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Steelers Film Room: Ross Cockrell's performance vs. the Bengals should surprise no one

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Ross Cockrell helped contribute to shutting down AJ Green, just what stood out by his performance though?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Ross Cockrell just shut down A.J Green.

"Wait what?"

You heard me.

I don't know what it was about the addition of Artie Burns or Justin Gilbert, but lately I had been noticing some statements about "Cockrell being a good backup", or, "He's not a long term solution, Gilbert and Burns are the future" and "Cockrell is going to lose playing time".

You were questioning Green being shut down, but these statements have me saying, "Wait, what?"

You mean to tell me a CB who seemed allergic to tackling and a raw 1st round pick are going to cut into Cockrell's playing time? I'm all for having a deep group of CB's, but this is downright delusional.

Some may be surprised to learn that when going over the film you'll realize just how much Cockrell may have shut down those notions.

Anyway, now that I'm done with my tangent, for those who've kept track, this is nothing new for Ross Cockrell as he's had a history going back to his college days at Duke of lining up across the opposing team's best WR. Some names that may sound familiar include, Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin.

Did he have the length to contend with them?

No.

So why was he trusted to line up against them in college and Green in Week 2?

Let's find out shall we:

Instincts and Smarts

This is what I love about Ross Cockrell, he's not the fastest or the biggest, but I'll tell you what, he just may be one of the smartest if not the smartest CB.

There's a multitude of things that are happening on this play:

First, Cockrell is covering A.J Green and being physical with him.

Second, Andy Dalton is forced out of a collapsing pocket due to pressure and see's his TE open in the end zone.

Third, the reason the TE is open is because Mitchell is preoccupied with Bennard and Shazier goes the complete opposite direction of the TE leading to the question, was Mitchell supposed to have more depth in his drop or was he supposed to playing underneath?

Fourth, Cockrell is the only guy in that location and he notices Dalton's eyes focused on his side of the field but not towards Green. He follows his eyes and he accelerates quickly to jump the route by following Dalton's eyes and the football.

Andy Dalton is lucky he missed this throw because Cockrell closed quickly and very likely would have had an interception if the throw was on the numbers, but this is a testament to how smart and instinctual of player Cockrell is.

Discipline

I went over this already about his Instincts and his smarts but discipline is a big part of his game. As a CB playing in zone coverage, executing in your zone is essential and that requires discipline.

Steelers seem to be playing cover 2 with their LB's dropping deep into the middle with their CB's playing underneath. The TE is running a flat route and it essentialy looks as if the WR across Cockrell was running a route designed to keep the CB from staying underneath.

Cockrell though doesn't bite as he's able to read the route and tackle the catch, limiting the yards after the catch.

Tight Coverage

The one thing that stinks when not having super long arms is how much larger the room for error is. It doesn't matter if you stay with the WR stride for stride though.

This is nice play by Cockrell as he uses a zone turn but is able to keep his eyes on Green (due to close proximity) and Dalton's eyes, while timing the pass breakup perfectly.

For those who don't know, according to inside the Pylon

"A zone turn or, "zone flip", is a defensive back maneuver where the defender turns his hips to the field with his back toward the sideline. This allows him to see the quarterback, route concepts, and backfield action, making it easier to click and close on underneath throws or a handoff. However, with no direct vision on  the receiver, the defender must use peripheral vision and route recognition to react to cuts. Accordingly, the zone turn is not generally taught for man-to-man defense but it is ideal for zone defenses such as Cover 2 and Cover 3."

Generally I see the Steelers CB's using this maneuver a lot and for good reason, they play a lot of zone defense. This is why the QB's eyes are very important when using this maneuver because if the QB has a tendency to eye down the receiver and he can lead the CB right to him. At times though the CB can have the receiver in their peripheral vision.

A lot of times though, it's very difficult to read the receiver while executing a zone turn especially when you've given them a bigger cushion because the CB can be slower to react to a receiver's cut.

React and Attack

Where have I said this before?

If you remember when I was breaking down Artie Burns, I said the way he should be used is in a very limited fashion by limiting his responsibility and just letting him react and attack because he works well in zone defense.

Burns isn't the only one who's good reacting and attacking in zone on this team obviously.

This is an obvious timing route as Dalton is already throwing the ball before Green get's out of his break on the out route. Cockrell again reads his eyes and he reacts instantly only taking about one step in his backpedal before jumping the route. Again, good thing Dalton was off on the throw or it very well could have been intercepted.

Conclusion

Ross Cockrell isn't Darrelle Revis in his prime because he helped contribute to shutting down AJ Green, in fact I'd think more in the lines of a Josh Norman. If you remember what I've said about Norman I made a point that his best attribute was his play recognition and his instincts.

Cockrell is mostly being used in zone coverage which fits his strengths because like Norman, he diagnose plays quickly and he's very instinctual. Cockrell exhibits good change of direction as well which allows him to react and attack quickly when in off coverage. He's not the most fluid CB (not the stiffest either) which is why he isn't being asked to play on an island in man coverage against dynamic receivers like Green. He's capable of playing some man coverage, but he doesn't prioritize in it.

Cockrell is doing exactly what Norman did last season and that is to execute your responsibility in coverage, play with your eyes toward the QB so you can react and attack and don't give up the big play.

He may not have the length Norman has or as much physicality but makes up for it with better speed in coverage. Sure he isn't Revis, Jason Verrett or Desmond Trufant when it comes to quickness and hip fluidity but don't compare him to any of those CB's, he's Ross Cockrell, he's a damn good zone CB and he's a perfect fit for this defense.