Champ Bailey: Breaking Down Every 2013 Snap of the New New Orleans Saints Cornerback

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It’s been a very good offseason for the New Orleans Saints. Not only did they retain the rights to Jimmy Graham by placing him under the franchise tag, but they also signed star free safety Jairus Byrd from the Buffalo Bills in free agency. The Saints were expected to retain Graham, but it didn’t seem fiscally possible for them to bring in Byrd as well.

The Saints went on to make a handful of other moves, most notably the arrival of dynamic fullback Erik Lorig, the re-structuring of Pierre Thomas’ contract and the departures of receiver Lance Moore and receiving back Darren Sproles.

After the Byrd signing, it appeared that the Saints were done with big moves, but late in free agency there was a future hall-of-fame player available. Champ Bailey unexpectedly joined Byrd in the Saints’ secondary. Bailey is a future hall-of-fame player, but at this stage of his career he no longer plays like one.

Bailey will be 36 before the start of next season and he is mostly remembered in recent times for that infamous display against Torrey Smith of the Baltimore Ravens during the 2012 playoffs. He isn’t coming off a season where he rebounded from that display, instead he spent most of his time on the sidelines because of injury.

By the end of the 2013 season, Bailey was primarily playing in the slot and only returned to a bigger role because of an injury to then fellow Broncos cornerback Chris Harris.

The Saints aren’t paying Bailey to be a hall-of-fame cornerback. In fact, they’re not even paying him to be their number one cornerback. That role belongs to Keenan Lewis, another free agent signing but from 12 months previous. Instead the Saints are hoping Bailey can be a reliable starter who won’t need to move around the field or follow the opposition’s most dangerous player on a snap-by-snap basis.


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.

Individual Matchups

No.

Player

Successful Snaps/Coverage Snaps

Percentage

1 Julian Edelman 6/6 100%
2 Keshawn Martin 5/5 100%
3 Eddie Royal 5/5 100%
4 Mike Brown 6/7 86%
5 Justin Blackmon 4/8 50%
6 Dwayne Bowe 2/5 40%

Only those with four qualifying plays against Bailey were included in this chart

Weekly Breakdown

Week 6: Jacksonville Jaguars
Total qualifying plays: 15
Failed coverages: 5
Shutdowns: 3
In Position: 7

As he has typically done throughout his career, Bailey stuck to the left side of the defense throughout this game. He split his time between covering Justin Blackmon and Mike Brown. Blackmon first beat him on a shallow crossing route when the route combinations prevented Bailey from getting a good position on an accurate pass from Chad Henne.

Bailey had missed the first six games of the season and it showed. He was obviously rusty and uncomfortable on a number of occasions. Throughout his career he had proved to be a very fluid athlete who could seamlessly change direction and stick with receivers through their breaks. His footwork was always quick and precise, which made it very difficult to create separation against him.

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On this play, Brown knocks Bailey too far infield with his initial release. Bailey was clearly trying to play underneath with his safety over the top, but he couldn’t allow himself to keep moving infield because it opened up the deep out route for Brown.

This was a footwork issue. Bailey’s initial inside step wasn’t wide enough and that forced him to take an even wider step to recover his balance.

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There were a number of plays throughout this game that suggested the play was moving too fast for Bailey. On this play for example he keeps his eyes on the receiver for too long when he moves infield and stays in his spot instead of moving forward to close on the slant route.

However, there were also notable positives to be drawn from his first appearance of the season.

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Throughout the season as a whole, Bailey proved to be a very effective zone cornerback. He understands where to initially position himself before reading the quarterback and feeling the routes around him. On this play he stays low to bait Henne into the throw to the back of the end zone before easily taking the ball out of the air for the interception.

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Although his hips were noticeably stiffer in this game than they had been during the whole of the previous season, there were still signs that Bailey’s footwork was at its best and his technique could be flawless again.

Week 7: Indianapolis Colts
Total qualifying plays: 5
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 2

Week 13: Kansas City Chiefs
Total qualifying plays: 10
Failed coverages: 5
Shutdowns: 0
In Position: 5

Against the Colts in Week 7 and the Chiefs in Week 13, Bailey was again showing signs of stiffness. His hips were limiting what he could do in space and the Broncos often gave him safety help. Even though his efficiency numbers in man coverage aren’t great on the surface for these two games, he didn’t play as poorly as they suggest he did.

On five of his seven failed coverages over these two games, Bailey played very good coverage but was beaten by a perfect throw from Alex Smith/Andrew Luck.

Even though he was slowed and nowhere near the level he had been in 2012, Bailey was at least still an effective player at this stage of the season.

Week 16: Houston Texans
Total qualifying plays: 8
Failed coverages: 0
Shutdowns: 0
In Position: 8

Keshawn Martin and Andre Johnson faced Bailey, but this time he wasn’t playing left cornerback. After missing more time through injury, the Broncos decided to relegate him to the slot role. He was exceptionally effective because he wasn’t asked to do anything overly stressful.

Week 17: Oakland Raiders
Total qualifying plays: 6
Failed coverages: 1
Shutdowns: 0
In Position: 5

In limited snaps, Bailey appeared to be loosening out. Again he played only in the slot, but because the Raiders played with many run heavy formations and because he wasn’t put in the game late on, Bailey only played around 20 total snaps.

Divisional Round: San Diego Chargers
Total qualifying plays: 6
Failed coverages: 0
Shutdowns: 0
In Position: 6

This was the first game during the year when Bailey consistently showed off the quickness and comfort that had been there during the 2012 season. He primarily played in the slot again, but this actually allowed him to show off his quickness and fluidity more as he got to cover Eddie Royal throughout the game.

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Championship Round: New England Patriots
Total qualifying plays: 8
Failed coverages: 0
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 7

Julian Edelman wanted nothing of Bailey. He used his quick feet and intelligence to consistently disrupt the receivers routes and completely took him out of the game whenever he covered him in man coverage. Bailey was no longer playing a reactive, uncomfortable game that he had been earlier in the season. He looked like his old self, except now he was doing it from the slot rather than left cornerback.

Super Bowl: Seattle Seahawks
Total qualifying plays: 6
Failed coverages: 3
Shutdowns: 0
In Position: 3

Bailey was beaten three times. Once he was pushed off the line of scrimmage by a stacked release that allowed Doug Baldwin to get free on an underneath route. On the second occasion he hesitated against Baldwin in the slot early in the route. Bailey appeared to be expecting a pick play and that made him freeze. From there, Baldwin escaped down the sideline for a big gain.

On the third and final play, Baldwin ran an in route from the left slot that extended to the other sideline. Bailey chased him down from behind but a perfect throw from Russell Wilson negated his good coverage.

 

Bailey’s 2013 NFL Season Total:
Total qualifying plays: 64
Failed coverages: 16
Shutdowns: 5
In Position: 43
Success rate for the season: 75%

Results at Spots
Qualifying Plays at left cornerback: 30
Failed coverages at left cornerback: 10
Success Rate at left cornerback: 67%

Qualifying Plays at right cornerback: 2
Failed coverages at right cornerback: 0
Success Rate at right cornerback: 0%

Qualifying Plays in the slot: 32
Failed coverages in the slot: 6
Success Rate in the slot: 81%

Results versus Routes
Percentage is Success Rate. Number of routes is in brackets.

1. Double Move 100% (2)
2. Out 86% (21)
3. Sideline 86% (7)
4. Seam 83% (6)
5. In 78% (9)
6. Curl 71% (7)
7. Slant 63% (8)
8. Crossing 50% (4)
9. Comeback 50% (2)
10. Post 0% (1)

The Verdict

With a small sample size that is clearly affected by injury, it’s tough to judge Champ Bailey’s 2013 season and use it to project forward into the 2014 season. At Bailey’s age, the physical drop-off could come at any sudden point. While he was notably slower at times during last season, his late season surge suggests that his hip stiffness had more to do with rust or the lingering effect of his different injuries.

Even if he doesn’t return to the excellent form he showed in 2012, Bailey can still be a high quality starter for the Saints.

His situation is critical. Keenan Lewis is a very talented cornerback who can follow the opposition’s number one receiver if needed. Kenny Vaccarro, a safety, can drop down into the nickel cornerback spot and play in the slot or even shift outside to allow Bailey to play in the slot in different situations. With Rafael Bush currently on the roster and Jairus Byrd arriving, the Saints have four other defensive backs who can adjust and work around Bailey so the coaching staff can put him in the best position to succeed.

It’s already been determined that Bailey won’t be playing safety for the Saints. He will be a cornerback. However, being a cornerback doesn’t tell you exactly what his role will be. Even as a starter the Saints will have the flexibility to do many different things with him.

At worst, the Saints are getting an exceptionally smart player who should be very good in zone coverage. At best? At best they could have the best second starter at the cornerback position in the NFL.

 

You can follow Cian Fahey on twitter @Cianaf

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