What’s more important, the pass rush or the coverage?
It wasn’t always treated like a chicken or the egg kind of question. Pass rushers have been breaking the bank in the NFL dating back to Lawrence Taylor, while it’s been a more recent phenomenon where top tier corners and safeties have begun to earn top dollar. However, in today’s pass first philosophy there’s not a clear cut answer. Even Mitch Trubisky can find success when he has a clean pocket, so a little heat is mandatory to survive on Sundays. If the secondary has a weak link, opposing coordinators and their quarterbacks will relentlessly abuse it.
Just ask Isaac Yiadom.
Last season Jon Gruden and the Oakland Raiders torched Yiadom right out of the gate with his use of 3X1 sets to isolate Darren Waller on the smaller corner. It also exposed the sophomore’s weaknesses at the catch point, which eventually led to his benching for Davontae Harris. Chucky’s design served as Andy Reid’s blueprint in December, which led to the best game of Travis Kelce’s 2019.
What’s most peculiar about the Broncos’ cornerback group is how Fangio and Elway went about addressing the position in the spring. There was rumored interest between the Broncos and both Darius Slay and Byron Jones that never turned into anything real. Ultimately, A.J. Bouye was acquired from Jacksonville, Bryce Callahan was asked to take a pay cut after missing all of 2019 with a foot injury, De’Vante Bausby was resigned, and Michael Ojemudia was drafted in the third round.
All of these moves could matter towards raising the secondary’s floor this year. Both Bouye and Callahan have really high level play on recent tape, and Bausby’s week 3 game against the Packers hints at the kind of ceiling he may yet find under Fangio.
It’s no guarantee any of the additions work out in 2020 either, however. There is a grand total of one 16-game season between Callahan, Bausby, and Bouye. Adding the former All Pro is savvy move that still brings a certain degree of risk. While I believe in Fangio’s ability to identify and coach up DBs, it’s impossible to ignore this:
I do have some concern over Bouye’s lateral quickness and ability to start stop. In the games I’ve watched I’d grade these out as adequate, and players like Sammy Watkins could prove problematic. This issue compounded against double moves as he got crossed up or too physical with a receiver. It was also a notable problem when he was playing in off coverage. Some of this could be mitigated by allowing him to more aggressively play up with help over the top, but it’s something to keep an eye out for.
Last I checked, Tyreek Hill is faster than Sammy Watkins.
As for Ojemudia, it may be unreasonable to expect a rookie corner to step in and thrive out of the jump in a notoriously difficult defense. It wouldn’t shock me to see him find his way to playing time over the course of the year, but with it will come growing pains.
A couple of weeks ago on Cover 2 Broncos Jeff Essary and I both shared how we believe that a second year in Fangio’s system will help players like Duke Dawson and Davontae Harris. When we spoke with Cody Alexander of Match Quarters he told us about his own experience coaching defensive backs and how much the scheme expanded as his players picked the system up. He also expressed concern about the Broncos’ current group.
If Bradley Chubb can return to health, the Broncos should have one of the better pass rushes in football. Add to that one of the best safety duos in the league in Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson, and whoever wind up starting on the corners will have about as good a situation in the league. Hopefully they’re ready to make the most of it.