Which Defensive Component Is More Important: A Shutdown Corner Or A Dominant Pass Rusher?

Over the years, the NFL has changed. Gone are the days of a physical brand of football and in are the passing attacks that invade our television screens each and every Sunday, Monday and Thursday. And with that, more teams are trying to build defenses to stop these high-powered offenses. And going forward, many may look at the model of the Seattle Seahawks, who shut down the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. But what component is most needed for a good defense: a dominant pass rusher or a shutdown corner?

richard sherman posing

Richard Sherman is considered by many the best cornerback in the NFL. He has size, smarts and competes on every single play against whoever lines up in front of him. He is considered a shutdown corner in the NFL. More often, teams tend to avoid the elite corners and by doing so, they eliminate the amount of field the rest of the defense has to cover. And with the quarterback having a smaller field to work with, that creates smaller windows for the quarterback to throw the football into. Because of those smaller windows, opportunities are created for other players to make plays. Another benefit of having a shutdown corner is it gives the defense a free defender to roam the field. That free player could be used in a couple of different ways. He could be used as a blitzer to put additional pressure on the quarterback. And even by bringing an extra man on the blitz, your coverage is still sure because of the elite defender manning one side of the field. Another use of that extra defender is as additional help for the other defensive backs. If that elite defender needs no help, then you can rotate the defense towards the weaker side to provide additional help. And with more defenders in a smaller space, those small windows become microscopic.

robert mathis

But not to be outdone, dominant pass rushers definitely have a huge effect on the game. A lot of them come with the rare combination of size, speed and power all wrapped up in one. Guys like Robert Mathis of the Colts and Demarcus Ware of the Broncos wreak havoc on opposing offenses each and every game with their myriad of moves. Of course if an elite pass rusher is present, there is always a game plan to try and make him less effective. Those plans usually include a running back, tight end of another offensive lineman going over to help another player block him. When running backs and tight ends help offensive linemen block, that makes for less weapons the offense has to take advantage of the defense. It also allows for linebackers to get more depth in their coverage, making for tougher windows to throw through. If an additional offensive linemen is helping out, then other defensive lineman get more favorable matchups, making for even more problems for an offense. But not all offenses like to double pass rushers. And when single coverage happens, most pass rushers can take full advantage of the offensive lineman. When that happens, the quarterback has less time to get the football out to his playmakers. An elite pass rush takes the pressure off defensive backs because of the lessening of time. You could argue that some pass rushers make defensive backs look better than they are because of the pressure they create.

Both dominant pass rushers and shutdown corners have a huge effect in the NFL by today’s standards. More offenses are passing at higher clips and defenses have to have a chip on their side as well. Deciding which chip you want on your side is what makes it so hard. So, which one are you taking to start your defense?

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14 Responses

  1. Jonathan

    That’s a really hard question to answer. I guess it depends on what conference your in. If your in a conference with a above average QB then a shut down corners the way to go because the ball will be thrown. But if your conference is run heavy a pass rushers the way to go since the could be more adept at handling the run if the DC or the coach misreads the play

    • Are you sure this shouldn’t be the other way around?

      • Jonathan

        No because I think that a CB should never be involved with the run unless the run play is obvious from the snap. He should be covering the receiver and the receiver should be at least 5 yards, unless the play calls for it, before the qb throws. Barring blitzes which im no fan of, and zones. Also I never played football only watched so I only going of my limited experience.

        • Gotcha. Run plays are not as obvious due to play-action passes.

  2. Dominant pass rusher(s) see 2007 and 2011 giants…they tortured offenses with their pass rush..strongest weapon they had as a team enroute to the Superbowl.

    • Giants sure did get it done with the pass rush. And covered up for less than stellar defensive back play.

  3. Nice read Mike – although cornerback is probably one of my favorite positions to play – when it comes to building blocks for a defense i’d always take a pass rush over everything else

    • So if you had a chance to draft one over the other(with both being certain to have success), you would take a pass rusher over a shutdown corner?

  4. Nick

    It seems to me that one dominant pass rusher can make the entire secondary look better. If you keep pressure on the QB, the DBs don’t have to work as hard.

  5. An effective rusher can effect every play. DB can only effect plays when ball thrown to him, tho he can stop balls being thrown to his side as well. A GO route eliminates the DB from the play. Rusher can help more vs the rush also. NYG beat 18-0 Pats by putting Brady on his behind, not for their CBs

  6. Jeff O

    Well during a pass play, the QB dishes the ball out to all the receivers, so effectively one pass rusher can affect all of the receivers on the field; whereas one corner only affects one receiver, making the pass rusher more effective overall. However, there are offensive line schemes available to block and prevent said pass rusher from taking over a game. On the other side, there is no double teaming a shut down corner, so he will remain free to shut down that wr all day long.
    More variables must be considered to decide which is best for which team and in what division of play. Look at Revis in the wrong scheme.. nearly useless. Then you look at Sherman in the right scheme and he’s all pro. When your corner can shutdown the best wrs in the league and that player has the freedom to move sides in order to matchup with the opponents #1 receiver, then that receiver has essentially been eliminated from the game. If three receiver sets are most common you’ve eliminated 1/3 of 60% of the opponents offense (the pass) we all know the drop off from#1 wr to #2 wr is significant on most teams. QBs love their #1 read.. eliminate that read and QBs have a tendency to unravel quickly.

  7. This is a very tough question for me. However I would lean towards a shutdown corner. For example look at what the Seahawks did two of the most prolific offenses in the league the Saints and Broncos. Sherman and company pretty took away any type of passing game those ball clubs had. Once that happened those clubs got completely frustrated throughout the entire ball game.

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