One of the biggest storylines from the Detroit Lions Week 2 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers was the matchup between Chargers receiver Keenan Allen and Lions corner Darius Slay. One of the league's best route runners facing off against one of the best man-coverage corners in the NFL.
Allen finished the day with eight receptions for 98 yards. While not every single reception came against Slay, a majority of them did.
Anyone who watched the broadcast would probably come away thinking the Allen won the matchup. There were many times where Allen would make a catch with Slay a few strides behind, and the announcers made sure to harp on this.
After watching the all-22 film, though, I can say that... Allen definitely won the match up and did so handily.
The receiver’s route running proved to be too much for Slay. Detroit’s corner often found himself a step behind the player he was lined up across. Slay clearly has a speed advantage over his opponent, but the footwork, agility and reaction time of Allen could not be matched.
This play from the third quarter is a good example:
Slay does a good job not biting on Allen’s fake on the release on this play, but still got burned after that. The receiver takes advantage of Slay freezing for a second and then attacks the corner’s inside shoulder. He quickly gains a step and leaves Slay trailing him. Just as Slay begins to make up ground, he head-fakes inside then breaks his route back outside. At this point, Allen has earned himself a good 3 yards of separation and makes an easy catch for a long completion.
A majority—almost all—of the plays where Slay lined up with Allen looked similar to that one, though Slay did play things well when he got beat for the most part. The corner had trouble dealing with Allen’s quick feet coming off the line of scrimmage and would lose a step very quickly on almost every play.
The corner also struggled on shorter routes. Allen’s ability to cover short distances with quickness and precise footwork made it hard for Slay. This meant that Slay got beat for big yardage on quick slant routes on multiple occasions, including this third quarter play:
Take this example from the end of the first half:
Once again, Allen gets a step on Slay here. The corner may not have the agility to keep up with Allen, but he has the awareness to stay in between the receiver and Rivers. This makes it harder for Rivers to pass to his receiver—he would have to throw a harder pass over the top to hit Allen deep—and beating up Allen makes it harder for him to break free from Slay.
Slay was punished for his physical play. He was hit with two defensive holding penalties and a questionable defensive pass interference when he lined up against Allen. He avoided getting beat for any particularly long plays, though, so it may have been a worthwhile trade off.
There was one particular play where Slay did manage to stay in front of Allen, though. After watching every snap of the game there is only one snap where I could honestly say that Slay got the better of his opponent, and it was the last offensive snap of the game for the Chargers.
Even before the interception, the corner did a great job mirroring the receiver and staying in front of his opponent. Rivers—desperate to make a play late in the game—tried to force a ball to his star receiver, but the Lions’ star corner was right there to intercept the pass and win the game.
In general, it was a bad day for Slay. A worse corner would not have been able to mitigate damage the way he did, though. At the end of the day, Detroit had their CB1 shadow the other teams WR1, and despite the fact that the receiver handily won, he still only finished the day with under 100 yards and no touchdowns.
That’s a pretty good day.