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"History's tiniest linebacker"


Vikings blogger and adopted Field Gulls favorite Arif Hasan broke down, for us, in absurd detail exactly what Seahawks' cornerback Antoine Winfield brings to his new team, so to be honest, I haven't dedicated a lot of time to 'scouting' him for the purpose of the blog. In his treatise on Winfield, Hasan started as thus:

...At 5'9" and 180 pounds, you have not obtained a cornerback. You have merely found yourself with history's tiniest linebacker.

If you like, he may be best characterized as the world's best cover linebacker or the world's best run-stuffing corner. The difference is immaterial because you will never see the likes of Antoine Winfield again, so normal naming conventions are useless.

Much like Percy Harvin, it may be better to call him a "football player" than to pigeonhole him into one position.

While he may not be the best cover corner that the NFL has seen (although he's no slouch there), he ranks up there with Ronde Barber, Kevin Ross and Darrell Green as one of history's best tackling cornerbacks-if not the best.

Throughout NFL history, Winfield has had the most tackles per games started of corners with at least 100 starts with 6.12. That amounts to 98 tackles a season, which is an average for him but was only beaten by one player this year (Cortland Finnegan). In 2011, only Jason McCourty and Charles Tillman beat 98 tackles.

In 2009, no cornerback accumulated more than 98 tackles. In fact, since joining the Vikings in 2004, Winfield has been in rare territory. Having placed first among cornerbacks in tackles per game three times (2004, 2007 and 2011), Winfield has only finished outside of the top five once (in 2010), where he placed seventh. Otherwise he placed 2nd in 2012, 3rd in 2006, 4th in 2005 and 2008 and 5th in 2009 where only one corner above him on the list completed more than 12 games. That's three firsts, a second, a third, two fourths, a fifth and a seventh place finish.

Having consistently been a top three or top five finisher in tackles, Winfield has earned a well-deserved reputation for physicality and strength in the run game. That has given Winfield the distinction of being one of only five cornerbacks to have accumulated more than 1000 tackles, and only one of two players (Ronde Barber being the other) to have hit that mark since 1995.

Of all cornerbacks with at least 500 tackles, he has the second most tackles per game, behind Charles Tillman. This isn't just opportunity knocking, either. Winfield didn't miss a single tackle in the run game in 2011, and ranks in the top ten consistently in most tackles made before missing one. This all means, of course, that you can run your nickel defense without losing a step in the running game.

As per Hasan's emphasis: "You can run your nickel defense without losing a step in the running game."

Wow. I mean... wow. That's a big deal.

It's something that Seahawks DC Dan Quinn confirmed a few days back, as well - noting: "As a nickel, he's a run support player, so we can totally count on him - so, maybe in some traditional sets where you would've played some base defense, [with him] you can play some nickel. He's quick, he's sudden, he can get his hands on guys when he's playing man-to-man, he's got good feel for zone."

This gives Seattle an advantage because opposing teams cannot just play to Seattle's weaknesses depending on personnel. One way this has been done by teams in recent years is via the no-huddle or hurry up offense. With offenses eschewing a huddle, defenses aren't able to freely substitute, and can get stuck in dime or nickel packages, opening you up, theoretically, to the run (or visa versa to the pass, if you're in a base look against a team with versatile receiving weapons). This is something New England did a bunch last year with their tight ends, versatile running backs, and Wes Welker/Danny Woodhead. How do you defend a team that has such versatile options? Remember that New England ran it a ton last year - 2nd only to the Seahawks, actually. This was by design, and a part of their quick-tempo offense.

What Winfield brings to Seattle is an ability to play both the pass or the run in a nickel look, without losing much in either area. This is huge, particularly late in games when teams favor the hurry-up and no-huddle.

So, either way, because Arif had done such a kick-ass, unsurpassably awesome job scouting Winfield, I hadn't really done much on him these past few months. I finally went in to watch him, just as a fan, for fun, a little while back.

I scrolled through the game logs and found a game in which Percy Harvin did a bunch of stuff, because while I was watching Winfield, I might as well kill two birds with one stone and see what Percival could do for Seattle on offense (he's good, by the way, but I'm not going to talk about that here).

Well, anyway, I settled in, turned on the NFL Game Rewind, pulled up the Week 6 matchup between Washington and Minnesota, and started in with my 'for fun' scouting. I hadn't really specifically watched Winfield before, don't have an intimate knowledge of the Vikings' schemes, didn't really know how he was used specifically, so as the first Redskins play from scrimmage rolled, I went to tab a new screen open to look up Winfield's number. This happened before I could though. First defensive play.


Ok then. Corner blitz. There he is. #26. That was a good start.

The Redskins would go three-and-out, and on their next drive, Robert Griffin III would throw one of his only five interceptions in the entire regular season. To Antoine Winfield. Ok, still a very promising start.

Now I'm starting to get a little jacked up. Or, rather, more jacked up.

Ok, on to the 'Skins third possession. After a big pickup down the seam to Fred Davis, Washington runs a pitch to Brandon Banks.


Jesus, how do I not know more about Antoine Winfield? Ok, sits up in my chair, focuses harder....

THAT SAME DRIVE, the Redskins somewhat mystifyingly run a similar play right toward Winfield again in the form of a quick double-screen-pass, but this time they motion 6'1, 235 pound tight end Niles Paul out to the wing to lead block on Winfield. Here's how that works out for them.


Oh my god hahahaha. 180 pound Winfield just put that TE on his ass getting off the block, then forces Banks out of bounds for another one-yard loss. My first impression of Winfield was that he was Percy Harvin, except on defense, but after watching the first few series of this game, I think Winfield plays more like Happy Gilmore than Percy Harvin.


Anyway. He did a lot of other good stuff too. But needless to say, I'm pretty excited about Winfield.