The Ravens Need Cornerback Help
Using Football Outsider’s defensive DVOA metrics, the Ravens were 19th in total defense and 22nd against the pass during the 2012 Super Bowl run. The welcome comeback of Lardarius Webb and the insertion of Matt Elam, James Ihedigo, and Daryl Smith into the 2013 defense allowed the Ravens to notch the 8th best defense in the league and a respectable 9th against the pass. But moving into the 2014 season, the Ravens have lost their slot corner Corey Graham and need to replace his presence via the draft or via their on-roster depth.
Is Chykie Brown ready to rise to the occasion and replace Graham’s 588 snaps? I relied on Brown’s All-22 tape to tell the story.
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Chykie Brown was drafted in 2011 and played a total of 13 snaps that year. In 2012, he was thrust into action after Webb’s season-ending injury in Week 6. After splitting time with another depth corner, Chris Johnson, Brown solidified his position at sub-package nickel corner, playing primarily on the outside while starter Corey Graham shifted to the slot position. Although Graham certainly fit the slot corner job, Chykie was left outside because of his own limited skill-set.
Chykie Brown in coverage
When scouting coverage ability, there are four (mostly) distinct roles to focus on; man-coverage, deep zone (Cover-3, Cover-4), “cloud” corner (i.e. short zone, think Cover-2 CB), and slot corner.
With a 5’11, 190lb frame, Brown has some straight-line speed. In fact, few receivers can out-match Brown in this regard. But, as we all know, 40-yard speed does not correlate particularly well with cornerback ability.
To begin, Brown’s gradual back-pedal leaves him vulnerable. Receivers eat up his cushion relatively quickly, and it forces him out of his back-pedal too early. On vertical routes, this means Brown flips his hips and bails sooner in the route stem and can be beaten by a standard 12-yard comeback route. In a broad sense, Brown’s lack of comfort in his back-pedal allows him to be manipulated by the receiver’s route stem, forcing him to over-react to shoulder/hip fakes.
Change of direction is not Chykie’s strong suit, and this shows when he presses receivers. Intelligent receivers find him leaning into his punch, which leaves Brown chasing mere moments after the snap. Without the raw speed to stay with receivers in a straight line, I don’t think Brown would have had as much opportunity in 2013 as he did.
In addition to Brown’s unrefined technique, he suffered from communication problems even after playing with the same personnel for >400 snaps in 2012:
1) The Patriots receivers are stacked on top of one another. The Ravens are playing Cover-0 leaving Corey Graham and Chykie Brown in man-coverage with no help.
2) The route combination is Slant/Flat where Welker bends his route short and toward the sideline. The Patriots are known for using “switch” releases to confuse coverages yet it still worked in this instance. Instead of playing strict man-to-man or using a “banjo” technique (in-and-out zone), the Graham/Brown combo do neither and are beaten for a touchdown.
The Ravens defense prefers to play with single-high safety looks. If Chykie Brown is to be relied upon, the Ravens will not be able to run as much man-coverage and will have to settle for a heavy dose of Cover-3 and Cover-4.
Deep zone coverage
Despite his speed being his best overall asset, deep zone coverage is where Brown can have the biggest impact. Brown’s current lack of mirroring ability precludes him from successfully playing man coverage consistently. But in a position where he can drop to a deep third (or quarter) and visualize the QB, he can move in space and drive underneath routes.
Unfortunately, this means he lacks the versatility for the Ravens to vary their coverages. If Brown plays substantial snaps, he’ll need to hone more skills than deep zones.
As a Cover-2 corner, you have to be able to press receivers off the line of scrimmage, read the vertical release of #1 and #2, and also be able to play “force” (i.e. keep the ball carrier from getting to the outside). When in position, Brown has shown some savvy in reading combination routes and driving toward the ball once thrown. Unfortunately, his lack of a stout frame hurts him in press coverage and when playing force:
1) The Colts are running “Double”, an inside hand-off where the ‘back reads two double-teams in front of him. Chykie Brown is off-screen to the right, playing a single receiver. With Paul Kruger rushing up-field in a hurry, Brown has to seal the edge against outside runs.
2) Once the ball carrier reaches the second level, he begins to look toward the outside. Brown’s angle is far too shallow to set the edge.
3) After a minor impediment thanks to a wide receiver stalk block, Brown begins his pursuit, but his recovery angle is still too shallow.
4) Brown loses the edge completely and the result was a gain of 24 yards off of an inside hand-off.
I think the Ravens will try to play less Cover-2 this coming year than last year. This would be for the best because neither Jimmy Smith or Chykie Brown play Cover-2 corner very well and Matt Elam plays best when not in a deep alignment.
Secondary as a whole
The Ravens secondary is in a bit of trouble this coming season. Asa Jackson may be able to fill the last cornerback role, but I unfortunately don’t have access to any of his snaps (pre-season is currently not streaming). I have a lot of faith in Jimmy Smith as an outside corner for the foreseeable future. On the other side, Lardarius Webb has the ability to be a solid outside corner. Webb was once the league’s best slot corner but several knee surgeries have left him hesitant to blitz and fill run gaps. Will one of the depth corners play outside in the Nickel package with Webb in the slot? Will Matt Elam play more slot corner? If so, who will play safety?
The Ravens very much need to bolster their cornerback position. Whether they do so via trade or in the draft, they can’t afford to ignore the position.