One of the Chargers biggest needs this offseason comes from their defensive backs. Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason are no longer with the Chargers, though latter is still a free agent. Marcus Gilchrist may someday be able to cover outside, but he is not there at this time. Shareece Wright is nearly a complete unknown.
The Chargers need a corner that can go toe-to-toe with outside receivers and contain them with minimal safety help. A corner who can do that would allow the safeties to help on the other side of the field, and be free to make big plays in the middle of the field. To that end, Telesco signed former Jaguars CB Derek Cox to a 4-year, $20 million deal with a little over $10 in guarantees. It's not elite cornerback money, but certainly enough to set an expectation that he will be a starter on this team. Is he worth that money? Let's find out.
The game we studied last season's week 16 game between Jacksonville and New England. For most plays in the game, Cox lined up against Brandon Lloyd, usually on the offensive left side. Lloyd last season was the Patriots #2 receiver in both catches and yardage, hauling in 74 catches on 130 targets for 911 yards. Hardly elite numbers, but definitely serviceable totals for a #2 receiver. Most plays Cox, without Safety help, was expected to shut down Lloyd on his own.
The Situation: JAC 10, NE 3; 0:23 left in 1Q; 1st and 10 from the New England 45
The Play: Cox will start the play lined up well off the line over Brandon Lloyd. Two receivers will be running deep routes on opposite sides of the field, and the Safety will help with the other. Cox will have to deal with Lloyd on his own with no deep help. Cox runs back and takes a step to the outside. Lloyd moves inside on a post route, and Cox goes slightly off balance recovering. Brady sees this and immediately sends the pass Lloyd's way. Cox recovers and is able to get in front of Lloyd to nab an interception.
The Lesson: Cox on several plays showed a good ability to recover from missteps. This especially allows him to stay with his receiver while a quarterback is scrambling looking for an open man. This also allows him to better cover outside receivers without Safety help.
The Situation: JAC 13, NE 3; 12:27 left in 2Q; 3rd and 9 from the New England 21
The Play: Cox lines up tight on Brandon Lloyd on this play, and at the snap, Lloyd cuts inside and goes up the field at an angle toward the center. Cox stays stride for stride with Lloyd, and as Tom Brady releases the pass, tries to jump on an inside cut. Lloyd instead runs up the field, and the safety picks him up. Brady's pass winds up incomplete to Aaron Hernandez.
The Lesson: This play actually allows Cox to take a chance while having a safety over the top. If the pass had been directed toward Lloyd, it would not have gone well for New England. Cox shows good situational awareness here and times his jump well. The Safety is on the same page, and seamlessly takes on Lloyd when he turns upfield instead.
The Situation: JAC 13, NE 13; 14:18 left in 3Q; 1st and 10 from the New England 34
The Play: Cox will start this play lined up well off the line of scrimmage over Brandon Lloyd. The deep safety is aligned on the other side of the field, as usual, and Cox is likely on his own if it is a deep pass. Cox gives keeps a 3-4 yard cushion in front of him, and favors staying on the outside of Lloyd on this play. Lloyd turned in 15 yards in, and makes an easy catch for a first down. Cox immediately closes the gap to make the tackle.
The Lesson: This is a typical scenario for how to get a catch against Cox. This was largest gain Cox gave up on the day, but it provides a good example. Cox tends to err on the side of caution, and assume his man will be going deep. I cannot fault him for this, as Jacksonville often left him without safety help over the top. New England did take advantage of this at times, running Lloyd on a short comeback route.
This play also highlights how Cox doesn't often give up many yards after the catch. By keeping the receiver in front of him, he can close the gap quickly and make the tackle before the receiver can move after the catch.
The Situation: JAC 13, NE 16; 0:51 left in 3Q; 2nd and 3 from Jacksonville 10
The Play: The Patriots are on the 10 yard line, and threatening to take a 2 score lead. Brandon Lloyd lines up on the far right, and Cox lines up over him 6 yards off the line of scrimmage. Brady takes the snap and quickly throws it to Lloyd. If Lloyd can get past Cox, it is a touchdown. As it is, it is very likely that Lloyd will pick up the 3 yards needed to set up a first and goal. Cox closes the gap quickly, but Lloyd gets a quick stiff arm and gets past Cox. Lloyd does go down, but not before gaining 8 yards to set up a 1st and Goal from the 2.
The Lesson: This is one of the examples of Cox's poor open field tackling during the game. He was equally poor when he was in position to make tackles in the run game. In this case, Cox DID make the tackle, but if Lloyd had been able to keep his balance for half a second longer, it would have likely been a touchdown. As it was, New England was able to score the touchdown a few plays later, and Jacksonville was not able to recover from a 10 point deficit in the 4th quarter.
Based on this game, Derek Cox is probably worth the money the Chargers are giving him, and he could turn out to be a bargain if he improves (he is currently only 26). All in all, I count him being targeted on 13 passing plays by the Patriots, and he gave up 6 catches for only 56 yards (I am counting a pass interference he committed early in the game as a catch).
He is excellent in press coverage, able to disrupt a receiver's route early on. He also does well at pushing a receiver toward the sideline, where he has an easier time providing close coverage. Cox has a good recovery when he missteps. There were several plays when he took a wrong step, got off balance, but was able to recover and stay in tight coverage on the receiver. He tends to keep receivers a bit in front of him, and he does not give up a lot of yards after the catch. When he gives up a reception, he is usually immediately making the tackle before the receiver can get moving.
His tendency to keep the receiver in front of him at all times to prevent the bomb does have downsides, though. For one, he is vulnerable to short in-and-out routes, and he is especially vulnerable to comeback routes. The Patriots targeted this weakness in Cox's game several times; especially in the on the first drive of the 3rd quarter, which resulted in a FG and the Patriots taking the lead for the first time in the game.
Cox isn't much of a factor in the run game. He is easily blocked by the opposing wideout. Cox is also subpar at making open-field tackles. When a runner or receiver has the ball on the move, he doesn't often take good angles, and has trouble bringing the ball carrier down.
Derek Cox is an excellent addition to the Chargers. He possesses the skills a team needs in an outside cornerback. He doesn't often let the receiver get behind him, even when in press man coverage. John Pagano will be better able to use the Chargers safeties without worrying about giving up deep bombs on Cox's side of the field.
Next we'll look at new Chargers linebacker D.J. Smith.