After failing to land one of the elite free-agent cornerbacks in free agency, the New York Jets have been forced to put their faith in journeyman Dimitri Patterson.
Because of Rex Ryan's borderline-excessive use of man-to-man coverage, playing cornerback for the Jets carries more pressure than that of most teams. Ryan's philosophy demands that his cornerbacks hold up longer on their own than most cornerbacks with minimal safety help.
Having the luxury of cornerbacks like Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie on the roster have allowed Ryan to field excellent defenses during his tenure in New York. However, now that both men are out of town for good, the Jets will have to rely on Patterson to assume the role opposite Dee Milliner as one of the two cornerstones of the Jets defense.
This all assumes that Patterson, who missed 10 games in 2013 because of injury, is active and ready for all 16 games for the Jets.
Patterson has put together a respectful career in the NFL as a viable cornerback, but can he play for Rex Ryan and the Jets?
When he was active and healthy, Patterson gave the Miami Dolphins a good return on their investment with his performance in 2013.
Used primarily in the slot, Patterson was a tough man to throw against. He held opposing quarterbacks to a sub-60 percent completion percentage—his best season since his breakout 2011 season. In fact, he improved in just about every category (besides the amount of games he played in) compared to the year prior to his stint with the Dolphins.
|Dimitri Patterson 2013 vs. 2012|
|Year||Games Played||Thrown At||Passes Defended||Completion %||QB Rating|
|Pro Football Focus|
Had he not suffered a groin injury in the season opener (in which he had two interceptions), he would have posted even more impressive numbers—costing the Jets a lot more money in free agency.
While he does not give up an excessive amount of catches, better quarterbacks are more than capable of getting the better of him. His two interceptions in the opener came against Brandon Weeden—one of which was a bobbled pass by the receiver that could have easily been a first-down completion against him.
Where Patterson stands out is with his instincts, reading a route and adjusting on the fly by reading what the receiver and quarterback are doing. He also possesses an explosive break on the ball, making up for lost ground in a hurry.
On this play, Patterson lines up in off-man coverage on the outside—not his natural position.
The receiver is actually able to get a good amount of separation at the top of his route. At this point, it would be an upset if the offense does not complete this for a long gain.
However, Patterson is able to make a quick adjustment by reading the receiver's route and the quarterback's eyes. He then explodes toward the ball, breaking up the pass to get the incompletion.
What is most encouraging about this play is that Patterson was able to break up the pass as an outside cornerback, which is where the Jets would play him if Kyle Wilson were to remain in the slot.
Patterson was also impressive when asked to play man-to-man coverage, as he showed on this third-down incompletion. He is lined up on the interior of the bunch formation, in press-man coverage.
Patterson is able to get a hand on the receiver early, running stride-for-stride to the top of the route. Then things get a little tricky.
Patterson almost loses his receiver when making his cut to the outside, but he is able to recover with great flexibility to stick to his receiver like glue. As a result, the pass falls incomplete, and the Cleveland Browns are forced to punt.
The biggest question surrounding Patterson is his ability to stay healthy. He has played in 16 games just once in his nine-year career—in 2010 with the Philadelphia Eagles. The odds of him repeating this feat at age 31 are slim at best, especially on the heels of a six-game season.
Even if the Jets have luck on their side and get a full season out of Patterson, there are two major questions surrounding his on-field play: Can he play on the outside full-time, and if so, can he do it at the caliber that Rex Ryan requires from his cornerbacks?
In some ways, playing in the slot is even more difficult than being on the outside because the field is bigger, but the caliber and type of receiver that typically plays on the outside is a poor match for Patterson's skill set. In fact, he was not on the field for every defensive snap once in 2013. His busiest game came against the New England Patriots, in which he played 91.2 percent of the snaps.
He was all but phased out of the defense by season's end, playing just over 17 percent of the snaps against the Pittsburgh Steelers because of injury. If the Jets want to make him a full-time starter, Patterson will have to be more durable and consistent than he has ever been in his career.
At 5'10", Patterson will struggle at times against some of the taller receivers in the game, especially deep down the field when the stakes are higher and there is more space for receivers to out-muscle smaller cornerbacks.
There is the other question of being able to play in tight man-to-man coverage for extended periods of time with minimal safety help, just as Ryan used in the Revis-Cromartie era.
Because of his size and relative inexperience at the position, the Jets would be making a gross miscalculation in assuming that they can insert Patterson and expect to be able to utilize the bulk of Ryan's playbook that dominated the league against the pass from 2009 to 2012.
Can the Jets Depend on Patterson?
If the Jets signed Patterson to be a part-time slot cornerback, there would be no question that he would be able to deliver as well as a high-end player at such a position. However, asking him to stay healthy and play so consistently at a foreign position is playing with fire.
The Jets do have the option of moving Patterson inside and kicking Kyle Wilson to the outside. The Jets did have success as a team with Wilson on the outside in place of Darrelle Revis for the bulk of 2012, fielding the No. 2-ranked pass defense with Wilson as an outside starter.
But are the Jets really interested in moving the fifth-best slot cornerback, according to Pro Football Focus, out of position next season?
There was a reason why the Jets were able to get Patterson under contract so late in the free-agency period at a fraction of the price as an elite cover cornerback.
While he has proven to be a capable player, Patterson has a lot of question marks surrounding his health and has limitations in terms of size ability. The fact that the Jets are asking him to play in an expanded role so late in his career only lessens the odds that he will play up to par in Antonio Cromartie's place.
Dimitri Patterson can be a No. 2 cornerback, but it remains to be seen whether or not he can be a No. 2 cornerback on Rex Ryan's tougher grading scale.
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