Dallas Cowboys fans seem to be less enthusiastic about investing in cornerback than they did in a pass-rusher so we ask if we’re mistakenly undervaluing Byron Jones and the CB position
Whether you’re a Dallas Cowboys fan or a fan of some other NFL team, we collectively seem to value great pass-rushers more than great coverage guys. It’s been ingrained in our minds for years: the pass rush makes the coverage look good. Not the other way around.
Pro Football Focus recently broached this subject in their deep dive into the coverage vs pass-rush debate this past week. Like most of us they came into the study with some preconceived notions about the unparalleled importance of pass-rush.
Popular opinion around Cowboys Nation has mostly supported the idea that pass-rushing is considerably more important than coverage. While Cowboys fans are notoriously divided on all things personnel, the popular sentiment was that edge rusher DeMarcus Lawrence was a player who NEEDED to be re-signed to a multi-year deal, while cornerback Byron Jones will be generally expendable.
As we know, popular opinion has a way of being wrong when actually put to the test. And if the link between strong coverage has a greater impact on winning than a strong-rush, the Dallas Cowboys may be more motivated to re-sign Byron Jones.
So they question is – is coverage really less important than pass-rush?
What PFF found out certainly challenges some of our unsupported feeling regarding “impact.” But the way they break down the different factors makes perfect sense and even instills a little confidence in the Dallas Cowboys approach.
First, I encourage everyone to read PFF’s article, or at the very least, watch their video I’ve included below discussing this topic. It’s no coincidence many who always poo-poo PFF’s methodology are the same ones who don’t understand it.
But this isn’t about all of these perception-breaking discoveries; it’s about how they apply to the Dallas Cowboys. I mean, if we learn that cornerbacks are even more important than pass-rushers, shouldn’t the desire to retain Byron Jones increase to some degree?
Coverage > Pass-Rush
By now you’ve either read the PFF report or deduced that coverage is a greater predictor in success than pass-rush. That’s based on recent history results (facts) and not just some guy’s gut feelings.
It kinda makes sense too: Just one mistake in secondary can be disastrous. If a mistake is made on the pass-rush, consequences aren’t nearly as severe (We even see pass-rusher routinely take plays off without consequence) The best pass-rushing teams in the league only impact the passer 35 percent of the time, whereas the best coverage units can impact its opponent 100 percent of the time.
But like all things, it’s not exactly a cut-and-dry issue.
Pass-rushers generally produced much more consistent performances year to year compared to cornerbacks (who graded out more inconsistently). That means if you have to pick one: pass coverage or pass-rush, pass-rush is the safer investment even though coverage is more likely to lead to success. So investing in Lawrence was a relatively safe move but investing in Byron is still potentially more impactful.
This makes sense since passing attacks can be altered to avoid a dominant pass-rush. PFF pointed out the Patriot’s altered approach when facing strong pass-rushing teams like the Chargers and Chiefs last postseason. The pass-rush was eating the Pats up.
So the Pats adjusted. Brady would just release the ball before an edge rusher even had a chance to turn the corner. It made the pass-rush (and pass-protection) on the edge a moot point. This all falls in line with the finding that good receivers are more important than good pass-protection (see below):
Great coverage needs more pieces
One great pass-rusher can make up for a weak collective pass-rushing unit. But it only takes one weak link in the secondary to get picked apart in coverage. So while great coverage may have a greater impact in winning, building a great coverage unit takes more players than building a great pass-rush.
More from Dallas Cowboys
- Dallas Cowboys Linebackers: 2023 Position Overview
- Ballhawk University: Why the Cowboys will be takeaway leaders
- Dallas Cowboys Player to Watch: Sleeper TE John Stephens, Jr.
- Dallas Cowboys: The impact of Micah Parsons and a well-rounded secondary
- Dallas Cowboys still unsure about their left guard position for 2023
We can see the Dallas Cowboys appear to be following the script because building a good secondary requires constant investment. That’s because depth is nearly as important as top-end talent. We saw that depth pay off in the New Orleans game last season. The Saints have typically found a ton of success throwing the ball to Alvin Kamara. Much of that success can be attributed to the quality of competition he faced.
With so many receiving options on the Saints, Kamara would usually get matched up against CB4 or even a safety or linebacker. Dallas, being unusually deep, matched him up with Jourdan Lewis. It was probably the best coverage Kamara’s seen. Lewis basically shut him down and won the game for the Cowboys.
We’re in the age of enlightenment in the NFL right now. Analytics have debunked truckloads of common misconceptions over the past years. But hey, despite overwhelming evidence, some people still think running back is position worth investing in because it’s too hard to believe the earth is round when you’ve always thought it to be flat.
These results here are sure to spark plenty of “what about…” examples. Exceptions always exist and there are a lot of different angles to this that still need to be explored. But overall, top rated coverage units experienced more wins than top ranked pass-rushing units.
This is a fun topic to discuss because it has major implications on roster building. Something important to point out is the pass-rush and coverage clearly have a interdependent relationship and if one of those units is trash, it doesn’t matter how good the other unit is.
- Published on 05/12/2019 at 12:53 PM
- Last updated at 05/12/2019 at 12:58 PM