Tale of Two Corners: Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams
After starting the season with less than stellar results and then a hamstring injury, Cleveland Browns corner Denzel Ward has returned to form the last month and is playing at a high level. He will give up a few plays, but his coverage is good enough that teams tend to avoid him much of the game, turning their attention instead to his teammate and rookie Greedy Williams. Williams is being targeted relentlessly as of late and he's struggling to keep up, resulting in giving up some big plays and a number of penalties. This trial by fire can be difficult to watch, but the hope is that he's able to get through it and be better for having gone through it.
The Browns were largely able to navigate much of their schedule without Ward and Williams, both out with hamstrings until the game against the Seattle Seahawks. It would've been preferable to have their starting corners for all of those games, but that game against Russell Wilson and Tyler Lockett was when it really felt they were outgunned.
Both returned after the bye and Ward has largely returned to the form he displayed last year while teams have been testing Williams consistently. He's a rookie and that's what opposing teams tend to do unless the player gives them a reason not to. Ward intercepted Ben Roethlisberger twice in his debut, which sent a pretty clear message to the league he wasn't a typical rookie. Williams has improved as a tackler, but he's struggling in coverage.
Much of this comes down to technique. He's not trusting what he's coached to do and he's guessing, trying to roll the dice to counteract what opposing receivers are doing instead. And when he's wrong, he's left sprawling to catch up in coverage. As a result, he's letting opponents get a lot of cheap short passes, but he's also getting beat deep and then being forced to grab opponents in a desperate attempt not to give up the big play.
To this point, Williams has just two pass break-ups in the seven games he's played. He had two penalties just in the game against the Miami Dolphins. No one has been given reason not to throw at him as the reward has far outweighed the risk to this point. It's not as if he's been getting beat by the best receivers in the league either. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers for example, it was Johnny Holton that was giving him fits. The Browns will see the Steelers again this week.
None of this is to suggest that Williams can't get better or won't find his way through it. Much of it comes down to needing to trust technique and having the game slow down for him. Corner is one of the most difficult transitions to make from college to the pros. Ward was a rare situation to be able to make that move so smoothly. The path that Williams is taking is far more typical, but if he can get through it, the Browns should have an impressive set of boundary corners for the next few seasons at least.