Champ Bailey: The Numbers, The Tape, The Verdict

Champ Bailey’s 2012 season is only remembered for one game.

While the rest of the NFL world has been engulfed in Tim Tebow’s future with the New England Patriots, I have spent my time looking back at a long-time Denver Broncos’ superstar who played a major role in his initial success in this league.

Champ Bailey has an unrivalled list of accolades from his 14 year career in the NFL. He was a member of the NFL’s all decade team for the 2000s, has 12 Pro Bowl selections, three first team All-Pro selections, four second team All-Pro selections, led the league in interceptions during the 2006 season and was the youngest player to intercept three passes in one game. The longevity of his career alone is praise worthy, while his statistical prowess is incredible.

He has gone from consensus All-American in College to a career that will make him a consensus hall-of-famer.

Yet, since the 2012 season came to a close, none of that has been associated with the cornerback. A final performance of the season in the playoffs against the Baltimore Ravens is all that lives in the minds of NFL fans. Bailey was exposed as a too old, too slow cornerback on the national stage when young receiver Torrey Smith beat him for big plays repeatedly. No matter what he had done for the season before, his weak displays against the Broncos would condemn his reputation to that of a former superstar who helped another franchise on their journey to the Super Bowl.

He, like Nnamdi Asomugha, was living off of his reputation it seemed. He just hadn’t been exposed because of Peyton Manning, a weak schedule and the fact that the Broncos had one of the better pass rushes in the league. At least, that’s what the narrative said. The analysis on the other hand, now that’s a completely different story…

Explaining the Process

Qualifying Plays:
Plays that count:

  • Every snap that has the cornerback in man coverage no matter where the ball is thrown.
  • The above includes sacks, quarterback scrambles and plays where the defensive back has safety help.

Plays that don’t count:

  • Screen plays. Even if the receiver isn’t part of the screen, these plays do not count.
  • Plays where either the receiver or cornerback doesn’t follow through his whole assignment.
  • Zone plays. Any ambiguity in this area will disqualify a play.
  • Any prevent coverage situations.
  • Receptions in the flat without a route run.
  • Running plays(duh!). Including designed quarterback runs.

Failed Coverages:

The ball does not have to be thrown in the defensive back’s direction for the coverage to fail. This is NOT an alysis of how many completions the cornerback allowed, that can be found elsewhere, this is an analysis of how good his coverage is on any given play.

Failed coverages can come at any point of the route, but it is subjective to where the players are on the field in relation to the quarterback. Typically, defensive backs must be within arms reach for underneath/intermediate routes. On deeper passes, there is greater leeway given to the defender.

Failed coverages can be subjective. They must be determined by the situation considering the length of the play and other such variables.

Shut Down:

This category is reserved for those plays when receivers would have to make superhuman catches to beat the coverage. The best example of this is when receivers line up wide and try to run down the sideline, but the defensive back gradually guides them towards the sideline, suffocating the space they have to catch the football in. If a receiver is on the white sideline, he is shut down.

In Position:

This is the opposite of a failed coverage. In order to be ‘In Position’, a defensive back has to be in a position to prevent a relatively well-thrown pass to his assignment.

In a result that will surprise nobody, AJ Green leads the way in individual matchups.

Wide Receiver Success-Individual Matchups



Successful Snaps/Coverage Snaps


1 AJ Green 9/24 37.5%
2 Dwayne Bowe 4/13 30.8%
3 Steve Smith 6/20 30%
4 Malcom Floyd 9/35 25.7
5 Denarius Moore 2/8 25%
6 Darrius Heyward-Bey 1/4 25%
7 Greg Little 1/4 25%
8 Torrey Smith 7/30 23.3%
9 Brandon Lloyd 6/27 22%
10 Andre Johnson 4/19 21.1%
11 Jacoby Jones 1/5 20%
12 Vincent Jackson 2/11 18.2%
13 Antonio Brown 2/12 16.7%
14 Rod Streater 1/11 9.9%
15 Roddy White 1/11 9.9%
16 Marques Colston 2/24 8.3%
17 Julio Jones 0/6 0%
18 Jon Baldwin 0/6 0%
19 Josh Gordon 0/19 0%
Totals 58/ 269
Averages 3.05 / 14.16 18.34%

*Those with less than four snaps against Bailey were not included.

 Weekly Breakdown

Fourteen seasons in, Bailey still looked as good as ever during the regular season.

Week 1: Pittsburgh Steelers
Total qualifying plays: 15
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 4
In Position: 9

Let’s get straight to the point and address the most pressing issue with Bailey. Has he lost is speed? Is he too slow to run with the fastest receivers in the league or even the average ones? Quite simply, no. In the first quarter of the first game of the season, Bailey did this:

Screen shot 2013-06-11 at 20.45.38

Antonio Brown may not be as fast as Torrey Smith or his teammate Mike Wallace, but he’s also not your average receiver when it comes to stretching the field. Brown creates a running lane for himself at the line of scrimmage, so from the start this is a footrace between he and Bailey. Despite having to initially recover, Bailey runs stride for stride with Brown down the field.

On another occasion, in a similar situation, Brown was able to escape from Bailey deep down the field. Brown beat Bailey within two yards of the line of scrimmage, he faked outside and Bailey mixed up his footwork forcing him to reset. That allowed Brown a free run inside, but Roethlisberger missed him as he recognised the play too late to take advantage of Bailey’s mistake.

Save for that play however, and a slant late on from Brown, Bailey was able to lock up the young star as well as a handful of successful coverages against Jericho Cotchery and Mike Wallace.

Week 2: Atlanta Falcons
Total qualifying plays: 20
Failed coverages: 1
Shutdowns: 3
In Position: 16

Matt Ryan was getting rid of the ball quickly during this game. Bailey still faced a number of deeper routes and he coped comfortably for the most part. He didn’t follow a receiver in particular, but he did spend most of his time on Roddy White, who beat him once down the sideline. That may be a worrying sign, but it was once on 10 routes that would be considered deep down the field.

Week 3: Houston Texans
Total qualifying plays: 23
Failed coverages: 4
Shutdowns: 4
In Position: 15

Bailey was pitching a shutout 12 snaps into this game, before Andre Johnson shook him early in his route to create space in behind him. Johnson found space between Bailey and his safety help, but as they converged on him he dropped the football. That wasn’t his most telling play in this game however. For the first time all season, Bailey showed off the type of play that made him one of the very best in the league at his position.

This was the play that Matt Schaub lost a part of his ear when Joe Mays rocketed his helmet into the quarterback’s head, therefore, Bailey’s impact was essentially ignored.

Screen shot 2013-06-11 at 21.35.50


It’s first and 10, the Texans have a 10 point lead early in the third quarter and they line up in a run-heavy formation. Bailey is alone at the top of the screen with Andre Johnson, as the Broncos’ linebackers have shifted to the tight end’s side of the field and one of the team’s safeties is right next to their outside linebacker. There is one deep safety who is lined up slightly off center field to the opposite side.

Screen shot 2013-06-11 at 21.36.02

The Texans run a play-action to the far side of the field, which draws the linebackers forward, but most importantly, the Broncos’ deep safety is moving towards the far sideline. This means that Bailey is completely alone with Johnson who initially took a hard step infield before looking to sprint down the sideline.

Screen shot 2013-06-11 at 21.36.53

Once Johnson gets to the first down marker, he plants his feet infront of him and drops his backside to run the comeback route at the sideline. Bailey has run shoulder-to-shoulder with him up until this point, so he is in a perfect position to turn with him and beat him back to the football.

Screen shot 2013-06-11 at 21.39.20

Johnson doesn’t run the comeback however, he only used that fake to try and create space behind Bailey down the sideline. Bailey doesn’t allow him to escape him however and he is beginning to suffocate his space away over the sideline as they move down the field. At this point, the ball is already in the air so Bailey turns his attention back to the football.

Screen shot 2013-06-11 at 21.39.40

Johnson uses his physical prowess to take position over Bailey, but Bailey understands the flight of the football and is still able to play it. Even though Johnson has both arms underneath the ball waiting to make the reception, Bailey’s right arm is between his arms and punching the ball away at this point. Despite playing such tight coverage, Bailey is still able to play the football as if it were out in open space.

Screen shot 2013-06-11 at 21.39.49

In normal speed, this looks like a drop from Johnson, but when you look closely Bailey has done brilliantly to not only stick with him in single coverage, but to also knock the ball away from him at the last moment.

Tracking and playing the football in the air is a massive strength of Bailey’s game. He shows a great awareness of where the receiver is, what he is trying to do and how to time his moves perfectly.

Week 4: Oakland Raiders
Total qualifying plays: 16
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 3
In Position: 11

Bailey covered Denarius Moore, Derek Hagan and Rod Streater during the first meeting of these division rivals. He was only beaten twice. Once Moore was able to use his aggressive coverage against him to come free on a curl route, while he created space with a crisp move for a deep out also.

Week 5: New England Patriots
Total qualifying plays: 27
Failed coverages: 6
Shutdowns: 5
In Position: 16

Brandon Lloyd was Bailey’s exclusive assignment against the Patriots. For the most part, the defensive back was able to contain the veteran receiver, but there were a handful of plays when Lloyd was able to create some separation.

His first successful route was a shallow in against off coverage. His second came down the sideline, as Bailey tried to lock into his chest at the line of scrimmage but Lloyd hesitated twice before gaining a step. A quick slant when Bailey turned the wrong direction and an athletic reception down the seam against tight coverage followed soon after, before Lloyd turned him the wrong way twice more later in the game.

Bailey had his plays to celebrate also however, on one occasion Lloyd couldn’t even get off the line of scrimmage as Bailey successfully prevented him from getting into his route. On two other occasions he suffocated his space away on sideline routes, before Lloyd ran into a teammate at the goalline allowing Bailey to jump in front of his intended in route.

Week 6: San Diego Chargers
Total qualifying plays: 16
Failed coverages: 4
Shutdowns: 0
In Position: 12

The Chargers have athletes at the receiver position, but none ran crisp enough routes to create separation from Bailey. It was a relatively easy day for him as three of his failed coverages came underneath against off coverage, while the other saw Malcom Floyd use his size to make a reception.

Week 8: New Orleans Saints
Total qualifying plays: 24
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 3
In Position: 19

This was probably Bailey’s best game of the season. He followed Marques Colston for the whole game and Colston only managed to escape him on two successive in routes. On the first Bailey was in off coverage and couldn’t close the space quick enough, whereas the second was deeper down the field but Bailey was so slow out of his break it appeared he was expecting to pass the receiver off to the safety inside of him.

Week 9: Cincinnati Bengals
Total qualifying plays: 25
Failed coverages: 9
Shutdowns: 4
In Position: 12

After his best game of the season, Bailey had his toughest assignment of the season. He covered AJ Green for all but one snap and even though the receiver is still young, he is clearly one of the best in the league at his position already. Green’s combination of size, speed and route running proved to be problematic for Bailey. Bailey contained him for the most part, but Green was able to escape for a handful of big plays.

The biggest play of all finished in the endzone.

Screen shot 2013-06-11 at 22.14.16

On second and nine in the redzone, Bailey and AJ Green are circled at the top of the screen.

Screen shot 2013-06-11 at 22.14.41

As Green enters his route, Bailey takes a small sidestep inside to show the receiver outside. Green willingly accepts the out route but fades away instead of coming towards him and planting sharply. This means that Bailey must now accelerate to catch up to Green before the ball arrives. It is a perfectly timed pass from Andy Dalton that allows Green to make a relatively easy reception, but this play shows off how Bailey has lost some of his athleticism.

He was relying on his recovery speed to catch up to Green and prevent the reception here, but he couldn’t close the space quick enough and Green was able to reach up for the football essentially unchallenged.

Bailey did make up for it somewhat with an interception, but that came in zone coverage as he reacted to an underthrown football.

Week 10: Carolina Panthers
Total qualifying plays: 26
Failed coverages: 6
Shutdowns: 4
In Position: 16

In a matchup that now has a combined 26 seasons of professional football under its belt, Steve Smith faced off against Champ Bailey during Week 10 of the NFL season. They both may be on the wrong side of 30, but both battled and played with the intensity of two teenagers juking it out for a football scholarship.  Smith threw a variety of questions at Bailey, at times using his physicality to come free and on other occasions simply using his agility to create space before running away from the defensive back.

However, as good as Smith gave Bailey, he gave it back to him and came away with the better performance on the day.

Week 11: San Diego Chargers
Total qualifying plays: 24
Failed coverages: 7
Shutdowns: 4
In Position: 13

Whether by design or from a flaw, the Chargers were repeatedly able to come free on curl routes in this game. They struggled on almost everything else against Bailey however as his only other failed coverages came when he failed to locate the football on a sideline route, an in route from Danario Alexander and when he was caught in traffic against a Floyd crossing route.

Week 12: Kansas City Chiefs
Total qualifying plays: 14
Failed coverages: 4
Shutdowns: 2
In Position: 8

Dwayne Bowe ran two beautiful routes to create separation against Bailey, before coming free on curl routes underneath after. The Chiefs’ passing attack is very limited however, so there wasn’t much else for the defensive back to do during the game.

Week 13: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Total qualifying plays: 14
Failed coverages: 3
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 10

The Buccaneers’ receivers like to tower over defensive backs or use their speed to exploit the slower ones. Bailey isn’t slow and is physical enough to battle taller receivers, for that reason, he only gave up three coverages in this game. One was a fake screen where he reacted to the receiving option too quickly, another was a curl underneath against off coverage, while Mike Williams was the only one to beat him without scheme help, on a comeback route.

Week 14: Oakland Raiders
Total qualifying plays: 13
Failed coverages: 4
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 8

Bailey caught his second interception covering Brandon Myers when he played a double move perfectly, but it wasn’t his most notably play of the game. After showing earlier in the season that he had the speed to stick with speedy receivers down the field, it appeared that fatigue was possibly slowing him down at this stage of the year.

Screen shot 2013-06-11 at 22.41.28

Juron Criner is Bailey’s assignment as he is lined up in press coverage to the top of the screen.

Screen shot 2013-06-11 at 22.41.40

Bailey gives up on his backpedalling very quickly in the play and instead turns his back to the sideline and stays on Criner’s outside shoulder. Without the disruption of Bailey in front of him, Criner has a clear path to the endzone that he is running through. He gains a step on Bailey within 15-20 yards and only cannot make the reception because of a slightly overthrown pass from his quarterback.

Screen shot 2013-06-11 at 22.42.38

Although he may have been guiding the receiver to his expected safety help over the middle of the field, when Bailey turned he would have quickly recognised that Rahim Moore was completely out of position. This is the point when he would have turned on his after-burners in the past to get back on top of the receiver.

Of course, he was unable to and at best would have made the tackle to prevent the touchdown after a big reception.

He may not have that same recovery speed anymore, but when he backpedals more at the snap and is in a position on top of the receiver, he has the speed to stick with them down the field still. Soon after the play above, he showed that off against Criner.

Screen shot 2013-06-11 at 22.54.03

Week 15: Baltimore Ravens
Total qualifying plays: 22
Failed coverages: 1
Shutdowns: 6
In Position: 15

Reputation is all about…Nobody will remember this game…timing…for obvious reasons. Bailey’s performance against the Ravens in the playoffs set the tone for an off-season that was to be full of ridicule, but he was simply dominant in the regular season matchup between the two teams. He followed Torrey Smith for nine snaps before the receiver left the game, giving him absolutely nothing. From there he worked through Jacoby Jones, Anquan Boldin, Tandon Doss and David Reed, giving space to Jones on a slant route but nothing else.

Week 16: Baltimore Ravens
Total qualifying plays: 25
Failed coverages: 1
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 23

Much like the San Diego Chargers’ unit, the Browns’ receivers are all very physically gifted but not refined enough to really test Bailey. Outside of a curl route from Greg Little, he was in control for the day. The Browns should have more hope with their group than the Chargers though because youth is on their side.

Week 17: Kansas City Chiefs
Total qualifying plays: 9
Failed coverages: 0
Shutdowns: 2
In Position: 7

A dead-rubber game against an anaemic offense missing it’s only real receiving threat? This game was about as worthless as it sounds.

Wildcard Round: Baltimore Ravens
Total qualifying plays: 22
Failed coverages: 7
Shutdowns: 0
In Position: 15

Well, it all led up to this point. This is the game that defines Champ Bailey’s 2012 season. Statistically, it wasn’t that bad of an outing for the defensive back. He only gave up seven plays and one of those was when he slipped coming forward from off coverage. The problem with his display was the types of plays he gave up. He followed Smith for every snap save for one against Tandon Doss, and Smith was responsible for every single one of his failed coverages.

Smith caught two touchdown passes against Bailey and both showed off different aspects of his play.

The first play is simple, it doesn’t need any explaining because it is a simple footrace. Bailey is in press man coverage against Smith on his own, he doesn’t try to knock him off his route at the snap, so Smith has an easy release inside. From there it’s a race to the endzone.

Screen shot 2013-06-11 at 23.13.14

The reality is, there isn’t really anything that Bailey could have done once he lined up in press coverage and didn’t jam the receiver at the line. That doesn’t show off his lack of speed, because no defensive back is going to run with Torrey Smith in a foot race like that. It shows off poor judgment, either from the defensive back or the coaching staff. It’s impossible to play Smith like that and not expect to give up a handful of big plays throughout a football game.

On Smith’s second touchdown, Bailey did something he hadn’t done all season long.

Screen shot 2013-06-11 at 23.19.43

As he had done for the whole game, Bailey was lined up over Torrey Smith to the top of the screen.

Screen shot 2013-06-11 at 23.21.00

Smith runs a sideline route with Bailey plays perfectly from the start. He quickly turns his head around with Smith between him and the sideline. He is in perfect position to cover Smith and feel where he goes, while still being able to track the football through the air. This is the kind of coverage that can often lead to easy interceptions on underthrown footballs.

Screen shot 2013-06-11 at 23.21.08

With a slight helping hand from Smith, Bailey doesn’t control his balance as he moves down the field which eventually takes him completely out of the play. Smith is able to high-point the ball for an easy leaping reception, while Bailey has ruined perfect coverage at the decisive moment.

Screen shot 2013-06-11 at 23.22.10

Such is the life of a defensive back, the smallest of mistakes can lead to the biggest of deficits.

2012 NFL Season Total:
Total qualifying plays: 335
Failed coverages: 63
Shutdowns: 48
In Position: 224
Bailey’s success rate for the season: 81.2%

In Slot:
Total qualifying plays: 24
Failed coverages: 6
Bailey’s success rate: 75%

 Left cornerback:
Total qualifying plays: 183
Failed coverages: 33
Bailey’s success rate: 81.2%

 Right cornerback:
Total qualifying plays: 128
Failed coverages: 24
Bailey’s success rate: 81.3%

Success v Specific Routes
1. Flat 100%

2. Post  95%
3. Sideline 91%
4. Crossing 87%

5. Out 83%
6. Seam 82%
7. Curl 79%

8. Slant 78% 
9. Comeback 64%
10. In 61%

11. Double Move 60%


You’d be a fool to think you can pick on this man now.

There is no argument that Bailey had a terrible day out against the Ravens in the playoffs, that was clear for all to see, but the perception of him as an old, slow cornerback is some way off. One game is not enough to effectively analyse a player’s abilities. In today’s world we are encouraged to rush to snap judgments and be loud or brash instead of methodical and thorough. It leads to an ego and confidence that misleads people into thinking moments define careers.

If moments or even games defined careers, the Pittsburgh Steelers would never have traded Santonio Holmes and David Tyree would be an elite receiver following on from his (in)famous Super Bowl catch.

What a player does on the biggest stage is important, but one bad display in one big game doesn’t stop a player such as Champ Bailey from being an elite cornerback. The Broncos may need to adjust their gameplans slightly in future to take the pressure off of him against deep balls, but he’s still better than 90 percent of the players playing his position in the league and isn’t showing signs of rapid decline.

You can follow Cian Fahey on twitter @Cianaf

5 Responses to “Champ Bailey: The Numbers, The Tape, The Verdict

  • dingerc
    5 years ago

    One small fact left out (and to be fair left out of all analysis of the Ravens playoff game) for Bailey in the playoffs–it was 3 degrees in Denver that day. Running in brutal cold effects people differently. Hard to call Bailey slow in that game without at least acknowledging the cold.

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