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Bills vs. Steelers All-22 Analysis: CB Kaiir Elam

Elam records his first career interception during a very busy day

Indianapolis Colts v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills’ defense had another superb outing in Week 5, defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 38-3. Rookie cornerback Kaiir Elam led the defense in snap counts, playing all 75 defensive snaps. Elam was thrown at early and often, which hadn’t been the case the previous four weeks of the season.

It’s also interesting to note that the Bills had Elam exclusively playing the “field” corner (wide side of the field), while fellow cornerback Dane Jackson was playing the “boundary” corner (short side of the field). Let’s take a look at the All-22 to see how that strategy turned out for Elam and the Bills.

Play 1

It’s 3rd & 11 during the Steelers' first drive of the game. The Bills have an opportunity to force them to go three and out, but fail to force a punt. Elam turns his hips almost immediately and starts to run with wide receiver George Pickens—who begins to stem his route outside as he approaches the first-down marker. Elam doesn’t widen with him, which makes him lose sight of Pickens. This allows Pickens to break off his route and create an easy first-down catch.

If we look at cornerback Taron Johnson (just above Elam in the GIF), we can see the proper technique for this type of coverage. Instead of immediately turning his hips, Johnson backpedals to gain width first and then turns his hips to run. This allows Johnson to maintain his leverage and keep his eyes on the receiver throughout the route, unlike Elam.

Play 2

Elam seems more comfortable when he’s in press coverage. He shows great patience here, chopping his feet and waiting for the receiver to make his move. He stays “in phase” on this route by being on the receiver’s hip, matching him stride for stride. Good coverage.

Play 3

Here’s another play where Elam opens up his hips way too early in coverage. He would be better suited backpedaling at an angle to the outside to keep his width and leverage. This way when the ball is thrown he could drive forward, instead of having to turn his hips all the way around to break on the ball.

Play 4

Elam has solid coverage here, but Pickens just makes the better play. The only thing Elam could have done better is recognizing sooner that the ball was coming and better elevating his jump. Great catch by Pickens.

Play 5

Another press-man coverage play for Elam, and another good result. He stays patient at the line of scrimmage again, and matches his man step for step. At the end of the route, it appears the receiver gets a slight push off, but Elam fights to get back in the play and ultimately influences the pass to fall incomplete. These back-shoulder fade routes at the goal line are extremely difficult to defend, and Elam does a good job on this play.

Play 6: Interception

Elam’s first NFL interception was a great display of Cover 2 technique. He funnels the wide receiver to the inside knowing he has safety help over the top. After seeing there was no other receiver running out to the flat, he sinks into a trailing position behind the “go route.” He uses his 4.39-second 40-yard dash speed to undercut the route and make the interception. Great play!

Play 7

Elam is plastered all over his man on this play, and it looks like he almost knew what route was coming. He ends up with a pass interference penalty because he was grabbing the jersey, but Elam was in good position throughout the route. Elam still is adjusting from college to the NFL—he just played a little too “handsy” here.

Play 8

Another press-man coverage look where Elam appears very comfortable. Wide receiver Diontae Johnson is lined up off the line of scrimmage, so it makes it difficult for Elam to jam him. As you can see, Elam stays patient and ends up getting a nice jam on him anyways. Excellent coverage.

Play 9

This play looks almost identical to Play 1 above. Elam is playing a few yards off the line of scrimmage and starts the play with his hips open while running with the receiver. Clearly, Elam is being taught to play this technique in certain situations, but he tends to lose sight of his man and struggles to work back to the ball on a comeback route.

Play 10

Elam plays this Cover 2 look to perfection. He widens with the wide receiver and even disrupts the timing of the route. He leaves little to no room for a throw because he squeezes the route to the sideline.

In Summary

Kaiir Elam is still learning on the fly, and is showing the potential to become the elite corner that the Bills envisioned by drafting him. It’s evident that Elam is most comfortable playing press-man coverage, where he can be aggressive and get his hands on the receiver. He still has to improve his “off-ball” coverage skills, but he certainly has the ability to effectively play those techniques. Hopefully, his first career interception gives him some confidence and momentum going into the big showdown this weekend against the Kansas City Chiefs.