Tweaking the Tweedles

Much concern and consternation has been vented by BONers this week over the play of Texas cornerbacks Brandon Foster and Ryan Palmer, erstwhile Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. The UT coaching staff has played them up as being fast and experienced. Yet observers at the game saw them playing with a heavy "cushion" 10-15 yards from the line of scrimmage, a tactic commonly used when receivers are the Roadrunner to the cornerbacks' Coyote motif and coaches are afraid of long pass plays. In the eye of many BONers, this strategy seemed to explain why Ark State was able to keep the ball for long drives on offense through a series of short 8-10 yard passes in front of the corners.

I watched the Colts-Saints game last night and was struck by how much the defensive scheme affected the perceived quality of cornerback play. This would seem to have huge relevance for Texas and provides something to watch closely in the TCU game.

The Colts are famous for playing a "Cover 2 scheme" on defense. This strategy puts two safeties deep, one for each side of the field. The safeties and cornerbacks read the play and the quarterback to decide where to go to give help to the cornerbacks, which ordinarily start every play only 2-3 yards away from the receivers so they can "bump" them or otherwise disrupt their routes once the play starts. The cornerbacks are aggressive and don't worry about getting beat deep because they know a safety is back there like a mother's lap ready to bail them out. The most important quality for the cornerbacks is speed and aggressiveness, not necessarily their ability to change direction.

In last night's game a Saints cornerback few have heard of, Jason David, got lit up like the Chrysler building in New York City for three long touchdowns in the 41-10 second half surgical amputation of the Saints by the Colts. He was thrown at 9 times and gave up 7 completions for something like 140 yards.

Why is this interesting?

Because Jason David was the cornerback for the Colts, and their Cover 2 defense, last year. And (did he get the memo?) the Saints don't play a Cover 2, they play a lot of man-to-man and vary how much their safeties help on pass routes. David played the game like he still had a blue jersey on, as he would bump the receiver, and run back, gaping like a 16 year-old voyeur at Peyton Manning (like a good Cover 2 but bad man-to-man CB should) while the Colt receivers ran past him like Jeff Gordon passing the first row of a NASCAR crow. To a safety that was... not there to watch the... touchdown. David, who was considered a good corner in a Cover 2 defense, was about as horrendous as you can be in a defense that depended on man-to-man coverage at least some of the time.

Which brings us, finally!, to the Tweedles. They seem to be cornerbacks playing in the wrong system for their physical attributes. Small, fast corners, like the Tweedles, generally succeed when they are like gnats, running, turning, and responding to the key moves the receiver makes. They are usually not good at bumping receivers at the line, because if a taller reciver gets past them, all a QB has to do is throw the ball over the top and the small corner has no chance. The idea is lurk a few yards behind the receiver and quickly respond to the receiver or ball (for an interception) when the pass is thrown.

The Tweedles have a problem then. They got a different memo altogether and were, at least last Saturday, playing in a scheme that has them 10 yards from the receiver where they can't play like Cover 2 corners and bump the receiver and they can't be harassing little gnats in man-to-man coverage either. They aren't going to get beat on a long pass or a deep out, but they can't make a play within five yards of the line of scrimmage.

I doubt that anyone other than the coaches know whether the Tweedles have the change-of-direction quickness to play annoying man-to-man defense at the major college level, but perhaps the 10 yard cushion tells us that they do not. Likely they are too small to be effective "bumpers" in some safety-help scheme like a Cover 2. Perhaps the strategy was to play them back, knowing that they would be fast enough to come up and tackle a receiver after a short pass but not at risk to get beat deep. As was discussed extensively in threads this week, this is incompatible with a blitzing defensive strategy, since the response to a blitz is make a short, quick pass into a vacated area, such as the cushion in front of the Tweedles.

Do I have any unsolicited, unprofessional advice? Make men out of them, get them up on the receiver and play a scheme that allows them to use whatever quickness they have. If the LB's or safeties will blitz, put them in position to jump those little slants and curls that teams like to throw. Let's see what they've got.

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