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‘The Tariq Woolen Effect’

Seattle Seahawks v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

What is the “Tariq Woolen Effect?” Well, for starters, the definition could be as broad as the young corner’s impressive wingspan. First of all, I take no credit for that title, hence the quotations. I found this originally via Seahawks France on Twitter, in the form of this Justin Herbert passing chart from last Sunday’s game.

Essentially, what Seahawks France is getting at is that Woolen is performing like a shutdown corner, and the Los Angeles Chargers either built their gameplan with this in mind, or Tariq simply didn’t offer Herbert many good looks in the passing game. But are the Chargers the first team to actually avoid throwing toward the left side of the field — where Woolen has taken all of his snaps as an outside corner — or was this simply a feature of their dink-and-dunk passing attack? I ask this because Pro Football Focus actually credits Woolen with being targeted five times on Sunday, with three allowed for 37 yards and a TD — which was his first such allowance on the season. Officially, Tariq Woolen’s season stats can be seen below, per PFF. Following Woolen are stats for Mike Jackson, who has taken 391 snaps at outside corner to Woolen’s 435, and slot/nickel Coby Bryant, as this trio has served as Seattle’s primary corners since Week 1.

You can see a bit of a difference here; while each corner has seen a similar target share, Woolen has been by far the most impactful due to the takeaways. But this only starts to tell the story, as looking at the above data suggests that, while teams maybe should be avoiding throwing at Tariq, he is seemingly getting targeted as much as his teammates. So let’s consult the passing charts for the first six weeks of the season (which can all be seen in the tweet embedded at the end of this paragraph, for reference, except for the Detroit Lions one, which needs to be viewed on PFF). In this piece, I am looking at passes that have gone outside the hashmarks and beyond the line of scrimmage. Sure, corners may be responsible for shutting down some of the swings and screens that go to his side, but I don’t think those “completions” necessarily say much about their coverage skills. Sure, they may be indicative of tackling and play diagnosis, but those are for another article.

What I am getting at here is that Woolen is already having the impact we might expect from a shutdown corner, and seeing teams take the Chargers approach is likely going to become increasingly common. With this in mind, I did a hand count on passes that meet the above criteria — to the left side, outside of the hashmarks, past the line of scrimmage. This methodology — imperfect as it may be — resulted in some interesting findings. Obviously, Woolen may have been targeted elsewhere on the field in man coverage, so this isn’t to suggest that every one of these completions or incompletions was a direct result of his performance, but I believe that is is illustrative of the significant impact that a shutdown corner can have on offensive gameplanning.

Using my methodology described above, I tabulated the data and came to the following findings:

  • Left Side: 41 of 71 attempts (57.8%), 6 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.
  • Right Side: 53 of 79 (67.1%), 3 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions.

While teams have only thrown eight fewer passes towards the left side — and have actually found the endzone three more times — they have also resulted in three turnovers and a paltry completion rate of 57.8%. You can see pretty immediately that the above data conflicts with some of the previously stated info pulled from PFF; no, I don’t think Woolen is responsible for 5 more touchdowns than he is being credited for elsewhere; these are more likely the result of a scheme breakdown or somebody else’s assignment. What I do think is a valid point, however, is that the completion percentage to the left side is significantly lower than to the right (-9.3%), and is much closer to Woolen’s completion rate seen above (56.3%). Similarly, the 3 interceptions nearly match up with his total above. So far, the only other player to have an interception on the season is Ryan Neal, and that happened last Sunday in the middle of the field. Woolen’s other interception also happened in the middle of the field, only that one happened in Week 4 (that incredible pick-six against Goff... watch below just for fun).

Tentatively, what I think we are seeing is that the league is still figuring out just exactly how terrifying of a matchup Tariq Woolen really is. Teams may not be entirely avoiding his side of the field at this point, but it looks like the Chargers did, at least to some extent, and I think that this tendency is about to increase noticeably. Of course, we are only seven games into Woolen’s career; considering that, we don’t have a ton of conclusions to draw from this piece alone.

We are, however, possibly starting to see that this young defensive back is quickly building a name for himself throughout the NFL, and coaches across the league are very likely taking notice, even if it has taken them nearly half the season to do so. This is something that has escaped Seattle for quite a few years now: a corner with incredible ball skills and play recognition who not only defends receivers, but also turns bad passes into turnovers and Jared Goff passes into touchdowns.

While one player does not constitute a formidable defense, the magnetism and energy of a guy like this is undeniable. Teams feed off of plays like this, and encouraging performances often engender success in teammates, as well. Electrifying defensive backs were once a feature of Pete Carroll’s defense — some might say the feature, with no disrespect intended towards the front seven. Is it possible that we are on the precipice of something special? Maybe, but for right now I am just going to bask in the fact that Seattle has a defender who is this much fun to watch and root for.