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Colts Can’t Afford to Start Inexperienced CB T.J. Green

Indianapolis Colts v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Sunday’s lopsided loss to the L.A. Rams provided a lot of insight into what the Indianapolis Colts are going to provide us this year. We know that we can’t trust Chuck Pagano, the quarterback situation is going to be a struggle regardless of who’s under center, and the secondary is going to be a work in progress as well.

But, with many of these situations it appears as though the Colts brass are making it harder than it needs to be. Our example today is the decision to start T.J. Green at cornerback over rookie Quincy Wilson against the Rams. It’s understandable that the team wouldn’t feel completely comfortable starting a rookie in Week 1, but that doesn’t make it any less ridiculous that they would rather start Green, who has only been working at the position for a couple weeks.

Additionally, any sort of confidence that the team has in Green is just baseless. We saw Green take out multiple teammates Sunday with his poor tackling style – something we saw a ton of last season – and his biggest flaw as a member of the secondary is that he simply cannot cover effectively. So, now that he’s a member of the cornerback corps, we need to see what he did and didn’t do, when he was targeted and when he was not.

There are some major issues with what Green does in coverage. He doesn’t drop, he seldom gets good press, and his ability to read and react to receivers is a major liability. This will be a huge roadblock if the secondary hopes to improve on any of their coverage woes from a year ago. Green was a major part of these same issues last season, and it appears as though he’s picked up right where he left off.

Last season, Green was dead last in the league in coverage among qualifying safeties per Pro Football Focus. Sunday, he graded out dead last in the Colts secondary with a 39.3 tally. Don’t get me wrong, PFF is far from a fully painted picture with their grading process, but they got his analysis pretty right on the money based upon what I watched.

I went through some of Green’s coverage snaps just to help demonstrate how his poor technique and inconsistent focus, mixed with his inexperience at the position, is not a recipe for starting him over a guy like Wilson — who actually plays the position and is pretty good in coverage.

No Backpedal

In our first clip, we look at the touchdown Green gives up to Cooper Kupp. Much has been made about the differences in 40-yard dash times between these two. Kupp ran something of a 4.6, and Green was apparently at 4.34. That’s great but this has zero to do with straight line speed.

Watch Green as Kupp closes the 10-yard cushion once the ball is snapped. He does nothing. He doesn’t drop, he allows Kupp to get a running start, and expects to catch up to Kupp once he gets to the top of his route. I don’t care if that’s a lineman running that route, Green isn’t catching him.

Green can’t body up Kupp at that distance from the line of scrimmage, it’s illegal contact, and he does nothing to close the middle of the field off where there is no help whatsoever. It’s simply not that hard to see what happened here. Green’s feet were stuck in cement until Kupp made his cut. That’s game over every single time.

Swivel Hips

For this example, pay no attention to where the ball is thrown, or anything else for that matter. Here Green isn’t targeted at all. You can see that he has been given the coaching on the sideline but Green simply doesn’t have it figured out yet.

Here, Green at least gets his drop and sets up to be able to react to the wide receiver in his route. However, you will notice that he turns his hips facing the sideline. Instead of doing this to cut off the middle of the field, he does it as a reaction to Robert Woods setting him up. As soon as Woods gets Green to open up his hips he breaks off his route, just like a good receiver is supposed to do.

As a result, Green has to rotate back towards the middle of the field and is three steps behind him. Now, of course Woods didn’t get the ball thrown to him, but Green doesn’t see the ball either, so we see a real reaction to the receiver’s moves.

If this wasn’t a designed dump off to the running back, and was intended to work the ball down field, Green would have given up another touchdown. You can bet Bruce Arians and the Arizona Cardinals are watching this very same play as they scout the Colts secondary.

Wanna Salsa?

Here we get to see Green reacting to multiple moves by Woods. Initially, Green holds on Woods’ fake crosser, but it’s his route afterwards that gets Green to bite hard.

After Woods continues his route up the field, he jabs outside towards the boundary as if he’s going to take an outside lane to try to beat Green deep.

Instead, Woods’ jab gets Green to follow and rotate his hips. Woods takes the inside lane and forces Green to turn back around in order for him to recover. By the time Green gets his body right, Woods is well past him.

Woods is just making Green dance here, and all of those false steps will lead to a ton of receptions the longer he’s in the game.

Another second before releasing the ball, and a good throw here from Goff, and this is at least a 30-yard gain or possibly another touchdown with only one more defender to beat.

Taking Candy From A Baby

Here is another perfect example of what a corner – who is just learning to be a corner – looks like with limited footwork skills. At the top of the route Green is so quick to turn his body that he gets put on roller skates right away. His backpedal is really bad, and he’s just being toyed with at this point.

Again, he’s very slow to drop and that 10-yard cushion is depleted in an instant. Green follows each fake, and the receiver has created 5 yards of separation in the blink of an eye. Without Matthias Farley covering just underneath him, Green leaves that route wide open with a ton of grass ahead of him.

Always Trailing

For our last example of Green getting torched, maybe the most embarrassing. Woods, who we’ve seen had Green’s number most of the day, stumbles at the line of scrimmage as Jeremiah George and the Rams’ tight end get into his legs. It takes Woods 7 yards to get upright and running, but Green still can’t get position on him in order to cut off the passing lane.

Woods never makes a jab in any direction other than continuing his drag route. Green has help underneath from Antonio Morrison, but he stumbles as well, and Green again finds himself in jeopardy of giving up another reception. If Green can’t cover when his assignment can’t get his feet about him and gives up the advantage, how are we supposed to expect him to reasonably cover when the receiver doesn’t have any missteps?

Unfortunately, every other example we’ve looked at here is exactly what we should expect. Green has defended only 2 passes to date with the Indianapolis Colts – TWO. I don’t know how often he’s been targeted since he started getting some quality playing time, but if I’m an offensive coordinator I’m designing a large part of my passing game to attack Green when he’s in the game.

When we look at the difference between Wilson and Green the contrasts are simple. When Wilson is targeted we’re seeing him give up catches but he’s also contesting those passes and is in position to make a play — whether he is successful or not is less important at this stage. Those things come with time.

Green on the other hand isn’t in position to make a play, he’s often trailing the receiver and he has really poor technique regardless of who he’s matched up with. If Green wasn’t so insanely athletic he probably wouldn’t be on a roster at all unless he was to completely change his body composition and become a linebacker.

For now, though, Wilson is the obvious choice to start and the defense can’t afford to see Green taking the majority of snaps while he’s in the midst of such a noticeable learning curve and continuing to disappoint. Here’s to seeing some changes this Sunday against the Cardinals.