The importance of Perrish Cox

I was reading a Greg Cosell article this morning called “The Evolving Chess Match” and I found it interesting, so I’m passing it along to you.

Here’s the key excerpt from the article: “There are always exceptions, but defensively, if you expect to beat the top passing games, you must be able to stop shotgun offenses with five receivers than can align at any position. That’s the next frontier.”

The Niners rarely faced empty-backfield spread formations last season, but you can bet they will next season. They’re facing the Packers, the Patriots, the Lions, the Saints and the Bills – five teams that are known for their spread offenses.

I’d imagine the Packers will try to spread the Niners defense out Week 1 at Lambeau Field – line up four wide receivers and a tight end and pass and pass and pass some more. How will the Niners match up with that?

Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver will cover the outside receivers – Jordy Nelson and James Jones, and safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner will play deep zones. Patrick Willis will cover the tight end – Jermichael Finley, Carlos Rogers will covers the No.1 slot receiver – Greg Jennings, but will who cover the other slot receiver – either Donald Driver or Randall Cobb?

Perrish Cox, that’s who.

Tramaine Brock, the Niners other backup cornerback, lined up strictly outside in minicamp. Only Cox and Rogers lined up over the slot.

That’s why Cox will be a tremendously important player for 49ers next season. Offenses are going to spread their defense out and challenge Cox. You can bet on that.

It’s a good strategy against the Niners for a few reasons.

  1. Using an empty-backfield spread formation forces the Niners to pull their second inside linebacker, NaVorro Bowman, off the field for a fourth cornerback who can cover the slot – Perrish Cox.
  2. NaVorro Bowman is one of the best players on the team and perhaps the second best inside linebacker in the NFL behind teammate Patrick Willis, and Perrish Cox is an unproven 2010 fifth-round pick who didn’t play football last season because he was fighting a sexual assault case. He was acquitted on March 2.
  3. Unless the Niners play a zone, Cox will be alone on an island in coverage. It’s the outside corners who get the safety help in the Niners defensive scheme. The slot corners are on their own. Rogers is one of the most talented corners in the NFL – he thrives covering the slot on his own. But how will Cox fare? We’ll find out when the season starts.
  4. Cox has fluid hips and he’s good at changing directions – key attributes for a slot cornerback – but he’s relatively slow for the position (ran a 4.56 at his Pro Day). He could be vulnerable against fast slot receivers on routes like the speed out, the deep in and the go.
  5. The Niners pass rush is relentless, but it isn’t instantly overwhelming. More than five of Aldon Smith’s sacks last season took longer than three seconds, and he’s usually the first Niner to reach the quarterback. A quick pass to the slot receiver who’s being covered by Cox could be a good play against the Niners.
  6. With Bowman on the sideline and Willis in coverage, a running quarterback can hurt the Niners because there’s no one shadowing him. If the QB gets away from the pass rush, the Niners cornerbacks will have their backs turned as the QB scrambles for the first down. Aaron Rodgers does this all the time.

No one tried this against the Niners last season. The Packers will most likely try it Week 1. If it works, every opponent with a good fourth wide receiver will try it next season until Perrish Cox makes them pay.

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