Even though the Lions pulled out the win at Soldier Field last Sunday, my worries about the secondary have only continued to grow. The Lions were without starting nickel corner Bill Bentley, and so the Lions were forced to get creative in their secondary. The Lions ended up starting rookie Darius Slay opposite Chris Houston, and it didn’t end particularly well. Slay gave up several plays early on, including a 32 yard touchdown to Brandon Marshall. Those plays cost him his spot in the lineup as the Lions once again went to the “bullpen,” this time bringing in Don Carey to replace him.
I’ve written about Darius Slay’s development before, and while he’s making strides, he’s still a learning player. The Lions drafted Slay in the second round because of his size and speed. Standing 6’0” and running a 4.36 40 yard dash, he has all of the physical traits the Lions have been looking to add to their secondary. The one thing you need to remember is that Slay is a rookie, and rookies make mistakes.
One of the risks with starting a rookie cornerback is that his mistakes tend to lead to big plays. We’ve seen that a couple times already this year. Against Dallas Slay hesitated for just a blink and that cost him a long touchdown. A small mistake, but a big result.
One area where Darius Slay struggled with against the Bears was physicality. He simply got out-muscled by Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery throughout the game.
Darius Slay vs. The Chicago Bears
This is the first touchdown of the game–a 32 yarder to Brandon Marshall. There’s a lot going on on this play. The initial look is a WR screen to Earl Bennett (80). At the snap Marshall fakes the block and then releases downfield. That action sucks up safety Louis Delmas and leaves Slay all alone on Marshall. In the shot above you’ll see Darius Slay in decent initial position on the play.
What gets Slay in trouble is near the top of the route he lets Marshall gain all of the inside leverage. Slay also doesn’t get any help from his pass rush. Jay Cutler is given plenty of time to stand back and wait for Marshall to get open down field.
All Darius Slay has left to do is ride Marshall to the ground into the end zone. The minute Slay lost his inside leverage the play was essentially over. And Cutler was left with an easy decision.
Later on in the game Darius Slay gets matched up on Chicago’s other big play receiver, Alshon Jeffery.
Slay lines up in press man coverage. His goal is to get into Jeffery at the snap and disrupt his route. Jeffery is running an inside breaking route.
Rather than being the aggressor in man coverage, Slay gets absolutely run over by Jeffery. He’s too late in getting his hands up into Jeffery’s chest which gives all the power to receiver.
By getting knocked off at the line, Slay isn’t able to keep up with Jeffery through the route. This leaves him trailing as Jeffery makes his break and unable to disrupt the pass down the field.
Darius Slay didn’t play too much on Sunday (only 13 of 75 defensive snaps) and even when he was on the field he didn’t play especially well. But that doesn’t mean I’m ready to write Slay off as bust. He’s still learning. Because of the Lions’ limited depth at cornerback he’s getting a bit of baptism by fire. That’s okay. Even though he’s not performing great right now, he’s still a big part of the Lions future. He has more talent and upside than maybe any cornerback the Lions have had in a long time. So be patient. I think he’ll get there. It just might take a while.