Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Conquering Revis Island
See, I did think of something eventually. So stop moaning. How many writers do you know who churn out something almost everyday? Exactly, so shut up. Anyway. Ron Rivera has been confirmed as the new Head Coach of the Carolina Panthers. This left many fans in Carolina going.... who? The answer is the man behind the San Diego Chargers defense in 2010, which many people still seem to have a hard time believing was the number 1 rated D in the regular season in terms of total yardage. Rivera played as a linebacker for the Bears and was part of the winning team of Super Bowl 20, learning much about his craft under the guidance of Buddy Ryan. After his playing career was done, Rivera then turned to coaching and has since had -- at least to date -- an exceptionally good run. He has learned as an assistant from both Jimmy Johnson and Lovie Smith & was the defensive coordinator for the Bears in 2006 when they won the NFC Championship and went to Super Bowl 41. His spell in San Diego as the defensive coordinator has also been highly successful in terms of raw numbers. The question now becomes, how will he fit in with Carolina? The Panthers are a 4-3 team, which is markedly different from the 3-4 scheme that Rivera ran in San Diego. He'll have to adjust to the personnel given him and hopefully try to avoid the problem the Redskins encountered when they tried to switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 in one season. Luckily the Panthers do actually have a pretty good pass rush, which is a boon for an aggressive minded coach like Rivera. Just looking at it on the surface, I think this might turn out to be a good hire. What the Panthers now need is an offensive coordinator who can sort out Jimmy Clausen, and hopefully (please God!) someone who understands that the Panthers offensive strength lies in their ground game. If the Panthers go after an air assault minded coach like Josh McDaniels, I think it might end in tears, at least from an offensive perspective. We'll see. Now, time to get back to form and have another moan. I'm a very cynical individual, as you might have guessed. I believe that fundamentally the world is about balance and that in order to excel in one area, you naturally have to make a sacrifice somewhere else, at least to a degree. This is why I hate hearing about teams/players who are supposedly "unstoppable", like the always "unstoppable" Colts who lost six games in the regular season and then got dumped out of the playoffs by Rex Ryan and the Jets on Saturday. In fact, it's funny I should mention the Jets because that's exactly where I'm headed with this point (odd that, almost like it was planned in advance...). More pointedly, we're all going on a trip to "Revis Island", possibly the most laughable of all the "unstoppable" myths. The first thing I want to quash is the notion of it being an Island in the first place. To me putting a defender on an island means -- as the name would suggest -- that the player is being essentially abandoned to his own devices, with no help from the rest of the team. There's your side of the field, that's the receiver you have to cover, now off you go. No help over the top, no bracket coverage from the inside. And yet a cursory glance back through the unintended video library that is NFL.com shows us that Revis very often receives safety help over the top. Now call me a miserable git who is being far too picky (because I probably am), but that is not this mythical "Island" that we keep hearing about. That's cover two, the same as a lot of teams play. But what makes it even more nauseating is having to listen to people talk about Revis as some kind of Demi-God of defensive football, as if he can supposedly cover a player merely by looking at him. Instead a closer inspection of the film (which never lies) shows that Revis merely attempts to make a mockery of the laws of equilibrium by overplaying the deep ball. There is your shutdown corner. A corner who is most certainly capable of covering over the top and taking away the go route/post route. But unbeatable? Not really. Let's pinch some screen shots from the latest episode of NFL Networks "Playbook" show to make the point. As always we'll start with my cack handed attempt at a disclaimer. The original video can be found here, on NFL.com. The video is naturally produced entirely by them, owned by them etc. The pictures included in this article are merely screen shots, and thanks to some handy work by the Playbook team and some judicious use of the pause button, I've had no need to make any modifications to the pictures. All graphics are those put on in the original video. Right, so let's get to it. The first picture I have for you shows Revis matched up with Reggie Wayne (they've handily been circled in yellow by presenter Brian Baldinger).
After the game Wayne had complained about the fact that he was only targeted once. Cue a series of articles and comments from people saying that Wayne should STFU because he was sitting on "Revis Island" the whole game. (For the less Internet lingo savvy of my readers, STFU is a way of writing 'Shut The Fuck Up' on your website without having to swear. Clever huh? ..... ah shit).
Anyway, the video evidence suggests differently. It suggests to us that in fact Revis Island was welcoming visitors to come to it's beaches, steal it's coconuts, woo the native women, and then jump back on a speedboat and disappear off into the sunset. As indeed it does every week. What you need to look at on Picture one is that Revis is playing over the top of Wayne.
This is basically what Revis does. He starts off a few yards off the receiver. When the receiver comes off the line at him he turns, makes contact with his arm (which he can maintain as long as likes, providing his hand doesn't come off the receiver at any point and he doesn't push him) and then he simply rides the receiver down the field. If the receiver goes inside at the snap, then he assumes a position outside and high of him. If the receiver takes an outside release at the snap, then Revis simply slots in above and to the inside.
That happens to make Revis quite vulnerable to being undercut; that is to say, if the receiver breaks underneath Revis then there isn't a lot he can do about it. Remember what I was saying earlier about balance? Revis is playing over the top in order to more effectively take away the deep ball and increase the chances that a poorly thrown pass will either be batted down or picked off. But by over compensating for the deep pass he is setting himself up to be exploited underneath. Just take a look at our second picture.
Here you can see at the bottom of the screen that Wayne has Revis thoroughly beaten. The little red blob in the image is the ball which is being thrown to Pierre Garcon on a post route at the top of the picture. This play actually resulted in a touchdown. But the point is that Revis has been beaten. Wayne is standing on the zero of the big 40 and thanks to convenience of the hash markings we can tell that Wayne has approximately 3-4 yards of separation on Revis, which by NFL standards is wide, wide open.
Wayne achieves this, as you'll see when you watch the video, by running a deep hooking route. The route in question is most commonly referred to as a deep comeback, with the receiver "breaking down" to slow himself, having travelled around 20 yards. He then turns and loses ground while heading to the outside away from the defender.
It is a route that perfectly exploits the way Revis likes to play. When the receiver takes an outside release Revis slots in above him and to the inside. When Wayne breaks down, Revis overshoots and when he finally does turn he has no hope of getting back to the ball. We'll see this happen again in shots 3 and 4.
In shot 3 (above) you can see Revis and Wayne circled, with Manning apparently staring right at them. Then Wayne hits the "Comeback" route on Revis and we can see in figure 4 that he is wide open at the top of the screen. Wayne is standing on the 50 yard line which is handy because it makes judging distances easier. Again we can tell using the hash marks that Revis is 3 yards off of Wayne.
So hopefully now we've proved two things:
1) That the mythical "Revis Island" is just that; a myth.
2) That the idea of Revis being some kind of all covering, footballing Demi-God is also a myth perpetuated for the purposes of promotion, either by self or by others.
I'm not saying that Revis is not a very good corner. He is. We know that much for certain. Unlike many corners for example (*cough* Cromartie) he is prepared to get his helmet in there and hit people. Rex Ryan likes a tough D and he has a tough corner in Revis. Revis is also quick, smart, has good hands and works hard. But he's not unbeatable. He's not invincible. He can be beaten with the Deep Comeback and I imagine the Deep In route (sometimes referred to as a "Dig") would also work pretty well.
And he rarely lives on a Island.
Just one last thing though before I go. Every time I watch a "Playbook" segment, I admire presenter Brian Baldinger for his knowledge and the way he turns the spotlight onto some of the unsung heroes like offensive linemen, but there are two seriously annoying things about the guy.
First off, he is cursed with that same kind of facial appearance that Colts Center Jeff Saturday has, where they both look like they're wearing more eye makeup than Lady Gaga. The second is that every time he goes up to the one of the TV's to start drawing lines and circles, he keeps touching his damn nose! I swear!
Every two seconds he's doing it. Watch the video again and keep an eye out for it. I have no idea why the hell it bugs me so much, but is just does. I feel better now I've got that off my chest.