Ed. Note: Many pictures on the way...
In a two point game, every stop becomes a game-winner. The Dallas Cowboys held Minnesota to a field goal or less on ten of their eleven drives. Every one of those successes was a game-winning defensive stand. One of them was almost entirely attributable to sixth-round cornerback Anthony Brown. In the third quarter, Minnesota was moving the ball and had gotten to the Dallas 25 — their deepest penetration into Dallas territory to that point in the game. We pick things up at 1st and 10.
Dallas lines up in a Cover 2 look, but Barry Church will come up into the box and Byron Jones will drop back into the deep middle, single-high. This means Anthony Brown (blue circle) will be without real help in press coverage against Charles Johnson.
Johnson tries to escape, but Brown largely contains him. Meanwhile we can see the immediate movements of the two safeties. It’s significant that Jones is moving away from the eventual play because he’ll have to reverse his field to get there. Sam Bradford knows this and decides one-on-one with a rookie sixth-rounder is a good play. In his defense, this is usually the case.
As Johnson moves up the field, Brown is right in his hip pocket. Byron Jones begins to recognize the play as Bradford lets the ball fly, but he has a lot of ground to cover to get into the corner. He will not make it before the ball.
Suddenly a gap opens, I suspect Brown receives a little shove from Johnson, but there’s no video evidence of it. Nonetheless Brown recovers impressively, watching Johnson’s hands go up for the ball, and he gets his hands in the way, knocking the ball away without ever looking back or interfering. Spectacular defense. The ball is well underway in this shot and you can see that it’s all up to Brown as Jones is still in another zip code.
In a final shot, we can see the impressive dexterity and recognition Brown shows at the arrival of the ball. He leaps and puts his hand right where the ball is to knock it away, all without interfering with Johnson in any way, with a referee right there, watching intently for pass interference.
It seems that Minnesota decided to pick on Brown a bit here, as the next call features a bit of a rub route. Brown has Adam Thielen, who is running an in-breaking route. Barry Church (blue arrow), meanwhile, has the slot receiver who will start to the inside of Brown’s man, then break out towards the flat.
Here we can see the routes as they leave the line of scrimmage as well as the potential rub between Brown and Church, which they navigate perfectly. Bradford has already made up his mind, seeing the opening for the slant, but he has not hit his drop yet.
Bradford hits his drop. Thielen sits down in the empty space. Anthony Brown breaks on the football before it’s even out of Bradford’s hand.
Here you can get a feel for the timing. Consider that the football is moving about 2-2.5 times as fast as the fastest human can run, look at the distance the football has to cover and the distance Brown has to cover. Brown hits Thielen just as the ball touches his hands. Thielen hangs on, but is dropped immediately for a well-contained sixyards.
On 3rd and 4, Bradford again wants to go against Brown. This time second TE Rhett Ellison is the first read. Brown has him dead to rights and Bradford has to pull the ball down. This end zone view shows clearly that Bradford is looking his way and why Bradford must pull the ball down. With pressure coming from David Irving in the middle, Bradford can only get to his second read, Kyle Rudolph, who will break towards the corner... right into Byron Jones’ leverage.
This is what Jones’s coverage looks like as Bradford releases (actually just after release). The ball has to be over Jones, who can jump considerably high. Note, too, Jeff Heath, who has sub-4.4 speed, flying across the back of the end zone with an absolutely free and clear path to an overthrow.
Bradford actually makes a really nice throw that gets over Jones, but is still low enough for Rudolph to get a hand on it. Rudolph has no chance to pull this one in, but had the ball been anything but perfect into this narrowest of windows, its a likely pick, even with Jones’ infamously stone hands.
It’s now fourth down and the Vikings kick a field goal. Stopping them from scoring a TD on a red zone penetration was a huge feat for the game, making four points of difference. For three plays in a row, the Vikings targeted Anthony Brown and gained six yards total. That’s outstanding consistency and performance from any corner, and to get it from a sixth-round rookie is top shelf.
Dallas has a football player in Anthony Brown.