One of the more hot-button topics in recent memory involves the play of future Hall-of-Famer Champ Bailey of the Denver Broncos. Entering his 15th year in the NFL, critics contend that age and attrition has materialized – rendering Champ less effective at the cornerback position – where he’s charged with the task of defending some of the best athletes in the history of the league. His play in the 2013 divisional round of the playoffs against the Baltimore Ravens did little to silence the critics. In an upset loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Champ was twice beaten for long TD’s by the Ravens young speedster Torrey Smith. His fans claim this type of performance was an aberration rather than the norm. My motto is: The film doesn’t lie…
Champ Bailey will be 35 years old by the time the 2013 season starts. He’s enjoyed one of the most decorated careers at a position that can be hard to achieve success at. By the time most corners are 30 years old, they usually experience a tremendous decline in their physical ability. Champ has been able to stay at the prime corner position despite claims that he needs to be moved to safety. At his best, Champ is one of the most complete corners in the history of the sport. His tackling ability is so exceptional that it’s been long said that he should finish out his career at a safety position. Some of the greatest corners in history have seen this same exact career arc. Rod Woodson, Charles Woodson and Ronde Barber all eventually made the transition to the back end of the defense. Their versatility and knowledge of the game extended their careers after their athleticism declined. Champ Bailey has claimed no such drop off in his game, and has balked at even the thought of switching positions. Only one way to really truly decipher where Champ is at this point in his illustrious career…..
The first thing I noticed upon film study was that Champ shadowed the top receiving threat on each team. I can only think of one other person who is charged with that type of a task, the current best corner in the game, Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Darrelle Revis. This in my mind allows Champ to be graded on a different scale, as his level of competition is at the highest in the league each game. Most corners only play one side of the field where they see a variety of competition. Depending on the side, some corners might only see the #2 and #3 receiving threat. And if an offense is schemed well, teams avoid throwing to one side by directing most of their throws to the opposite side of the most effective corner. These types of schemes are often rendered useless, when the primary receiving threat is followed by a “Shutdown” corner.
Here we have Bailey matched up with Chargers #1 threat, Malcom Floyd. I noticed throughout film study, that Bailey gives up a ton of cushion to the more explosive receivers he shadows. The Champ of yesteryear was an in your face make you earn it type of corner. I’m not sure if he’s lost his confidence in being able to run with speedier receivers, but his technique is very telling in my opinion.
You have to have super-human abilities to give up that much cushion, on the “field” side of the formation. Way too much space to cover. Floyd jumps on top of him given the amount of time he had to build up speed before he even got to Champ.
As you can see here, with a great throw, this is a TD or at the very least a 50 yard gain. Bailey has no help over the top, which makes this even more problematic.
Luckily the throw was short, only going for 38 yards. I would’ve liked to seen Champ get up on the line of scrimmage and press a thinner guy like Floyd, in an attempt to knock the timing of the route off, and allow for the pass rush to force an errant throw.
I have a hard time believing this would be so easy of a completion against Champ circa 2009. I’ve heard proponents of Bailey’s play use the old “He only gave up one touchdown” theory in his defense. Those are people who truly don’t understand football in my opinion. If a corner constantly gives up big plays and first downs, he’s still contributing to the other team scoring the ball. Imagine if a guy gave up a 99 yard bomb and the receiver was tackled at the one yard line, then the team to scored on a one yard QB sneak the next play. How would the receiver not be partly to blame? We have to stop with this short-sighted look into football. Each player is a key cog in the machine. Meaning each player contributes to success of failure on any given play.
Champ is one on one with Andre Johnson who is running a post route. With no respect for Bailey’s make-up speed, Johnson throws his hands up signifying that Bailey is beat.
As the QB begins to “tee” the throw up, Johnson’s premonition is right as he clearly has Champ beaten.
Luckily for Champ the ball is underthrown, which throws Johnson off who bobbles the ball as the Safety helps to knock it away.
Coming out of the University of Georgia, Champ Bailey was timed at 4.28 in the 40 in 1998 at the the NFL’s scouting combine. At 6’0, 192 lbs – Bailey was seen as one of the bigger corners to ever come out at the time. His speed and ball skills lended itself to the other side of the ball as well. His final season at Georgia saw him catch 47 passes for 744 yards – with 5 TD’s. With more seasoning he could’ve been a pro-bowler at receiver on athleticism alone. He looks to be significantly slower than he used to be. But ultimately he still looks very fast. If he were to run the 40 today I’d bet on him running a 4.45 – 4.49.
Let’s see some film on the short area game. Peep this scenario. It’s 2nd and 10, and the Bailey is giving up a 9 yard cushion to a 6’5, 230 lb Vincent Jackson. Jackson led the league in yards per catch (19.2), but he’s a terror to tackle in short yardage situations as well.
Jackson as expected catches the quick hitch pattern. Bailey has five yards to make up to keep Jackson from moving the chains.
That didn’t work out too well. Jackson easily evades the Bailey tackle and gets the first down.
Bailey is up against Jackson again in the slot. This time he is at the line of scrimmage in an effort to slow down the route before it starts.
Bailey, ever the aggressor. bites hard on an attempted screen block by Jackson. Bailey is off-balance and most now switch to recovery mode.
Bailey never recovers as Jackson makes a nice catch on the short out route. I would’ve like to see Bailey get them jam as I believe his strength is his key at this point of his career.
Here we have Champ in man coverage vs possibly the best young receiver in the NFL in the Bengals A.J. Green. I believe this was the worst game Bailey had, as Green abused him throughout this game. In Champ’s defense, he shadowed Green the whole day. Green ended the day with 9 catches for 99 yards along with 1 TD. Bailey is giving a crazy amount of cushion to a guy who is effective in all areas of receiving.
In a move that shows me that Champ doesn’t have confidence in his speed, Bailey performs what is referred to as a bail technique. Most corners would stat in their backpedal and rotate their hips to whichever side the receiver goes. A bail out technique is effective when you think a receiver is going to run a downfield route and he’s faster than you. It’s like getting ahead start. The problem is, if they are running a short route to the side where your back is turner, you literally have to do a full turn to circumvent this.
Green, who looked as if he was running a go route, does run a comeback route to the boundary side of the field. A perfectly thrown pass will be indefensible against the bail-out technique that Bailey was using.
Easy catch for Green as he’s virtually unguarded. If Bailey is going to play off man like that, he should probably eat some of that cushion and give him like a 3-4 yard cushion if he’s afraid of Green’s speed.
I’m not sure if it was a call in the scheme, or a crack in Bailey’s confidence. (Or a combination of the both) But Bailey played a ton of off-man. And by “off”, I REALLY mean off!!
Here is the most puzzling play that I studied of Champ the whole year. Champ is given his outrageous cushion against a 6’4 – A.J. Green who is one of the best redzone threats in the league. If they throw a quick pass to Green – he’s a threat to muscle his way past Bailey. If they throw a jump ball to Green, it’s curtains – as I don’t think a corner in the league can outjump him. Bailey should be in his face pressing him from the word go. If Bailey does have an advantage, it’s that he’s clearly stronger than a thinner A.J. Green.
Right away Bailey funnels Green to the outside. This is not a good move by the future Hall-of-Famer as Green has a lot of real estate to work with outside the numbers.
The route is finally shown once A.J. eats up the allotted cushion. It’s a back shoulder fade route to the far part of the end zone. This is a hard cover for anyone, but nearly impossible with the space given from Bailey.
At what’s commonly referred to as “The moment of truth” – the ball is in flight and Bailey has yet to get his head around and locate it. He will now have to face guard Green in an attempt to defend the pass.
Bailey is a day late and a dollar short, so to speak. I believe that play was doomed from jump street. Giving that amount of cushion screams TD in my humble opinion. There was no safety help over the top, atleast challenge the receiver to beat you to spot by getting in his face. I know it’s easier said than done when you’re going against one of the top five receivers in the league. But as a multi-time pro-bowler, Champ shouldn’t ever be beat pre-snap.
For the 2012 season, Champ Bailey finished with 66 tackles, 2 Int’s, and 9 passes defensed. I give him a C for his overall play. He did some great things, and brings a tremendous amount of experience to the Broncos secondary. Unfortunately at this point in his career, (Based off 2012 film) I believe he’s no longer a number 1 corner. He doesn’t necessarily need to switch positions, but he should primarily face the #2 receiver on each team.
A move to safety would be perfect for him. His ability to tackle has not declined one bit. But out of respect, Bailey will still play the boundary corner position 2013 – a year in which his team should be favored to win the Super Bowl. Overall the Broncos have some talented players at corner, the best of which being nickel corner Chris Harris ( I graded him out at a B during film study). Former Pro-Bowler Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was added through free-agency. At 6’2, 185 lbs – he looked to be a budding superstar early in his career, but a two-year stint with the Eagles all but washed away any cachet he had within league circles. Playing in a horrendous secondary, one which didn’t fit his skill-set schematically, Cromartie was exposed and beaten numerous amounts of time. I believe the Broncos style of play suits his extraordinary athleticism. I would play him at the primary corner spot and move Bailey to the number 2. Harris would man his normal nickel duties, with 5th year man Tony Carter playing in dime situations and rotating in with Champ.
Hopefully by 2014 Champ develops a change of heart and considers the move to safety. But even with his declining physical skills, Champ is one of the smartest DB’s to ever play football – and is an asset to the secondary with just his presence alone.
So is he overrated? Yes he is.
He should not be mentioned alongside a healthy Darrelle Revis, who is the best doing it these days, nor any of the next group of guys. (i.e. Antonio Cromartie, Richard Sherman, Brandon Flowers, Joe Haden etc) He’s what I would call an upper-middle tier player based on 2012 film. But he’s still Champ Bailey – so he demands a ton of respect out there between those lines. And much props to him for shadowing the best receiving threat on each team.
Twitter: @Uptown Murf