When Darrelle Revis went down for the year in Week 3 of the 2012 season, the Jets were forced to look into the cornerback pool in search of depth to make up for his absence. Among their signings was former Falcons’ corner Darrin Walls to the practice squad. Very little was made of the move, but few could have predicted that Walls, the Notre Dame alum, would be playing significant snaps later in the season. Today, we step into the film room to take a closer look at how he played and what he could contribute in 2013.
It is easy to forget how much playing time Walls saw down the stretch, and some probably decided for themselves that Walls wasn’t very good on the field because of the lack of attention he received for his play. In fact, Rich Cimini’s blind criticism of Walls’ play in his analysis over snap counts on two occasions (first and second) may have mislead fans in believing Walls didn’t play well. However, Walls played in 62% of the team’s defensive snaps in the two games (Week 16 and Week 17). Wouldn’t a player who Cimini tagged as “disastrous” stand out if he played that poorly that often? Of course he would, but he didn’t. In fact, Walls was genuinely impressive.
Experience: Third Year
Height/Weight: 6’0, 190
40 time: 4.39
Since Walls was only actually targeted a few times in the two games broken down, I decided to bring in a charting system. When a defender completes his coverage assignment so well that he either effortlessly causes the pass to go incomplete or it is hard to imagine the pass being completed if the throw doesn’t go his way, it earns a “great” coverage mark. Next, “suitable” coverage marks are self explanatory. They can be given if a pass is incomplete, complete, or not attempted, as long as the coverage is respectable enough where the defender could have caused an incompletion with an impressive play on the ball at the point of attack. “Poor” coverage grades are given as a result to a defender completing their assignment badly enough that the pass is completed easily, or a sigh of relief is exhaled because the quarterback, for some reason, didn’t throw it at the receiver who’s beaten the featured defender (we call this the “Kyle Wilson Special”).
Another note to make is that I also like to feature relevancy in this charting. If a receiver cuts once off the line and sits down as a check down, I’m not going to count it to let it cushion the defender’s grades since his assignment was so simple. Another example would be a receiver running a simple, vertical route when the play is a screen all the way through. Since the only purpose of this go route would be to clear out defenders, it doesn’t matter in the same way la typical route downfield would.
Week 16: Darrin Walls versus the San Diego Chargers
Great: 4 – Suitable: 6 – Poor: 2 – Penalties: 2 – Targets: 3 – Catches Allowed: 0
Primary Receiver Covered: Eddie Royal
Overall Analysis: This game was Walls’ first real game action outside of 8 measly snaps in Week 14, so his stat-line was fairly impressive to me. People probably got the wrong impression with his two crucial penalties, but neither was blatant and they exposed minor flaws in his game; nothing else. At the end of the day, playing man coverage with the consistent ten yard cushion that Walls likes to give on a shifty receiver like Eddie Royal is impressive when you only get targeted three times.
Week 17: Darrin Walls versus the Buffalo Bills
Great: 10 – Good: 10 – Poor: 0 – Penalties: 0 – Targets: 2 Catches Allowed: 1 (Stevie Johnson)
Primary Receiver Covered: T.J Graham
Overall Analysis: With more snaps after an intriguing performance in Week 16, Walls improved against the Bills in the 2012 season’s final game. Walls was given a wide variety of coverage assignments, which included press, deep man, and zone. Walls even helped other teammates when he could read throws and tail off from his coverage, namely Kyle Wilson. The only pass he allowed to be completed exposed a flaw which could be a big stain in his early development, but to be fair, Stevie Johnson made a great catch. We’ll analyze this play in just a bit.
Walls is sitting directly behind the 50 yard line. He appears to be playing zone, but with the trips formation on his side of the field (consisting of Brad Smith, Ruvell Martin, and T.J Graham), it is safe to assume he is allowed to pick up whomever extends their route the furthest in man coverage.
Sure enough, Walls is playing a zone assignment which can trail off the man if a receiver extends his route beyond the zones of other defender’s zones. Now, let’s look at what Walls starts to do well here. The ball hasn’t yet been thrown, and the receiver starting to curl towards the middle of the field, is the closest receiver to Walls and the furthest receiver down the field. Instead of letting himself get caught up with that receiver, Walls is smart enough to realize that the second receiver downfield, who’s route is also etched in red, is running a delayed go route right at him downfield.
Predictably, the receivers cross like their routes hinted at in the last still image. While the ball is currently being thrown by Ryan Fitzpatrick to the other side of the field to his binky Stevie Johnson, Walls provides perfect zone coverage for safety. If he had trailed off with the crossing receiver, the go route coming his way could have went right over his head and Fitzpatrick could have thrown a duck that still would have resulted in a touchdown. Play’s coverage grade: Great.
Next, we have an interesting set-up. You will most often see Walls giving his usually cushion to receivers, despite his size, because of how under-developed and choppy his backpedal is. However, here is Walls in press coverage against a receiver who’ll most likely be able to beat it: the quick-footed T.J Graham.
Walls is immediately tested to his inside, as Graham makes a beeline for the heart of the defense before the play action has even been completed. Walls is already doing well here because he disregarded the itch most corners have to stay in their backpedals too long. Instead, Walls took a powerful plant with his footing and is simply running with Graham and his 4.34 forty speed. If Walls tried to lazily move laterally to cover Graham because he wanted to spy on the play action, he would have left Graham wide open past the zone coverage from the Jets’ linebackers for a few seconds.
A second later, Walls is still stride for stride with Graham, who’s about to take his first step inward on a cut to break into Ftizpatrick’s line of sight. However, Walls has already done his job. Notice the three additional Jet defenders highlighted in yellow who are all in zone. Even if Graham pulls away from Walls with a nice inside cut, Walls has already done his job now that Graham can be picked up by the zone coverage and since Calvin Pace is applying considerable pressure on Fitzpatick. Walls’ few seconds under the microscope on this play are over. Play’s coverage grade: Great.
Next, we have a very important glimpse of Walls, for this is the first instance we see him in his seemingly favorite type of coverage: off-man coverage. Off man coverage is self explanatory enough: the defender is playing man coverage, but gives the receiver a noticeable cushion of 5-10 yards. It is typically based on either preference or coach’s decisions, but Walls proves to be more efficient in it regardless of why he’s often seen playing off-man. So, Walls is seen here covering T.J Graham again in off-man coverage out wide in a spread, five receiver set from the Bills. Let’s see how this goes.
Again, Walls shows excellent play recognition and overall smarts as a corner right off the bat. When Ruvell Martin hooks as shown by his highlighted route, Walls can safely assume that Graham’s route will be deep downfield. The only offense I can imagine that would send two receivers to the sideline near each other would be a very dumb one. Notice the yellow circle around Walls’ feet- he is treading downfield, but not backpedaling, so that he can give himself a head start if Graham goes deep. If Graham cuts in towards the middle of the field on a deep post, then Walls’ positioning and angle will allow him to do do a quick turn in his sprint, without turning across his body and losing speed. Besides, he has safety help over the middle for more precautions.
Sure enough, Graham uses his speed to turn his route into a full-fledged bomb on the sideline. Walls’ perfect positioning allows for Graham to gain ground on him with his incredible speed, but Walls STILL has a few steps on him because of him being ahead of the play from the start. Nice recognition and nice angles and position as a result leave Walls with a perfect job on this play. lay’s coverage grade: Great.
For another similar example of stellar play recognition and smarts from Walls, check out his instincts on a nearly identical looking route and turnout in this following sequence:
Just like that, Walls is right there with another receiver going long for the bomb, even though the two out routes earlier in the play were supposed to get him open. The coverage, however, isn’t as stellar as the last one, and a play could be made on the ball by the receiver since Walls is a step behind. The ball isn’t thrown in Walls’ direction, so we’re left to assume he could have forced the incompletion. Play’s coverage grade: Suitable.
Moving on, let’s take a look at some of the others attributes in Walls’ game. We know he is a smart corner that positions himself well to use his speed downfield, but how does that positioning and speed correlate to shorter an intermediate routes in which he needs to use his instincts?
Again we see Walls in off-man coverage, as he gives Graham a large cushion of nearly ten yards this time around. This play looks like it could result in an even bigger challenge for Walls, however, due to the blitz by the Jets, as they send five defenders against a spread, five receiver set. With such a large cushion, Walls’ quick instincts in the short game are already in jeopardy.
Graham runs a quick, patient in route that is sort of like a check down since it’s main goal is too look for yards after the catch. With only 37 seconds left before the half, Walls was probably expecting something deep from Graham, considering the routes he had been running before this. However, Walls doesn’t disappoint and immediately closes on Graham with quickness.
Fitzpatrick’s pass goes to the other side of the field to C.J Spiller (who drops it) in an identical route and set-up as they did on Walls’ side of the field. Notice that Graham cut his route to sit down, possibly hoping for Walls to overrun it and leave him open for yards downfield. Walls had other plans. He stops his full sprint at the perfect time, leaving approximately three yards in between them so that he could either adjust to Graham cutting the route like he did, follow him in his route, or make a tackle if the short pass was thrown. Walls showed superb instincts, quick twitch, and closing speed here. He still would have probably allowed a short gain if the pass was thrown, however, but it’s still a very nice job. Play’s coverage grade: Suitable.
Now, Walls was used in his playing time last year as a spare corner who handled a lot of deeper and intermediate routes rather than hang around in the box. In fact, I only charted two tackles for Walls in both games, and only one against the run. Walls also blitzed a low total of three times, which is surprising when you consider how often Rex likes to blitz his nickel corners.
Thus, Walls probably won’t be contributing in stopping the run much in his playing time, even in 2013 when he’ll see more snaps. However, it’s still an important facet in any player’s game, so let’s take a quick look before we move on to what Walls must work on in coverage.
In the play above, we see Spiller take a handoff from Fitzpatrick that looks to be developing into a counter run to the right. However, he has a gaping hole open directly in front of him, which I highlighted with the dotted orange line. Spiller can either take a chance on that quickly closing gap, or he can roll with the designed counter play to the right side of the line, over towards Walls who has come on to the left side of the frame. Now, while it looks like Walls is lazily, almost casually jogging in to the play to donate some effort to the run, he’s approaching it correctly. If he were to sprint for the backfield to try and catch Spiller before he finds his lane, he would likely fail anyways, but he would also leave himself useless to closing off the angle if Spiller were to break free through the hole in front of him. By coming in directly adjacent to the defensive line’s penetration, Walls has divided his angles properly so he can help no matter which path Spiller chooses.
As you can see from the screenshot above, Spiller chose to follow his blocks on the counter to hope for a chance at more of a “home run” type of run. The blocker attempting to occupy Walls is his main counterpart from this Bills game, T.J Graham. Graham isn’t an impressive blocker as an undersized receiver, but then again, Walls isn’t too adept at shedding blocks versus the run game, either. Thus, Walls does a nice job of approaching accordingly and letting the play draw out before he gets sucked into a block.
Boy, what an atrocious low-block attempt by Graham. Regardless, Walls handled this correctly. Spiller, highlighted in orange, has yet to choose whether he wants to take this run all the way outside or if he wants to try and push the pile directly in front of him. Walls uses his hands and arms to not let Graham get any contact on the inner part of his body, so Walls has instant separation. If Walls were to have bull-rushed the sprawling Graham, the chances of him succeeding in passing him and tackling the quick Spiller without any help are slim to none. Additionally, if he failed, nobody would be left to hold the outermost outside edge.
The play results in Muhammad Wilkerson doing his usual thing and shedding a block to get to Spiller, but Walls himself sprung the low block by Graham to assist Wilkerson on the tackle. This is a very nice job, and shows that Walls has overall football smarts and not just in coverage.
With such consistent coverage and hardly being thrown at over two games of playing time, we’ve yet to see if Walls can lay a lick on a player or properly break down to form tackle. Here’s a specific instance in which led me to question this below:
In the play shown above, Walls blitzes and has a clear shot at Spiller from behind. Keep in mind that he’s closing on him at a considerable speed and with momentum.
Here is where Walls shows a flaw in tackling. Spiller has yet to choose a lane and is simply cutting upfield to see if he can find any openings, and he likely isn’t even aware that Walls is there or has closed on him so quickly. Yet, Walls starts to go low for the tackle on Spiller. Yes, I know that you’re never supposed to tackle a runner up high and should usually go low, but that’s the wrong move when the given defender has so much speed and momentum on a back with close to none. If Walls had gone for the wrap up tackle higher than the ankle area he was shooting for, his momentum was bound to bring down Spiller. nstead, he slips as he goes down low (though it’s unlikely he would have made the tackle anyways), and Spiller finds about four or five yards, as shown below:
With that sorted out; you know what you’re going to get from Walls as a tackler. He can be physical, and he’s genuinely smart with his approach, but he’s certainly not a refined tackler. With that aspect of his game out of the way, let’s move on to what Walls needs to work on and his limitations in coverage.
I have two major concerns about Walls in coverage, though they’re both only major because I have seen so little of him, both his ball skills and backpedal stand out to me as underlying questions marks.
I’ll start with the ball skills questions, and yes, it kicks off with the awaited match-up of Walls playing off-man with Stevie Johnson, one of the most underrated players in the NFL. Walls gives Johnson his usually ten or so yard cushion.
Walls flashes one of his strength here, as he is unfazed by Johnson’s quick double move and angles himself and his feet so that he can run with Johnson, who’s clearly going deep down the sideline, as further indicated by Fitzpatrick readying his throw to him.
As expected, Walls has done an excellent job thus far. He’s picked up on the route, set himself up perfectly to defend the route with his speed, and is now stride for stride with Johnson. To make things sway even more in his favor, he has located the ball in the air. Walls should be able to contest this ball, for sure.
Walls’ great job covering one of the best receivers in the division falls apart in this frame above. Though he was right there with Johnson, Walls doesn’t even jump to contest the ball. It’s not that he didn’t high-point the ball or that he was out-leaped by Johnson; he just didn’t jump. Whether it’s because Walls wasn’t synchronized with his stride enough to muster enough energy to jump for it or because he felt that not jumping was the best approach, this is a major stain in Walls’ play and begs further questions. His body was correctly positioned and one reach of the hand or a leap for the ball could have resulted in a turnover, or at least forced the incompletion. Walls’ coverage up to that point was near perfect, however
In this Week 16 screenshot, we have a much simpler issue, and one that can be taken more lightly since it can be regarded as just a focus issue. Here’s Walls, quickly closing on this ball thrown by Philip Rivers to Eddie Royal. He made a nice read on the ball from an out route by Royal, and he’s in a perfect position to pick off a horrendously late pass thrown by Rivers.
Unfortunately, this happened. Walls couldn’t corral a very easy interception, which would have been his first as a Jet. It’s a bit concerning that he can’t make the easy play after he has already shown that his ball skills aren’t up to the task to make the hard ones. His frustration is evident above.
Walls’ backpedal is also a remaining question I have about his game. As I mentioned earlier, it’s okay for a defender to resort to setting himself up differently to run with receivers if he doesn’t like to backpedal in certain situations; it’s a preference. On this play, however, Walls’ inability to backpedal catches him in an awkward situation. Here’s Walls dropping back in off-man coverage on Eddie Royal. Once again, notice he’s not backpedaling.
With no clear indications of how Royal’s route will turn out, Walls is obligated to step up and make a little bit of contact when Royal turns towards the sideline on an out route. However, Walls gets caught up because he can’t backpedal, and therefore, awkwardly leans on Royal and draws a defensive holding penalty. A smooth backpedal would have allowed him to approach Royal and make contact with him, but swiftly pull away with him when his physicality has worked it’s magic.
Because Walls held Royal and has very good deep speed, he’s able to catch up to Royal on this double move downfield. Walls, however, only forces the incompletion, though as you can see, he had the inside track for the interception. This was another annoyance for me with Walls’ ball skills.
Overall, I was genuinely impressed with Walls and his play. He’s already a very adept cover man at this early stage in his career, but he has his limitations. If he can work on his ball skills, I really do believe that Darrin Walls can be a solid corner in this league. He’s already instinctive and smart. Jets fans should see a whole lot more of Walls in 2013, and that’s a good thing.