clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Grading Kansas City Chiefs new starting CB Jamell Fleming

Let's see what the Chiefs have in their new starting CB, Jamell Fleming.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week I spent a great deal of time studying Phillip Gaines's snaps against the Chargers. To my everlasting delight, he played exceptionally well in a game the Chiefs needed to win.

After the 3,000 word, 10 picture article on Gaines published yesterday, I received multiple tweets and emails requesting (more like demanding) that I do the same for Jamell Fleming, the other new Chief in the secondary last Sunday.

I always have been, and always will be, a man of the people. However, my time is finite and my wife's demands that I actually "talk to her" and "play with the kids" take their toll. As a result, I had to find a middle ground. I won't be able to post multiple screenshots or explain multiple plays in-depth.

However, I DID go back and take notes on 33 of Fleming's snaps in coverage. And because I love you all so, so much (and Joel kinda / sorta aggressively implied he thought I should), we'll take a look at Fleming's game against the Chargers.

Quick review first. When I gauge how a corner did in a given game, I mark off each play in coverage as a "success," a "failure," or "neutral / unknown."

A success is a play where the quarterback and / or receiver would have to make an exceptional play in order to overcome the coverage and complete the pass. A failure is a play where the corner allowed the receiver to get open enough that a throw would have likely been complete. An unknown or neutral play is exactly what it sounds like; plays where I can't tell what the coverage was or where a player didn't do anything that good or that bad.

An example of a neutral play would be where a corner is bracketing the receiver with safety help and isn't really asked to do much. Another example would be a play where the coverage called by the coach (say, playing way off-man coverage to avoid the deep ball) kept the player from being successful in coverage due to the route run (in this hypothetical, for example, a quick out route is impossible for a corner to cover if he's 15-20 yards off the line of scrimmage).

I also wrote down some observations about Fleming's game, which we'll discuss after the numbers. My wife, the lovely and wonderfully brutal football evaluator Mrs. MNchiefsfan, was kind enough to watch some snaps with me and make some observations of her own.

First, the numbers. As I said, I charted 33 plays with Fleming in coverage. He stacked up as follows:

Successes in Coverage: 19

Failures in Coverage: 7

Unknown or Neutral Plays: 7

Obviously, when compared to the numbers I had with Gaines (23 successes, 3 failures, 1 unknown), these are pretty underwhelming.

However, all isn't lost with Fleming. Of those seven "failures" in coverage, all but two of them came in the first half of play. In fact, four of them came on the first two drives of the game, where Rivers was just going AFTER him. As you can see, I was feeling very angsty after just watching the first two drives.

At that point I was ready to shut everything down. Fortunately for me, I have a habit of being wrong a lot. And like clockwork, I was wrong to think that Fleming would continue to struggle for the rest of the game. After the first quarter, Fleming's successes far outweighed his failures in coverage.

But you don't have to take my word for it. All you have to do is take a look at where Philip Rivers went with the ball. During the first quarter Rivers was constantly going after Fleming, and for awhile it was working beautifully. Then, for apparently no reason (if you weren't watching all-22 film), Rivers started looking elsewhere on the field. Of course, it wasn't for no reason. It was because Fleming started doing a solid job locking up San Diego's receivers. Which brings me to some observations about Fleming.

For starters, he doesn't appear to have the raw speed and quickness Gaines possesses. But he's definitely faster than Sean Smith (who is the floor for speed at NFL corner). He got beat once on a deep route by Malcolm Floyd, but other than that was able to go stride for stride on deep routes out of press man coverage.

Fleming kept getting beat early in the game for a couple of reasons. First, he's not that smooth flipping his hips when he needs to move with the WR's after getting out of position. Second, he doesn't have that explosive first step to recover when he's lost ground. He kept getting beat on quick routes early on, and it definitely looked like he was on his way to giving up a dozen or so catches.

Instead, Fleming started playing more press man coverage and stopped giving quite as much cushion when in off-man coverage. And he started having a lot of success shadowing San Diego's receivers.

Which leads me to what I like about Fleming in coverage. He plays very, very physical. It was this physicality that allowed him to have success later in the game, as he continually jostled Charger WRs and messed with their timing. I love this style of coverage, and in today's timing-based-pass-offense NFL it's extremely effective when well done.

If there were a stat for "jostled WR out of his route and forced the quarterback to look elsewhere," Fleming would've had about a dozen or so Sunday. Sean Smith is the king of that particular stat, which is why he's a solid NFL cornerback despite having less speed than almost anyone else at the position. It's a big deal if you can mess with a route's timing. That physicality may well be why the coaches wanted to try out Fleming over a struggling Marcus Cooper.

Another thing I liked about Fleming is that on some plays he was actually managing to get his head turned to track the ball. I know it sounds like a low threshold, but for me seeing a young corner EVER do that is a big deal. It's an area most rookies (and a lot of veterans. Hi Brandon Carr!) really struggle with. For Fleming to be able to do it even some of the time in his first start gives me hope for Fleming.

As stated earlier, Mrs. MNchiefsfan watched some snaps with me and had some observations of her own. Some of them even relate to Jamell Fleming!

Mrs. MNchiefsfan: "He's really aggressive. Is he allowed to basically punch people like that?" (Yes, yes he is. And I love it)

Mrs. MNchiefsfan: "He is REALLY slow! Wait... which guy are we watching? Oh, I was watching number 21. Is he really strong or something, because he is not fast at all." (Sorry, Sean. No one is immune)

Mrs. MNchiefsfan: "More football players end up on the ground than toddlers at a ballet recital. Watching them all fall down might be my favorite thing about football."

Mrs. MNchiefsfan (on Fleming this time): "He seems fast enough to keep up, but he doesn't look like he's always trying his hardest. It's like he's OK being a step behind." (ouch)

Opinions on football players falling down aside, I'll take it to be encouraging that the Mrs. noticed Fleming's physical nature. I WANT people to watch the Chiefs secondary and say "Holy crap they're aggressive." If the refs are going to let you get by with it (which is no guarantee game-to-game), I say knock the snot out of wide receivers on every single route they run.

Which may well be exactly what Jamell Fleming plans to do.

One last note on Fleming; no one is talking about it, but Fleming made a game-saving tackle that was one of the biggest plays of the game. On San Diego's second-to-last drive, they faced 3rd and 11 from the Chiefs' 34-yard-line. The Chiefs NEEDED a stop here to keep San Diego from going ahead.

The Chargers dialed up a play that absolutely destroyed the Chiefs last year; a crossing route to Keenan Allen. Rivers makes the throw to Allen in stride and it would be trouble, except...


Jamell Fleming goes stride-for-stride with Allen all the way across the field and makes a perfect tackle immediately after Allen catches the ball. San Diego is forced to punt, Alex Smith finds Bowe, and Cairo gets to be a hero. Game over.

Staying with Allen across the field was great. The open-field tackle on a very good receiver immediately following the catch was better. What hurt the Chiefs in the secondary last year (besides Kendrick Lewis being slow) was missed tackles (also a Lewis staple). Making the tackle is the difference between a 4-yard-gain (what happened here) and a Chargers first down (what would have happened had Fleming not made the tackle) and perhaps a loss.

From the sounds of things Fleming will get another shot this week against the Rams, along with Gaines. Here's hoping he builds on what he did in the 2nd half against the Chargers.