Darrelle Revis: The Numbers, The Tape, The Verdict 2014

What did Darrelle Revis’ return to the NFL bring? (Image courtesy of TampaBay.com)

Prelude: The staple of Pre Snap Reads is back. Just like PSR did last year, this year’s cornerback series kicked off with an in-depth look at Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks.

For a long time, Darrelle Revis of the New York Jets was the unquestioned best cornerback in the NFL. Over the last three years, the emergence of Richard Sherman has given Revis a worthy rival for his crown. Up until the 2013 season, we didn’t have a year when there was an even playing field to compare the two.

In 2011, Sherman was a rookie who impressed but still needed to develop to be on Revis’ level. In 2012, Revis tore his ACL early on in the year, so the sample size was too small. For the first time ever, both players were fully developed and fully healthy for a full season in 2013.

Revis was no longer a vital piece of Rex Ryan’s defense in New York. He had been traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the offseason for a first round draft pick.

Although he was healthy and ready to start for Week 1 of the 2013 season, Revis was eased back from his rehabilitation for the first week of the regular season schedule. Although recovering from ACL surgery is becoming a less severe process with every season, it’s still a major injury that can impact a player long after he returns to full health.

While Sherman was establishing himself as a dominant cornerback, Revis’ question marks would hang over his head for a while. Not only did he have to prove that there were no lingering effects from his injury, he also needed to prove that he could fit into a new scheme with a new team.

Considering how stressful Rex Ryan made Revis’ assignments for the Jets, it was very unlikely that he would struggle with anything asked of him in Tampa.

Still, with the nature of the cornerback position, we still don’t really know how Revis fared in his return to the field. At least, we didn’t know until now.

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.

 

 

Calvin Johnson is atop another chart of wide receivers. (Image courtesy of BlackSportsOnline)

Individual Matchups

Individual matchups looks exclusively at how Revis fared against specific receivers. Each receiver had to have at least four snaps in man coverage against the veteran cornerback. It doesn’t matter where or how Revis was beaten, this chart simply looks at if he was beaten or not.

Note: If you are comparing this year’s chart against last year’s, this chart lists how successful Revis was instead of how successful the receiver was. This was changed this year because it confused people last year.

No.

Player

Successful Snaps/Coverage Snaps

Percentage

1 Chris Givens 8/8 100%
2 Harry Douglas 6/6 100%
3 Marques Colston 10/11 91%
4 Larry Fitzgerald 7/8 88%
5 Kenny Stills 7/8 88%
6 Golden Tate 13/15 87%
7 Roddy White 6/7 86%
8 Steve Smith 18/22 82%
9 DeSean Jackson 4/5 80%
10 Kenbrell Thompkins 4/5 80%
11 Santonio Holmes 7/9 78%
12 Mike Wallace 6/8 75%
13 Brandon LaFell 3/4 75%
14 Anquan Boldin 8/11 73%
15 Aaron Dobson 2/4 50%
16 Calvin Johnson 3/7 43%
Total and Average 112 / 138 81%

 

Revis and Greg Schiano ultimately spent just one season together. (Image courtesy of CBSSports)

Weekly Breakdown

 This section breaks down Revis’ season on a game-by-game basis.

Week 1: New York Jets
Total qualifying plays: 15
Failed coverages: 3
Shutdowns: 7
In Position: 5

Revis made an outstanding return to the field for the first week of the season. Although he wasn’t playing every snap, when he did play he primarily followed Santonio Holmes around the field. He split his time on either side of the field and covered Holmes nine times in total.

His quickness and overall athleticism was always going to be scrutinised closely early in the season. Before his injury, Revis was celebrated for his incredibly fluidity and quickness that allowed him to stick with receivers before attacking the football with his length and aggression.

In this game, Revis was able to consistently play aggressive coverage and take away throwing lanes. However, that may have been more to do with the receivers rather than his ability specifically. Holmes was coming off of his own injury while the rest of the Jets receivers weren’t starting caliber players.

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This play was the most noteworthy of the game. Holmes initially gets inside Revis as he drops onto his outside heal at the top of the route. Revis is able to very quickly recover and spring in front of Holmes as the ball arrives.

Showing this recovery quickness would have been very comforting for Buccaneers fans.

For the three occasions Revis was beaten, he was never really playing poor coverage. Once he was blocked off on a rub route by his own teammate. Once he was beaten by Holmes when he ran an outstanding in route deep down the field that turned Revis the wrong way. On the other occasion he was beaten on a 10 yard curl route when he began the play in off coverage.

Week 2: New Orleans Saints
Total qualifying plays: 15
Failed coverages: 1
Shutdowns: 6
In Position: 8

Revis didn’t follow a specific receiver in this game. He moved between left cornerback and right cornerback, primarily covering Kenny Stills and Marques Colston. Again, he looked very comfortable on the field and covered a variety of different routes against a variety of different receivers.

Week 3: New England Patriots
Total qualifying plays: 14
Failed coverages: 4
Shutdowns: 0
In Position: 10

After making a strong start to the season, playing aggressive, effective coverage, something seemed to change in Week 3 against the New England Patriots. Revis showed less intensity on the field and gave up a number of underneath routes too easily.

Week 4: Arizona Cardinals
Total qualifying plays: 8
Failed coverages: 1
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 6

This was the kind of display that made Revis a famous defensive back. He only played eight man coverage snaps, but for every single one he covered Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald beat Revis once. He ran a shallow crossing route against off coverage before Revis tackled him as soon as the ball arrived.

Against Revis in man coverage, that was Fitzgerald’s best play, but Revis’ best play was much more impactful.

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In off-man coverage, Revis shows off outstanding footwork to intercept a Carson Palmer pass. Fitzgerald tries to sell the seam route before breaking back outside, but Revis starts outside and works infield with him initially before shuffling his feet back to the sideline to locate the ball.

Fitzgerald did catch a late fourth quarter touchdown against Revis in zone, but it appeared that the biggest mistake on that play came from the safety position. That was something that would be a recurring theme for the Buccaneers’ season as a whole.

Week 6: Philadelphia Eagles
Total qualifying plays: 6
Failed coverages: 1
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 4

After playing 30 man coverage snaps over the first two weeks of the season, Greg Schiano’s preference to play zone coverage began to show on the field. Against the Philadelphia Eagles, a team who should see a lot of man coverage because of how their offense is designed, Revis had an incredibly low six qualifying plays.

There were two notable plays in this game. The first shows off Revis’ incredible ability in coverage.

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DeSean Jackson is one of the quickest wide receivers in the NFL. However, on this play it’s Revis’ technique and fluidity that wins out. Revis’ technique early in the play is perfect. He tries to show Jackson the sideline, but he keeps his feet and shoulders aligned in such a way that he can react to any routes that break to the sideline.

Although he actually turns away from the ball when Jackson breaks inside, Revis moves backwards slightly as he does so to get in Jackson’s way. This re-routing of Jackson and Revis’ ability to turn around so quickly means that he completely takes away the post route and shuts Jackson down.

The second play is the only play where Jackson escaped from Revis.

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It’s unclear what coverage the Buccaneers were playing, but unusually Revis played very relaxed coverage on his receiver and he allowed Jackson to run infield without much opposition. It appeared that Revis was expecting the deep safety to his side to pick up Jackson from a deeper spot.

Instead, that safety kept his eyes on the quarterback throughout the play and never noticed the receiver running behind him. It’s impossible to know exactly what happened here, but as soon as the play ends Revis appears to turn to the safety and gesture to him about something.

Unlike an Ike Taylor or some other cornerbacks across the league, this wasn’t a regular thing from Revis. That suggests that he was expecting the safety to give him help on that play. This still counted as a failed coverage in the PSR metrics, but it also serves as a reminder that the raw data here isn’t completely reliable. Considering how Revis approached Jackson throughout the rest of the game, it’s tough to not buy into the idea that the safety blew the coverage.

Week 7: Atlanta Falcons
Total qualifying plays: 7
Failed coverages: 0
Shutdowns: 3
In Position: 4

Without Roddy White or Julio Jones to cover, this game was much too easy for Revis. Asking him to cover Harry Douglas, Brian Robiskie, Drew Davis and Darius Johnson is too easy. Asking him to do it with safety and linebacker help is just unfair.

Week 8: Carolina Panthers
Total qualifying plays: 18
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 3
In Position: 13

Revis was beaten twice. He glided at the top of his route when trying to cover Steve Smith on an in route and he slipped on another Smith in route soon after. For the most part, Revis contained Smith and followed him around the field. Smith is at the latter stage of his career and simply doesn’t have the explosion to escape an athlete of Revis’ caliber anymore.

His fluidity to recover in routes was again on show…:

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When you can see a defensive back with the ability to simply twist his body instead of having to make a full turn by planting his foot or redirecting his body weight, it’s easy to understand just how tough it is for defensive backs to create separation.

Week 9: Seattle Seahawks
Total qualifying plays: 15
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 0
In Position: 13

Golden Tate was given the Revis Island treatment in this game. Revis followed him for every single snap and gave him very little. For his two failed coverages, one came when Revis slipped on a slant play and another was an underneath curl when the defensive back set up too far away as the receiver turned.

Tate has big-play ability with the ball in his hands, but he isn’t a refined route runner so he had no real chance against Revis.

Week 10: Miami Dolphins
Total qualifying plays: 8
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 5

In spite of his interception late in the game on a hail mary attempt from Ryan Tannehill, the most notable play in this game for Revis was a very rare mistake.

Mike Wallace’s speed provides problems for everyone. For a defender like Revis, who plays in space and doesn’t want to give up space unecessarily, adjusting his approach for any receiver would be a matter of pride. Revis didn’t really adjust his approach against Wallace, but he did forget his assignment’s strengths at one point of the game.

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With Wallace, you can ease off on the underneath routes for two reasons. One: Wallace isn’t very reliable catching the football. Two: His routes are rounded so it’s easier for defensive backs to break up plays even when they don’t immediately have a good position. The priority with Wallace should always be taking away the home-run.

Wallace fakes a comeback route that makes Revis shuffle his feet so he can turn to Wallace in the direction of the line of scrimmage. This makes Revis stop to re-accelerate when Wallace continues down the sideline. As we have previously seen, Revis is exceptionally quick when turning. He might not have had time to turn the other way and make a play on the ball, but at worst he would have been able to tackle Wallace on a comeback route.

More importantly, he would have been able to run with Wallace on any potential double moves.

Week 11: Atlanta Falcons
Total qualifying plays: 11
Failed coverages: 1
Shutdowns: 0
In Position: 10

Roddy White was back on the field for the second meeting between the Buccaneers and the Falcons, but he had very little success against Revis. Revis covered him six times in total and White only escaped once on a crossing route.

Week 12: Detroit Lions
Total qualifying plays: 7
Failed coverages: 4
Shutdowns: 0
In Position: 3

This was going to be the individual matchup of the season, but unfortunately it only lasted two quarters before Revis left the game with an injury. Furthermore, there were very few actual qualifying plays from this game because the Buccaneers played a lot of zone and the Lions used quick passes and screens so much.

Revis had the same problem with Calvin Johnson that every defensive back has. He is simply too strong.

Johnson’s quickness allows him to reach spots and gain positions that other big receivers are unable to get. Once he is there, it is very difficult for even the best defenders to knock the ball away from him. Normally against bigger receivers the defensive back can get to the ball first or knock it free from behind. Because Johnson’s back is so big and so wide, Revis couldn’t in this game.

2014-02-26 02_07_52

On a number of occasions preceding and following this game, Revis was able to break on the ball like this and go through the receiver at the catch point to break up the play. He actually gets a decent jump on this play, but Johnson is simply too good.

Week 13: Carolina Panthers
Total qualifying plays: 11
Failed coverages: 4
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 6

Surprisingly, Revis was burned by an impressive double move from Ted Ginn for a touchdown. It was somewhat similar to his play against the Miami Dolphins’ Mike Wallace, but this time Cam Newton didn’t lead his receiver out of bounds and Ginn was able to convert for the touchdown.

That was one big play given up, but he could have given up another when he was slow to react to Brandon LaFell running down the seam. Revis had a few games like this during the 2013 season when his focus appeared to drop. It could potentially have had something to do with the Buccaneers’ horrible situation, his usage and their record as a team. Or it simply could be a developing flaw in his game at this stage of his career.

One thing is certain, Revis got the better of Steve Smith again and this time he showed off his willingness to be very physical with the diminutive receiver.

Week 14: Buffalo Bills
Total qualifying plays: 3
Failed coverages: 1
Shutdowns: 0
In Position: 2

When Revis played in the AFC East, he struggled badly with Steve Johnson of the Buffalo Bills. A large number of defensive backs do, including Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks. Johnson has a very unique route running style that makes it very difficult to read where he is going out of his breaks.

In this game, the combination of both team’s gameplans meant that Johnson and Revis only faced each other on qualifying man coverage plays three times.

Week 15: San Francisco 49ers
Total qualifying plays: 12
Failed coverages: 3
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 8

Revis followed Anquan Boldin around the field and did a very good job standing up to his physicality. Boldin had little chance of running away from Revis, but he managed to shake him on a few occasions with quick moves in tight spaces.

Week 16: St. Louis Rams
Total qualifying plays: 11
Failed coverages: 0
Shutdowns: 2
In Position: 9

This game was a great advertisement for the ‘Sammy Watkins to St. Louis’ movement. Chris Givens took the brunt of the punishment, but Revis also shut out Brian Quick, Lance Kendricks and Zac Stacy without even leaving second gear seemingly.

Week 17: New Orleans Saints
Total qualifying plays: 10
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 0
In Position: 8

Revis gave up another touchdown in this game. He didn’t necessarily play bad coverage against Robert Meachem. He lost the receiver for a moment on his sideline route after starting the play in off coverage. Revis quickly recovered, but he failed to properly locate the ball and allowed Meachem to make a reception near the pylon as Revis fell out of bounds.

2013 NFL Season Total:
Total qualifying plays: 171
Failed coverages: 31
Shutdowns: 26
In Position: 114
Success rate for the season: 81.9%

In Comparison to Richard Sherman:
Total qualifying plays: 238
Failed coverages: 52
Shutdowns: 35
In Position: 151
Success rate for the season: 78.2%

The fact that Darrelle Revis only had 171 total qualifying plays in 16 games of football reflects how poor of a coach Greg Schiano was. Schiano blatantly didn’t understand what makes Revis a special player. If he had put Revis in man coverage more often and played him on an island, Revis would have had less success individually, but the defense as a whole would have been much better off.

When I last went through Revis’ snaps for a full season, 2011, he was much less successful in terms of the raw numbers. That is because he played on an island against a number of the best receivers in the NFL at the time. It’s no surprise that he is incredibly efficient when playing in a less stressful role.

There will always be comparisons between Sherman and Revis. Who is better? I’m not sure. I think it’s more about a preference in style.

Sherman will give you more turnovers and he completely takes away the deep sideline. However, Revis moves around the field and teams appear to genuinely fear throwing his way more than Sherman. In zone coverage, Revis is more reliable. He is a very good zone cornerback because of his fluidity and his intelligence. Sherman is an intelligent and agile player in zone too, but he takes more risks and that leads to more big plays for both the defense and the offense.

Revis is probably slightly less effective against the run, but there’s not a significant difference if any at all.

 

Results at Spots
Qualifying Plays at left cornerback: 88
Failed coverages at left cornerback: 16
Success Rate at left cornerback: 82%

Qualifying Plays at right cornerback: 71
Failed coverages at right cornerback: 10
Success Rate at right cornerback: 86%

Qualifying Plays in the slot: 12
Failed coverages in the slot: 5
Success Rate in the slot: 58%

Results versus Routes
(Percentage is Success Rate)

1. Sideline 98%
2. Seam 93%
3. Post 92%
4. Out 90%
5. Slant 79%
6. Curl 78%
7. Crossing 68%
8. Comeback 67%
9. Double Move 67%
10. In 56%

 The Verdict

Revis Island is still a destination for the damned.

Cian Fahey writes for Bleacher Report, Football Outsiders and Football Guys. You can follow him on twitter @Cianaf