Playbook: Studying improved DBs

With the season coming to a close, the crew at “Playbook” has taken to the film to find players who made marked improvements on the field.

After taking a glance at quarterbacks last week, here’s a look at three defensive backs who caught our eye.

Patrick Peterson, Cardinals

Peterson is a rookie who improved so much throughout the year that we had to include him on our list. At the beginning of the season, Peterson shined as a returner, but struggled as a corner — playing a lot of soft and zone-like coverage.  As the season progressed, the Cardinals began playing more man-to-man defense, and Peterson showed how he can lock up a receiver.

In Week 13 against Dallas, Peterson was frequently matched up against Dez Bryant in man coverage. Bryant was targeted 11 times but caught just five balls for 53 yards. The Cowboys receiver had trouble creating any separation on vertical routes and Peterson had three passes defended.  Displaying continual improvement, Peterson was later asked to match up man-to-man with A.J. Green for the majority of the Cardinals’ Week 16 loss to Cincinnati.  Green managed just two receptions for 25 yards.

Carlos Rogers, 49ers

Rogers went from being a disappointment in Washington to a Pro-Bowler in San Francisco. The 49ers played a lot of man-to-man coverage in 2011, showcasing Rogers’ athleticism and allowing him to focus on a single task: shutting down the man across from him. The former first-round pick was put in a position to succeed and ran with the opportunity.

The 49ers’ ability to rush the passer also aided Rogers’ progression and allowed him to be aggressive in press coverage. With Aldon Smith and Justin Smith providing nightmarish matchups up front, opposing quarterbacks were under constant pressure. When they would inevitably force throws and make mistakes, Rogers was there to capitalize, collecting a career-high six interceptions after having eight in his last seven seasons combined.

Lardarius Webb, Ravens

Webb stepped into a starting role for Baltimore in 2011 and shined. His emergence catapulted the much-maligned Ravens’ secondary from 21st in passing yards in 2010 to fourth in 2011. The Ravens also held opposing quarterbacks to the lowest passer rating in football (68.8). Webb’s eight interceptions and 25 passes defended in 17 games (including the postseason) were a major key to Baltimore’s resurgence against the pass.

The Ravens also rely heavily on man-to-man coverage and generating pressure on the quarterback. Webb displayed great instincts breaking on routes, but in zone coverage, he excelled at playing behind his pressure. Webb showed a rare talent at reading routes based off of the quarterbacks’ drop. The additions of Bernard Pollard and Jimmy Smith were also critical to the Ravens’ improvement, but Webb is becoming one of the NFL’s better defensive backs.

“Playbook” — the ultimate football Xs and Os show – airs Thursday and Friday at 6 p.m. ET on NFL Network. Check the NFL Network broadcast schedule for further details. Follow “Playbook” on Twitter @NFLN_Playbook.

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