I decided to break this week’s New Orleans Saints defensive film study into two parts to spend a little extra time focusing on the performance of cornerback Keenan Lewis. I got a lot of questions after the game about how much time Lewis actually spent in single coverage against dynamic Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, who was held to one catch for 44 yards in New Orleans’ 49-17 victory.
After reviewing the game tape, I was just as impressed with Lewis’ performance as I was during the game. Lewis shadowed Bryant all night, except for one series to start the third quarter, when Lewis was on the sideline for an unspecified reason.
Bryant did beat Lewis for the 44-yard gain in the third quarter, when he slipped off Lewis’ jam at the line of scrimmage and was able to push away from Lewis as the two briefly locked arms. That got Bryant a step ahead of Lewis, and he made a juggling catch just before safety Rafael Bush got over to try and break it up.
Other than that, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo never targeted Bryant when Lewis was covering him. (Bryant was targeted one other time, during the series when Lewis was out and Corey White was in coverage. Romo overthrew Bryant on that play).
As to whether Byrant was being "double covered" all night, I only counted four plays where a safety was clearly shadowing Bryant in a true form of double coverage. On one of those plays -- which was often replayed on the NBC broadcast -- Lewis and Bush both lined up directly in front of Bryant at the line, forming a two-man wall inside the 10-yard line. But that was the only instance where that occurred.
Sure, Lewis also had safety help available on the back end of the Saints' defense for much of the game. But it was Lewis’ job to keep Bryant contained or disrupted at the line of the scrimmage, and he was excellent at doing that throughout the night. On almost every snap, Lewis jammed Bryant at the line in press coverage – often forcing Romo to choose another option.
The most noteworthy example came late in the third quarter, when Romo looked Bryant’s way for a good two seconds before turning to other options and ultimately being flagged for intentional grounding.
Lewis also committed an offside penalty in the third quarter, when he was lined up so close to Bryant that he was actually across the neutral zone (part of the reason why Lewis was given a minus-1.2 grade by Pro Football Focus).
Based on PFF’s grading system, those plays where Bryant and Lewis weren’t involved didn’t add up enough to negate Lewis’ two miscues. But his performance obviously didn’t go unrecognized in the bigger picture.
“I would say back and forth (between single and double coverage). It was a little bit of a cat and mouse game,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “There was safety help over Dez, I don’t know if you’d give it a certain percentage. And then yet there were times when the safety came out and involved himself in the running game. But I thought Keenan, who drew the matchup regardless of where Dez went, did a really good job.”