clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Should there be concern about the target rates of the Seahawks cornerbacks?

The answer to that question might surprise you.

NFL: OCT 15 Seahawks at Bengals Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The recent focus on (and scrutiny of) the Seattle Seahawks cornerbacks got me curious about something . . .

How often are opposing quarterbacks targeting Seattle’s cornerbacks, and is that something the 12s should be concerned about?

I don’t necessarily mean targeting from a volume standpoint (ex. Devon Witherspoon was targeted 4 times on Sunday whereas Tariq Woolen was targeted 7 times), but rather from a percentage standpoint - which may or may not align with volume.

Let’s start by looking at Week 1, aka the only game that Devon Witherspoon wasn’t on the field:

Note 1: Raw data was pulled from Pro Football Focus (PFF); target rates were hand-calculated using the PFF data.

Note 2: Target rate is simply the number of targets divided by the number of coverage snaps a given player has/had.

Tre Brown

  • Total snaps: 61
  • Coverage snaps: 31
  • Targets: 4
  • Target rate: 12.9%

Michael Jackson

  • Total snaps: 21
  • Coverage snaps: 11
  • Targets: 1
  • Target rate: 9.1%

Artie Burns

  • Total snaps: 18
  • Coverage snaps: 16
  • Targets: 1
  • Target rate: 6.3%

Riq Woolen

  • Total snaps: 81
  • Coverage snaps: 39
  • Targets: 2
  • Target rate: 5.1%

Note 1: I was originally going to list the players alphabetically (by last name) but realized that listing them by target rate was far more interesting and relevant.

Note 2: The target rates won’t add up to anywhere close to 100% since we’re not including the safeties, linebackers, or defensive linemen who sometimes end up in coverage.

__________

Main Takeaway(s): The Rams tested the player they didn’t have a lot of tape on (Tre Brown) and largely avoided the player that finished 3rd in the DROY voting last season.


Next, let’s look at Week 2 through Week 4, aka the three games that Devon Witherspoon played leading into Seattle’s Week 5 bye:

Artie Burns

  • Total snaps: 84 (Weeks 2 & 3; DNP Week 4)
  • Coverage snaps: 69
  • Targets: 14 (13 of those were vs. Carolina Week 3)
  • Target rate: 20.3%

Devon Witherspoon

  • Total snaps: 220
  • Coverage snaps: 152
  • Targets: 22 (13 of them vs. Carolina in Week 3)
  • Target rate: 14.5%

Riq Woolen

  • Total snaps: 84 (injured Week 2, missed Week 3)
  • Coverage snaps: 58
  • Targets: 8
  • Target rate: 13.8%

Tre Brown

  • Total snaps: 72 (injured Week 3, missed Week 4)
  • Coverage snaps: 43
  • Targets: 5 (Week 2, no targets Week 3)
  • Target rate: 11.6%

Michael Jackson

  • Total snaps: 125 (0 defensive snaps Week 2)
  • Coverage snaps: 101
  • Targets: 9
  • Target rate: 8.9%

Lance Boykin

  • Total snaps: 2 (Week 4 vs. New York)
  • Coverage snaps: 0
  • Targets: 0
  • Target rate: 0.0%

__________

Main Takeaway(s): (1) Andy Dalton threw the ball 58 times in Week 3 and 26 of those passes were in the direction of Devon Witherspoon and Artie Burns (!!!), and (2) Michael Jackson’s target rate was basically unchanged (9.1% Week 1 vs. 8.9% Weeks 2-4).


Now, let’s look at Week 6 through Week 8, aka all of the post-bye games except the most recent one:

Riq Woolen

  • Total snaps: 196
  • Coverage snaps: 120
  • Targets: 17 (10 of them vs. Cincinnati in Week 6)
  • Target rate: 14.2%

Devon Witherspoon

  • Total snaps: 196
  • Coverage snaps: 114
  • Targets: 13
  • Target rate: 11.4%

Tre Brown

  • Total snaps: 102
  • Coverage snaps: 72
  • Targets: 8
  • Target rate: 11.1%

Michael Jackson

  • Total snaps: 12 (8 of them came against Cincinnati in Week 6)
  • Coverage snaps: 10
  • Targets: 1 (versus Arizona in Week 7)
  • Target rate: 10.0%

Kyu Blu Kelly

  • Total snaps: 1 (versus Arizona in Week 7)
  • Coverage snaps: 1
  • Targets: 0
  • Target rate: 0.0%

__________

Main Takeaway(s): The coaches had clearly settled on a Top 3 coming out of the bye: Woolen, Witherspoon, and Brown; only 13 total defensive snaps (11 coverage snaps) went to Seattle’s backup CBs over these 3 games.


Last, but not least, let’s look at the most recent game, aka the 37-3 shellacking in Baltimore:

Riq Woolen

  • Total snaps: 65
  • Coverage snaps: 35
  • Targets: 7
  • Target rate: 20.0%

Tre Brown

  • Total snaps: 53
  • Coverage snaps: 30
  • Targets: 4
  • Target rate: 13.3%

Devon Witherspoon

  • Total snaps: 76
  • Coverage snaps: 36
  • Targets: 4
  • Target rate: 11.1%

Michael Jackson

  • Total snaps: 11
  • Coverage snaps: 2
  • Targets: 0
  • Target rate: 0.0%

__________

Main Takeaway(s): The targeting numbers only tell part of the story, but the targets are the story today (or, rather, the target rate is) so we’re not going to dig any deeper (unless it’s in the Comments).


Hot, Cold, and Lukewarm Takes

It would be easy to single out Riq Woolen, who has seen his target rate rise from 5.1% in Week 1 to 13.8% in Weeks 2-4, to 14.2% Weeks 6-8, and to 20.0% last week.

It would also be easy to highlight how Devon Witherspoon’s target rate has fallen from 14.5% during his first 3 games to 11.4% his next 3 games, and to 11.1% last Sunday.

Some might note the consistency of Tre Brown’s target rate:

  • 12.9% in Week 1
  • 11.6% in Weeks 2-4
  • 11.1% in Weeks 6-8
  • 13.3% in Week 9

And, if one really wanted to bend the data to fit a particular narrative, it could be argued that opposing quarterbacks seldom target our backup cornerbacks.

  • Lance Boykin: 0.0% in Week 4
  • Kyu Blu Kelly: 0.0% in Week 7
  • Michael Jackson: 0.0% in Week 9

The Bigger Picture

While the above takes are probably valid (even the one about opposing teams not targeting Seattle’s backup CBs), I think that we need to look at the entire season as a whole to get a clearer picture.

Doing that yields the following numbers:

Note: This time, the CBs are arranged by games played and total snap counts, and both Lance Boykin (1 game, 2 snaps) and Kyu Blu Kelly (1 game, 1 snap) are excluded.

Devon Witherspoon

  • Games: 7
  • Total snaps: 492
  • Coverage snaps: 302
  • Targets: 39
  • Target rate: 12.9%

Riq Woolen

  • Games: 7
  • Total snaps: 426
  • Coverage snaps: 252
  • Targets: 34
  • Target rate: 13.5%

Tre Brown

  • Games: 7
  • Total snaps: 288
  • Coverage snaps: 176
  • Targets: 21
  • Target rate 11.9%

Michael Jackson

  • Games: 7
  • Total snaps: 169
  • Coverage snaps: 124
  • Targets: 11
  • Target rate: 8.9%

Artie Burns

  • Games: 3
  • Total snaps: 102
  • Coverage snaps: 85
  • Targets: 16
  • Target rate: 18.8%

__________

Main Takeaway(s):

My first takeaway is that none of Seattle’s cornerbacks have played in every game, which means it’s probably a good thing that John Schneider didn’t trade any of the backup corners either before the season started or at the trade deadline (and I’m reasonably certain that he got some calls about that).

My second takeaway is that while Devon Witherspoon has been targeted almost twice as many times as Tre Brown (39 vs. 21), the target rates aren’t all that different (12.9% for ‘Spoon vs. 11.9% for Brown).

Other takeaways:

  • Riq Woolen’s target rate (13.5%) is obviously the highest among the “full-time” cornerbacks, but it’s not much higher than ‘Spoon’s rate (12.9%).
  • Artie Burns rate of 18.8% is somewhat alarming, but the alarm is quieted by the fact that he hasn’t taken a snap on defense since Week 3.
  • Michael Jackson’s target rate of 8.9% would probably land him in the starting lineup for a lot of teams, but he’ll be a Restricted Free Agent after the season so he’s probably sticking around at least one more year.

Contextualizing the Data

While the numbers we’ve been looking at are interesting in and of themselves, I feel like some context might help.

Let’s start with last year’s primary starters at cornerback:

Riq Woolen in 2022

  • Games: 18 (17 regular season + 1 playoffs)
  • Total snaps: 1,200
  • Coverage snaps: 678
  • Targets: 76
  • Target rate: 11.2%

Michael Jackson in 2022

  • Games: 18 (17 regular season + 1 playoffs)
  • Total snaps: 1,147
  • Coverage snaps: 649
  • Targets: 90
  • Target rate: 13.9%

Coby Bryant in 2022

  • Games: 18 (17 regular season + 1 playoffs)
  • Total snaps: 784
  • Coverage snaps: 492
  • Targets: 67
  • Target rate: 13.6%

As you can tell, the target rate for Seattle’s top cornerbacks in 2022 were similar to the target percentages in 2023.

  • 2022: Range of 11.3% to 13.9%
  • 2023: Range of 11.9% to 13.5% - with Michael Jackson (aka CB4) at 8.9%

Note 1: Seattle’s top backup in 2022, based on games played, was Sidney Jones (3 games, 45 snaps, 33 coverage snaps, 5 targets, 15.2% target rate).

Note 2: Seattle’s top backup last season, based on coverage snaps, was Justin Coleman (2 games, 60 snaps, 49 coverage snaps, 8 targets, 16.3% target rate).

__________

Now, let’s expand our focus and look at a few of the Seahawks’ former cornerbacks (during their final season in Seattle):

D.J. Reed in 2021

  • Games: 14
  • Total snaps: 1,002
  • Coverage snaps: 606
  • Targets: 68
  • Target rate: 11.2%

Shaquill Griffin in 2020

  • Games: 13 (12 regular season + 1 playoffs)
  • Total snaps: 883
  • Coverage snaps: 584
  • Targets: 76
  • Target rate: 13.0%

Tre Flowers in 2020

  • Games: 12 (11 regular season + 1 playoffs)
  • Total snaps: 579
  • Coverage snaps: 415
  • Targets: 49
  • Target rate: 11.8%

Note: These numbers (11.2% to 13%) look pretty similar to what we’re seeing this year, no?

__________

Looking outside Seattle, we find the following “context”:

Sauce Gardner in 2022 and 2023

  • Games: 17 in 2022 | 7 games in 2023
  • Total snaps: 1,114 | 483
  • Coverage snaps: 642 | 270
  • Targets: 73 | 29
  • Target rate: 11.4% | 10.7%

. . .

D.J. Reed in 2022 and 2023

  • Games: 17 | 6
  • Total snaps: 1,135 | 422
  • Coverage snaps: 659 | 225
  • Targets: 83 | 21
  • Target rate: 12.6% | 9.3%

. . .

Xavien Howard in 2022 and 2023

  • Games: 16 | 7
  • Total snaps: 1,047 | 444
  • Coverage snaps: 704 | 274
  • Targets: 87 | 40
  • Target rate: 12.4% | 14.6%

. . .

Trevon Diggs in 2022

  • Games: 19 (17 regular season + 2 playoffs)
  • Total snaps: 1,263
  • Coverage snaps: 759
  • Targets: 91
  • Target rate: 12.0%

Note: Diggs has only played 2 games in 2023; his target share in those games is 11.1% (8 of 72).

. . .

DaRon Bland in 2022 and 2023

  • Games: 15 (13 regular season + 2 playoffs) | 8
  • Total snaps: 745 | 435
  • Coverage snaps: 464 | 274
  • Targets: 83 | 41
  • Target rate: 17.9% | 15.0%

. . .

Jalen Ramsey in 2022

  • Games: 17
  • Total snaps: 1,078
  • Coverage snaps: 620
  • Targets: 86
  • Target rate: 13.9%

Note: Ramsey has only played 2 games in 2023; his target share in those games is 9.0% (6 of 67).

. . .

Pat Surtain II in 2022 and 2023

  • Games: 17 | 8
  • Total snaps: 1,104 | 538
  • Coverage snaps: 676 | 316
  • Targets: 69 | 38
  • Target rate: 10.2% | 12.0%

. . .

Christian Gonzalez in 2023

  • Games: 4
  • Total snaps: 209
  • Coverage snaps: 127
  • Targets: 24
  • Target rate: 18.9%

. . .

Here’s one last cornerback for the sake of “context” (but also because he was the most recent DB to pick off a Geno Smith pass:

  • Geno Stone in 2023 (leads the league in INTs this season with 6 in 9 games)
  • Games: 9
  • Total snaps: 514
  • Coverage snaps: 346
  • Targets: 21
  • Target rate: 6.1%

Note: It’s pretty obvious why teams aren’t throwing at Geno Stone this year (6 INTs in 9 games), but coming into this season, he had 1 career interception which means opposing QBs weren’t “avoiding” him because he was a ballhawk. Yet, his 6.1% target rate this year matches his target rate last season (6.1%) and is only slightly lower than his 6.5% target rate in 2021. Whatever the cause, Stone is a bona fide outlier.


Jumping in the Way-Back Machine

When I first decided to look at target rates, I thought there might be some sort of “smoking gun” that helped explain why Seattle’s secondary is sometimes less than the sum of its parts.

Maybe there is, but I don’t see it.

Target rates of 10% to 15% seem pretty normal and each of Seattle’s primary cornerbacks fall within that range.

Even going back to the Legion of Boom days, the range of target rates largely mirror what we’re seeing this year:

Note: Only players with at least 10 games played at CB are listed.

2012

2013

Note: Brandon Browner only played 8 games in 2013 which is why he isn’t on this list; well, that and the fact that PFF listed him as a Safety that year.

2014

  • Richard Sherman: 10.2%
  • Tharold Simon: 14.1%
  • Byron Maxwell: 16.0%
  • Marcus Burley: 20.0% (proof that these stats aren’t being cherry-picked :)

Note: PFF has Brandon Browner listed exclusively as a Safety in 2014, but he played in 10 games so, for the sake of completeness, his target rate was 13.3%.

2015

  • Richard Sherman: 10.5%
  • Marcus Burley: 14.5%
  • DeShawn Shead: 14.9%

Note: As with 2014, PFF has Brandon Browner listed exclusively as a Safety in 2015, but he played in all 16 games, so . . . his target rate was 13.9%.


Bottom Line

The target rates are worth monitoring, but unless they rise above 17% or fall below 8% (i.e., +/- 2% from what appears to be “normal”), there probably isn’t any need for the 12s to worry about them.

That said, last year’s Pro Bowl cornerback, Riq Woolen, does have the highest target rate amongst Seattle’s starters . . .

But, as I pointed out in a recent article, Woolen being ‘the Riq link” is arguably a good “problem” to have.

Go Hawks!