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Upon further review: Alterraun Verner’s first NFL start

As promised, it’s a detailed look at Alterraun Verner’s first start as an NFL cornerback last Sunday against the Broncos.

The usual disclaimers about judging a player off TV tape apply with unusual force here.  My least favorite things to judge off a television broadcast are (1) safeties, since half the time you can’t see them when they line up, and their assignments can vary so much from play to play; (2) offensive linemen and creating holes, since the low sideline angle commonly used on NFL broadcasts does a horrible job of showing what’s really open; and (3) cornerbacks, because their assignments vary, though not quite as much as safeties’ do, you frequently only see the start of the play and the end of the play they’re involved in, and you don’t see what they do if the ball isn’t actually thrown their way.  That said, on with the show.

Verner’s first action came at 8:56 of the first quarter.  The Broncos came out in trips left, while the Titans had Hope and Winborn on the line and Tulloch and Fuller playing 5 yards off and Verner playing 8 yards off.  The Broncos ran a toss to Maroney to the left side, and Verner did a good job of coming up through the hole and making the tackle for no gain.

Verner’s next action came on the next play-I’m not sure what coverage the Titans are in, maybe Cover-3.  The Broncos run Brandon Lloyd on about an 8 yard in, using Maroney out of the backfield to draw Witherspoon away and open up that. Verner was playing on the outside on that side; maybe he should have taken Lloyd earlier, but I don’t know.

The first time Verner was targeted in man coverage was 13:47 of the second quarter. He was playing about 9 yards off Brandon Lloyd, in what seemed like clear man coverage.  Lloyd makes an in-cut at 15 yards, and Verner, who’s playing well off and backpedaling to avoid being burned deep, is in no position to prevent him from making the catch.

The Broncos come after Verner’s side again on the very next play, with a screen to Buckhalter.  With no downfield view, I’m not sure exactly what happened, but it looked like with no wideout to that side, TE Daniel Graham’s job is to run Verner and the defenders off to create space for the screen.  Verner eventually comes in from the side and makes the tackle about 8 yards downfield.

Next play for Verner, 12:24 of the second quarter. The Broncos line up Royal and Lloyd to the offensive line, Titans counter with Fuller and Verner on Royal. Fuller blitzes off the edge, and the Broncos have a perfect playcall-screen to Royal. Verner is playing off and gets blocked by Lloyd.  Royal can run freely, but Verner is able to get off the block as Royal tries to cut by him downfield and make the tackle after a 17 yard gain.

After a Babin offside penalty, a Broncos touchdown. Three wide receivers closely aligned right, and Verner has Royal, the left-most, while Fuller has Lloyd in the middle and Finnegan has Thomas on the outside (Fig. 1). Thomas takes an outside release, clearing out Finnegan. Lloyd runs right into Fuller, giving him a jam. Royal takes advantage of the jam to run a shallow outside route. Verner can’t get around the Lloyd-Fuller tango, and it’s an easy TD for the Broncos (Fig. 2).

Figure 1:

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Figure 2. Verner is in the purple box, Royal the blue box with the yellow line indicating where his route takes him.  The other Bronco routes are indicated in red.  The big X indicates where Verner’s path to cover Royal is disrupted by the jam and can’t cover Orton’s light blue pass:

Verner plays a role in the first play of the next Broncos drive, at 9:11 of the second quarter.  Maroney runs right, but the defense overpursues and he cuts it back left.  Verner was well out of the play and blocked by Lloyd, but worked his way back to the middle of the field and sheds Lloyd’s block to make the tackle after about 8 yards.

Verner’s next play at 3:16 of the second is similar to Lloyd’s earlier catch: Verner is playing well off at the snap, and Lloyd makes the in-cut about 15 yards downfield. This time, Orton’s throw is less well-suited to YAC and Verner is playing closer, so it’s a simple 15 yard gain and a good quick tackle.

Next play, a quick hitch with Verner playing off. The Broncos had tried this earlier, but Witherspoon had batted the pass down at the line. This time, it’s complete, but Orton’s pass is a little behind Lloyd and that gives Verner, helped by Fuller, time to come up and make a good tackle after only a couple yard gain.

First play after the two minute warning, Verner in man coverage against fellow rookie Demaryius Thomas.  Thomas runs a flat route as a dumpoff option for Orton.  Orton scrambles that side and throws for Thomas, but Verner is playing close in good coverage and gets his arm in the way to breakup the pass.  He needs to be more careful with his other hand, but a nice play by the rook.

The next play, Verner blitzes from the slot position on the offensive left. The Titans rush 4, and LT Clady is able to pass Babin off inside and cut Verner before he gets any pressure on Orton.

Next play again, Verner’s playing the slot corner on the offensive right.  Lined up close against Royal in man coverage, and Royal blocks him out of the way on a run to the right side.  It’s called back for a hold, but I think Verner was too ready to let Royal engage him and paid for it.

Verner’s first second half action comes at 13:39 on 3rd and 6.  He’s lined up on Lloyd, and lets Lloyd get inside release for a quick slant. Good throw by Orton, and that’s 7 yards and a first down.

My favorite play of Verner’s thus far is probably 12:00 of the third quarter.  He doesn’t make the box score for the play, but it’s an outside run to the left and he does a great job of flashing his helmet outside.  Clady blocks him out of the play, but he forces Maroney to cut it back inside, right into Sen’Derrick Marks and Jamie Winborn.

After Mariani’s TD return, Verner lines up close but bails out to 7 yards off at the last second. Lloyd runs a little 5 yard stop route, hauls in Orton’s horribly-thrown ball, and is immediately tackled by Verner.

Eliding over a couple eh plays, one a rush to his side where he maintained outside contain but didn’t make a play and then a run blitz where they ran up the middle and he didn’t matter, Verner lines up 9 yards off Lloyd.  Lloyd runs an 8 yard in and Verner does a good job of getting his arm in and breaking up the play.  This is Verner’s second forced incomplete in man coverage.

The Broncos pick up 9 on 3&1 against what looks like another <a href=”http://smartfootball.com/passing/how-do-you-beat-cover-2-with-trips-let-me-count-the-ways”>ill-conceived defensive call</a> against trips as Verner can’t cover both Lloyd and Royal after Fuller blitzes. He redeems himself a couple plays later by showing the lack of wisdom in running a quick hitch with a corner playing up, eluding Gaffney’s block and breaking up a pass intended for Thomas.

Eliding over a Verner tackle after a completion against what looks like zone coverage not in his area at 8:15 of the fourth quarter, the next play he’s targeted is a throw in the end zone from the 12 at 4:56.  It’s trips right, and Verner has single coverage against Lloyd.  Lloyd had outside position when the ball gets there, but Orton’s pass is too far out of bounds.  On the replay, it looks like Lloyd ran a good out cut but may have used Michael Irvin technique to gain separation, as Verner makes a case to the official after the play is over.

Broncos try to use Verner as their TD pigeon again at 1:43 of the fourth, running the fade to Gaffney against Verner in man. Why you’d use Gaffney rather than Lloyd or Thomas as your fade target is not a subject for this post, but Verner has good outside position and would be in a position to intercept Orton’s pass had it not been thrown out of bounds.

That was the last play where Verner was really involved, as the Broncos scored the game-winning touchdown the next play to the other side of the field and he didn’t see the field on the last series.  Like I said in the introduction, I really don’t feel comfortable evaluating corners because I don’t know the playcall, normally can’t see all their moves, and am not a great judge of player technique.

On the whole, I thought Verner played reasonably.  The Broncos obviously had some decent success going after him in man coverage; had I done the same sort of analysis for Perrish Cox, the Broncos’ rookie corner, you’d have seen the Titans going after him with success as well.  Obviously, I also couldn’t write about how often the Broncos tried to go after him or looked his way but had to go elsewhere.  Importantly for a Jeff Fisher corner, he tackled well and didn’t blow any of his gaps in the running game, in case you forgot why Tye Hill didn’t get on the field last year.  I’d expect the Cowboys to look to attack him downfield and expose his likely deficiency in deep speed; any plan the Broncos had like that was probably struck because of their pass protection problems.

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