27 Feb 2007
If you read the FO blog regularly, you may remember that, halfway through the season, we introduced very early results from our game charting project. And surprisingly, those results had Fred Thomas as one of the better cornerbacks in the league in the early going. It was surprising because he's never been thought of as very good, and even more surprising as the season went on because Thomas was clearly one of the most flammable cornerbacks in the league in November and December.
Well, I think I have discovered why the early numbers were positive on Thomas. I just finished charting the second half of Carolina's Week 4 win over New Orleans, which was one of the unfinished games in the charting project. And Thomas sucked enough in this game to make up for the entire rest of the first month of the season.
At no time did Thomas get burned deep, except when he bit hard on a flea-flicker and completely left his man. Instead, this game showed the other problem with a bad cornerback. Because Thomas had to give so much room to Steve Smith (or sometimes Keyshawn Johnson) in order to prevent getting burned, he gave up tons of completions on hook routes and comeback routes.
Over the course of the game, we have 14 passes with Thomas in coverage: 11 to Steve Smith, 3 to Keyshawn Johnson. 13 of them were caught, and the 14th was caught but Steve Smith was sliding out of bounds so it was overturned on replay. Including the overturned catch as zero, the average play gained 8.2 yards. Based on the usual FO markers for success, 11 of the 14 passes were successful for the Panthers, but not one gained more than 17 yards.
9 of the 13 catches had no yards after catch, and 3 of the catches that had yards after catch were either screens or quick hitches (a.k.a. the "smoke" route) that are called because the cornerback is playing too far back off his man. It was just hook after hook. Run, turn, catch, tackle. Run, turn, catch, tackle. Over and over.
I haven't heard the Saints mentioned in the Nate Clements sweepstakes. Nor have I heard them mentioned as possible trade partners to get Dre' Bly out of Detroit. But they should seriously consider one or the other, because that cornerback spot is the biggest hole on the team going into 2007.
Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?