Sep 15, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Darrelle Revis (24), cornerback Leonard Johnson (29) and cornerback Johnthan Banks (27) react after stopping the New Orleans Saints short of the end zone during the game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports
This offseason, the market of free agent and rookie corners available featured lots of players who could play Cover 2 and matchup zone defense. Most of them were going to teams for highly reduced contracts, because teams set a low standard for what they wanted to pay, and the players were forced to agree to lesser deals.
But the Buccaneers wanted to make a team-changing move at corner, and decided to acquire Darrelle Revis instead. They then paid him franchise quarterback money to stay with the team for the foreseeable future.
So why are we still getting quotes like this?
Darrelle Revis is perfectly capable of playing zone defense, and this season he’s been as good as advertised whether in zone or man defense. The problem is not “Darrelle Revis can’t play zone, so why is he doing it.”
The issue is that Revis is being paid like a franchise player, and should be used as one. Playing in a zone makes it easy for teams to adjust around Revis, as we saw against Arizona when the Cardinals simply shifted Larry Fitzgerald in motion away from Revis, and he hauled in his first catch of that game.
Sept. 9, 2012; E. Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis (24) makes the interception on Buffalo Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson (13) at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: William Perlman/The Star-Ledger via USA TODAY Sports
During the summer, when looking ahead at how good the Buccaneers could be on defense, Bucky Brooks of NFL.com wrote this article, praising the multitude of options a player like Revis presents.
He mentions zone once (saying that Revis is good at it, something we can all agree with). He then goes on to talk about all the incredible things the Bucs could do by locking Revis onto one receiver, and using their talented safeties and other corners to cover the rest of the field, creating 2-on-1 situations and otherwise crowding the non-Revis part of the field.
Fast forward to today, and Revis has done very little “Revis Island” coverage, instead playing in lots of zone and matchup zone coverages and otherwise not locking down the other team’s best receiver with tight, man-to-man coverage.
It would be one thing if the Buccaneers decided to incorporate more zone into the playbook if Johnthan Banks and Leonard Johnson were the two top corners. Neither of them have the ability to control one side of the field and lock down an elite receiver with no help.
But they added the highest paid corner in league history who is as expensive as he is because of his skill set in man-to-man coverage, and are plugging him into a system that does not take full advantage of his strengths.
A defensive coach is well within his rights to mix up the gameplan and use a talented player like Revis however he sees fit. But if the plan all along was to not deviate from defensive scheme, why spend so much on the best corner in football?
That money could have been spread across a third receiver, a tight end, and a defensive end, and it would have greatly increased the versatility and depth of the roster. There would have still been money left to grab a corner in free agency, or just to double up through the draft.
But instead, the team will pay an average of one million dollars per game for the best corner in football, and continue to use him as if he was no better than any other corner on the team.
(Oh, and why are the Bucs telling this to the media before the game? Chip Kelly doesn’t need any help figuring out ways to break down the Tampa offense.)