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After further review: Cowboys CB Anthony Brown has been quietly playing good football

The Cowboys veteran corner has put a rough start to the season behind him

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The deck was stacked against Anthony Brown this season. For most of his career he’s been the starting slot cornerback ahead of fan-favorite Jourdan Lewis, which never did him any favors. But this year, he was tasked with holding down the outside cornerback spot opposite Trevon Diggs.

Much of the Cowboys’ offseason was centered on making sure Brown didn’t start at that CB2 spot, though. Rumors of interest in veteran free agents like Richard Sherman, Casey Hayward, and Michael Davis were secondary to the intense focus on draft prospects Patrick Surtain II and Jaycee Horn. Neither player ended up being available, so Kelvin Joseph became the new, young rookie corner in Dallas.

Both to the credit of Brown and the detriment of Joseph, nothing happened in training camp or preseason to shake Brown from the top of the depth chart. Joseph landing on the injured reserve only further cemented Brown’s status, which sent him right into the buzzsaw that was a matchup with Antonio Brown in Week 1.

To say that Brown played poorly against the other Brown is an understatement: the Cowboys’ Brown got burned to a crisp. Context is necessary, though, and Antonio is just a few years removed from being the consensus best receiver in the NFL, so Anthony is not the first, or last, corner to have a bad day against this receiver. Week 2 meant Brown faced off against Mike Williams who, at 6’4” and 218 pounds, had an advantage by five inches and 22 pounds.

Things once again went poorly for Brown, and it didn’t help that Diggs was busy making an early case for Defensive Player of the Year recognition. Between that contrast and Brown’s own struggles against two very good receivers, it was predictable that many were calling for Brown’s benching. A quick look at his numbers in the first two weeks offer a solid argument for such:

Anthony Brown’s Coverage Results, Weeks 1-2

 Targets Completions Completion % Allowed Passer Rating Allowed ADOT Air Yards Allowed Yards After Catch Allowed Touchdowns Allowed
 Targets Completions Completion % Allowed Passer Rating Allowed ADOT Air Yards Allowed Yards After Catch Allowed Touchdowns Allowed
Week 1 9 8 88.9% 152.1 14.3 94 33 1
Week 2 7 4 57.1% 114.3 8.3 17 25 1
Total 16 12 75.0% 133.2 11.3 111 58 2

The issue for Dallas was that there weren’t any obvious replacements. Maurice Canady impressed in the preseason, but he’s more of a slot corner and was needed on special teams. Nahshon Wright has also become a big part of special teams, and the team may be looking for the 6’4”, 185-pound corner to build himself out more before asking him to actually play on defense.

So Dan Quinn and Joe Whitt Jr. stuck with Brown, banking on his experience to help him rebound. And after four weeks, it’s looking like that exact thing has happened. Brown’s numbers in the last four games have been significantly better:

Anthony Brown’s Coverage Results, Weeks 3-6

 Targets Completions Completion % Allowed Passer Rating Allowed ADOT Air Yards Allowed Yards After Catch Allowed Touchdowns Allowed
 Targets Completions Completion % Allowed Passer Rating Allowed ADOT Air Yards Allowed Yards After Catch Allowed Touchdowns Allowed
Week 3 8 6 75.0% 61.9 10.4 39 33 0
Week 4 13 7 53.8% 76.4 11.7 50 57 0
Week 5 8 2 25.0% 14.1 15.6 51 0 0
Week 6 4 3 75.0% 103.1 9.8 25 12 0
Total 33 18 54.5% 63.9 11.9 165 102 0

As you can see, Brown was tested often by the likes of Sam Darnold, Jalen Hurts, Daniel Jones, and Mike Glennon, but gave up very little. He even tallied two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown. That resulted in Mac Jones mostly avoiding him last week, although Jones had success on the rare occasion he did throw his way. It’s worth pointing out, though, that Jones’ only incompletion when targeting Brown was on third down in overtime, which set up the Cowboys’ game-winning drive.

Brown hasn’t necessarily been a lockdown corner these last four weeks, as he’s had two games allowing a 75% completion rate. But Brown has significantly cut down on how many yards after the catch he’s giving up, and aside from the Patriots game, quarterbacks have seen their passer rating dip when throwing his way. Our own Aidan Davis made this chart to show the progression of Brown’s passer rating allowed throughout this season so far:

As a reminder, since Brown is playing defense and passer rating measures a quarterback’s skills throwing the ball, it’s a good thing the lower this gets on the chart for Brown.

For those who still don’t buy Brown’s improvement in play, the argument is that it’s because Brown hasn’t faced a good quarterback since the first two weeks. That’s true, but it’s also true that Brown was playing two exceptional quarterbacks the first two weeks as well. If Brown were truly terrible, he’d have gotten burned by Hurts and Jones just as much as when Tom Brady and Justin Herbert were throwing the ball.

Looking at this chart and seeing how Brown’s passer rating allowed compares with the league average, while also considering the quality of opposing quarterbacks, it’s easy to see that Brown is playing at an above average level for a starting cornerback. He’s not good enough to lock down good receivers and punish great quarterbacks, but Brown is serviceable and productive on the whole. Some teams don’t even have that on their roster at all, but Dallas has it as their second best cornerback.

Brown isn’t playing at the level Diggs is, and it’s unrealistic to expect that from him. But Brown is playing significantly better than the general perception of him seems to indicate, and that should be enough - at least for now - to keep Joseph on the sidelines when he returns to the active roster.

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