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Is Cowboys Cornerback Morris Claiborne For Real In 2016?

Looking at some of the coverages that Morris Claiborne played last game

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Ed. Note: Gifs on the way, be patient with page load if necessary.

There’s little question that Morris Claiborne has been the best defensive back on the team in 2016. He was actually quite good in 2015 as well, but his needle has been trending upwards and people are really starting to take notice of his play. In the comments of my look at Alshon Jeffery I opined that Claiborne was the best player we had to limit Jeffery. It turned out that his matchups with Kevin White were more entertaining, and they included a catch for the ages by White, who is a strong physical specimen himself. He also did well against speedy slot guy Eddie Royal.

The zone coverage snaps Claiborne had were not terribly exciting: he drops into zone, once in a while Hoyer throws in front of him, he makes the tackle. Pretty routine stuff, but worth noting that Claiborne tied for the team lead with six credited solo tackles. I’ve pulled three man-to-man plays to look at the type of positioning Claiborne had all day.

Play 1

Here Claiborne (blue arrow) has followed Alshon Jeffery (black arrow) in motion, indicating that he is in man coverage. Dallas plays Cover 2 over the top.

The Bears try to rub Claiborne off of his coverage by running three receivers into that same area.

Mischief managed, Claiborne navigates this perfectly (as do the other Dallas players) and locks on to Jeffery’s hip pocket.

From here I’ll just let the pictures play out. The ball goes underneath, for a pretty decent gain wiped out by a penalty on the Bears’ line, none of which takes away from the perfect positioning Claibrone maintains throughout the play.

Play 2

Next up is an example of a nice read by Sean Lee ruining good coverage by Claiborne. Claiborne (blue circle) is pressing Jeffery at the line.

Claiborne is right on Jeffery again, but Lee (blue arrow) is watching Hoyer already staring down Jeffery (black arrow) and getting ready to throw. This is about a second after the snap.

Jeffery runs a great route, but Claiborne is right with him and breaking on the ball. Sean Lee is, too, and has done a remarkable job of reading and driving on this play.

Unfortunately, Lee has run too deep and instead of getting to the ball, he runs into Claiborne, who is just starting to launch into Jeffery as the ball arrives. Not saying that Jeffery wouldn’t have caught it, but he’d have done so with Claiborne in the small of his back.

Lee even stopped for a moment to give Claiborne a "my bad" on the way back to the huddle.

Play 3

Finally a play on which Cris Collinsworth irked me. Mo (blue circle) is singled up on Kevin White. Notice the positioning of Byron Jones (blue arrow).

Collinsworth described this play by saying White "just runs right by" Claiborne. I disagree with his assessment. Here they are neck-and-neck. Meanwhile Jones is floating toward the deep middle, but still on the defensive right.

White, who ran a 4.35 at the combine (incredible for a 6’3", 215 lb guy) gains some separation here, but Claiborne is hanging in. Jones is reading Hoyer and breaks hard for the play.

The ball is slightly underthrown, which helps Mo catch up, but he was never more than a step back... plenty close for a ball that is traveling 45 yards through the air. Meanwhile the ground that Jones has been able to cover is truly remarkable. He doesn’t interfere with the play, but had Claiborne fallen or something Jones had a shot at saving the TD.

Claiborne is credited on the play as "nearest defender", which is hogwash. He clearly prevents the catch. Here’s a close up of the ball’s arrival. Mo is there, with his arm between White’s arms. You can see the ball just through White’s hands at this frame.

If you read the official line and listen to Collinsworth, you would think this was a play where Claiborne got dusted and was saved by an errant throw. The reality is this was great downfield coverage on a dangerous receiver.

Morris Claiborne is a bargain this year. He’s playing really well and for roughly the same money as Leodis McKelvin or William Gay. I fully expect him to command significantly more money this off season and I think Dallas would be wise to sign him before then.

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