The Pittsburgh Steelers took part in an abnormally busy NFL trade deadline, including a late conditional draft pick trade with COs to acquire cornerback William Jackson III, a move to hopefully help a Steelers pass defense that allows a ton of yards. Our own Jonathan Heitritter wrote a great article in the movie theater, and my goal today is to provide some additional data context to his 2022 season in coverage as well as Pittsburgh cornerbacks. Let’s start with coverage shots and position goals to get a gauge of the amount of play.
Looking at Jackson III to start, he’s well below the opportunity average with only four games played this season due to a back injury. According to Sports Info Solutions (SIS), he has 121 cover shots (96th/112) and 13 targets (fourth-under), for a target percentage of 10.7%. No Steeler is above average in either data point, but cornerback Cameron Sutton is close. He’s the only player highlighted comfortably above average with 257 cover shots (34th), missing a game, which highlights the injuries Pittsburgh has suffered at the position itself. Sutton is barely below target average (T-56th) with 25, and quarterbacks targeting him on 9.7% of those plays.
Cornerback Levi Wallace played in six games and was the most targeted of the highlighted players (30th, 37th) out of 171 targets for a 17.5% target percentage (11th). Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon has played just four games, with 151 cover shots and an average of 27 targets (T-48th) for a 17.4% target percentage (13th). Cornerback Arthur Maulet is the only Steeler to appear in all eight games so far, and thus second on the team with 179 cover shots and just 13 targets for a surprisingly 7.3% target percentage. least of the team. Cornerback James Pierre’s low number of opportunities has come in the last four games and is the last Steeler to qualify, with 84 cover shots, 15 targets, for a 17.9% target percentage, which is the most among highlighted players and the eight most in the NFL. So Pierre, Wallace and Witherspoon have the highest target percentages by far, all in the NFL’s top 15, very important context as we continue to layer on more information.
Now let’s start looking at the quality of play with completion percentage and earned catch percentage (lower percentages are better), which is the number of completions and drops divided by the number of targets caught and passes defended:
Pierre allowed the lowest completion rate (46.7%) which is 22nd in the NFL, but has a higher earned catch percentage of 75% which is tied for 34th with multiple players. Sutton has the better balance of the two, second among highlighted players allowing a catch percentage of 48% (T-27th) and leading the highlighted players with an earned catch percentage of 72.2 (T-28th). Wallace is the third Steeler above average in both data points, allowing a 50 percent completion rate (T-32nd) as well as a 76.2 earned completion percentage that ranks 43rd.
The other players highlighted are below average in both data points, starting with Witherspoon. He allowed a catch rate of 66.7% with an earned catch percentage of 86.4. Jackson III and Maulet land almost identical on the chart, with the former having a completion percentage of 76.9 and an earned catch rate of 90.9% (highest T-10th), the latter matching the completion rate of completion but an even higher catch percentage of 91.7, which is ninth in the league! Very clear “winners and losers” in those terms as we move forward.
This made me wonder what the man vs. area coverage percentages looked like over the PFF season:
Right away, we can see Jackson III’s lowest man percentage by far in his time with Commanders this season, at just 26.8% with the highest area rate of 54.3 in this group. . That puts a number to his abuse in Washington, with his strengths being men’s coverage. Hopefully that’s something he can bring to the black and gold and some important insights to consider as we look at the other data.
Next, let’s look at yards per attempt and snap coverage:
Here’s another area where Sutton and Pierre are doing well, with Pierre ranking ninth in the NFL with just four yards per attempt and 0.7 yards per cover slam (T-24th). Sutton has 0.6 yards per coverage (T-20) with the best results on the highest volume, as well as 6.6 yards per attempt, which is tied for 34th.
The remaining players are all below average in both data points, with Jackson III near average in yards per coverage slam (1.1) but tied for 70th in league standings and awarded 10.3 yards per attempt tied for 95th in the NFL. Wallace is closer to average in yards per attempt (8.3, 64th) and 1.5 yards per coverage slam, which is tied for seventh. Witherspoon has allowed 9.7 yards per attempt (89th) and has the lowest yards per coverage slam of highlighted players, at 1.7, which is tied for sixth in the NFL. Maulet lands on the far left of the board, with the second worst yards per attempt at 16.6! Taking into account its higher coverage, it is close to average but just below Jackson III.
Another stat often used to rate cover players is QBR Against, so let’s see how players fare here with Wins Above Replacement (WAR) which is a points ladder conversion above replacement based on the scoring environment:
Pierre is the only player above league average in both data points. His 57.6 QBR Against ranks 28th, along with a 0.2 WAR result that puts him just above average through week eight. Wallace is the only other player above average in a data point, with his 61.5 ranking two spots behind Pierre at 30th. His 0.0 WAR lines up with Sutton and Jackson III, with the former having a QBR of 92.5 to 134.8 for the latter who is currently fifth worst in the NFL. Witherspoon and Maulet each have a negative WAR number, with the latter tied for second-worst result. Maulet has the slight advantage in QBR Against, with a 118.3 to Witherspoon’s 122.4 who both land in the last 15.
Finally, let’s take a look at the SIS expansion and slowdown percentages to see how players fared against big plays:
- Boom % = The percentage of dropbacks that resulted in an EPA of 1 or more (a very successful play for offense)
- Bust % = The percentage of dropbacks that resulted in an EPA of -1 or less (a very unsuccessful play for offense)
Here, we unfortunately only see one player above average in both data points, and giving context to the struggles in the passing game and the big plays Pittsburgh gave up overall.
Wallace provided the better balance of the two, with the best drop rate of 20% of players highlighted, tied for 38th in the league with a boom percentage matching 32nd. Pierre has an impressive 6.7% growth rate that ranks fourth in the NFL but is near the bottom of the league in drop percentage. Jackson III is slightly above average with a boom percentage of 23.1 (43rd) and a sink rate of 7.7% which is 10th at least.
The remaining players are below average in both data points, although Sutton is very close with a boom rate of 28% (61st) and a drop percentage of 16% (T-60th). Witherspoon has a boom result of 33.3% (T-82nd) and a fall percentage of 11.1 (T-93rd). Here’s another chart where Maulet lands extremely low, giving context to his well-documented coverage struggles, with a whopping 46.2% boom rate (fifth-worst in the league) and tied for last with two others with a drop percentage of zero %!
Considering all the data, Sutton is above average in usage, catch percentages and yardage, at the NFL average in targets, and below (but close to) average. in QBR Against, WAR, as well as boom and bust percentages. Pierre performed well in his low opportunity count, above average in catch percentage, yardage, QBR Against, WAR and boom percentage, but near the bottom of the league in terms of sink rate. It will be interesting to see what his opportunities look like in the future, with his strong game warranting more opportunities in my opinion, and whether the addition of Jackson III hinders that wish. Wallace has been the most targeted among players highlighted with below average opportunities, is above average in catch percentages, QBR Against and boom/bust percentages, but is below average in yardage allowed and WAR. Witherspoon’s difficult season is well documented, and today’s article sheds more light on that, with every aspect of the data being below average other than target count. Maulet fits that bill as well, struggling to provide anything as a cover player and below par or at the bottom of the league in all aspects of today’s review.
Jackson III was also below average in the majority of data, while being placed in awkward situations in Washington that weren’t in line with his skill set. One aspect in which it was above average was boom percentage, not allowing for a high rate of big plays compared to the NFL, which would be very welcome by a team that dominates the league in boom plays. allowed in defence. Given the film and the data, it seems to me that Pittsburgh will be in the best position to use Sutton, Pierre, Wallace and Jackson III in coverage situations coming out of the bye week.
What do you think of the data and the addition of William Jackson III? How do you think/see the use in the room of cornerbacks going the rest of the season? Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments!