Dallas Cowboys

The ‘other’ rookie who is playing at a high level for the Cowboys

01 SEP 2016: Dallas Cowboys cornerback Anthony Brown (30) returns an interception for a touchdown during the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Texans at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Houston beats Dallas 28-17. (Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire)
Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire

The catalyst to the Dallas Cowboys’ success has been an elite offensive line, a better-than-everyone-thought defense and a stellar group of rookies.

Through the first six weeks, Dallas’ dynamic duo of running back Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott have gotten most of the credit, and rightfully so. Prescott has been amazing under center, and Elliott may already be among the best one or two running backs in the NFL. However, lost in their success is the play of another rookie who’s been a vital contributor to the Cowboys.

Rookie cornerback Anthony Brown has stood out throughout this season and has lessened the blow of losing Orlando Scandrick because of hamstring injuries thus far this season.

The former Purdue Boilermaker was a sixth-round pick for the Cowboys in the last draft, and he has way outplayed his draft position. How has he done that? Let’s look at the game film to find out.

The area where Brown has stood out the most isn’t typical of a slot cornerback. Listed at 5-foot-11 and 192 pounds, the former Boilermaker isn’t the biggest cornerback, but he sure is physical. Brown has made a tangible impact in run defense and in the short passing game because of his ability to bring ball-carriers down to the ground consistently, and he isn’t afraid to take on a block or two. Just like he did on this play:

Here, Brown creeps into the box to execute a likely slot cornerback blitz; however, the Bengals attempt to run a quick jet sweep with Brandon Tate. As Brown attempts to get into the backfield, running back Jeremy Hill attempts a cut block, Brown showcase great balance to stay upright and flow toward Tate to make the tackle for loss.

It is rare to see a cornerback make a tackle behind the line of scrimmage, and it is exponentially more rare to see a cornerback beat a block to do so.

While Orlando Scandrick is a superior cover cornerback than Brown in the slot, Brown is a much better filling against the run. The Cowboys will be happy to have Scandrick back, as he may be on of the two or three best slot cornerbacks in the NFL, they will miss Brown’s impact against the run in their nickel defense.

Even though Brown isn’t as good in coverage as Scandrick, he is no slouch either. Brown has great awareness in zone, and he rarely makes mental mistakes when handling difficult route concepts and coverages. Nevertheless, the rookie cornerback is at his best when he can play in man coverage from the slot position. This play helps illustrate that (bottom of the screen in the slot):

Brown is lined up in a press alignment opposite of Jeremy Kerley. At the snap, Kerley delays his stem and accelerates outside of the numbers. Brown showcases the lateral quickness, which is vital for a slot cornerback to have, to stay glued to Kerley’s inside hip, which puts him in a great position to adjust when Kerley breaks back toward the middle of the field. Brown then finishes the play off as he gets his hands in between the receiver’s hands and causes the incomplete pass.

Now, Brown has predominantly played in the slot this season, and that is his better position, but Brown also has the ability to get flexed outside and play at the more tradition cornerback position. This play may not look like much, but it was a great display from Brown (top of the screen):

Brown is lined up at the left outside cornerback position with an inside shade on the wide receiver. This may just look ordinary, but Browns did some little things well that will be positive for his future. First, he stayed extremely patient off the line of scrimmage. Second, he pressed with the correct hand. And lastly, Brown perfectly plays the inside hip as the receiver releases outside.

If Brown moves outside on a much more consistent basis, this will be exactly what he’ll have to do on a large number of his snaps. This sequence of events will put him in a position to adequately defend any route the receiver runs. These type of plays should excite those for future with the Cowboys.

If there is one area where Brown struggles, it is when he has to identify a route through a wide receiver’s stem while Brown is playing in off coverage. Here is an excellent example (bottom of the screen):

On this play, the Cowboys are utilizing a Cover-1 concept with Brown at the left cornerback position in off coverage. He is lined up opposite Jordy Nelson who comes off the ball with a vertical stem. This causes Brown to open his hips and start sliding downfield; however, Nelson puts the breaks on once Brown opens his hips and executes a stop route for a nice completion.

While this may appear as just a good route by Nelson and throw from Aaron Rodgers, the Packers receiver tips off his route during his stem. Notice how Nelson’s pads start to rise around the 43-yard line as he prepares himself to throttle down and come back for the catch. If Brown was a savvier cornerback, he would have noticed this slight tip off and been in a better position to make a play.

When the story of this season for the Cowboys is written, it will mostly be about Elliott and Prescott; however, remember that there is another productive rookie who is making big plays for the Cowboys.

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