Diagnosing 2-14: Cornerbacks
By Luke Sims
CB Aaron Ross allowed receivers to catch 100% of balls thrown at him in three games in 2012, including once against the Texans. Source: Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports
Over the next week or so we will be going through the Jacksonville Jaguars 2012 roster to try and find the problems that led to the franchise’s worst-ever record: 2-14. There were so many problems with this team that it goes well beyond one article. So, for the sake of simplicity, we’ll take it one position at a time.
This time: cornerback.
Here are the other parts of the series: QB, OL, WR, TE, RB, DT, DE, LB
Like many positions for the Jaguars in 2012, cornerback was shorthanded. Long-tenured Rashean Mathis was brought back to compete with free agent acquisition Aaron Ross for the starting position opposite young Derek Cox. Neither Ross nor Mathis showed starting caliber play and were ultimately replaced in favor of sixth-round rookie Mike Harris. Unfortunately, Jacksonville’s “shutdown” corner, Cox, struggled with a hamstring injury (again) and the poor play of William Middleton (one of the NFL’s run stopping CBs in 2011) wasn’t good enough to replace him. The Jags had six different cornerbacks start at least one game this season, the depth was absolutely horrendous. Passing against the Jags must have been a breeze.
Here are the Jags’ cornerbacks numbers, ordered by games started:
PlayerStartsTacklesInterceptionsPasses Defensed% CaughtOpp. QB RatingDerek Cox126041160.70%69Aaron Ross9460367.50%109.4Mike Harris6471665.90%81.7Rashean Mathis4200561%111.1William Middleton3180153.30%75.7Kevin Rutland170080%152.1
Ross and Mathis, when compared to Cox on the opposite side and Harris who replaced them, were underperforming despite winning the training camp battle. This may have been a result of Mel Tucker not noticing Harris’ potential by limiting the competition, or it may have been an absolute oversight and misevaluation. Middleton lost his all-but-secured nickelback position with the arrival of Ross and return of Mathis who were “rewarded” after losing their starting spot with the nickelback position.
Now, inherently there are different skill sets for an outside “starting” corner and the nickelback. Unfortunately, the Jags simply were not well equipped, outside of Cox, for the positions. Back in May I thought the Jags were going to be stacked at corner, but I was proven wrong by abysmal play. I was almost hoping Ashton Youboty would make another appearance on the field just to end the misery.
Middleton’s game against Green Bay was his worst of the season, but was still better than many games that Mathis and Ross had. Source: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
The oddity of it all is that Middleton and Harris, who were defending the pass much better than Ross and Mathis saw the field on only 199 and 538 snaps each. Ross and Mathis were on the field for 486 and 682 snaps each. When your corners are underperforming, it seems counterintuitive to not give the better corners opportunities over them, especially someone like Middleton who has a proven track record of decent play at the position. This misevaluation of talent hurt the Jags and contributed greatly to the Jags falling from the eighth ranked passing defense in 2011 to 22nd in 2012.
With the poor play of the defense’s front seven, the Jags’ corners were being called on to do much more than usual. A big part of this was tackling and the need to generate stops. Stops, as defined by Pro Football Focus, are tackles that limit the offense to getting less than 40%, 60%, and 100% of required yardage on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd/4th downs respectively. The Jags were run over by opposing teams and needed every hat to the ball on multiple occasions to stop the offense. Unfortunately, the Jags’ cornerbacks were not exceptional at this either. The best on the team was Harris with a stop percentage of 2.41%.
The Jags were unable to be an effective pass defending team largely due to a misevaluation of their talent. While Ross was expected to help the Jags push toward even better pass defense, he ended up being a problem. Mathis and Ross both contributed in limiting the amount of time Middleton and Harris had on the field, which is a shame because the Jags had two decent corners who could have stepped in and helped earlier in the season.
Next up we’ll look at safety.
– Luke N. Sims
Feel free to leave comments on here or visit us at Facebook or Twitter!
You can also find me on Twitter @LukeNSims