Following a 2018 campaign that saw mostly praise, 2019 was a tumultuous year for cornerback Levi Wallace. After starting the season as a member of the 100% club, an injury to his shoulder against the Philadelphia Eagles allowed Kevin Johnson to audition for the part of CB2. Wallace was ready to go the next week, but it wasn’t long after that the Buffalo Bills started to rotate the two corners during games. This continued for the remainder of the regular season. On a day dedicated to the “not-Tre’Davious-White-boundary-corner” aka “CB2,” here’s a look at one half of the top competition.
Note: Levi Wallace already received the All-22 treatment immediately following the 11/17/19 game against the Miami Dolphins, which marked the beginning of the CB2 rotation. For that review, click on through to the other side here. Today we’ll focus on play after that point in time.
First off, a good timing pass is very difficult to defend. This is complete mainly as a result of the initial buffer between Levi Wallace and his man. As noted in the GIF, the reaction speed and play recognition is there. Wallace makes a play on it but sometimes the team across from you just has a better answer. Wallace’s play was brought into question a few times this season. Spoiler alert, not once did I feel like I was watching a bad player.
Levi Wallace fits the ideals of a zone defense better than he does man coverage. Patience can be a virtue but especially so when trying to make sure you don’t bite on a play early. Wallace is often charged with what looks like “hanging out.” Here the play is limited to a shorter gain because of Wallace.
If you’ve read my stuff long enough you know how much I love peripheral vision. The hesitation move to get back into the play here makes me giddy as Wallace is reading the ball the entire time but still sees the block and reacts to it. Back to his hips, when covering a zone it can work to a player’s advantage to already be facing the ground you’ll be covering, and on this exact play it seems like the expectation is that the play will be inside.
Also if you’ve read my stuff, you know I’ve pointed out the hips before. Anything pre-snap that’s out of the ordinary can tip off the opponent—and Wallace is often turning his hips before the snap. As noted above, turning the hips allows better read and react to the area you’re facing. What’s also true is that it increases the difficulty of reading and reacting to what’s behind you. Wallace’s hip habit does make it harder to cover the sideline on a play such as this, in addition to routes that stop or come back to the quarterback.
This is another tough play to defend as is. The soft coverage of the play call puts a heavy burden on the corner to get there in time. I picked this play to talk about Wallace’s backpedal. It’s a technique I’ve called him out on before for not using enough. I don’t have data to decisively make this conclusion but from what I’ve watched he’s significantly increased his amount of backpedaling. There’s room for improvement with the skill as it stands now, but the bottom line is that Wallace is adding to the array of techniques he’s using.
Here’s those hips again. I harp on it a lot, but as we see it can work in his favor. Wallace is already facing the direction of the route and doesn’t need to adjust much to shadow it. This coverage isn’t exactly glue-like, but the hit is timed very well to the attempted catch.
There’s likely a case to be made that Levi Wallace was often the weakest link on the Bills’ defense. What I’d like to convey is that this means we’re spoiled as Bills fans. Consider the old saying that “A chain is as strong as the weakest link.” On the pass defense chain the Buffalo Bills were:
- Third-best in the league with 6.2 yards per attempt
- Second-best in yards per completion (9.8)
- Second-best in touchdown percent at 2.7%
- Second-best (tied) in touchdowns allowed with 15
For overall defense the Bills were:
- Fourth-best in yards per play (4.8)
- Second-best in points allowed with 259 or 16.2 per game
And so on...
There’s very little for growth on this side of the ball and Levi Wallace was holding down the fort for three quarters of the season. If he’s the weakest link, it’s still one hell of a strong chain. And, oh yeah, like I said—he seems to be improving. Even setting aside the fact that he’s an exclusive-rights free agent, it would be unwise not to try keeping Wallace around.
- All-22 analysis of Kevin Johnson’s 2019 season
- All-22 analysis of Levi Wallace’s 2019 season
- Contract projection shows a pay increase for Kevin Johnson in 2020
- Buffalo Bills don’t have enough cornerbacks for 2020 offseason
- Value free agent options limited at cornerback
- 2020 NFL Draft prospects could be starters or depth
- Opinion: Bills would be fine with Wallace as CB2, but they’ll need to add depth or re-sign Johnson