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Are the Giants using struggling rookie cornerback DeAndre Baker correctly?

Baker seems to be playing more off coverage than expected — the question is who is responsible for that?

Buffalo Bills v New York Giants
DeAndre Baker (27)
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

DeAndre Baker is struggling.

No one who has watched the New York Giants rookie cornerback in his first two games can deny that. It has often looked like Baker, a player drafted not for his athleticism but for his ability to press receivers at the line of scrimmage and mirror them, has not played to his strengths over the first couple of games. Chris addressed this in a film study earlier in the week.

The obvious question is why?

Are the Giants misusing him? Asking him to play more zone coverage or off man than they should be? Is Baker, perhaps trying to find his footing as a pro and unsure of himself to this point, not being as aggressive as the Giants want him to be? Or, as physical as he needs to be to succeed?

Something defensive coordinator James Bettcher said earlier in the week got me wondering about whether Baker is giving so much cushion at times because he is being asked to do that, or because he lacks confidence right now and is choosing to do that in an effort to prevent big plays over the top.

Here is what Bettcher said:

“I think as the game [vs. the Buffalo Bills] went on, you saw him probably challenge people more. I think that’s what he does best. He has to just believe in what he does best and go do it. At the same time, position coaches in the room, myself as the coordinator, we have to challenge him to go do the things that he does best as well,” Bettcher said.

“I think as a young player in this league, whether you’re a first, second, some third-year players as well, there’s certainly a confidence thing. But it’s knowing when to do what. Third and three is different than third and eight. Cut split is different than a wide split. You have to be able to do that in the National Football League. You have to have some of that recognition. Some of that is just experience and some of it is confidence. Some of it is experience and using the techniques and tools that you have at your disposal to go be able to play on whatever those situational downs are.”

That indicates to me that perhaps some of the soft coverage we have seen from Baker has been his choice. So, I asked some folks in the scouting community better versed in defensive fundamentals than I am how much freedom cornerbacks generally have in establishing their alignments.

Dan Hatman of The Scouting Academy, a former NFL scout, had this to say:

“Most coaches I’ve been around outline expected alignments based on the coverage and then will have game plan adjustments based on wide receivers and will give more leeway to veterans/players they trust to pick their alignment/leverage.”

Our quarterback guru, Mark Schofield, has a different understanding of cornerback play as former college quarterback. He said:

“Usually it’s based on the coverage called. If you’re a cornerback in Cover 4 you’re gonna use outside leverage because you have help inside. Cover 2 you usually use inside leverage to try and squeeze the WR to the boundary. If they’ve got off man called, there’s some leeway with how much cushion you can give, and that might be where the issue arises.”

For me, this is an interesting situation to watch. The Giants drafted Baker to be an aggressive, man cover cornerback. If they aren’t using him that way often often, that’s on Bettcher to adjust. If Baker is choosing to play more passively because he is uncertain perhaps we will see that change as he gains experience and confidence.

How Baker aligns and how physical he is with the receivers he is trying to cover is, though, something to pay attention to going forward.