“Offense sells tickets, defense wins championships.” This is one of the greatest football quotes and the truth of the statement was confirmed once again in last year’s Super Bowl, when Peyton Manning and his record-setting offense were completely shut down by the whole Seahawks’ defensive unit.
Is the Saints’ defense ready to make some noise next season? Are there any weak links?
Among defensive backs I’d say Rob Ryan can be satisfied about his safeties but how about cornerbacks? Behind Keenan Lewis the situation is cloudy. Patrick Robinson, Champ Bailey, Corey White and rookie Stanley Jean-Baptiste will fight for that spot opposite to Lewis.
According to Pro Football Focus’ 2014 depth chart prediction Champ Bailey will be the No.2 cornerback while Corey White will cover the slot. Is Corey White more than a slot corner? Let’s see what the tape from last season reveals.
In the first part of last season White was 4th on the depth chart behind Keenan Lewis, Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson: he was forced to climb up the chart when Patrick Robinson and Jabari Greer went down in week 2 and week 11 respectively. In this time span he never played more than 30 defensive snaps per game (I will not count snaps on special teams in this article).
Despite the early injury of Patrick Robinson he rarely saw the field because Rob Ryan asked Kenny Vaccaro to cover the slot receiver in most nickel situations.
Week 4 vs Miami Dolphins [7 def. snaps]: White played one series against the Miami Dolphins and he was lined up against Mike Wallace on the outside: he allowed two receptions while playing off-man coverage all drive long but was able to recover and break up one of the two completed balls. He (and the whole secondary) had a lot of help from the D-line that was dominating the LOS that night.
Week 5 @ Chicago Bears [11 def. snaps]: against the Chicago Bears White only played some zone in 3rd down situations but he had a nice PBU in the red zone against Matt Forte.
Week 6 @ New England Patriots [15 def. snaps]: White had a good performance against the Patriots as he only allowed two completions in man coverage: one against Aaron Dobson (no gain due to offensive pass interference) and one against Julian Edelman.
Week 8 vs Buffalo Bills [23 def. snaps]: after the bye week the Saints hosted the Buffalo Bills and White played both right and slot cornerback but was never seriously tested. Not a good game overall as he allowed one completion in man coverage (from the slot) and made one bad play in the red zone when he blitzed Thad Lewis but was flagged for roughing the passer.
Week 9 @ New York Jets [29 def. snaps]: against the New York Jets White played mostly zone when he was lined up against the slot receiver. Poor game in man coverage on the outside.
Week 10 vs Dallas Cowboys [30 def. snaps]: on Monday Night Football our cornerback had one of his best games of the season. In the slot he was matched up against Cole Beasley and Dwyne Harris but never gave up anything. Add to that two other excellent plays: he had one PBU on third down (towards the end of the 2nd quarter) and he almost picked off Tony Romo in zone coverage.
Until now White proved to be a decent #3 cornerback, despite some struggles in man coverage when he was lined up on the outside. What happened when Jabari Greer got injured?
From now on I will use a particular method for the evaluation, a method developed by NFL writer Cian Fahey on his site presnapreads.com. Basically, it only contemplates man-coverage plays excluding runs, screen plays, prevent coverage and zone coverage; each qualifying play can be a “failed coverage”, a “shut down” or a play when the CB was “in position” (the opposite of a “failed coverage”). You can find the complete explanation here.
Week 11 vs San Francisco 49ers [50 def. snaps]
Jabari Greer injured his leg on the first drive and Corey White played against whoever was lined up on the outside ever since. Out of 19 plays in man coverage (against Anquan Boldin, Mario Manningham and Vernon Davis) White was “in position” 10 times, had one “shut down” and 8 “failed coverages”, totaling a 55% success rate.
In the second quarter he was matched up one-on-one against Anquan Boldin in the red zone and Kaepernick took advantage of the mismatch:
While Boldin is already turning his head towards the ball White’s hips and look are towards the end zone. Easy catch:
Later White was able to get back at Kaepernick when he intercepted a poorly thrown ball directed at Mario Manningham. He almost had the first pick six of the season, too bad he fumbled on the goal line: instead of a turnover San Francisco got the ball back on the 20-yard line.
As if the missed pick six wasn’t enough White was flagged for pass interference later in the second quarter when he tried to anticipate Manningham too aggressively.
Week 12 @ Atlanta Falcons [67 def. snaps]
With Julio Jones out White wasn’t forced to cover Roddy White but was left with Darius Johnson (and occasionally Harry Douglas). Man coverage stats: 9 “failed coverages”, 11 “in position”, 55% success rate.
First quarter, first offensive drive for Atlanta, basically the same situation of the Anquan Boldin’s touchdown. White doesn’t jam the receiver at the LOS and is fooled by Johnson’s double move:
When he turns his hips to the outside, Johnson went inside:
A flag for pass interference in this game too, this time on a deep pass: White’s coverage is perfect until the last couple of steps when he couldn’t locate the ball and interfered with Johnson.
On the bright side, he was able to recover a fumble in a momentum-changing play in the early fourth quarter.
Week 13 @ Seattle Seahawks [70 def. snaps]
Despite a terrible team performance White was able to keep his average stats, with a 54% success rate (6 “failed coverages”, 6 “in position”, 1 “shut down”). He had the chance to swing the momentum early in the game with an interception on a deep pass but once again wasn’t able to hold on to the ball. For the third consecutive game he allowed a touchdown in the red zone, this time on a play-action pass.
Week 14 vs Carolina Panthers [60 def. snaps]
The whole defense had a great game but Corey White excelled: he only had one “failed coverage” and 7 “in position”, for a 87% success rate. Once again the Saints’ defensive line helped the secondary a lot but the DBs deserve some credit too.
Week 15 @ St. Louis Rams [52 def. snaps]
Decent game with 3 “failed coverages” and 6 “in position” (67% success rate). One of those three bad plays turned into a big gain for the Rams when the Saints were already down 17-3: White slipped while covering Chris Givens (in the slot) on a slant route and the receiver ran for 31 yards:
Week 16 @ Carolina Panthers [44 def. snaps]
Huge moment for the Saints and White didn’t perform well: 5 “failed coverages”, 4 “in position” (44% success rate). The worst play was unfortunately the one that allowed Carolina to win the game. With no safety help (Malcolm Jenkins was sent on a blitz) White was one-on-one with Dominik Hixon, who was able to create enough separation (unlike his two teammates circled in yellow) to catch the game-winning touchdown:
Week 17 vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers [64 def. snaps]
Just like in the Carolina game White had a 44% success rate against the Bucs but he was put to the test much more as Tampa Bay threw the ball A LOT in this game (9 “failed coverages”, 7 “in position”). No particular positive/negative plays but a not-so-good performance as White closed the regular season underperforming (compared to his previous standards).
@ Philadelphia Eagles [58 def. snaps]
The negative trend continued during the playoffs, mainly because Keenan Lewis suffered a game-ending head injury in the third quarter and White had to cover DeSean Jackson. Result: 8 “failed coverages” and 5 “in position”, corresponding to a 38% success rate (his season-low).
We’re trying to figure out if he can be a #2 corner so no surprise if White was lost against a receiver like Jackson. He was beaten badly on two deep passes that resulted in a 40-yard catch and a 40-yard pass interference.
Earlier in the second quarter White already had some problems against Riley Cooper and Zach Ertz. Against Cooper he played too far from the LOS and the receiver, who went in motion from the left side of the formation, could easily cut inside:
Then in the red zone he let Ertz get behind him but the tight end dropped the ball:
@ Seattle Seahawks [59 def. snaps]
In the last game White was able to get back to his average 54% success rate (5 “failed coverages”, 6 “in position”). Not a bad game but once again he was exposed in a crucial situation against a quicker receiver. 3rd-and-8 against Percy Harvin in the slot:
White’s reaction time is slow and he only turns his head when Harvin is already in the air and can catch an easy, uncontested ball:
Success rate since week 11: 55%.
Corey White showed flashes of ability to play outside but his technique in off-man coverage still needs to improve as he allows too many easy completions in those situations. A lot of you may remember him for the big plays he gave up but that’s not enough to evaluate a player: in the end I think White is better suited to be a slot cornerback, where he can be a productive player and help the Saints.