Chris Cullver popped up on Wednesday's injury report. Jay Gruden said the cornerback had an MRI on his shoulder and his status for Sunday's rematch with the New York Giants. If available, the question then becomes how the Redskins are using Culliver...
Free Agency is not typically where Scot McCloughan makes his money. The NFL Draft wizard came to a Redskins team that was devoid of talent in many places and it was clear that one draft couldn't possibly fill all the holes already in place. Scot McCloughan knows free agency is a tool to dabble in but is not the key to success. Still, the Redskins made a few splashes. Without mentioning the contract signed by Stephen Paea who was beat out for a starting spot by Chris Baker, the guy I want to focus on is Chris Culliver.
Culliver signed a 4-year, $32 million deal in March. When watching him in San Francisco, he took top receivers out of the game with an in-your-face, jam-you-at-the-line, physical, aggressive style that saw quarterbacks going to the other side of the field which opened up opportunities for Perrish Cox to get turnovers. As anyone knows, if you're going to shell out big bucks for a player in free agency, you either take his playbook with you or at least steal the concept that allowed him to shine and earn that contract. Too often we see players paid and forced into a different scheme and they faulter. As it stands now, the Redskins are following suit.
When watching the Chargers defense while Joe Barry was on staff, they played a lot of Cover 1 man but it was never confirmed if that was a philosophy that Barry actually believed in. When Perry Fewell was added to staff, it was well documented that he liked to play his cornerbacks soft and now it's showing. Redskins have been primarily a Cover 3 team and opponents have been attacking them as such.
Back to how this factors into Culliver (Breeland as well), he is out of his element 10 yards off the ball. I mentioned after the game that Redskins twitter account is constantly tweeting vines of Culliver in 1-on-1s during practice roughing up WRs, getting in their faces, talking trash and breaking up passes. On gameday, they play him far off and we see none of what made him a $32 million man. Against Panthers, it was no different. Let's take a look:
1. The best routes against Cover 3 against outside defenders are deep comebacks and hitches because they look like fly routes until they aren't. A Cover 3 defenders only job is to make sure he doesn't get beat deep. Nearly 10 yards off the line of scrimmage, Panther's WR job is to push upfield until Culliver turns his hips and then break. Note: Redskins have been playing same coverage but with one CB in press. Breeland is in press at bottom of screen.
Culliver actually plays this one pretty well coming out of his break. Panthers WR didn't push it upfield hard enough.
Yet, a better throw would have been a completion. It's just really hard to be in that kind of 1-on-1 situation on the wide side of the field with a free release.
2. If you're any good at Madden, you run this Curl/Flat concept against Cover 3 as often as you can. It's a huge weakness. When you have two WR concept, theres usually a shallow route and a deeper route. Culliver has to drop back while reading who the deeper WR is going to be. The flat defender goes with the flat route while the curl just stops in open space.
Look where Culliver is when the curl breaks. Absolutely useless in that area but again, his primary concern is not getting beat deep which he didn't. Mission accomplished?
Culliver crashes down on the tackle but not after a free gain of 13 yards.
3. On the next drive, the Panthers run another deep curl in the same place except this time from the slot WR. The outside WR runs a short outside hitch.
Flat defender goes with the outside hitch route and look at where Culliver is on the field. Receiver is so open he jogs to his spot while looking back at Cam Newton. Newton saw it early too and releases the ball.
This time it's a free 19 yards. The Safety that crashed in the "robber" position should have helped but this doesn't work nearly as well if Culliver is in outside WRs face freeing up Blackmon to play this route.
4. Look at where the first down marker is and look where Culliver lined up. I refuse to believe that football is as hard as people make it to be.
Culliver takes one step back off the snap and the ball is already out.
A gain of 7 yards and an easy first down. No resistance.
5. On this play, Blackmon stays on the slot WR on this concept they were burned on earlier. But Culliver is still playing 10 yards off the ball.
Culliver bails like it's a fly route and the Panthers WR breaks it off. Once he breaks it off, he also does an outside pivot to give Culliver an even harder angle to the ball.
The receiver drops this pass but again was open. That's two passes already that could have also counted against Culliver.
6. The thing about being in this position and watching 100 curl routes completed in front of you. Especially in an aggresive guy like Culliver, you get sick of seeing it and you want to take it away, forgetting your deep coverage responsibility. Here's a stutter and go. The stutter looks like a curl route.
The quick stutter freezes Culliver.
This becomes an illegal contact penalty as Culliver holds or else he'd have been beat deep. Go from wrestling on the line of scrimmage with guys like Larry Fitzgerald to being beat on double moves by Brenton Bersin.
7. Sell the fly route and break it off. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Cam Newton is flushed from the pocket or the ball might already be out to Culliver's guy.
The receiver is open while breaking towards the sideline but Newton opts to run the ball with that much room.
8. When the Redskins stick to one specific coverage, it allows the Panthers to keep calling specific routes and keep winning.
Culliver is just in no position to compete in most of these situations. Receiver already breaking with 8 yards of room.
Newton gets the ball out to Ted Ginn Jr. so quick he's able to make a move on Culliver in the open field. Gain of 17 here.
9. Monotonous, right?
Culliver does a good job at the top of the route this time.
Yet, the receiver gets separation and just can't pull the ball down.
10. Devin Funchess slow plays this double move like it's a curl. He over-exaggerates his move inside.
Newton uses the pump fake on Funchess' inside move and Culliver takes the bait.
Newton sails the ball but Culliver still can't get back underneath it. Funchess pulls it down for a gain of 35 yards.
I'm not saying Redskins should completely abandon the Cover 3, but they need to switch it up far more often or opponents are going to continue to know where they are weak. It'll stick out like a sore thumb. The Redskins have two aggressive and physical CBs in Culliver and Breeland but aren't playing them to their strengths. They are two of the best players on the team being capped by their own coaches. You don't pay a player like Culliver that type of money to stand back and watch the same way you don't pay Darrelle Revis to be a Tampa 2 CB. It's just bad business.
Speaking of Tampa Bay, teams have had Lovie Smith's Tampa 2 figured out for awhile and once he changed his defense up, they started becoming more productive. It's time for the Redskins to follow the trend because what they are doing right now isn't working and they are wasting some of their best assets.
Paul Conner is the Film Analyst at Breaking Burgundy. You can follow him on Twitter @P_ConnerJr