23

May

Do the Packers Have the Best Cornerback Trio in the League?

There’s a very interesting article about NFL cornerbacks on ProFootballFocus.com that provides some unexpected insights about the trio of Green Bay Packers cornerbacks. Overall, Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and even Sam Shields compared very favorably to the rest of the cornerbacks in the NFL.

I see it as a rather ironic development, as last off-season, many Packers followers (including myself) thought cornerback to be one of the Packers’ biggest positions of need. So naturally, Ted Thompson did nothing to address it in the draft, but then miraculously struck gold with UDFA Sam Shields. The combination of Woodson, Williams and Shields would prove to be a point of strength for the Packers in 2010, surprising just about everyone.

The Pro Football Focus article  ranked NFL cornerbacks based on several statistics.  First, they looked at the “times thrown at per coverage snaps.” I would expect this to be reflective of a player’s reputation, and the results mostly seem to bear that out. In the top four are Nnamdi Asomugha, Sean Smith, Asante Samuel and Darelle Revis. No surprise is Charles Woodson also being in the top 20, coming in at #18.

A shocking development, however, is Sam Shields coming in at #9. How in the world was he thrown at so few times? After the first game in Philly, I wrote that Eagles fans should be furious at their coaches for not going after Shields (see the last paragraph here). I was convinced that Shields would be attacked much more frequently as the season progressed. The stats here show it just didn’t happen.

The second interesting stat in the article is the “catch percentage per coverage snaps.” This takes into account total coverage snaps, the amount of times they were thrown at and the number of receptions allowed.  Guess who had the best percentage in the entire league? None other than Tramon Williams. Despite being targeted more than Charles Woodson and even Sam Shields, Tramon trounced the entire league with his coverage skills. We saw a perfect example on the Steelers last play in the Super Bowl – just fantastic coverage.

Looking at some other PFF stats (not in the article) provides even more insight into the play of the Packers’ cornerbacks. Of cornerbacks who were on the field for at least 50% of their team’s snaps, by the PFF overall ranking system, Tramon Williams was the 6th best cornerback in the league, with Sam Shields landing at 25 and Charles Woodson at 41.

Ranked by percentage of balls caught thrown in their coverage area, Tramon was the 7th best cornerback in the league, with Sam Shields at 27 and Charles Woodson at 38. The Oakland Raiders had two cornerbacks in the top five, but no other team in the NFL had 3 corners ranked higher than the Packers.

The key, of course, was Sam Shields. How a player with such little experience even playing the position, could walk in and perform as he did as an NFL rookie is blatantly amazing. Kudo’s to Shields and coach Joe Whitt, who has performed this magical offense to defense transformation before with Kerry Rhodes and Antoine Harris.  I remember somewhere near the middle of the season, Joe Whitt was quoted as having said,  ”Write this down. Sam is going to be one of the top corners in this league in two years.” Shield is well on his way.

Based on all of the statistical evidence, what was perceived to be a potential weakness for the Packers in 2010 turned out to be the strongest unit in the entire NFL.  You just never know…

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Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.

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25 Responses to “Do the Packers Have the Best Cornerback Trio in the League?”

  1. Chad Toporski Chad Toporski says:

    Wow. I’m well aware of how well Shields did last season, but I would not have expected him to be ranked that high statistically. To produce like that as a rookie with limited experience at the position would seem to indicate that he has a very high ceiling to reach in his career. Thompson found a true “diamond in the rough” with that one.

    I also find it interesting to see how relatively low Woodson ranked. We know he’s more than just a cornerback, but it lends more evidence to the perception that his age is catching up with him in that regard. At what point does he become a liability in coverage?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

    • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

      TT may have found another Hope Diamond…

      I could really see Woodson being used more in a type of “Rover” role where he could be used to confuse offenses and be disruptive.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  2. robbie says:

    well here is what im thinking of course they were the best CB trio look at the packers passing defense stats, and yes obviously the pass rush helped this year but to go further into it i would just say the best secondary what team can match williams woodson shields collins and who ever else we throw out there.. teams didnt throw alot to shields because he was very good in coverage i belive he was able to come in and do so well because of sheer athletic ability and as a player who played on the other side of the ball i think it left him with a great understanding of how offenses would try to attack whether from the outside or the slot. although he did struggle against some of the bigger WR’s although i cant fault a rookie WR getting burned by brandon marshal.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

      There are plenty of guys with pure athletic ability that couldn’t have done what Shields did. According to Whitt, Shields was one of the most dedicated rookies in the classroom he’s ever seen. He actually grasped the defense rather quickly and as a result, did not make a lot of mistakes on the field.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

      • ScottS says:

        I read that Shilds and Morgan Burnett were training camp roommates and did a lot of work together to learn the defense. One of them commented that they were both able to benefit from each others training and that really helped speed their development.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  3. Zaphod Beeblebrox says:

    The Packers play nickel so much, it’s typically Tramon and Shields in coverage. Woodson’s up at the line, either in run support/blitzing, or picking up a third WR or TE not covered by someone else. Lot of Packer fans speculating that Woodson will move to safety as he gets older – folks, he’s already basically playing like an in-the-box safety.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

      True.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    • PackersRS says:

      Agreed. Plus, in the SB, the starting lineup had Woodson as a S.
      It was a 3-4 base, with Raji, Pickett and Jenkins, with Howard subbing in sometimes to play a 4-4 front.

      All the while, when with only 4 or 3 DBs, Woodson was playing SS, with Shields and Williams on the outside and Collins as the FS, usually deep playing single-high.

      IIRC, we played a lot less 2-4 than we did all season long.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  4. Manitou says:

    A great article and good analysis of the stats. However, think about the second half of the Super Bowl when Woodson and Shields were hurt. Shields begged Joe Witt to come back in the game and promptly gave up a TD because of his injury. Witt apologized and said it was a huge mistake for him to let Shields return under those circumstances and he never played another down for the rest of the game. So are Lee and Bush stars also?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  5. FireMMNow says:

    The Packers absolutely have the best trio of corners in the NFL. No other team is close in my eyes. In terms of pure coverage ability, at this point Woodson is probably the weak link of the three at this point and he is still better than a bunch of teams #1. Add in the fact that the weakest cover guy is the best run support corner in the league and you cannot argue that the packers are the best if you look 3 deep. I hope Joe Whitt is right about Shields. The athletic ability is there.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • Lucas says:

      I don’t know the numbers, but CWood played the slot more than the others. Many teams don’t put their #1 there as often as G.B., but playing the slot requires a unique skill set.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  6. CWood21 says:

    Is this a rhetorical question?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  7. PackersRS says:

    Great article Al.

    You think you’re forgetting, is that the Packers didn’t adress the CB position because they thought that Al Harris would be ready to play.

    But yeah, it’s pretty evident our secondary is perhaps the best in the league.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

    • PackersRS says:

      One thing, not you think…

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

      • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

        I wouldn’t agree that the Packers were expecting anything out of Harris this season. He had one of the worst knee injuries in recent history. The fact that he even made it back at all speaks to Harris’s will.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  8. Jay says:

    I take the last line of this article to be a salve for fans who are worried about the defensive line. Not sure if that was intended but I certainly took it that way (and I agree with it too).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. ZeroTolerance says:

    Even more amazing is two of the three were unsigned free agents.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  10. Curley2808 says:

    Great statistical piece. I agree our CB’s are very talented but I think an often harried and confused QB throws less accurately, and a significant amount of credit belongs with the entire Dom Capers defense for how brightly our CB’s shine.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  11. The Delivery Guy says:

    I seem to remember reading that our Defense held opposing QB’s to an average QB rating that would rank 30th in the league. That is Git’n er Done.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. Mojo says:

    I thought Charles was slipping in coverage early in the year 2010 and did not really have a great season (coverage wise) If you recall, he was holding a great deal in the early going. Plus I’m concerned injuries are going to be a recurring theme with C-Wood for the remainder of his career. I believe that Charles prior willingness to throw his body into the fray is finally catching up with him.

    Tramon I remember from a few years ago looked very smooth and fluid to me (I remember a game against Dallas, in his first extended action, where he got beat on a long-touchdown throw but ran stride for stride with the receiver. When a ball is well thrown there is little a DB can do to stop it.) Tramon is a legitimate pro-bowl caliber corner.

    I like Shields also, but am concerned about his ability to tackle and I expect alot of OC’s to try to challenge him next year by either running right at him or forcing him to defend against larger receivers, and see if when they complete a pass whether Sam is willing to take them on. Nonetheless, I was very satisfied with Shields play in 2010.

    The Packers also need either Lee, House or Underwood to pan-out in the next year and be more than a stop gap guy. C-Wood doesn’t have many years left.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. Steve says:

    It is good to remember that Woodson is taking on a lot of tight ends, and often plays the slot. He remains one of the finest run stopping corners in the league, and has proven very durable. I expect Woodson to play great in 2011.

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  14. icjohn says:

    loved the way shields was used vs chicago. his speed blitzing off the corner gives the pack another weapon

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  15. [...] his cover skills, develop better instincts, and/or become a better tackler. If he can do this then Whitt was probably not far off from his assessment last year, Shields can become a great [...]

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