Its amazing how one can grow when they don't have any choice. Some of us learned how to swim by getting shoved into the deep end of the pool. And in that moment we were faced with a very real decision to make, a decision that could have the most dire of consequences: sink or swim; live or die. And we swam. We lived. You can float around with swimmies until you're comfortable, you can hold on to the edge of the pool and practice your kick, you can even put on a pair of goggles and do a little sub-surface exploring in the shallows. But you don't really learn how to swim until you find yourself in the middle of the deep end and faced with THE decision.
Its always a good thing to have a great player on your team. But sometimes, being overly reliant on that greatness can be a hinderance. And I think that Darrelle Revis
may have become just that for this defense. Revis is not just great, he is the greatest to ever play his position. Nobody has ever sniffed the level that he plays at, and which he plays at as a matter of routine. He follows around opponents' best receivers and shuts them down with little to no help. He doesn't do it once it a while. He doesn't do it for a game here or there. He does it for just about every snap of every game, game after game, season after season. Every football team scours the land in search for a true, A-1, bona fide primo receiver. That guy that can dominate solo match-ups and demand double teams (and beat those too sometimes). The guy that can make plays when he wants to while drawing all the coverage off of everybody else. Well Revis makes a living DOMINATING those guys, and allows his team to crowd other areas of the field. And he does this while the rules have been specifically tailored to prevent good coverage. He allows Cro, a pretty good corner in his own right, to not only face mostly lesser competition but also to have the added benefit of extra help from coverage being rolled his way. He also frees up another safety to provide help to other passing options or to be more aggressive in attacking the run. And with all the help everybody else is getting, they can be more aggressive in their technique to disrupt routes. Revis' doesn't only have the huge impact of snuffing out the opponents' best receiving option, but he also makes things more difficult for opposing offenses has a whole. However, his greatness is also a crutch.
Cro won't fulfill his potential because of all the help he gets. He can cheat, he can be lazy mentally (Steelers
), he can cut corners and not prepare as he should because he doesn't have to. This kind of approach leads to bad habits and bad discipline. Do you really think Cro goes at it hard in the film room, studying idiosyncransies of specific receivers' routes and formation tendancies? Hell no he doesn't. He goes out and athletes it. We all know the guy is probablly the most athletically gifted guy in the league. But we also know that he plays with very little discipline and hasn't even tried to fulfill his potential. Now, he can't hide under Revis' blanky. He will now be forced to face better competition with less help. He can't do his lazy off-coverage routine and rely on the coverage being rolled to take away throwing lanes. He will have to cover with discipline, he will have to study, he will have to heighten his focus. If he doesn't, he will be picked on mercilessly and exposed. Its time for Cro to harness his vast talent. I like that he's been playing with much more physicality, even laying the boom on some people. But he to really focus on being a better, more complete corner. Not only for him, but the team needs him to. Swim or die.
Now we really get to find out what we have in Kyle Wilson
. He's a first round pick with a couple of years in the defense now. I'm really looking forward to finding out if he's legit. At the time he was drafted there was a lot of chatter that he was even better than the corner taken first. There's no way to know how good he really is, or can be, without being thrown into the fray. Having two good corners ahead him has stunted his growth. Now we get to see what he'll grow into. Swim or die Kyle.
Its funny how sometimes you don't accomplish something until there's an urgency to accomplish it. I myself am one of those people that perform better when I have a lot on my plate or am up against a deadline. I'm less efficient when I have more time. I feel like our pass rush is the same way. I feel like we've been too reliant on falling back on the crutch of Revis and the coverage on the back end. You see it all the time when guys stop rushing and start playing passing lanes if they don't beat their man right off the bat. And I think they're coached to play that way. Its the old "eh... we'll figure it out later" approach that I've come to master. You know what I mean. The old "this works, lets just do this until we figure out something better." And it did work. We were the best 3rd down defense in the league by relying on our coverage. But its an approach that held us back more than it helped us get better. We can't generate a pass rush when we need it, and I think that our tendency to rely on our coverage is a big reason why. Now we can't count on the coverage being there. Now we HAVE to generate pressure. Now we have to intesely focus on developing pressure and we have to spend ample coaching time demanding results.
One of the things that really irks me about Rex is his obsession with defensive rankings and statistics. It doesn't bother me that he demands excellence from his defense. It doesn't bother me that he believes that the performance of his defense is a direct reflection of himself. What bothers me is that the performance of his offense doesn't stir the same feelings within him. It bothers me that he sees a 20th ranked defense as a personal affront but has no issue with his offense being ranked in the lower half of the league. It bothers me that he doesn't place the same demands on that side of the ball. That it doesn't invoke the same passionate irritation. Maybe the loss of Revis will change that some. Maybe this will force him, out of self-preservation, out of his dogmatic belief that he can win games with his defense. Maybe now he will be forced to coach the whole team.
Losing a tremendous player leaves a tremendous hole. There's no doubt about that. But we're not without talent. Cro has the ability to grow into a much better player. Wilson is a first round pick that has the ability to grow into being as good as Cro is right now. The defensive line has the talent to provide more pressure. The offense has the ability to more explosive. But it remains to be seen whether the coaches can draw it out and coach it up and demand it. It remains to be seen if these guys can demand it from themselves. Its funny how sometimes you have no idea what you're capable of until you have to be capable. Just that simple shift in mentality can change everything. I bet that time when that guy took a swing at you (the first time), and it was time for fight or flight, and didn't have it in you to run, but you were scared, and you swung back because you didn't have any choice... and you kicked the ever living shit out of him... I bet you didn't think you had it in you. Hopefully it'll be a similar type thing for our team.