NFL News & Analysis

NFL Week 8 Coverage Update: Titans defense playing great entering SNF collision with Chiefs

Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Texans running back Dameon Pierce (31) is tackled by Tennessee Titans cornerback Roger McCreary (21) in the fourth quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

• The Tennessee Titans perfectly covered a gigantic 75% of plays in dominant win over Texans — nearly 25% higher than the next two teams in Week 8 (49ers and Bills).

• CB Roger McCreary (True Coverage rate of 93.5%) gets his second Rookie of the Week honor after locking down Houston's pass catchers.

• Bills backup safeties Demar Hamlin and Jaquan Johnson have exceeded expectations, with Hamlin racking up two perfect weeks in place of Hyde, and Johnson showing promise and being above average in coverage this season.

Last updated: Nov. 1, 4:00 p.m.

Estimated reading time: 9 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 eighth week of the NFL season.

To note, we made a slight change in the Perfectly Covered Plays calculation to improve the metric. The contents of this change included removing plays with screen passes, as PFF does not chart separation on these plays, therefore neutral coverage grades would be given to each coverage player. Because each player earned a grade of 0, screen plays would always be recorded as “perfectly covered.”

Removing these plays helps us make this metric a more accurate representation of the strength of the coverage unit. As a result, this also slightly changed the individual players’ True Coverage Rates, as those neutral coverage grades on screen plays are no longer included. With this change, the Perfectly Covered Play rate moved down 6.6% on average. Breaking it down by position, individual True Coverage Rates decreased about 0.5%.

With the new updates accounted for, let's evaluate how each team and defender performed in coverage in Week 8.

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 8, compared to how often their offense faced Perfectly Covered Plays. The league average in Week 8 was 34%, up from last week’s average of 33%.

The Tennessee Titans perfectly covered the highest percentage of plays this week, at a gigantic 75%. That percent is significantly high (in the updated calculation of the metric which removed screen passes), and it’s nearly 25% higher than the next 2 teams (the San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills). The 49ers have been dealing with their injuries very well, and the Bills had a nice defensive bounce back game after having a low perfectly covered play rate in their previous game.

The Arizona Cardinals defense struggled the most to create perfectly covered plays, as the Minnesota Vikings’ star pass catchers gave them problems. Two of the worst teams in this statistic, the Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions, actually had above-average games. The Lions did fire their defensive backs coach, so look to see if anything improves in the coming weeks.

This week, 11/15 winning teams also had the higher perfectly covered play percentage. The Washington Commanders perfectly covered about 25% fewer plays than the Indianapolis Colts defense did to them, so it was impressive they were able to come back and win that game.

Perfectly Covered Plays is not just a defensive stat; preventing such plays is relevant for offenses, too. The Houston Texans offense faced perfectly covered plays 75% of the time. They struggled to get any sort of offense going, and Davis Mills was held to only 150 passing yards. On the other hand, the Vikings and Dallas Cowboys offenses faced the fewest perfectly covered plays. The Cleveland Browns didn’t create many, but the Cincinnati Bengals offense without Ja’marr Chase couldn’t capitalize.

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 this season is 80% for cornerbacks, 87.5% for linebackers and 91% for safeties.

David Long and Tremaine Edmunds were the only 2 linebackers perfect in coverage this week, each taking opposing pass catchers out of the play a bunch of times.

Three cornerbacks were perfect in coverage this week. Taron Johnson has stepped up greatly in an injury depleted Bills secondary. For a positive change, Lions CB Jeff Okudah finally had a great game locking down receivers. He wasn’t covering Tyreek Hill or Jaylen Waddle when he earned positive coverage grades, but let’s see if he can keep it up with a new defensive backs coach.

Five safeties were perfect in coverage this week. Each of these safeties have been perfect in coverage before, and they continued to impress this week. Trevon Moehrig in particular has had 2 perfect weeks in coverage since his return from injury, and Damar Hamlin has been great for the Bills since Micah Hyde suffered a season-ending neck injury.

Noteworthy Statistics

The Bills had another injury at safety this week, when Jordan Poyer left the game after hurting his elbow. If he were to miss time, Buffalo would be down both star safeties. However, their backups have overperformed so far, with Hamlin racking up two perfect weeks in place of Hyde, and Jaquan Johnson showing promise and being above average in coverage this season.

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 8 were:

A 7th round pick out of Yale, safety Rodney Thomas II has been stellar for the Colts, picking up his second perfect week and third Coverage Rookie of the Week honor. Thomas and Chicago Bears safety Jaquan Brisker have gone back and forth with this award, and they look to be miles ahead of the other rookies. Even though the Lions had a defensive collapse, LB Malcolm Rodriguez had a decent day in coverage to grab the top spot. Tennessee Titans CB Roger McCreary gets his second Rookie of the Week honor after locking down all the Texans' pass catchers.

However, some rookies struggled a little this week, with CB Kyler Gordon (64%), LB Devin Lloyd (75%), and S Kyle Hamilton (82.6%) having the lowest true coverage rates in their respective positions. Gordon accumulated a hefty sum of negative coverage grades this week, most of them coming when he was matched up against CeeDee Lamb. Lloyd left Denver Broncos TE Greg Dulcich and Jerry Jeudy open downfield in his game, while Hamilton continued to be up and down against the Buccaneers’ pass attack.

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 8.

 

No surprise here, but the Titans made the fewest coverage mistakes in their dominant defensive performance against the Texans, and every one of their coverage players had above-average true coverage rates. They’ve put together some great performances lately, and they’ll get a true test against the Kansas City Chiefs this upcoming week. Jimmie Ward was the only player that held back the 49ers defense by struggling against Cooper Kupp, but they were able to balance out his low coverage rate with some stellar performances.

The Carolina Panthers defense had a poor showing in an exciting game against the Atlanta Falcons with the division lead up for grabs. However, there were one too many plays with Falcons receivers left wide open by the Panthers. In fact, every single one of the Panthers’ coverage players had below-average true coverage rates, including star CB Jaycee Horn, who only covered receivers 68% of the time. After Week 7's top performance against the Green Bay Packers, the Commanders' coverage unit was in the bottom 5 this week. Their stellar performance a week ago can also be attributed to the weakness of the Packers offense.

Cumulative Statistics 

So far this season, the cumulative Perfectly Covered Play rate is 34.7%. Over the course of the season, we will learn which teams are the most successful at creating Perfectly Covered Plays. Since we improved the metric calculation this week, there will be bigger shifts in the cumulative Perfectly Covered Play rate standings. So far this season, 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

49ers (43.9%)

Bengals (43.6%)

Raiders (40.6%)

Bottom 3 in Perfectly Covered Play Rate

Browns (22.7%)

Seahawks (25.2%)

Patriots (27.2%)

There’s a big gap from second to third place, with the 49ers and Bengals pulling away in this statistic. However, the Las Vegas Raiders jumped up to third even with an average defensive performance this week, in a game where their offense didn’t even score any points. The Raiders were one of the worst teams from 2019-2021 in this statistic, so it is nice to see their extreme improvement.

With the recalculation of this metric (accompanied by an above-average performance by their coverage unit this week), the Seahawks finally move out of the bottom spot. They continue to improve while the Browns have been consistently getting worse in coverage. The Browns' coverage unit cannot get on the same page, and they’ve been in the bottom 3 perfectly covered play rates multiple times.

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 28.1% of the time, which brings the cumulative average to 29.4%, therefore running zone on 70.6% 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:

Most Man Coverage in 2022

Giants (51%)

Patriots (48.6%)

Lions (45.9%)

Most Zone Coverage in 2022

Rams (89.8%)

Vikings (86.9%)

Seahawks (82.3%)

The New York Giants continued to run over 50% man coverage this week in their game against the Seahawks. However, Big Blue allowed D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett to get open one too many times, and they all came against the Giants in man coverage. Look to see if they opt for more zone in the coming weeks.

The Los Angeles Rams and Seahawks used almost entirely zone coverage in their respective games, while the Vikings used about 20% man coverage. That's a large amount for Minnesota, which contained DeAndre Hopkins in man but was destroyed in zone coverage.

Also check out weekly Man and Zone Analysis articles coming out soon for more in-depth analyses on this and predictions based on Week 9 matchups.

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