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The ceiling for Chiefs CB Phillip Gaines is sky high. Let’s hope we get to see it

Look, I know it’s only been one game. I know that there is a lot of season to be played. And finally, I know that many of you will think what I’m about to say is based on a single poor game by Marcus Peters. I guess all I can say to you is you can either trust me or not. Your call. But we’re bringing the scorching hot takes today, so bring your fireproof gear.

Phillip Gaines is the best cover corner the Chiefs have.

Now let me be clear on this ... I am NOT saying this just because Peters struggled against Keenan Allen (who is a ridiculously tough cover, a guy who would be known as a top NFL receiver if he could stay healthy) on Sunday. Bad days happen for corners, and I fully expect Peters to come back strong. He’s a fiery, mentally tough guy who let his emotions get the best of him. He remains a supremely talented player with exceptional instincts.

No, this isn’t about Peters somehow being bad. This is all about Phillip Gaines. Those of you who read Arrowhead Pride consistently know I’ve had a thing for Gaines for a while now. I wrote about how well he played before getting injured last season (a REALLY tough break for the defense, which would have been even better had he stayed healthy), and have often discussed my admiration for his abilities in the past.

With Gaines, the issue has always been one of availability. He’s been hurt over the last two years, which means fans haven’t gotten to see much of him. And even when he HAS been healthy, he doesn’t make splash plays often. Because of this, fans tend to ignore him. That’s a mistake.

Gaines is, in my opinion, the most physically gifted cornerback on the roster, and one of the most gifted in the NFL. But before we get into all that, let’s talk about Gaines’ day against the Chargers on Sunday. I went back and reviewed the All-22 film, tracking every play Gaines was in man coverage (if you need a primer on how I review CB film, click here to see what the exact process is).

The numbers weren’t that surprising to me, but may be to some of you.

Coverage Wins: 15

Coverage Losses: 4

Targets: 1

Catches Allowed: 0

Passes Defensed: 0

Win Percentage: 78.9%

As I’ve said in the past, a place I want my corners to reach in win percentage of 70 percent. While that might seem outrageously low to some of you, it’s important to realize how insanely hard it is to play corner. If you have the capability, watch all-22 film and focus on an individual corner. It’s amazing how often even good corners get beat (allow enough separation that an average throw / catch would result in a completion), especially by good receivers. Welcome to the modern NFL.

Gaines has always, always, ALWAYS (late in his rookie year, at least) had top notch scores in this area. And if the Chargers game is any indication, that hasn’t changed after his injury.

What separates Gaines from other corners is his remarkable physical gifts. He has tremendous speed...

One of Gaines’ trademarks (at least, in my eyes and many others I’ve spoken with who have watched him closely) is how effortless he makes running with receivers look. In the above GIF, he’s matched up alone against Travis Benjamin, who is an absolute burner. Gaines sticks right with him, and still never appears to be REALLY going his top speed. In fact, in three years I’ve never been positive I’ve seen Gaines’ top speed. That speed always seems to be as fast as needed.

Of course, we all know there’s a big difference between long speed and quickness. A corner with wonderful long speed is going to get eaten alive all day if he doesn’t possess the necessary quickness and fluid hips to stick with receivers on shorter routes. As the first GIF of this article demonstrates, that’s not an issue with Gaines. He generally stops, starts, and accelerates in and out of cuts very well, and demonstrates hips that, well, let’s just say they don’t lie.

Because Gaines has exceptional recovery speed, he doesn’t need to cheat deep (either by lining up off the line of scrimmage or flipping his hips too soon to run down the field) against speedy receivers like Benjamin and, therefore, has an advantage over the vast majority of other corners in the league.

Gaines also (with arms like appear to be roughly 9 meters long) presses and jostles aggressively and effectively, which disrupts the timing of receivers and often just swallows up routes. If I kept a blanket stat to track plays for when corners made a completed pass basically impossible, Gaines would lead in a landslide. I’ve taken screenshots where I could barely see Gaines due to the fact that he was practically absorbing the receiver.

Even Keenan Allen didn’t have marked success against Gaines, even as he was setting fire to the rest of the Chiefs secondary.

Now, as I say in the tweet, that’s not perfect coverage. However, Gaines is quick enough stop on a dime when Allen stops, and strong enough to keep from getting chucked by Allen’s hand fighting (that combination of quickness and hand usage was giving Peters fits). Gaines sticks close enough to make the throw more difficult, and Rivers ultimately can’t connect.

Against great receivers, all you can do is make them work for success and not give up easy looks to quarterbacks. Gaines does exactly that, and it was more than anyone else was doing against Allen before he was injured.

The one criticism (outside of availability) I’ve heard about Gaines is that he lacks physicality. Now, I’ve been a tad dubious about this claim for awhile since he plays so physically in coverage. However, let’s say it’s been true in the past that Gaines has been a liability in run support or as a tackler. I’d say Sunday he showed he’s trying to put that behind him.

Gaines had a pair of plays like this against the Chargers, where he kept bad plays from turning into worse plays by making solo tackles in space. He did it here against Woodhead and later on in the game against Antonio Gates. Gaines will never be confused for Brandon Flowers as a tackler, but he looks like he’s able to at least hold his own to me.

Now that I’ve discussed Gaines’ strengths, let’s clarify something ... he and Marcus Peters have very, very different strengths. Peters isn’t a guy who blankets receivers and runs around in their hip pocket. He doesn’t have the speed and quickness Gaines possesses, though his hips are very fluid. Peters is more of a playmaking corner, gifted at undercutting routes and aggressive at baiting quarterbacks into mistakes. There’s a reason he had eight picks his rookie year.

Gaines doesn’t have Peters’ hands, nor does he have (from what I can see) Peters’ instincts in recognizing when the ball is coming. But when it comes to the task of shadowing wide receivers, I give a sizable edge to Gaines. He’s just so fast, so quick, and so smooth out there.

Let me ask you a question based on an interesting thought that was tweeted at me by Arrowhead Addict’s Lyle Graversen (old-timers here know him as KC Porkchop) ... do you ever remember a game, outside preseason of Gaines’ rookie year, where you thought to yourself man, Gaines is getting torched out there.

I’ve thought that about Sean Smith. I’ve thought that about Marcus Peters. I’ve thought that about Ron Parker, and Jamell Fleming, and multiple other corners over the last three years. But I can’t say I’ve ever thought that about Phillip Gaines.

If I’m Bob Sutton, I’d give serious consideration to moving Gaines to the left cornerback spot (unless Peters is uncomfortable on the right side). No, I’m not kidding at all. Sure, we may want a larger sample size, but based on what we’ve seen from Gaines I believe doing so would put opposing quarterbacks in an uncomfortable position. While NFL receivers line up all over the place, No. 1 receivers do spend a bit more time on the right side (where quarterbacks are more comfortable throwing).

So, as a quarterback, do you throw to your No. 1 receiver on the side you’re comfortable with, when the guy on that side is trailing so close it’s like he’s stitched their jerseys together? Or do you throw to the other side of the field, where you’re slightly less comfortable and to a (perhaps) inferior receiver, when on that side lurks a player who is known to snap up careless throws at an alarming rate?

I doubt Sutton makes such a move, but make no mistake; Gaines was the best player on the field for the Chiefs defense Sunday. Fans may have felt he was quiet, but that’s what happens when you’re suffocating receivers ... there’s lots of silence.

And, to be fair, Gaines did make at least one play you should have noticed.

It’s really easy to miss quiet contributions like reading and reacting quickly enough to avoid a blocker and throw off a play’s timing, but that stuff matters deeply. If Gaines doesn’t hold Benjamin off for that half second (by not reading the play correctly or by simply getting caught by the blocker), that play could go somewhere. The Chiefs desperately needed that stop, and Gaines was a major part of it happening.

And, of course, he doesn’t get the tackle, so no stat for him. And somehow, that seems fitting for a guy who has flown under the radar so long.

Keep an eye on Gaines against a tough group of receivers in Houston. Perhaps he’ll finally have that game where we say, Wow, Gaines is getting torched, and I feel foolish. But somehow, I doubt it.

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