Revis Island is Back
The Patriots were quiet for the opening portion of free agency. Lying in wait, like a predatory animal, ready to pounce when the opportunity presented itself. As soon as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cut Darrelle Revis loose they got that opportunity, and struck within hours.
For the Buccaneers Revis was an expensive (due $16m for 2013) luxury that the new coaching staff with its rigid zone coverage principles just didn’t need. Why pay him $16 million to be very good in their scheme when they can pay Alterraun Verner $6.5m to be of a similar standard? That’s not to say that Verner is as good as Revis, but in Lovie Smith’s defense the difference between the two would be negligible.
Revis spent last season working his way back from an ACL injury that limited what the Bucs asked him to do. The reports were that he wasn’t comfortable being left in charge of ‘Revis Island’ with his knee still some way short of 100%. I suspect the team was perfectly happy with that and they wouldn’t have made full use of him anyway, but the end result was that the Revis we saw last year was only asked to do a fraction of what he did while he was in New York.
When he was with the Jets he would track an opponent’s best receiver, not just to the other side of the field, but also to the slot, forcing quarterbacks to either throw the ball into peril anyway or sacrifice his best weapon. Offenses hate admitting that their best weapon is a no-go area and so Revis continued to see a lot of targets despite his lockdown coverage, benefitting the defense.
The Bucs, though, just stationed him at left corner and let him get on with it.
Most of their plays looked a lot like this:
Revis is still getting in a receiver’s face and being aggressive in press coverage, but the Bucs are running with two safeties up top, and more often than not Revis was actually playing an aggressive zone coverage rather than man-on-man. If the opposition ever wanted to free their best receiver up from his attentions they just had to move him to the far side of the field, or the slot, and Revis wouldn’t follow.
By contrast take a look at what the Jets used to do with him:
He is isolated one on one with his receiver on the open side of the field as the Jets line up with just a single high safety and eight men in the box. Revis gives them the ability to play with eight men up at all times, but it extends beyond that. The Jets can cheat the free safety to the short side of the field, helping out that corner over the top and leaving Revis to deal with his side of the field completely alone.
This is why they called it ‘Revis Island’ – he is completely alone covering 50% of the field against an opponent’s best receiver. When you have one player that can be trusted like that it allows you to do so much more with the other 10 guys on defense – selling out to cover other things you couldn’t ordinarily do without exposing somebody. Instead of a defense trying to divide up the whole field between seven guys playing coverage, they can cut almost half of the space they are dealing with away and deploy six guys to cover a vastly reduced area.
It wasn’t like this was rare either, here’s a similar look from another game against another opponent:
Again the Jets are able to man up with everybody across the board and leave Revis isolated on his own. This time the single high safety isn’t so much as cheating to the other side as simply lining up there above three potential receivers and ignoring the other side of the field.
This is why Revis was wasted in Tampa Bay. He could have played exceptionally well in Lovie Smith’s defense. Last season he was far from 100% and still put up numbers that looked like this:
He is undoubtedly still one of the best corners in football and I think he remains the shutdown standard, precisely because of his ability to track receivers and be left on an island, but the Bucs wouldn’t have taken advantage of what he allows them to do from a schematic point of view.
The Patriots haven’t just signed one of the best cover corners in the game, but they signed a toolkit that allows them to get dramatically more creative on defense. Think of Revis as a catalyst that allows a whole series of schematic changes each of which squeezes something an offense wants to do to New England. If they face a team that wants to run the ball all day they just bought themselves an extra man in the box. If they face a team that wants to spread them out and exploit the safeties deep, they just bought themselves the license to change the safety’s responsibilities and attack those routes.
Revis would be worth $12m for a season in a regular defense, but the value he brings in terms of schematic flexibility is almost off the charts. That is why this deal is a bargain, because New England is one of the teams out there you can guarantee will exploit that to its fullest.
Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam