Granted, the Cleveland Browns surrender points and yards at a near-historic rate. Yet, on Sunday, the Las Vegas Raiders will encounter an elite defensive back that doesn’t receive the mass praise that he should. Outside of Myles Garrett, the Browns boast an emerging shutdown corner in Denzel Ward. Ward will test the resolve of the Las Vegas passing game.
Right off the snap, Ward presents as a corner that flashes the ability to stay with any receiver. Regardless of the speed or size, Ward exhibits a crisp, decisive break on the ball. Despite not possessing the lankiest frame or blessed with height, Ward attempts to fight bigger wideouts for positioning with leverage and late hands. That is to say, in order to avoid penalties. In 2019, Ward finished the two months of the season with three pass interference calls. Those appear to look like a case of Ward’s over-aggressive nature rising to the surface and getting the best of him. Without, he will lay hands on a receiver. The key becomes not doing it beyond those five yards or using veteran moves to not make it obvious.
Now, Ward’s ability to make plays on the ball should worry the Raiders. In 32 games, he’s accumulated six interceptions and thirty-three passes defensed. Looking deep into that last stat, you will see that, he’s tied his career-best in deflections with eleven, with nine games to play. Timing and vision allow Ward to sneak that hand into the play without flags. As mentioned, with his speed, if he picks one, Ward can flip the field.
You don’t expect sub-200 pound corners, standing under six feet to have a nose for the ball. More importantly, few possess that technique. Channeling the spirit of former Buckeyes/Vikings CB, Ward shows a surprising drive and drop tackling technique. He will slide under screens or surf through traffic to make the hit. Ward, for all of the passes thrown and failure of the Browns defense, will see his share of tackles on the boundary.
Raiders Plan of Attack
In all honesty, this needs to be Henry Ruggs’ breakout game. On top of that, the Raiders need to start using Ruggs in the way intended. First, Ruggs feasted on those quick slants at Alabama. He would accelerate out of them for big gains. Next, Ward and Ruggs stand roughly the same height. So, a jump ball between them would see the slightly more athletic receiver come down with the catch. Lastly, for the love of Al Davis, take deep shots with Ruggs, at least twice. As a result, you could see Ward alter his approach and the Raiders could feast underneath. Denzel Ward is a corner on the rise. The Raiders can still benefit from throwing in his direction.