On Wednesday, I listed the NFL’s top five defenses — based on total yards allowed per game — and tried to determine which unit I’d take into December, when seasons are won and lost.
I decided on the Packers because they have the ability to create turnovers and field position, plus they can score on defense -- all the things that add up to a playoff-caliber defense.
And now, after looking again over those five units, there are some standout cornerbacks who need to be considered. Champ Bailey of the Broncos, Charles Woodson of the Packers and Darrelle Revis of the Jets could all be considered the best at the position. And I love defenses that have top-flight corners because they are game changers — whether by taking the ball away or taking a receiver away on Sundays.
So in saying that, let’s examine the three corners and decide for ourselves which player you want on the field. I’ll list their stats thought 12 weeks, but let’s remember that great corners usually don’t have big numbers because offenses try to avoid them at all costs.
Note: PBU = passes broken up
Champ Bailey, Denver (61 tackles, 1 FF, 1 INT, 10 PBU)
Am I biased toward Champ? Of course. I was his teammate back in the Steve Spurrier glory days of the Redskins. Watching him in practice was the highlight of the day for me because I was always amazed at how well he could use his feet and hands — like he was dancing with the receivers in one-on-one drills. But that was early in this decade. Champ, however, is healthy this season, he looks smooth and fluid in his back-pedal, and I see a corner who’s back to the form that made him a Pro Bowl player. He can play inside on the slot when needed, and it’s because of Champ that defensive coordinator Mike Nolan can send pressure and count on the veteran to play man coverage in the back end. Champ has very fluid hips and is a much better tackler in the open field that he gets credit for.
And what Champ can do compared to a lot of corners in this league is play off-man coverage. It’s a lost art, a skill that allows him to sit at 7-8 yards and jump any route in the 3-step passing game, like the receiver is almost looking into a mirror, with the corner mimicking his steps. Bottom line, you can put Champ on the best receiver in the game and know that he will not give up a big play. A “clinic” guy — as in the player you want on tape to teach your secondary how to play the position.
Charles Woodson, Packers (58 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 FF, 7 INTs, 11 PBU, 2 TDs)
Woodson is a wild card because he has become the league’s new version of the hybrid corner — one that can blitz, tackle, align in different positions on the field and, as we saw Monday night, play on the goal line (where an extra safety is usually brought into the game). It’s no secret that the late-season surge of Dom Capers’ defense can be linked to Woodson because he’s a playmaker, and what’s so amazing about it is that Chuck is doing it at an age when players start to fade — but he’s suddenly playing his best football at a time when his team needs him most.
And unlike most corners in the league, Woodson’s numbers do speak to a bigger role. In Caper’s scheme, I’ve seen Woodson on the slot, in the box, in the deep middle of the field and blitzing from the nickel corner position. And that’s just it. When you make plays, coaches put you in position to make more and design the scheme around you, and that’s why we see Woodson all over the place. We talk about matchups all the time on offense, but if you’re an opposing QB, you come to the line of scrimmage looking for Woodson and adjust your play calling off of him. He’s a guy I like because he uses his hands well at the point of attack and without a doubt is the most physical corner I’ve seen in ’09 when it comes to playing press-man at the line of scrimmage -- and his recovery time on double moves is fun to watch.
Darrelle Revis, N.Y. Jets (43 tackles, 5 INTs, 23 PBU)
The number that should stick out when you look at Revis’ stat line is the number of passes he’s broken up this season — 23. A big number, but a telling number, because Revis always draws the assignment of the best receiver — no questions asked. Randy Moss, Steve Smith, Terrell Owens, etc, etc. Revis is the ultimate cover corner for the 2009 season and plays in a scheme under Rex Ryan that’s demanding and requires the utmost accountability from the corner position. The Jets will often play a form of Cover 0, which is man-to-man with no safety help in the middle of the field. You put Revis on the best player on the field and take your chances with the rest. But you make a guy like Moss or Owens beat you, and when you watch Revis play, he has all the intangibles of a shutdown corner. He can run at top speed with the best, comes out of his back-pedal with speed and can accelerate downhill to the ball quickly. And his technique — the ultimate judge of the position — is near perfect.
However, what we often miss when talking about a guy with unique cover skills is the physical aspect of the game. We tend to think of Deion when corners are brought up as the league’s best, but you can’t be a guy who just covers anymore — and Revis isn’t. He can tackle, he can set the edge in the Jets’ run defense, and he can shed and take on blocks to make a tackle. I love watching him play because he can do it all from the position.
Make your pick
So, who ya got? Who’s the guy (minus the Raiders’ Nnamdi Asomugha) that you want on the field this month when it’s time to make a play? Who’s the guy you can count on to bring six- or seven-man pressure and breathe easy when the ball goes in the air — because you know he is going to make the play?
For me, I’m taking the guy who, as of now, is right in line with the Saints’ Darren Sharper for defensive player of the year -- Charles Woodson, because he’s going to get me that football.
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