Sometimes the brightest defensive stars do not stand out at all
As a collective group, football fans are enamored with tangible production. They have to see it, hear it, and feel it to believe it.
Subtle contributions are for the birds. Only the most glaring plays (both good and bad) are worth taking into account when evaluating a player.
Digging beneath the surface is something that few fans have the time nor the patience to do. Thus, the most acclaimed stars in a given game are always the players who did the things that are the easiest to remember and the easiest to point out in the box score.
However, in a game with 22 players on the field, many of the most important contributions are made in the shadows. Every highlight-reel play involving the ball is set up by the domino effect of numerous crucial events happening behind the scenes.
There may not be a position that is victimized more brutally by the football world’s ineffective style of evaluation than cornerback.
A corner will receive all the praise in the world when he snags a pick, forces a fumble, or deflects a pass. But anything they do that does not involve the football will never receive widespread cheers from the national media – even though those flashy on-ball plays make up such an incredibly small portion of their impact on the game.
Cornerback is not primarily about making splashy plays. Being able to make those big plays is certainly important, but a cornerback’s main responsibility is to execute his assignment on a down-to-down basis as consistently as possible. If he does that, he will limit the number of options for the quarterback, reducing the quarterback’s number of big plays and increasing his number of mistakes.
The corner himself may or may not receive tangible box-score or highlight-tape credit to reflect his role in producing those positive-value plays, but regardless, his effort is often the reason they happen.
That’s the domino effect of football.
In the New York Jets’ Week 12 win over Houston Texans, one cornerback did a fantastic job at providing the subtle, unnoticed impact that we are talking about: Javelin Guidry.
There is no reason to think Guidry played all that great if you watched the game or checked the box score. He had three tackles and one pass deflection – nothing special. His name was barely ever mentioned on the broadcast.
But that’s just it: staying out of the limelight is a good thing for a cornerback. It likely means he is dominating his assignments – taking away options for the quarterback and making him hold the ball longer. That quiet work from the cornerback position is what sets the table for the rest of the defense to make the highlight plays.
Guidry’s coverage played an integral role in creating opportunities for his teammates.
Starting at right cornerback and playing 100% of the defensive snaps, Guidry dropped into coverage on a team-high 34 plays and was targeted only twice. Neither of those passes was completed.
Houston’s top wideout, Brandin Cooks, lined up outside-left (opposite the outside-right cornerback) on 20 plays, his most common alignment in the game.
Cooks was targeted against Guidry’s coverage just once.
That one target was a deep shot down the left sideline with 13 seconds left in the fourth quarter as Houston tried to drive and tie the game. Guidry stayed on top of Cooks to prevent him from reaching the ball and did so without committing a penalty.
Considering that, on paper, Guidry was the weak link of a cornerback trio featuring Bryce Hall and Michael Carter II, it is likely that Houston made a strong effort in its game-plan to attack him. The fact he was only targeted twice in spite of that is an indicator of how strong his coverage was.
The Jets’ defense racked up five sacks and eight tackles for loss in Houston, culminating in a measly 202 yards allowed.
There is no way the unit would be able to achieve those numbers if one of its starting cornerbacks did not pitch a shutout on his side of the field – especially when you take into account that Hall (5 rec., 68 yds, TD, 10-yard penalty) had arguably his worst game of the season on the other side of the field.
Since the Jets only won by one score in a game where their offense netted a paltry 266 yards, it’s conceivable the Jets do not win at all if not for Guidry’s clean performance.
Off-the-stat-sheet cornerback play is a vital aspect of the sport.