NFL News & Analysis

Week 3 Coverage Update: 49ers enter top 3 in Perfectly Covered Play rate

September 18, 2022; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers safety Tashaun Gipson Sr. (31) celebrates after intercepting the football against the Seattle Seahawks during the second quarter at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

· The Dolphins perfectly covered the highest percentage of Week 3 plays (56%), with the Niners, Panthers and Jets not far behind.

· The Jets' Sauce Gardner took home his first Rookie of the Week honor, while Packers LB Quay Walker continues to dominate in this category.

· The Bengals are pulling away slightly with the highest cumulative Perfectly Covered Play rate, at nearly 5% above the next highest team.

• New users who bet $10 or more at BetMGM will receive a free year’s subscription to PFF+ — a $79.99 value.

Estimated reading time: 8 mins

Following our extensive research on coverage in football, and the creation of Perfectly Covered Plays and Adjusted Coverage Rate, we now have recent data to analyze from the third week of the NFL season.

Let's evaluate how each team and defender performed in coverage in Week 3. 

Perfectly Covered Plays

A “Perfectly Covered Play” is where every coverage player on the field earns a coverage grade of zero or better on a single play. Here are the defenses that created the most Perfectly Covered Plays in Week 3, compared to how often their offense faced Perfectly Covered Plays. The league average in Week 3 was 41.4%, which is the same as last week’s average of 41.4% and up from the 2019-2021 league average of 38.5%.

No teams were standouts in this statistic this week, but the Miami Dolphins defense perfectly covered the highest percent of plays this week (56%), with the San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers, and New York Jets not too far behind. In fact, both the Jets and Cincinnati Bengals’ defenses perfectly covered over 50% of plays in their game, which made it hard for both offenses to get going in the second half. On the other hand, the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions had by far the worst Perfectly Covered Play rates this week, which is interesting since they played each other. Also notable is the Los Angeles Chargers, who perfectly covered nearly 50% of plays this week after struggling immensely in both prior weeks.

This week, the winning team had created more Perfectly Covered Plays 10/16 times. This is impressive for the Vikings, whose defense had one of the lowest Perfectly Covered Play rates all season (15%), but they pulled out the win against a Lions defense that only perfectly covered a couple more percent of plays than the Vikings. 

Perfectly Covered Plays is not just a defensive stat; preventing such plays is relevant for offenses, too. The Buffalo Bills’ offense faced the most Perfectly Covered Plays this week against a great Miami Dolphins secondary, while the Vikings faced the fewest. The Panthers offense also remained in the top three for facing the most Perfectly Covered Plays for the third week in a row. 

Individual True Coverage Rates 

Keying in on individual players, we can see who performed the best in coverage this week in terms of their True Coverage Rate, the percentage of the snaps for which they earn a coverage grade of zero or better. 

Note: The True Coverage Rate league average (from 2019-2021) was 80% for cornerbacks, 88% for linebackers and 91% for safeties.

Tennessee Titans LB Dylan Cole was the only linebacker perfect in coverage this week, containing Las Vegas Raiders RB Josh Jacobs the whole game, and Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Nick Bolton continues to impress in his second season. 

Atlanta Falcons CB Richie Grant is the first cornerback to be perfect in coverage this season. The Jets‘ one-two CB punch of DJ Reed and Sauce Gardner had an impressive day containing all of the Bengals offensive weapons, but a couple defensive miscommunications let Cincinnati gain ground. It's also worth noting that both of the Green Bay Packers‘ star cornerbacks, Eric Stokes and Rasul Douglas, were sixth and seventh this week, respectively, after an amazing defensive performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' pass-catchers. 

Only four safeties were perfect in coverage this week, as opposed to 8 and 9 in the previous weeks. Logan Ryan is proving to be a great addition to the Buccaneers coverage unit after losing Jordan Whitehead in the offseason, and Malik Hooker was perfect in coverage for the second week this season.

Noteworthy Statistics

The Bills are now down both of their starting cornerbacks, with Tre’Davious White still on Injured Reserve and Dane Jackson going down with an injury last week. Both of their rookies, Kaiir Elam and Christian Benford had to step into even bigger roles this week — and both finished the game with below-average True Coverage rates. To make matters worse, Benford suffered a fractured hand in their loss to the Dolphins, so keep an eye out to see who ends up starting in a severely-depleted CB room against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 4. 

Panthers starting CB Donte Jackson suffered a neck injury during the game, and his replacement C.J. Henderson slightly underwhelmed in his performance, tallying a below-average True Coverage rate of 76%. 

Rookies of the Week

We can also check in on some 2022 draft picks based on how they performed in coverage. The rookies with the highest True Coverage Rates in Week 3 were:

Green Bay Packers LB Quay Walker continues to sweep the coverage Rookie of the Week honor for linebackers — and this week it wasn’t even close. Sauce Gardner gets his first coverage Rookie of the Week honor for his impressive day locking up Bengals receivers, specifically WR Ja’Marr Chase, even breaking up a good amount of passes along the way. Houston Texans S Jalen Pitre continues to impress in a Texans secondary trying to find its rhythm. 

However, some rookies struggled a little this week, with Lions LB Malcolm Rodriguez (80.8%) and CBs Kaiir Elam (72%) and Baltimore's Damarion Williams (62.5%) having the lowest true coverage rates in their positions. Williams didn’t play a lot of coverage snaps this week, but he went from being first last week to the worst this week. Elam was put into a big role for the Bills this week with Dane Jackson out with an injury, but he underperformed against the high-flying Dolphins receivers. 

Team-Specific True Coverage Rates (Coverage Mistakes)

Let's take True Coverage rates and calculate which teams made the fewest coverage mistakes (having the highest true coverage rate) and the most coverage mistakes (having the lowest true coverage rate) in Week 3.

Even though the Dolphins defense created the highest percent of Perfectly Covered Plays this week, they do not make the top five in fewest coverage mistakes this week. Instead, the 49ers take the top spot after having the third- fewest amount of coverage mistakes last week. In fact, every one of their coverage players had above-average True Coverage rates this week.

Three of the bottom-five teams this week were in the top five last week. The New York Giants had a tough time covering the Cowboys receivers, often leaving them wide open Monday night. Their coverage unit went from making the second-fewest amount of coverage mistakes last week to making the second-most coverage mistakes this week, The Raiders and Lions also went from top 5 to bottom 5, as the Raiders struggled against a fairly new Titans receiving room, and the Lions cornerbacks made a large amount of coverage mistakes in the second half against the Vikings. 

Cumulative Statistics

So far this season, the cumulative Perfectly Covered Play rate is 41.2%. Over the course of the season, we will learn which teams are the most successful at creating Perfectly Covered Plays, and so far, here are the top and bottom three teams in terms of their Perfectly Covered Play Rate this season: 

Top 3 in Perfectly Covered Play rate

· Bengals (56.3%)

· 49ers (51.5%)

· Buccaneers (51.5%)

Bottom 3 in Perfectly Covered Play Rate

· Seattle Seahawks (23.3%)

· Washington Commanders (26.2%)

· Chargers (28%)

The Bengals are pulling away slightly with the highest cumulative Perfectly Covered Play rate, at nearly 5% above the next highest team. Meanwhile, the 49ers jump into the top three with a great showing against the Broncos this week. On the other hand, we again have the same bottom three of the Chargers, Seahawks, and Commanders. The Chargers had a high Perfectly Covered Play rate against the Jaguars this week, but it wasn’t enough to bring them out of the bottom three. The Seahawks will face a Lions offense that evaded Perfectly Covered Plays over 80% of the time against the Vikings, so it might be difficult for the Seahawks defense to contain them. 

Evolving Man and Zone Rates

Some teams’ man and zone rates will vary by opponent, while some will stay steady throughout the season. This week, the league as a whole ran man coverage 32.3% of the time, which brings the cumulative average to 28.9%, therefore running zone on 71.1% of plays. We can see how each team’s percentage of running man and zone coverage evolves each week. Here are the teams that ran the most man and zone so far this season:

Top 3 teams playing the most Man Coverage in 2022

· Lions (53.8%)

· New England Patriots (46.8%)

· Dolphins (43.7%)

Top 3 teams playing the most Zone Coverage in 2022

· Bills (92.5%)

· Seahawks (92.2%)

· 49ers (91.1%)

The Lions ran man coverage on nearly 70% of their plays against the Vikings this week, which may not have been the smartest move given their below-average cornerbacks mismatch against the high-flying Vikings pass catchers. The Patriots also move into the top three in man coverage users after using a large amount of man against the Ravens. As for zone coverage, we have the same top three of the Bills, Seahawks, and 49ers, who again used zone coverage on almost all of their plays this week.

Also check out weekly Man and Zone Analysis articles coming out soon for more in-depth analyses on this and predictions based on Week 4 matchups. 

 

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