(Note: this article was written prior to the Chiefs beating Denver mercilessly about the head and shoulders for three hours. The All-22 of that beat down is not available yet, so those snaps are not reviewed. There will, however, be a picture from that game at the end of this column. That picture is everything. Hope you enjoy reading about one of the guys who set the tone for the mollywhopping of Denver)
I asked what player you fine folk would like to see broken down in his entirety during the bye week, and the majority vote was for Chiefs rookie Marcus Peters.
This isn't surprising. Peters has been one of the better rookie corners to come around in quite some time (unfortunately for him, several other rookie CBs are having great years as well, which tempers DROY buzz. As does the whole 4-5 thing), and Chiefs fans love his brash, physical approach. I've already written about him after he had a phenomenal game against Denver in Week 2. He's fun to watch, and from all appearances he's been a great pick.
Peters isn't without his detractors though. The most common complaint against him is that he's given up too many touchdowns. And Peters has definitely given up his fair share of those (he gave up two in Week 1 alone. I call that being Hopkins'd). What I want to see now is how he's done on the other 99 percent of his snaps.
First, though, a word on the methodology we use here. IF you've read one of these before (or understand the flaws in CB "stats" as a way of gauging them) feel free to skip the next several paragraphs and pictures. Unless you love paragraphs and pictures. then by all means, read away.
The popular way to gauge CBs used to be by counting the number of tackles and INTs they had. Nearly everyone now realizes how stupid this is. The more tackles a CB makes, the more likely it is he's giving up a high number of catches. Interceptions are certainly important, but a CB could give up a dozen catches for 200 yards and have a pick, while another CB has no pick but gives up one catch eight yards. Who had the superior game? Fortunately, we've moved away from this kind of thinking when it comes to CB's.
Unfortunately, we've moved toward a new trend that's very incomplete; tracking CB "targets." You've all heard it cited somewhere. "CB so-and-so only gave up two on four targets Monday in a great performance." Basically, the way it's done is to track how many times a CB was thrown at and how many catches they allowed. That then gives a percentage of "catches allowed," which is trumped as a good way of gauging how well a CB is playing.
"CB such-and-such has a catch percentage of only 42 percent against him, one of the best in the league. He's dreamy." (I'm taking some editorial license with how it's phrased).
There are several problems with this method. First, it treats all catches allowed as equal with regards to judging how good coverage was. That's ridiculous. Sometimes when you give up a catch (or a touchdown) it looks like this.
Here, Marcus Peters has fantastic coverage on Hopkins. He's in position, makes a good play on the ball... in short, he does everything right. He just gets beat by a ridiculous receiver making a ridiculous play.
There's no such thing as "perfect" coverage for an NFL corner. No matter how good your positioning is, there's a chance you're going to get Hopkins'd (what we see above) or Rodgers'd (where a QB just lasers the ball into the one 6-inch window that exists) any given play.
That's the way tracking "catches per target" and the like can make corners look worse than they are. However, there's an even bigger issue with this method that can make corners look much BETTER than they are. For example, let's take a look at a rough play for Peters against the Lions.
On this play, Calvin Johnson made a nice fake to the inside, which Peters swallowed whole. Peters gets his hips turned the wrong way and Calvin takes off down the field. Peters is caught in a full-blown trail WAY behind Johnson. He's completely torched here, and the safety isn't going to be able to compensate.
However, Stafford sails the throw over Johnson's head. Incomplete.
So, if we go by "catches per target allowed," this snaps is quantified as a WIN for Peters. Of course, it's clearly not. It was a rough snap in which he got beat very, very badly.
So the sad news is that target stats, in and of themselves, don't carry a whole lot of meaning other than a way of making it obvious a corner likely had a bad game (I mean, if a guy gives up 11 catches on 15 targets, odds are that's bad no matter how you slice it). So I seek to do better.
Really, the only way to gauge how a corner did is to track every snap he's in man coverage and chart it as a "success" or a "fail." From that, you can get a decent idea of how a corner is playing. A "success" is coverage where the QB and / or WR would have to make a great play for a reception. A failure is where the WR gets enough separation (not much in the NFL) that the throw and catch are "average."
It's still not foolproof. There are plenty of borderline plays that will be affected by subjectivity (I lean toward grading harshly against Chiefs players to try and fight bias). However, it's far and away the best way to judge corners.
(NOTE- I did not invent this method. The first time I ever read it was in an article by Cian Fahey. Just want to be clear that this idea, like most good ideas, is stolen)
All right, we've detailed our methodology. So here's what I did ... I went back and charted every snap I could clearly discern the coverage Marcus Peters was in well enough to grade it. This amounted to 275 snaps. I kept track of successes, failures, and passes defensed (which includes interceptions).
If you're wondering, it took about four hours to go through all eight games. I know, you're welcome. I do this because I love you all, random citizens.
Here are the numbers. For frame of reference, this article (by the above-mentioned Cian Fahey) charts Richard Sherman at his peak. He had a success rate of 81 percent, which is remarkable in the modern NFL.
|13 (3 INT's)
Again, it's important to have some context with those numbers. I try to have a baseline that I look for with this type of thing based on other corners I've watched and various articles that track CB's in a similar manner. For me, my "you're doing a good job" is at 70 percent. If you fall below 60 percent, I'm going to get concerned.
Of course, context matters here. There are some receivers in which having a 60 percent success rate is really, really good (like A.J. Green, for example, who just brutalized Peters on some snaps). But overall, 70 percent (over time) is the goal for me to say you're a good corner.
As you can see, Peters falls JUST shy of that mark. But considering the fact that he's a rookie I find it to be a fantastic number. Rookie corners generally get torched in the NFL. It's just a fact. Peters has done a great job being thrown into the fire against a number of great receivers and has managed to be solid almost throughout.
Peters does a number of things well. He breaks on the ball extremely quickly, for starters. He demonstrated that with his very first defensive snap.
Peters gave a little cushion here but kept his eyes on the quarterback the entire time. Even as the ball is being released Peters is on his second step toward where it should arrive and has a head of steam (whereas the WR, feeling open, is waiting on the ball).
Peters talked about this pick after the game, saying with a better throw that's a pick-six. He's absolutely right. The QB gets hit as he throws and the ball lands about five yards inside. Peters has such a terrific break on the ball, though, that he's able to compensate and come up with a sliding interception.
Peters demonstrated that ability from the first time he stepped on the field, and he's gotten better as the year goes along. He's got his eyes on the QB constantly and is always looking to get between the receiver and the ball. He's INCREDIBLY aggressive in this way.
Peters is generally able to get away with being aggressive on his breaks toward the ball (or the route, really) due to the fact that his lateral quickness, hips, and feet are all solid for a more physical corner. Remember this snap?
Had to make a better gif of that footwork. LOOK AT THAT FOOTWORK. pic.twitter.com/mczrLMhfD8
— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) September 21, 2015
A lot of physical corners with length and a wide frame aren't able to keep up if receivers are able to run through or around their aggressive style (see Sean Smith, who is a very good corner in his own right). Not the case with Peters, as he can play aggressive and physical but recover if he isn't able to block the WR with his body or slow him down with his hands.
Now, Peters isn't a perfect corner physically. He lacks the elite speed we've seen demonstrated from Phillip Gaines (we miss you, Phil. Get well soon). Peters is great about recovering on short and intermediate routes since he's got decent quickness and footwork. However, when he gets caught jumping a route or being over-aggressive on a longer route, he lacks the speed to make up the ground.
I could show you way too many screenshots like this one. Like I said, Peters is already a good corner, and that's fantastic for such a young player. But his biggest weakness by far is getting caught "guessing" wrong on a route and getting beat deep. Again, he just doesn't have that Gaines speed to recover going down the field. It IS worth noting, though, that Peters has demonstrated the ability to run stride for stride with fast receivers ... provided he doesn't bite on a fake. Solid speed, just not great.
The thing is, despite that weakness I don't want Peters to quit guessing. At least, not entirely. He's exceptional at anticipating where routes are going, and that always involves a bit of guesswork. However, his ability to read WRs seems to have improved as the year has gone on and it looks less like guessing and more like anticipating all the time. That's a big part of his game when it comes to cutting underneath routes and making seemingly open passing lanes disappear.
Peters will learn to harness that ability more and more (ideally, at least), so he needs to keep the mentality he currently has when it comes to being aggressive on routes. It results in plenty of plays like this one.
Was talking about this last night; Peters cuts underneath routes really well. One reason he has so many PD's pic.twitter.com/kgOOYGSGfV
— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) November 13, 2015
I very much trust Peters to improve his route anticipation, in large part because he already shows a much better understanding of the game than a lot of young corners. His on-field awareness is generally good.
Remember the interception against the Vikings? Peters was in coverage on a go route (that appeared designed to clear the area for the crossing route the throw went to) on the same side of the field. He was able to keep his eye on the quarterback while saying with his receiver. He saw the throw being released and broke off his coverage to come back and pick the ball off.
Peters has made multiple plays like that this year, leaving his WR as the throw is made to help where it's needed. It's resulted in some tackles on WR's who weren't his to cover (which, in all likelihood, hurt his "target" stats unless the people charting it realized what had happened).
At times, it's saved big plays.
Here, both the safety and the ILB take on coverage of one player, leaving the TE running wide open across the field. Peters has his man completely enveloped, but has his eyes up on the QB. Because of that, he sees the throw get made. He breaks of his coverage as the ball is in the air and makes an immediate tackle on the TE.
"Touchdowns saved" isn't a stat, but it really should be. I mean, sure, the Packers still won that game 193-7 (give or take), but that wasn't because of Marcus Peters. The Packers rarely went after Peters, instead choosing to pick on ... well, virtually everyone else. That's one reason box score analysis doesn't work with corners. Just because a team scored points doesn't mean the entire defense had a letdown day. Peters played well against the Packers.
Another thing to like about Peters that is a part of his aggressive anticipation is how he goes after WR screens. He's just what the Chiefs needed on those plays. He goes right after the blocker or the receiver, depending on how the play has formed in front of him. He's blown up multiple screens this year, but doesn't always get credit for this because he doesn't make the tackle.
The top two traits Peters possesses, in my opinion, are his ability to contest catches and attitude. And I don't mean attitude as in he's a trash talker (though he may well be. WR's seem to hate playing him and end up jawing with him. It's hard to say whether that's due to his play style or if he's talking trash, though). I mean the fact that no matter what has happened the previous snap, Peters continue to play his style of football.
A great example of this occurred in the fourth quarter of the Bears game. Remember that disaster of a drive in which the Chiefs gave up a go-ahead touchdown? I'm sorry to bring it up, but it's relevant here. Peters did not have a good overall game that day (it was his worst game of the year by success and failure standards), and that last drive is tough, but it exemplifies why I think his ceiling is "cornerstone player."
It's a series of four plays starting at the 4:01 mark in the fourth quarter. On second down, Peters falls for a fake against Bennett (a very tough TE to cover) and gets absolutely TORCHED down the field. Cutler misses the throw, but the Chiefs are whistled for roughing the passer and the Bears get a first down.
It's the type of play that would generally shake the confidence of a young CB. Peters was completely beaten and essentially got lucky. The Bears seemed to agree that the young corner would be shaken and decided to go after him down the field the next play.
Peters, however, has a very short memory. And demonstrated the ability to contest catches he's shown time and again.
Peters has, above all else, the ability to contest catches. Good length, good leaping ability, great ball skills. pic.twitter.com/CxzloIPWIf
— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) November 13, 2015
It's a wonderful play to come back from such a rough play. Peters, if anything, gets MORE aggressive after being beat. In fact, I can't recall seeing him have a "failure" on back to back snaps (except against A.J. Green, who had one really dominant stretch against Peters). He doesn't let failure get to him, it appears like he uses it as motivation. I love that trait in a corner.
Unfortunately for Peters, the next play was a back breaking touchdown to cut the Chiefs lead to 5. And it was a really tough touchdown to give up, too. It's not like Peters wasn't in pretty good position. Look at this.
That has to be heartbreaking, having the ball sail JUST out of your reach to give up a touchdown. Yuck.
Unfortunately, the NFL doesn't always give you time to recover after a play like that. The Bears went for two (to try and cut the Chiefs lead to three points) and went after Peters yet again the very next play on the two point conversion.
I don't need to GIF the play because I know you all remember it. Peters made a fantastic tackle right at the goal line in order to keep the Bears out of the end zone and keep the lead at five. He was just as aggressive and anticipatory in his style as he was the previous snap. His play didn't deviate one bit.
Having a drive in which you get torched and then give up a really tough TD two plays later would break down a lot of players. They get frustrated, or down on themselves, and start to play differently (whether out of control or too tentative. Either can be fatal). Peters just stays who he is. He's the definition of having a "short memory," that elusive trait corners need to possess if they want to play in the NFL. Everyone gets beat. The question becomes what you do the snap after.
Through eight games, Peters has shown himself to be a very solid NFL corner. His biggest flaw is getting beat deep, and that's definitely something he'll need to work on if he wants to go from "solid" to "elite."
However, Peters is already very good at the majority of things he's asked to do. He has absolutely elite skills contesting catches, does a good job mirroring routes, has good technique and physical ability with his hips and feet, solid awareness of what's going on around him, and a terrific attitude for the position.
Nice pick, Dorsey. I look forward to seeing if Peters build on what he's already done.
And before we go ... Hey Marcus, what do you think of the Broncos and Peyton Manning?
Me too, Marcus. Me too.