Under Fire

Which pass defenders have been challenged more than any others in the league so far? And how are they faring as quarterbacks continue to gun for them? Scout.com's Ed Thompson fills you in on who's winning the battles and who's becoming an easy target.

As quarterbacks and offensive coordinators review their passing-game strategy each week, they're always looking for the weak link in the secondary or linebacker corps. Then on game day, they'll go after him until the defense finds a way to compensate for the mismatch or until the he's able to prove them wrong.

Looking at defenders who have had at least 25 passes thrown their way through Week 5, five of them have been tested more often than anyone else in the league. Which ones have stood up to the pressure and won the battles? Which ones have stumbled and invited even more assaults?

Well, no one has been tested nearly as often as Dallas cornerback Jacques Reeves, a fourth-year corner who is actually the team's third cornerback, but who has stepped up to start this year due to injuries to Terence Newman and Anthony Henry. With a league-leading 57 passes thrown his way already, it's been obvious that opposing quarterbacks know where he is on every passing down and believe they can get the ball by him. 

Reeves has understandably had mixed results under the pressure of being a first-year starter.  He's currently tied for second-worst in the league in touchdown passes allowed with four strikes against him, but he's also defended six passes, made one interception and forced a fumble.  Opposing receivers have caught the ball 34 times for a 59.6 percent "burn" ratio, which actually puts him just below the middle of the pack in that category -- 25th out of the 44 defenders who qualified with the minimum 25 passes to defend. But those receivers have managed to move the ball 352 yards at his expense so far, sixth-worst in the league.

Cleveland's Eric Wright should just put an "R" for rookie on his jersey in place of his No. 24 because opposing quarterbacks are clearly trying to exploit the youngster out of UNLV as frequently as they can. To his credit, the Browns' 2007 second-round draft pick is performing about as well as Reeves despite having far less time in the league. He's seen 48 passes thrown to the receivers he's been trying to shadow and has allowed 29 completions for a 60.4 percent burn ratio, putting him in fairly respectable (for a rookie) 27th place out of the 44 defenders. Wright's also given up four touchdown passes and defended just three passes while yielding a fifth-worst 355 receiving yards.

Quarterbacks have tested former first-round pick Marcus Trufant of the Seahawks 41 times so far, but he's had a solid showing during the first five weeks considering the amount of activity he's faced. With a burn percentage of 53.7 to date, he has the 17th-best score out of the group and he's batted away six passes, putting him in a tie for fifth-best in the league in passes defended. The fifth-year veteran has allowed just one touchdown and 233 yards to date, but so far he's been targeted more than any other corner in the league who has extensive starting experience.

Arizona's Roderick Hood is the player in the top five targeted defenders who is most likely to have quarterbacks looking another direction very soon. An undrafted free agent who's in his fifth season, Hood signed with the Cardinals as a free agent after four years in Philadelphia that included just 12 starts -- but also valuable experience as the team's nickel back in 2006.

Roderick Hall battles Torry Holt
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

With five starts this season, he's already started as many games as he did all of last year, so you can understand why teams have been anxious to put him on the spot. But Hood has responded defiantly, allowing just 16 of 40 passes thrown his way to be caught, making his 40.0 burn percentage the second-lowest out of the qualifying players. During those five starts, he's faced three pretty darn good quarterbacks in Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, Baltimore's Steve McNair and Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck. He's also faced the 49ers' Alex Smith and the Rams' Gus Frerotte -- who he roughed up with a pair of interceptions last week including one that he returned for a touchdown.

The two cornerbacks who have been picked-on 39 times each already this year -- placing them in a tie for fifth place -- are Detroit's Stanley Wilson and Seattle's Kelly Jennings. Neither one of them is doing all that well at handling the challenge. 

Wilson has allowed a league-worst 389 receiving yards that includes 3 touchdowns out of the 29 passes completed to his receivers. His 74.4 percent burn ratio is third-worst in the league, sending a clear signal to future opponents that they should be throwing even more passes his way.

While Jenning's burn ratio is a more modest 59 percent, putting him near the middle of the pack in that category, he's given up a seventh-worst 308 receiving yards to date. To his credit though, he hasn't allowed a receiver to score against him yet this season and he's knocked away four passes so far.

As teams see that their attempts to take advantage of some of the currently top-targeted players aren't paying off as well as they'd hope, they'll test other defenders who are showing a willingness to be more cooperative.  Out of the 44 players who have had the opportunity to defend at least 25 passes so far this season, here are the players who are going to become increasingly popular targets for exploitation if they can't tighten-up their coverage:

1. Drayton Florence: A 16-game starter last year, the Chargers cornerback has been targeted 30 times and currently has the league's worst burn ratio of 83.3 percent. He's also allowed 381 receiving yards already, second-highest out of the group of qualifying defenders. 

2. Rocky McIntosh: The young Redskins linebacker is proving to be a bit of a liability in pass coverage so far this year, allowing 21 completions out of 26 targeted passes (80.8 percent). Fortunately, they are mainly short, quick passes with average gains of roughly 10 yards. He hasn't allowed a touchdown pass as of yet.

3. Lewis Sanders: The Falcons have plenty of problems, and Sanders' struggles while trying to be an everyday starter are among them. So far the seventh-year veteran -- who has just spotty starting experience during his career -- has allowed 23 of 29 attempts to be caught (79.3 percent) including one for a touchdown. His 309 receiving yards allowed is the ninth-worst in the league.

4.  Stanley Wilson: The league's quarterbacks and offensive coordinators have already been going after Wilson and his 74.4 percent burn ratio as mentioned earlier. He's tied for fifth in targeted passes now, but expect to see him get even busier as the season progresses since he's being so generous with yardage as well.

5.  David BarrettAfter starting just 11 games the previous two seasons, the Jets' eighth-year veteran hasn't been able to knock the rust off during his five starts in 2007. He's allowed 72.7 percent of the passes thrown to his receivers to be caught and his 372 receiving yards allowed is the third-worst rate in the league.

Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the Scout.com network and are syndicated through FOXSports.com. You can contact him by email through this link.

Statistics referenced in this article are provided by STATS, LLC. Copyright 2007 by STATS, LLC. Any use or distribution of such Licensed Materials without the express written consent of STATS is strictly prohibited. 

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