Breaking Down Lardarius Webb's Terrible Start to 2013 Season

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Breaking Down Lardarius Webb's Terrible Start to 2013 Season
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Ravens fans were ecstatic to welcome Lardarius Webb back, but he hasn't looked like the same player.

Lardarius Webb just doesn’t look right. Maybe he’s still feeling his way back from the second torn ACL of his young career. Perhaps, it’s the myriad of personnel changes on the Baltimore Ravens defense that is causing some lapses in communication. Whatever the reason, Webb is not playing up to his lofty standards, and it’s hurting his team.

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The return of Lardarius Webb was one of the biggest reasons many (myself included) expected this year’s version of the defense to be much better than last year’s unit. Those high expectations of Webb are justified.

Before his season-ending injury in Week 6 of last year, he was playing at a very high level, establishing himself as one of the NFL’s best young defensive backs and a true shutdown corner.

According to Pro Football Focus, he was a top-10 cornerback in terms of passer rating against his coverage in his previous two seasons (subscription required). In particular, 2011 was a breakout year for Webb, as he finished as the fourth-best cornerback with the second-best coverage grade (trailing only Darrelle Revis).

Webb's ProFootballFocus Grades
Season Overall Grade Pass Coverage Grade
2009 +7.5 +3.7
2010 +4.6 +1.6
2011 +21.9 +21.1
2012 +3.5 -0.1
2013 -3.3 -6.5

Unfortunately, Webb hasn’t played his best football this year.

He’s had difficulties sticking with receivers down the field, and he’s been caught by play-action fakes on numerous occasions. These issues are perfectly highlighted on this 64-yard Jordy Nelson touchdown in Week 6.

Jordy Nelson beats Lardarius Webb for a 64-yard TD in Week 6; All-22 footage courtesy of NFL GameRewind.

One of the problems with this play is that Webb seems to be expecting safety help over the top from James Ihedigbo (green), but there was some miscommunication on the play. Ihedigbo doesn’t even look over to the bottom half of the field, helping on the crossing route by Jermichael Finley instead (light blue).

Regardless of whether or not he was expecting help, there is no excuse for letting his receiver get so far behind him.

Lardarius Webb is caught out of position by the play-action fake, and he pays dearly for it; broadcast footage courtesy of NFL GameRewind.

Webb’s eyes are on the backfield after the play-action fake (yellow), and he doesn’t stay over the top of Nelson who runs right by him as a result (navy blue). Webb couldn’t recover, and the result was the only Green Bay Packers touchdown of the game.

Blown coverages have been a problem for Webb all year, like on this 27-yard completion to Josh Gordon.

Lardarius Webb lets Josh Gordon make an uncontested catch to get near the end zone; All-22 footage courtesy of NFL GameRewind.

This is another case of Webb reacting to the play-action fake—he stops dead in his tracks (with his eyes on the backfield) which lets Gordon stroll past him for an uncontested catch.

Webb is fooled by the play-action fake, and it results in an easy completion for Jason Campbell; All-22 footage courtesy of NFL GameRewind.

In addition, it’s not just his coverage that has been subpar this season. One of his best attributes was his solid tackling, but he’s frequently failed to bring receivers down and make tackles in the open field.

He made highlight reels for the wrong reason this week when he missed a tackle that resulted in a Cleveland Browns touchdown:

Webb takes a bad angle on this play, and Davone Bess puts him on skates en route to the end zone; GIF courtesy of Kyle Newport/Bleacher Report

Regrettably, this has been a common occurrence for Webb who has missed six tackles in eight games this year—second-most on the team and one shy of his career high for a season.

Squandered opportunities to bring ball-carriers down and poor coverage down the field have led to receivers and quarterbacks finding an unprecedented amount of success against Lardarius Webb this season.

Receivers are having uncharacteristic success against Webb.

Quarterbacks have no fear about throwing Webb's way this year.

Webb entered the year as Baltimore’s clear-cut No. 1 corner, and but he’s playing worse than the two men behind him on the depth chart, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

Baltimore's Cornerbacks
Player Overall Grade Pass Coverage Grade
Lardarius Webb -3.3 -6.5
Jimmy Smith -1.5 -4.6
Corey Graham -0.8 -1.8

It’s still the early days, but if he continues to play at this level, Baltimore will begin to question their decision to sign him to a six-year extension last summer.

Webb has all the tools to be a shutdown corner again, and the Baltimore defense really needs him to return to form for the rest of this season if they're going to win some games.

The first step is comes on Sunday and it's a difficult test: A.J. Green and the Cincinnati Bengals in a must-win game for the Ravens' playoff hopes.

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