by howard fendrich ap pro football writer
Darrell Green is not impressed.
The Hall of Famer looks around today's NFL and sees a lack of talent at his old job.
"When it is most needed, in my opinion, the cornerback position is probably producing at its lowest level," Green said. "Guys like myself and Deion Sanders and Mike Haynes — this is the time when we would be saying, `Yes! This is great! We want you to pass.'"
Seattle's Richard Sherman, Tampa Bay's Darrelle Revis and Denver's Champ Bailey think that way, too, making lock-down cornerbacks must-haves nowadays. With quarterbacks flinging the football around like never before, those back-end guys get more chances to flourish or fail. They define their teams' Ds.
Still, as Green points out, special ones are rare. Check the numbers: Through Week 6, QBs averaged a passer rating of 81 when targeting players covered by cornerbacks, higher than any season since at least 1995, according to STATS.
"This generation, they're behind the 8-ball, because these offenses and quarterbacks are incredible," said Green, who played for the Washington Redskins from 1983-2002. "Better cornerbacks would make defenses better."
Thanks to rules changes and offensive innovation, games are averaging 45.90 points in 2013, which would be the second-most in NFL history (the record is 46.48 in 1948). Games are averaging about 710 total net yards and slightly more than 490 yards passing, both on pace to break marks set in 2012. The 289 touchdown passes are the most through Week 6, an average of 3.14 per game that would be the highest in the Super Bowl era.
"If you keep getting that passing game going more and more, you're going to keep seeing how important it is to have good corners," Bailey said.
"I would say now you've got to have more than one," he said, "and that's the hard part."
Seattle pairs the 6-foot-3 Sherman with 6-foot-4 Brandon Browner.
"If you don't have good corners, it can be a long day," Sherman said, "regardless of what you're doing on offense or how your front seven is playing."
Used to be wideouts got a ton of attention: Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco.
Now it's the diva DBs.
Sherman, for one, is "a vociferous guy," as his college teammate at Stanford, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, put it. Sherman isn't shy about telling the world just how good he is — he engaged Revis in a Twitter spat over who's better — and the entire NFL notices what he says and how well he defends.
"The kid from Seattle's got a big mouth," Jets coach Rex Ryan said in a bit of takes-one-to-know-one commentary from a top defensive mind, "but he can play, you know?"
Ask Sherman to list top corners, and he'll mention Revis, New England's Aqib Talib, Cleveland's Joe Haden, Tennessee's Alterraun Verner, Arizona's Patrick Peterson.
"Elites," Sherman called them.
Ryan used to have Revis; he still has Antonio Cromartie.
"You can be more aggressive. You can play more man coverage — true lock-down, man coverage — if you're fortunate to have one like that. Some of the other ones, you've just got to play zone," Ryan said. "We want to attack you and we want to dictate. We don't want to ... just play zone or play scared."
Revis thinks the same way.
"I think a lot of DBs panic in this league, because the (receivers) get up on them and get on top of them," he said.
"I flip it," Revis explained. "They're the ones who are the prey."
Even if Revis didn't have his best outing against Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson on Sunday, he still helped the Bucs with a fumble recovery. Even if Bailey, in his first game this season after spraining his left foot, was troubled Sunday by Justin Blackmon, he still picked off a pass intended for Blackmon on a 2-point conversion attempt that could have pulled the Jaguars into a surprising halftime tie with the Broncos.
These guys change a game's complexion, and not only with pick-6s: There have been 25 interceptions returned for TDs already, putting the league on pace for 70, one fewer than last season, which had the most since the NFL expanded to 16 games in 1978, STATS said.
Superior cornerbacks give a defense more options.
They force offenses to alter game plans.
Look at the way Talib shadowed Saints tight end Jimmy Graham on Sunday, helping hold him without a catch.
Through Week 6, STATS has Talib ranked second among NFL cornerbacks for lowest opponent QB rating when targeted, behind only Verner. They're tied with an NFL-high four interceptions.
From 1995 (when STATS data begins) through 2012, Sanders ranked No. 1 in opposing QB rating, followed by Patrick Surtain. Among active corners, Revis was fourth, Atlanta's Asante Samuel sixth, Bailey 13th, Talib 17th. Sherman, in his third NFL season, doesn't have enough targets to qualify; his numbers for 2011-12 would put him second.
And Green? He was eighth during that period.
"Cornerbacks (are) born with something. Not a lot of coaches can teach it. Not a lot of players can play it," Green said. "It's definitely one of the toughest positions. I don't want to get too down on them, because I know what they have to face."
AP Sports Writers Dennis Waszak Jr., Michael Marot, Fred Goodall and Tim Booth, and AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton contributed to this report.
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