Note: Our timing is not great as Gaines is doubtful for Sunday's game after suffering a concussion during practice this week.
Sometimes I really wish I was the kind of person who was OK letting questions go unanswered.
For example, when I was a kid I lived in very rural Missouri. My best friend's family had several dogs that were known to get after chickens (again, we were very rural) if they got out of their yard. So my friend's parents put an electric fence around the yard to keep the dogs from escaping.
My friend and I lost count of the number of times that fence zapped us over the course of a few years. It just became a daily part of life. I'm almost certain that's where some of my more intense facial tics started, but that's a whole separate ballgame. The point is getting shocked by the fence had become kind of like a guy flipping you off in traffic; annoying but not something all that unusual or dangerous.
Then one day my buddy pondered what it would feel like if a guy were to pee on the electric fence.
I'm not going to go any further with that story. I'm just going to say that sometimes it can be very painful being a person who can't let questions go unanswered.
You've probably guessed that this has something to do with the Chiefs (you know, being a Chiefs website and all), and you're right. Because like with that stupid fence, when someone asked me on Twitter how Philip Gaines has been doing the last few weeks, I couldn't let it go.
I mean, it LOOKS like Gaines has been doing a decent job since the last time I reviewed his film. And his statistics when "targeted" seem pretty solid. But that doesn't really tell us all THAT much.
First, a "he looks good" analysis of a corner during broadcasts is about as accurate as determining the guilt of a defendant without examining the police reports (yeah, I'm REALLY reaching to try and incorporate the job into this stuff. It is not going well). Broadcast lets you know mostly jack and squat about what's going on in the secondary outside of the occasional replay.
Here's an exceptional tweet to prove that point.
What it looks like on the broadcast, what it looks like on All 22. pic.twitter.com/9rDuNT9Sss— Nathan Ernst (@NathanE11) December 9, 2014
If that doesn't convince you of the major problems in broadcast analysis, nothing will.
As far as judging Gaines based on his "targeted" stats ... well, that's not a whole lot better. Sure, we'll know how many catches Gaines gave up when targeted and all that, but what does that REALLY tell us? Almost nothing.
Were the catches given up by Gaines the result of bad coverage or a great play by the QB and / or WR?
What type of coverage was the catch given up on?
What types of routes did Gaines struggle with? What routes did he lock down?
What strengths and weaknesses did Gaines show?
Most importantly, what about the other 35-40 snaps where Gaines WASN'T targeted? Without looking at the tape, there's no information there.
And so, like a guy who once peed on an electric fence just to get answers, I went to the tape.
This is going to be a more abridged article than what you're used to from me (well, maybe. We're already at 600 words somehow. I'm doing this all for you, random commenter who hates all these sidebars!). I charted 36 snaps where Gaines was in coverage. A couple I left out, when he didn't really have a role for various reasons. I looked at what type of coverage he played and whether the coverage was a "Success" or a "Failure."
As I've explained before, a "Success" in coverage is one where the quarterback and / or wide receiver would have to make a great play to have a completed pass. It is impossible to guarantee a catch isn't made. Sometimes quarterbacks make incredible throws or wide receivers do crazy things to make a catch. I don't care about the results, I care about the coverage. Was Gaines in the right place?
I also tracked what type of coverage Gaines played dividing into press man, off man, zone, and just man coverage ("man" is where he's not really "off" but isn't pressing. I know, ANALYSIS!!!).
Anyway, here are the numbers.
- Successful Coverages: 28
- Failed Coverages: 8
- Times Targeted: 4
- Catches Allowed: 2
- Passes Defensed: 2
Gaines spent the majority of his time in press man coverage, with 19 of his snaps coming in that look. He rarely dropped into a zone (three snaps) and rarely played off man (five snaps). The remainder of the time he was in man coverage.
Gaines played a mostly very solid game with two very poor plays that cost the team a great deal. The first such play was when he was beaten down the right sideline for a deep pass and a big gain. The WR ran a stop-and-go route, and Gaines turned his head around to watch for the ball when the WR faked holding up. The receiver accelerated (and maybe pushed off just a little) and Gaines couldn't catch up before the ball arrived. That drive ended in a field goal.
The other big mistake Gaines had was very late in the game. The Cardinals had the ball and were trying to kill the clock facing 3rd and 2. A very nifty screen pass to the right got the Cards a first down. However, Gaines was in position to make the tackle after a 10-yard gain or so. Instead, Gaines over-pursued and was beaten by a juke, allowing the Cardinals to get to the KC 24-yard-line instead of midfield.
Both plays were ugly, and both plays involved a rookie error. Outside of those plays, Gaines had a pretty solid day against a tough and versatile receiving group. While he allowed separation (or had "Failures" in coverage) a little more often than I'd like, he was generally locking up the WR he was lined up across.
An area Gaines seem to struggle a bit right now is anticipating routes. It appears like Gaines is getting by on physical ability (his speed and hips are very good) to keep up with receivers and is at times guessing. Receivers are able to make him pay with good fakes and sharp cuts. Of the eight "Failures" in coverage, five of them came on simple "out" and "in" routes such as in this screenshot.
The receiver didn't do anything fancy to shake Gaines here. He simply made a good fake as though he were going to the corner and made a good break. Gaines didn't see the break coming (having turned his hips and started running with the receiver) and was shaken.
I think that given a little more experience on reading receivers Gaines will be able to anticipate more accurately where a route is going. Brandon Flowers was exceptional at this when he was with the Chiefs, which he was he was able to stay with faster receivers in and out of their cuts. It's something you can only learn with time.
One thing about Gaines I really appreciate is how quickly he closes even when he allows separation. He's very, very fast and possesses good quickness to go along with that "long speed." Because of this, the windows he allows are smaller than those other corners allow.
Gaines has also become a really, really, really, REALLY physical corner since the last time I watched him. He favored press man coverage from his very first start, but he wasn't remotely as physical about it as he was against the Cardinals. Receivers had to FIGHT him to get down the field and he was constantly disrupting their routes. Because of his natural speed and quickness Gaines can press right up on fast receivers and not have to worry about getting burned deep.
One example of Gaines having absolutely gorgeous coverage was one of his passes defensed that likely made many Chiefs fans crazy with anger.
The little circle is the ball. You just can't cover this route any better than Gaines has it covered (though a slight underthrow helps his cause).
On this play, Gaines played crazy-physical press man off the snap, then turned and ran with a very fast receiver down the sideline. There was never a moment the receiver was even kind of open.
Of course, this played showed off a trait Gaines has had since college: stone hands. The man just can't catch by all appearances. Of course, considering his height and speed maybe he'd be a WR if he had better hands.
Anyway, another game of charting coverage by Gaines has me feeling better and better about this particular third round pick by Chiefs GM John Dorsey. Gaines is light years ahead of most rookie corners. He can cover all ranges of receivers, and his physicality is rare for a corner his size. His main weakness (quick cuts he's not anticipating) SHOULD get better with time, and isn't something that occurs every play in a way offenses will be able to exploit with regularity.
It's worth noting that Gaines and Sean Smith both played left and right corner against the Cardinals at various points, and both were assigned to all three of the Cardinals' "main" receivers at given points in the game. This shows a lot of trust in Gaines, who answered the call by and large.
I really like the direction Bob Sutton has taken the corners. With Smith and Gaines, the Chiefs boast one of the most physical CB tandems in the NFL. The team has been something of a mess the last three weeks, but it hasn't been for want of good corner play. If the rest of the team were playing at as high a level as Smith and Gaines (Smith in particular, but that's for another day), the Chiefs would be in the driver's seat for the playoffs.
Here's hoping Gaines gets healthy quickly. The Chiefs will need him down the stretch.