Once the Kansas City Chiefs made it official by signing former Miami Dolphins CB Sean Smith the conversation turned to how Smith would fit with new defensive coordinator Bob Sutton's defense. This 'attacking' defense as it's been described would require physical defensive backs that can knock receivers off their routes and disrupt the quarterbacks' timing.
Is Sean Smith that guy?
I watched Sean Smith play against the Oakland Raiders, Arizona Cardinals, Cincinnati Bengals and Jacksonville Jaguars last season to answer that question.
Strengths: Size, football IQ
Sean Smith's strengths as a player have a lot to with his size and strength as a person. He's listed at 6'3 218 pounds, and for a cornerback that's pretty freakin' big. He uses that size to his advantage in press-man coverage at the line of scrimmage to shove receivers off their routes.
"I think, by far, my press game at the line of scrimmage is probably one of my top strengths," Smith told the local media. "I'm a very big, physical dude. I have long arms and I just love jamming wide receivers off the line because it definitely helps our pass rush. That will be one, and then the other is just my football IQ. I think I'm a very smart individual. I always know what is going on. I know my assignment and just giving guys tips throughout the game and trying to help the team get better is something I take pride in."
In this GIF below you'll see an example of that size and strength on display.
Smith is set up to the inside of Raiders receiver Denarius Moore on this play so Moore should have known pre-snap that getting an inside release on the bigger, more physical Smith wasn't going to be the best plan. In any case Carson Palmer has to take the sack and you can see how Smith's physical presence at the line of scrimmage altered Moore's ability to get open quickly or stay 'on time' with his route.
I charted Smith's coverage against the Cardinals and the Raiders and I found it interesting that against the Oakland Raiders Smith was in press coverage just 32 percent of the time. Some times he'd fall off in zone and others it'd be strictly man to man defense underneath but it was just less than 1/3 of the time. The rest of the time he'd be off 5-10 yards in off-man or dropping into zone.
But against the Cardinals he was pressing 61 percent of the time. He spent most of his day against the Raiders following Denarius Moore around the field and Larry Fitzgerald when they played the Cardinals.
In this GIF above you'll see Smith up on the line of scrimmage against Larry Fitzgerald.
Smith shows the athletic ability to stay with Fitzgerald out in space and keep his eyes on Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb at the same time. This shows great awareness to be able to pick up the QB and read his eyes while giving ground and staying with the receiver. He makes a great play on the ball and picks up the INT.
Another one of Smith's strengths is an ability to disguise his looks. One thing you didn't see from the GIF above is that Smith had originally been in off-coverage when Kolb scanned the field pre-snap. Smith slid up quickly before the snap and Kolb never looked back over there until right before he released the ball. At that point it was too late.
Weaknesses: Too physical?
One of Smith's biggest strengths also leads to one of his biggest weaknesses. Smith is big and physical with receivers and tends to get too physical with them and draws the flag. Smith picked up a couple of pass interference calls in the games I watched and it's something that comes with the territory of playing a lot of press-man coverage.
The GIF below shows one of those physical plays. This time Smith is in off-coverage and it's a coin-flip on whether the referee should throw the flag.
While Smith doesn't have elite change of direction speed out in space going side-to-side he does break out his backpedal well. You can see that above as he hops the route. But as he comes in he's skating a pretty thin line of defensive pass interference.
There were a handful of plays just like this one and sometimes they were called and sometimes they weren't. In any case it goes without saying that while you might blow up a few plays from the start because of good press coverage and physical play, you'll get a few penalties as well. They go hand in hand.
The other negative that comes with press coverage is you tend to occasionally get beat and when you get beat in press coverage it generally goes for a big play. In Smith's game against the Cardinals there were two times that Larry Fitzgerald beat his press off the snap and Smith didn't have a chance a half second into the play.
In this GIF you'll see that Fitzgerald got Smith leaning outside and 'boom' it was over. The only shot the Dolphins had on that play was for LB Karlos Dansby to disrupt that throwing lane. As soon as Fitzgerald planted that right foot to cut inside that play was a positive for the offense.
I'm not sure I'd define it as a weakness but Smith doesn't provide much in run defense from what I saw in these games. He's not a liability when asked to tackle but he doesn't seem to go out of his way to do it. With his size I thought I'd see more from a physicality standpoint in tackling a ball carrier.
The 'fit' makes a lot of sense
I really like what John Dorsey had to say about Smith being a 'perfect fit' in Bob Sutton's defensive philosophy.
"[Defensive coordinator] Bob Sutton's scheme is about 85-percent press man, and we think Sean's the type of physical corner who fits the defense perfectly," Dorsey told Peter King.
During those four games it was obvious that Smith was much better in press than he was in off-coverage. That's not to say that he was bad but the few times he was beat are completely off-set by the number of plays he blew up and drives he finished simply by using his size and strength to disrupt the play.
Smith would seem to complement the Chiefs other big free agent signing in the defensive backfield, Dunta Robinson, very well. Robinson looked more comfortable in zone coverage keeping everything in front of him while Smith would rather punch, jam and then turn and run with the receiver from the looks of it.
The combination of those two players plus Brandon Flowers give the Chiefs some versatility with this new 'attacking' defense. It should give Sutton options with different ways to bring pressure while moving around three solid CB's.
Maybe this will help free-up Eric Berry a bit too. That couldn't possibly be a bad thing.
Thanks again to Clay Wendler for making the GIFs.
Thoughts on a more aggressive defense? Even if it means a few more pass interference calls and possibly big plays?
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