I had a long talk with the Football Scientist K.C. Joyner yesterday. He's hard at work on Scientific Football '09, and he gave me an extended peek at what promises to be the biggest and best edition yet.
I can't reveal very much of what I saw but I will show you how you can get your own early access to the book as it develops. What I can share are a few pass coverage metrics which strongly suggest that the Cowboys were right to promote the kids Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick to right corner and slot corner.
Midway through the '08 season, shortly after the blowout loss to the Giants, I spoke to a source who told me he was hearing through league grapevines that teams were targeting Anthony Henry, feeling he had lost his top gear. Some of these sources felt, at that early stage, that Mike Jenkins was a better option at corner. He was green, but he had the athleticism and recovery speed Henry no longer seemed to possess.
Dallas stuck with Henry the rest of the way, inserting him in the lineup when he recovered from his usual assortment of strains and sprains. They didn't stay with him a minute longer than that; Henry was swapped to Detroit in the Jon Kitna deal and Jenkins today mans the right corner slot opposite Terence Newman.
The '08 pass metrics show that the veterans dropped badly last year. Here's a four year chart of Henry and Newman's YPAs. (League rank in parentheses)
||5.8 (7th)||7.1 (29th)||6.1 (14th)||8.3||6.8|
||7.7 (53rd)||6.7 (20th)||6.6 (22nd)||7.7||7.2|
It is not surprising, but until last year, Newman was consistently better than Henry. Both dropped off last year, but for different reasons. Newman fought a hernia, which finally shut him down mid-season. He had some of his worst-ever games just before the surgery, most notably in the October Redskins loss, where Santana Moss roasted him.
Those injured games inflated Newman's numbers, but he had some strong games post-surgery. He contained Moss in the rematch win and kept Domenik Hixon under wraps in Dallas' December win over the Giants.
Evidence that Newman still has it when healthy (and I should point out that his '04 through '07 YPA average ranked 2nd among NFL corners who played all four seasons) was his 40.4% success rate against passes his way. 40% is the dividing line for starting corners; a percentage above 40 denotes quality. The further below it the fall, the more sub-par you are.
Newman success percentage averaged 44.7% the previous three seasons and he kept it above 40% even when hobbled.
Henry, on the other hand, saw his percentage plummet to 35% just one season after posting a very strong 48%. In fact, Henry's breakup percentages were consistently better than Newman's his first three years in Dallas. His lowest total came in '06, when he posted a 45% success rate. Dave Campo summed up Henry's game perfectly in camp when he told me, "he's not the fastest guy, but he gets his hands on a lot of footballs." Until '08, this was definitely the case. It does appear, however, that Henry's closing skills began to abandon him last year, and quickly.
And the rookies? Scandrick and Jenkins both posted YPAs under 6.0, which are excellent. Their success percentages were well into the 40s. Scandrick came remarkably close to the 50% mark, which is the true floor for anybody wanting to lay claim to the misleading "shut-down corner" title. As I wrote last year:
Stopping opponents 50% of the time appears to be the threshold for being considered a shutdown corner. In the last three years ['05-'07] only 38 corners have achieved this — 9 in 2005, 17 in 2006 and 12 last season. Since shutdown connotes performance far above 50%, I think that the term should be discarded or ignored; literal shut-down corners simply don’t exist.
Only once in that span has a corner topped 60% in success percentage, that coming last year when the Raiders Nnamdi Asomugha posed a 62.9% success rate. Asomugha is the hardest corner to throw against, topping 50% in each of the last three years, the only cornerback to do so.
The Cowboys appear to have hit with both their big '08 corner picks, and given Henry's seeming rapid decline, the timing could not have been better. Many Cowboys fans are anxious because the team is entrusting a lot of key spots to youngsters this year. In the secondary, I think it's the older hands, Newman and Ken Hamlin, who have the bigger questions to answer. The kids, based on their admittedly small '08 samples, appear to be fine.
Want the full corner numbers?
Want to know if Demarcus Ware really is a complete, dominant linebacker?
Want to know where Jay Ratliff ranks among NFL nose tackles against the run?
Want to know if Flozell Adams is in early decline or merely worked through a series of injuries?
Want to know how Anthony Spencer's play compared to Greg Ellis', and if Dallas cast off the vet too soon?
Don't want to wait until camp for the answers? I recommend following this link to Scientific Football 2009's page. This year's book contains running game metrics, in addition to the usual passing game stats. This gives an idea of how each team's offensive and defensive front sevens performed last season.
Joyner is using the internet to give early buyers early access to his stats. He's completing stats one division at a time and told me that anybody who orders the book now will get the run stats e-mailed to them every week as he completes them. He had the AFC East and NFC West completed as of Sunday and will post the NFC East late this week.
These stats will let you compare Dallas' offensive line to every other one in the division -- and the league. You can see how the Dallas tackles compare to the Eagles', and the Giants' and the Redskins'. You can see if Jason Peters is really worth the big deal Philly gave him. You can see how each Dallas defensive lineman and linebacker did against the run. And you can get the numbers ASAP. Just go here.
And dont' forget to tell KC BloggingtheBoys sent you.
PS -- while you're purchasing your football fix, also consider pre-ordering the Maple Street Press Cowboys 2009 Annual you see in the right hand column. K.C. has a fabulous column using many of these same metrics there.