Brandon Boykin signed with the Carolina Panthers as an unrestricted free agent on March 28th. Boykin spent the 2015 season with the Pittsburgh Steelers after being traded from the Philadelphia Eagles in early August. According to Tom Pelissero of the USA Today, the deal is 1 year for $840,000. On the surface this looks like a massive bargain and another shrewd transaction by general manager Dave Gettleman.
Jim Johnson and Dick Lebeau Similarities
Before I dive into a film breakdown, I want to introduce a background of the Steelers and Panthers defensive scheme. Jim Johnson and Dick Lebeau are arguably two of the greatest defensive coordinators ever. Their defensive imprints have been felt by both the Steelers and Panthers.
Keith Butler, current Steelers defensive coordinator, is a disciple of Dick Lebeau. On the contrary, Sean McDermott is a disciple of the late Jim Johnson. Lebeau and Johnson ran different fronts, but their defenses are a zone-blitz style scheme that attempts to create confusion. Johnson’s goal was to attack protections, dictate matchups, and confuse the quarterback. Lebeau was innovative for his various zone blitzes.
Brandon Boykin is the perfect nickel cornerback for both of these schemes. I was confused why it took the Steelers to so long to start Boykin, but when he did get an opportunity he proved to be a quality player. He understands multiple zone coverages and his speed off the edge is enticing as a blitzer.
The Panthers and Steelers run similar zone coverages with different variations. The critical baseline in any of these coverages is to have a solid foundation of the concepts and to execute the assignment. Brandon Boykin should have no problems playing in Carolina’s heavy zone scheme.
The Steelers are in two trap coverage and they bring an overload blitz from the left side. Boykin and William Gay do a brilliant job of teaming up for this interception. Boykin is responsible for the deep half. Gay is the trap flat cornerback, which means he passes off any vertical routes to Boykin. The number one receiver runs a vertical and the slot receiver cuts towards the sideline. Gay breaks on the ball and Boykin displays excellent change of direction to stop his assignment and intercept the pass.
Sean McDermott relies on his nickel cornerbacks to run into the curl flats on cover 3 calls. Boykin shows off his quick and efficient backpedal to hit his zone mark. The pass was eventually completed to the receiver, but Boykin did his job.
The disguise of this cover 2 call is very similar to the Panthers. Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly are frequently brought to the line of scrimmage to confuse the defenses into an A gap blitz. The Steelers show that same disguise, but drop back into a cover 2. Boykin also threatens to come off the edge on a blitz. He initially attempts to carry the drag, but he fluidly changes direction to protect his hook assignment.
Boykin gets a bit lost on this touchdown. He is the slot cornerback on the near side. Initially, he does his job of shuffling into his zone. He has the instincts to pass off the outside receiver. However, he could have potentially prevented the touchdown with better awareness. He briefly anticipates closing on the running back, but realizes he might be vacating his zone.
If he understood that his area was abandoned, then he could have closed harder. I’d chalk this up to inexperience with the linebackers though. This was Boykin’s first start, so there was bound to be miscomunication.
The Panthers don’t apply many man principles. Boykin is best served as a nickel corner protecting his zones. He has shown the ability to play assignment defense while also elevating the level of the entire unit.