers don’t include the 54-yard touchdown that featured a coverage bust in the New York defense that left the middle of the field without any deep safety, but even considering that he was expected to help on that play, Revis was far from in lock-step or close coverage at the time.
Darrelle Revis was once the gold standard of cornerback play, but he has been declining in recent times, and now we are left with the question of just what he has left in the tank.
Last year marked the lowest grade of Revis’ career (78.4 overall) and the first time he dropped below 80.0, having been as high as 97.6 in his incredible season of 2009. He only allowed 46.5 percent of the passes thrown his way to be caught, but was beaten for 14.6 yards per catch (just 0.1 below his career-worst) and three touchdowns. His 2015 season was also punctuated by performances in which he struggled mightily with young receivers, but somehow escaped being punished statistically.
Take this play against Raiders WR Amari Cooper last season, for example. Revis is beaten badly off the line, and is struggling to catch up down the sideline, but Derek Carr puts the ball out of bounds and Revis lives to fight another day. A well-thrown pass would have put Cooper in a race with the safety to score, and at the very least, it would have added 35 yards and a reception surrendered to Revis’ numbers.
Revis certainly hasn’t become a bad corner, he’s just no longer able to shut down the game’s best in the way he used to, and yet he has still been asked to track them as if he were the Revis of old. Against the Bengals, Revis played 23 snaps at left corner, 25 at right, and nine in the slot.
Including penalties, there were 57 snaps in which both Green and Revis were on the field together, and they faced off directly by alignment on 45 of them. Of the 12 snaps where that didn’t happen, two were the kneel-down plays at the end of the game, and several were funky formations where the Bengals either had backs and TEs split wide, or even offensive linemen leading the way for screens.
It wasn’t 100 percent, but almost every snap he could align opposite Green, Revis did so. That made sense when he could limit the best receiver the opposition had to virtually nothing, or at the very minimum, less than he would be expected to produce without extra attention from the defense. But in Week 1 of the 2016 season, at least, Revis wasn’t able to do that—or even come close to it.
The Jets tasked Revis with shadowing Green across the field, and Green responded by catching just under 50 percent of the team’s passing yards (180 of the team’s 366 yards through the air).
Revis looks visibly slower than he has in the past, unable to react and mirror receivers like he used to. It seems that either he or the Jets—possibly both—are aware of that, too, and he tries to protect himself by lining up with softer coverage than he has in the past. Revis isn’t up in people’s face in press coverage nearly as often, and even when lining up in off-coverage, is often seen deeper than the other cornerbacks, as if buying himself an extra yard or two of protection against deep shots.
That’s not necessarily a bad safety measure to take, but it does mean a player like Green can just pick him apart underneath all day long. Even with the deep bomb, Green’s average depth of target in the game was just 8.8 yards down the field. Take that throw out, and his average was 5.3 yards, but those targets gained him 126 yards, or an average of 10.5 per throw. Because Revis was playing too soft, it was giving himself too much work to do to even limit yards after the catch, let alone contest at the catch point.
The bottom line here is that Revis has seen his play decline sharply in the past year or so, and on the evidence of his latest performance, is no longer able to match up with a team’s best target and limit him in the receiving game. He is still far from a bad player, and an easing in the difficulty of his assignment going forward could likely see his play improve against lesser opponents. The end of Revis as a top-level corner seems to be upon us, though, and the concern is how far he will slip over the course of sixteen games this year. The only question for all involved is, where do Revis and the Jets go from here?
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