Breaking Down Tennessee Titans Free Agent Alterraun Verner

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Breaking Down Tennessee Titans Free Agent Alterraun Verner
Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

Tennessee Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner is set to be one of the hottest names in free agency.

This year's cornerback market appears to be bloated with viable starting options. However, many of those players are being celebrated because of their reputations rather than their play. Like Sam Shields of the Green Bay Packers, Verner doesn't have a big reputation, but he is very talented.

Shields was re-signed by the Packers before he could ever hit the open market, while Verner is yet to reach an agreement with the Titans.

The cornerback position is the most misunderstood of any in today's NFL. Most of what those players do occurs off the broadcast screen, while most in-season analysis only focuses on the cornerback when the ball is thrown his way.

With more time during the offseason, it's easier to get a better feel for the all-around game of players who play the position. Using the Pre-Snap Reads criteria of cornerback analysis, this article will break down every single snap of Verner's 2013 season. 

The Pre-Snap Reads criteria uses analytics to analyze man coverage, while also looking at how the individual player plays against the run and what he is capable of in zone coverage.

 

Explaining the Process

 

Qualifying Plays

Plays that count:

  • Every snap that has the cornerback in man coverage no matter where the ball is thrown. This includes sacks, quarterback scrambles and plays where the defensive back has safety help.

Plays that don’t count:

  • Screen plays. Even if the receiver isn't part of the screen, these plays do not count. 
  • Plays where either the receiver or the cornerback doesn't follow through his whole assignment.
  • Zone plays. Any ambiguity in this area will disqualify a play.
  • Any prevent coverage situations.
  • Receptions in the flat without a route run.
  • Running plays. Including designed quarterback runs.

 

Failed Coverages

The ball does not have to be thrown in the defensive back’s direction for the coverage to fail. This is not an analysis of how many completions the cornerback allowedthat can be found elsewhere. This is an analysis of how good his coverage is on any given play.

Failed coverages can come at any point of the route, but it is subjective to where the players are on the field in relation to the quarterback. Typically, defensive backs must be within arms reach for underneath/intermediate routes. On deeper passes, there is greater leeway given to the defender.

Failed coverages can be subjective. They must be determined by the situation considering the length of the play and other such variables.

 

Shut Down

This category is reserved for those plays when receivers would have to make superhuman catches to beat the coverage. The best example of this is when receivers line up wide and try to run down the sideline, but the defensive back gradually guides them toward the sideline, suffocating the space they have to catch the football in. If a receiver is on the white sideline, he is shut down.

 

In Position

This is the opposite of a failed coverage. In order to be "in position," a defensive back has to be in a position to prevent a relatively well-thrown pass to his assignment.

 

Darron Cummings/Associated Press/Associated Press
AFC South Rookie DeAndre Hopkins gave Verner some problems.

Individual Matchups

Individual matchups looks exclusively at how Verner fared against specific receivers. Each receiver had to have at least four snaps in man coverage against the cornerback. It doesn’t matter where or how Verner was beaten, this chart simply looks at if he was beaten or not.

No. Player Successful Snaps/Coverage Snaps Percentage
1 Golden Tate 9/9 100.00%
2 Andre Holmes 6/6 100.00%
3 Kyle Williams 4/4 100.00%
4 Mike Brown 4/4 100.00%
5 LaVon Brazil 10/12 83.00%
6 Santonio Holmes 5/6 83.00%
7 Cecil Shorts 5/6 83.00%
8 Rod Streater 4/5 80.00%
9 Chris Givens 4/5 80.00%
10 Donnie Avery 3/4 75.00%
11 Darrius Heyward-Bey 3/4 75.00%
12 Eric Decker 15/21 71.00%
13 Emmanuel Sanders 4/6 67.00%
14 T.Y. Hilton 3/5 60.00%
15 DeAndre Hopkins 10/17 59.00%
Total and Average 89/114 78.00%

Analytical Analysis through NFL.com

The chart tracks how successful Verner was against the receiver, not the other way around. Because of how the Titans set up their defense, something we'll get to later, Verner only had enough man coverage snaps for 15 receivers to be included on this chart.  

 

Eugene Tanner/Associated Press
Verner had a Pro Bowl season, but did he deserve to go to Hawaii?

Weekly Breakdown

This section breaks down Verner's season on a week-to-week basis and includes in-depth breakdowns of his skill set.

 

Week 1: Pittsburgh Steelers
Total qualifying plays: 10
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 2
In Position: 6

As he primarily does, Verner stuck to the right side of the defense in Week 1. Verner appears to be the type of cornerback who could move around the field and follow specific receivers if asked, but that's not how defensive coordinator Jerry Gray used him.

Not only did Verner primarily stick to one side, something that is not unusual for even the best of cornerbacks in the NFL, when the Titans did move their cornerbacks around, it was Jason McCourty who generally drew the tougher assignment.

At this stage of the season, Antonio Brown hadn't established himself as one of the most feared receivers in the league. With that in mind, the Titans didn't have either of their cornerbacks follow either him or Emmanuel Sanders.

Sanders was the one who beat Verner for his two failed coverages, but on one of those coverages, Verner was able to come up with a turnover.

NFL.com

At the top of the route, Sanders leaves Verner behind. Verner glides for a split second before recovering to trail behind the receiver. Sanders has created separation, and a pass outside would likely be a reception.

This analysis doesn't take the result of the play into account. It examines what happens from the snap through to the point when the ball is ruled dead. Therefore, Verner isn't let off the hook for his failed coverage just because Ben Roethlisberger threw a late, inaccurate pass that gave him a chance to catch it.

However, he does get credit for his ability to locate and play the ball quickly.

Verner had five interceptions during the 2013 season, and he could have had more. His ball skills are consistently very good, and he has the physical talent to beat receivers to the ball with his speed or outmuscle them with his strength in tight.

 

Week 2: Houston Texans
Total qualifying plays: 18
Failed coverages: 5
Shutdowns: 2
In Position: 11

Against the Texans, Verner spent most of his time covering DeAndre Hopkins. He didn't cover Andre Johnson in man coverage on any occasion.

One of the most impressive traits that Verner carries is his fluidity. Fluidity is vitally important for cornerbacks, much more important than straight-line speed. All of the top cornerbacks in today's NFL are able to flip their hips, reset their feet and change direction with ease.

NFL.com

On this play, Verner shows off very impressive fluidity at the top of Hopkins' out route. He is able to turn so quickly and precisely that he is always in position to play the football and cover the receiver. Verner doesn't have Darrelle Revis' fluidity, something that seems superhuman at times, but he has more than enough to cover any route a receiver runs without safety help.

Staying with the receiver is only one half of the job.

NFL.com

Not only does this play show off his ability to stick with receivers through breaks in routes, it also shows off his ability to knock the football away from disadvantageous positions. Verner isn't a very big cornerback, but he extends well and has outstanding timing.

Verner's aggressiveness attacking the football translates to the run game as well.

NFL.com

He is adept at evading blockers in space before closing on running backs or receivers. Verner is a consistent tackler who shows good technique and strength against bigger backs and the quickness to take down smaller receivers.

 

Week 3: San Diego Chargers
Total qualifying plays: 4
Failed coverages: 1
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 2 

Verner showed off his ability to play bigger than his physical size again in this game...

NFL.com

...however, he only played four snaps in man coverage. That was largely because of the Chargers' very quick passing game.

 

Week 4: New York Jets
Total qualifying plays: 9
Failed coverages: 1
Shutdowns: 3
In Position: 5

Verner had two interceptions in this game. The first came when he undercut a seam route. Stephen Hill made no effort to work back to the football, and Geno Smith's pass was badly underthrown. For his second interception, Santonio Holmes ran a curl route. Verner perfectly covered it before outmuscling him to get inside position on the pass.

 

Week 5: Kansas City Chiefs
Total qualifying plays: 12
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 3
In Position: 7

The Chiefs threw an odd cast of players Verner's way.

He easily read Jamaal Charles' routes before he ran them early on, before being asked to cover Chad Hall, A.J. Jenkins, Dwayne Bowe and Donnie Avery. Jenkins used his speed to escape Verner on a crossing route from the slot, but it was Avery who had the biggest play.

Verner doesn't have any weakness that the opposition can consistently pick on, but it's clear what the weakest part of his game is. The 25-year-old cornerback isn't slow, but he doesn't have elite straight-line speed either.

NFL.com

On this play, Avery simply runs past him and Verner doesn't have the speed to turn with him.

It should be noted that Avery is a very fast receiver, and Verner is still in position to tackle him. A perfect throw could have resulted in a touchdown, but anything else would likely have allowed the Titans defensive back to recover.

 

Week 6: Seattle Seahawks
Total qualifying plays: 11
Failed coverages: 1
Shutdowns: 2
In Position: 8

One route that both Richard Sherman and Revis struggled with more than any other during the 2013 season was the in route. Sherman successfully covered in routes in man coverage 55 percent of the time, while Revis had a 56 percent success rate.

Verner had a 90 percent success rate.

NFL.com

He was able to be that successful because of his awareness and his ability to read lesser route-runners. Against better route-runners, he relied on his outstanding footwork to shift his weight very quickly.

Throughout this play, Verner has complete control over his momentum. His balance allows him to sustain his speed and get to the football ahead of Golden Tate. Even though he is the reactive player, Tate is ultimately in a disadvantageous position.

 

Week 7: San Francisco 49ers
Total qualifying plays: 9
Failed coverages: 1
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 7

The 49ers overpowered the Titans in a variety of ways. They had no real need to pass the ball, not least throw it in Verner's direction.

Without Michael Crabtree on the field, Verner was left to cover Jon Baldwin, Kyle Williams and even Bruce Miller. He was beaten once by Anquan Boldin, when the former Baltimore Ravens receiver made an outstanding reception down the sideline.

 

Week 9: St. Louis Rams
Total qualifying plays: 8
Failed coverages: 3
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 4

Austin Pettis beat Verner early on with a crisp comeback route, before the cornerback was distracted by a play fake that allowed Chris Givens to get free on a shallow crossing route. Stedman Bailey ran a good post route to get away from him later in the game.

It was around this time of the season when the Titans started playing more zone coverage. Verner is an excellent zone cornerback.

His physical quickness has been displayed, but his mental quickness and awareness of how plays are developing is outstanding. The Titans asked him to cover a variety of different zones from a variety of different alignments.

At times he even dropped into a free safety position with other teammates playing man coverage underneath. The Titans suffered many breakdowns in zone coverage throughout the season, but they mostly appeared to be a result of poor safety play.

 

Week 10: Jacksonville Jaguars
Total qualifying plays: 8
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 5

The Jaguars had a limited passing game in 2013 because of their quarterback situation. Cecil Shorts is a good receiver, but Verner got the best of him. His day was highlighted by an impressive interception down the sideline.

Shorts did beat Verner once, when he knocked him down at the line of scrimmage before releasing into space behind him. That mistake wasn't exposed because Henne couldn't find the receiver.

 

Week 11: Indianapolis Colts
Total qualifying plays: 13
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 3
In Position: 8

Outside of T.Y. Hilton, who beat Verner with two double moves, the Titans cornerback had it very easy in this game. LaVon Brazill, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Griff Whalen are simply inferior NFL players.

 

Week 12: Oakland Raiders
Total qualifying plays: 13
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 3
In Position: 8

Much like the previous week against the Colts, the Raiders simply didn't have enough quality at the receiver position to consistently beat Verner.

 

Week 13: Indianapolis Colts
Total qualifying plays: 13
Failed coverages: 4
Shutdowns: 2
In Position: 7

Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison didn't walk through the door for the Colts' second matchup of the season, but one notable aspect of Verner's play was highlighted.

Verner was called for many penalties during the season. That happened twice against the Colts. The young defender does like to grab receivers, like any top cornerback does, but he was getting called too often.

There were very few plays that could have been considered egregious. In fact, some could be argued that they weren't penalties at all. This showed up against the Colts, but it was then underlined and highlighted by the Denver Broncos.

 

Week 14: Denver Broncos
Total qualifying plays: 26
Failed coverages: 7
Shutdowns: 2
In Position: 17

For an average cornerback, this wasn't a bad display at all. For someone trying to be classified among the best in the league, it was demoralising.

Verner allowed Eric Decker to get the best of him, and he seemingly allowed himself to be frustrated by a few questionable penalty calls that didn't go his way. It should be noted that there appeared to be a double standard, because the Broncos and receivers were allowed to get physical with Verner, but he was flagged three times.

NFL.com

This is the biggest concern for any team that signs Verner. He hasn't had enough exposure against the better receivers in the NFL. Decker isn't a special receiver. He's an above-average receiver, and he was able to have a big day.

He wasn't given the touchdown on this play, and Verner actually played decent coverage up until the final moment. Decker did catch a touchdown late on what appeared to be against Verner, but it came when Decker ran a perfect route that exposed the Titans' three-deep zone coverage.

This game will stand out for teams that are evaluating Verner as a potential first-choice starter.

 

Week 15: Arizona Cardinals
Total qualifying plays: 4
Failed coverages: 0
Shutdowns: 2
In Position: 2

This was an impressive game for Verner. He rebounded after that disappointing display in Denver. Most of his success came in zone coverage, as he continually impressed with his intelligence and quickness.

 

Week 16: Jacksonville Jaguars
Total qualifying plays: 7
Failed coverages: 0
Shutdowns: 0
In Position: 7

Without Cecil Shorts, the Jaguars didn't have a receiver who could compete with Verner.

 

Week 17: Houston Texans
Total qualifying plays: 4
Failed coverages: 1
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 2

Verner only covered Hopkins in man coverage this time around. The Titans were overly committed to playing zone coverage at this stage of the season. The display against Denver may have affected their thinking for the final three weeks of the season.

 

2013 NFL Season Total
Total qualifying plays: 169
Failed coverages: 34
Shutdowns: 31
In Position: 104
Success rate for the season: 79.8%

 

Results at Spots 
Qualifying Plays at left cornerback: 17
Failed coverages at left cornerback: 3
Success Rate at left cornerback: 82%

Qualifying Plays at right cornerback: 132
Failed coverages at right cornerback: 25
Success Rate at right cornerback: 81%

Qualifying Plays in the slot: 20
Failed coverages in the slot: 6
Success Rate in the slot: 70%

 

Results versus Routes
(Percentage is Success Rate)

1. Slant 94%
2. Seam 93%
3. In 90%
4. Post 86%
5. Double Move 85%
6. Curl 82%
7. Sideline 76%
8. Crossing 74%
9. Comeback 63%
10. Out 57%

 

There is an accepted line of thinking that suggests Revis was underused as a man cover cornerback. The same could be said about Verner. The Titans cornerback had just two fewer qualifying man coverage snaps compared to Revis in 2013.

Both players are very impressive in zone coverage. Verner has such an incredible ability to read plays as they develop, while Revis' fluidity and quickness is unrivaled. But teams don't give out huge contracts to cornerbacks who can't excel in man coverage.

From an efficiency perspective, Verner's 79.8 percent success rate is right there with Revis' 81.9 percent and actually eclipses Richard Sherman's 78.2 percent success rate for 2012. However, taking raw numbers without context is a fatal mistake.

Verner faced a large number of receivers who will be lucky to spend more than three years in the league. When he faced the best receiver on his schedule, he capitulated. Both Sherman and Revis have repeatedly proved they can shut down better receivers than Decker.

Projecting what Verner will be moving forward is impossible. Projecting what he can be is easy.

Verner has all the talent to be a shutdown cornerback, but he needs to prove it. Teams looking to sign him don't have the benefit of foresight. They have to bet on what they saw in 2013. What they saw in 2013 was very impressive.

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