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What's the best way to illustrate how a cornerback plays? Well, it's complicated

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Old 12-15-2018, 10:20 AM   #1
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Old 12-15-2018, 10:21 AM   #2
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Re: What's the best way to illustrate how a cornerback plays? Well, it's complicated

BY NICK UNDERHILL | nunderhill@theadvocate.com Dec 15, 2018 - 9:02 am




New Orleans Saints cornerback Eli Apple (25) and New Orleans Saints cornerback P.J. Williams (26) celebrate a fourth-down stop against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second half Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. The Saints won 48-7.

Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD

Aaron Glenn laughed, because, well, sometimes that is all you can do.

The Saints secondary coach had just got done seeing Philip Rivers complete all but one of his passes against the Arizona Cardinals when he was asked about the difficulties of limiting passing yards in today’s NFL. The game is designed for offenses to complete passes and rack up yards. Sometimes it is like all the pieces on the defensive side of the board have been replaced with pawns and stationed against an array of queens, rooks and NFL officials.

But that’s OK.

“All that does it make it to a point to where we got to be better,” Glenn said. “That’s the part of this game that I love more than anything. You see all these things that these quarterbacks and offenses are doing, and we got to figure out what we can do to combat that.”

New Orleans doesn’t need to make excuses. The defense has allowed an average of 207 passing yards per game the last five week, so it’s not like they’re talking about the difficulties of playing defensive back to create a cover for poor play. This group has been suffocating their opponents and has rapidly improved after getting off to a slow start.

Glenn credits that turnaround to a young group of players coming in and having to learn “what this league is all about” after having a lot of success in 2017. But those players aren’t judging success the same way that those outside of the building grade success. They aren’t using yardage totals as the barometer of success or failure without further conversation.

The league has changed too much to look at it through such rigid terms. There is also too much nuance involved to boil it down to a simple number. What were the routes and coverages? How many yards per catch? What was the game plan and who or what was the defense trying to eliminate?

The yardage numbers matter, but they need context. Plus, on an even more basic level, not all games are created equally, which means player-to-player and team-to-team comparisons can be easily skewed.

“Teams are putting up 400 yards and losing games,” cornerback P.J. Williams said. “It’s not about that. It’s you winning your matchup. Especially us. Our team puts up 40 points, so what are they going to do? Pass the whole game. They’re going to put up a lot of passing yards because they got to get away from the run to try and come back.”

Yards matter to the players on an individual level. No one wants to give up a bunch, regardless of how the offense is attacking. Those numbers can provide some gauge of how the game went. The problem the players have with some of the statistics that get tossed around is that there often isn’t a distinction between man coverage and yards given up while playing zone.

They also feel yards per catch is more telling than overall yards, and that completion percentage and quarterback rating against are valuable metrics. But even then, sometimes those metrics don’t tell the proper story.

Going back to that Dallas game, quarterback Dak Prescott completed 85 percent of his passes with a 115 quarterback rating. Those are all solid numbers, but there were only a couple of plays the Saints would like to have back.

That’s why Marshon Lattimore felt the need to clarify when asked about “giving up” seven catches on seven targets for 64 yards to Cowboys’ receiver Amari Cooper. Outside of one catch for 19 yards, he kept everything else in front of him and really didn’t allow much damage. It was all “little stuff,” as Lattimore put it, but most people see a 100 percent catch rate and think a player got smoked.

“It wasn’t like they were bombing us,” Lattimore said. “It was all quick game, and we were playing off (coverage). They had the advantage right there. People look at the numbers, and they go, ‘Ah, this is so bad.’ It wasn’t.”

And some yards aren't the same as other yards. Take the 147 yards Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans racked up in Week 1 and the 147 yards Atlanta’s Julio Jones put together against the Saints. The Week 1 game is one that Lattimore still talks about as being a down moment for him, while the Jones’ performance, which was primarily against Apple, looks a little bit different.

“Anytime a receiver gets over 100 yards we don’t look at that as a good game, but we understand what we’re trying to do and sometimes when you create a game plan a guy might just catch for a certain amount of yards,” Glenn said. “But if you limit him on the things that we know can beat you as far explosive plays, getting into the end zone, they might be successful in one area of the game, but we try to make sure they’re not successful in the part that we need to win the game.”

So, what is the best way to grade a performance?

“It’s just how you handle your assignment,” Williams said.

That might be the best way to go about it. There are no numbers that can tell the story without proper context. But then again, holding opponents to 207 yards passing per game only needs so much explanation.

It's not that my way is the right way, I just make the right way my way...
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Old 12-15-2018, 11:01 AM   #3
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Re: What's the best way to illustrate how a cornerback plays? Well, it's complicated

That is a great piece of writing.
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Old 12-16-2018, 02:04 PM   #4
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Re: What's the best way to illustrate how a cornerback plays? Well, it's complicated

Who said journalism was dead?
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Old 12-16-2018, 04:07 PM   #5
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Re: What's the best way to illustrate how a cornerback plays? Well, it's complicated

It's a hard job they've got. Hopefully with Scams sore shoulder we can squeeze him and contain McCaffery.
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Old 12-16-2018, 11:12 PM   #6
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Re: What's the best way to illustrate how a cornerback plays? Well, it's complicated

Well that was a whole lot of nothing. Best I can tell, it was the football analyst equivalent of pornography - you know a good CB when you see one.
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