Having one of the league’s better route runners is a good place for the Chicago Bears’ offensive growth to begin.
So perhaps adding a defender capable of shutting down the league’s best route runners would make for a good place for the Bears defense to start its improvement. And A.J. Bouye of the Houston Texans fits the bill here.
Over at Pro Football Focus, Eliot Crist analyzes which NFL cornerbacks were the best at defending seven specific passing routes.
Bouye, who can be come a free agent this offseason and figures to be among the top cornerbacks available, can add being the NFL’s best cornerback at defending two important routes to his already impressive résumé.
Looking for someone to defend the slant? Bouye is your man. Yes, he allowed five catches for 130 yards and a touchdown in 15 targets when defending the slant. However, Bouye came up with three interceptions – tied for the most in the league in this particular area. Of the 10 incomplete passes thrown on slants in his direction, six were broken up by Bouye himself.
He also made this play against Tom Brady in the postseason:
TB12 is INTERCEPTED. ?
— NFL (@NFL) January 15, 2017
Excluding an 86-yard touchdown catch by Bengals wide receiver Brandon LaFell, Bouye allowed only 44 yards on 14 passes – and just 4.75 yards after catch per completion. He was in a Cover-1 defense on 14 of 15 occasions and only one of those passes came on a play where the quarterback was being pressured. Simply put, Bouye was a one-man wrecking crew against the slant – a pass that Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers have been using to beat the Bears for a long time.
But Bouye is no one-trick pony, garnering an honorable mention for his defense of in routes and out routes. Lions cornerback Darius Slay was the best in this category, allowing four catches for 38 yards in 12 targets – earning opposing quarterbacks an 8.3 rating on these attempts. Bouye was targeted 24 times on these routes (ninth highest in the NFL), but allowed a 23.8 quarterback rating, the fourth best among cornerbacks.
It should come as no surprise that no Bears were listed among PFF’s best at shutting down any route. Cre’von LeBlanc (73.4) and Bryce Callahan (72.6) were the site’s top-graded Bears corners. But neither was close to receiving Bouye’s 90.9 grade, making him one of five players to earn PFF’s “elite” grade.
For more on Bouye, check out today’s profile at MMQ, which gets into how a guy this effective could have slipped out of the draft entirely, and how he could have started this past season fourth on the depth chart.