NFL News & Analysis

Week 12 NFL Coverage Update: Denver Broncos' breakdown surprisingly at hands of Panthers

Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers wide receiver DJ Moore (2) makes the initial scoring catch defended by Denver Broncos cornerback Pat Surtain II (2) during the first quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

• The Broncos' coverage unit has been strong all year but had a horrible game against the Panthers, who faced the least amount of perfectly covered plays in Week 12 — after facing the most in first half of 2022.

• Miami destroyed the Kyle Allen-led Texans, perfectly covering well over 60% of plays — the highest total in Week 12 — and making the fewest coverage mistakes.

• The loss of Eddie Jackson appears to be the nail in coffin of Bears' fallen defense; Jackson covered receivers on more than 95% of snaps, among the highest in football.

Last updated: Nov. 29, 1:15 p.m.

Estimated reading time: 7 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 twelfth week of the NFL season.

As a reminder, we made a slight change in the Perfectly Covered Plays calculation 2 weeks ago to improve the metric. The contents of this change included removing plays with screen passes, and it lowered the perfectly covered play rate 6.6%. Read more about the updated calculation in Week 8’s coverage update.

Let's evaluate how each team and defender performed in coverage in Week 12.

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 12, compared to how often their offense faced Perfectly Covered Plays. The league average in Week 12 was 36.3%, up from last week’s average of 33.9%.

The Miami Dolphins’ defense destroyed the Texans offense in Houston's first game with new QB Kyle Allen. Miami perfectly covered well over 60% of its plays, easily the highest percent of Week 12. The Denver Broncos defense had a poor showing against one of the worst offenses in the league, the Carolina Panthers. Denver's offense has been weak the whole season, and now it looks like the defense, specifically the coverage unit, is falling apart.

This week, 11/16 winning teams also had the higher perfectly covered play percentage. The Green Bay Packers coverage unit actually had a great game containing the Philadelphia Eagles’ pass attack (and had the highest perfectly covered play rate), but they ultimately got torched by the run, which cost them the game.

Perfectly Covered Plays is not just a defensive stat; preventing such plays is relevant for offenses, too. In a surprising turn of events, the Panthers’ offense faced the least amount of perfectly covered plays this week. They spent the first half of the season struggling the most to evade these plays, but succeeded greatly against a strong Broncos defense. Unlike the Texans, the Jets offense found a spark under New York Jets quarterback Mike White. They were able to evade perfectly covered plays at a much higher rate than in previous weeks.

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, 87.5% for linebackers and 91% for safeties.

Five linebackers locked down receivers on every play this week, and one was a rookie! Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley was perfect for the second week in a row and had a great game covering Chicago Bears TE Cole Kmet this week.

Among the top 5 cornerbacks, Tampa Bay BucsJamel Dean and the Jets' Sauce Gardner had the most plays with positive coverage grades, while the other 3 had a great deal of neutral grades. Dean had a great day covering Amari Cooper, while Gardner locked down Chase Claypool.

The Bears are very thin in their secondary, and they lost Eddie Jackson mid-game to a noncontact injury. However, safety DeAndre Houston-Carson filled in nicely for some injured players to be perfect in coverage this week. Six additional safeties had perfect coverage this week, including weekly staple Jevon Holland.

Noteworthy Statistics and Injuries

As stated above, the Bears are very thin at secondary, and losing Jackson is like the final nail in the coffin. Jackson covered receivers over 95% of the time, which is one of the highest percentages for all safeties. Jaquan Brisker, who has been stellar as a rookie, and Kyler Gordon were also out this past week. Jackson’s shoes will be massive to fill.

Buccaneers star safety Antoine Winfield Jr exited the game with a concussion, and the Cleveland Browns offense took advantage of his absence. Late in overtime, Carlton Davis left Amari Cooper absolutely wide open, which set up the Browns' game-winning touchdown. The Buccaneers had two backup safeties in on that play, but neither were the nearest defender.

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 12 were:

It was a great week for rookie coverage players, as tons of them covered receivers at a higher rate than the league average, especially the early round picks. Per usual, Quay Walker didn’t allow any receiver to get open. Cornerback Sauce Gardner gave up one bad play on Chase Claypool early but absolutely blanketed him the rest of the game. Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Bryan Cook was consistent for yet another game.

However, some rookies struggled a little this week, with cornerbacks Cordale Flott (63.6%) and DaRon Bland (72.7%) having the lowest true coverage rates. Flott struggled to cover Dallas Cowboys WRs Michael Gallup and Noah Brown, while Bland didn’t have a great day matched up against New York Giants WR Richie James.

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 12.

After perfectly covering the highest percent of plays this week, the Dolphins also had the least amount of coverage mistakes. The Buccaneers and Jets also committed few mistakes and both teams had players with top-5 true coverage rates in each position.

The Broncos' coverage unit has been strong all year but had a horrible game against the Panthers, with the most coverage mistakes in Week 12. Star cornerback Patrick Surtain II left receivers open over 40% of the time, and their safeties struggled immensely too.

Cumulative Statistics

 So far this season, the cumulative Perfectly Covered Play rate is 34.5%. In 2021, the Los Angeles Rams had the highest Perfectly Covered Play rate, while the Detroit Lions had the lowest. 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 3 teams in terms of their Perfectly Covered Play Rate this season:

Top 3 in Perfectly Covered Play rate this season

San Francisco 49ers (44.2%)

Cincinnati Bengals (41.7%)

• Tampa Bay Buccaneers (41.2%)

Bottom 3 in Perfectly Covered Play rate this season

• Cleveland Browns (21.1%)

• Detroit Lions (25.1%)

Seattle Seahawks (26%)

The top 3 remain the same again this week, and the Buccaneers move into a comfortable third after a strong week perfectly covering plays against the Browns. The Seahawks only perfectly covered 30% of plays this week in their game against the Raiders, but it was enough to move ahead of the Lions, who had another poor coverage performance.

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 25.2% of the time, which brings the cumulative average to 28.6%, therefore running zone on 71.4% 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 in Man Coverage rate

• New York Giants (52.4%)

New England Patriots (45.8%)

• Detroit Lions (44.1%)

Top 3 in Zone Coverage rate

• Los Angeles Rams (89.1%)

Minnesota Vikings (87.4%)

• Seattle Seahawks (83.1%)

It was a big week for zone coverage, as the league ran it at the highest amount this season. The Washington Commanders, Minnesota Vikings, and Atlanta Falcons were the three teams who ran zone coverage over 90% of the time this week, which was normal for the Vikings, but different for the other two. The Giants continued running over 50% man coverage again this week, and their defense is becoming more predictable.

Also check out weekly Man and Zone Analysis articles coming out soon for more in-depth analyses on this and predictions based on Week 13 matchups.


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