Is Pierre Garcon capable of being a "match-up buster" receiver?

HOUSTON - SEPTEMBER 12: Wide receiver Pierre Garcon #85 of the Indianapolis Colts runs the ball against Zac Diles #54 and Kareem Jackson #25 of the Houston Texans during the NFL season opener at Reliant Stadium on September 12 2010 in Houston Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The other day KC Joyner for ESPN wrote an article breaking down the top match-up busting receiver's in the league. Pierre Garcon came in at 11th with the following blurb:

Pierre Garcon, Washington Redskins (8.1 YPA)
Garcon may be the anomaly of this group, as his YPA against quality cornerback competition really declined down the stretch (3.8 YPA on 18 targets from Weeks 9-17). He needs to prove last season wasn't a fluke.

Now what does this all mean, and is Joyner right to say that Garcon is an "anomaly"?

Well first let's define what Joyner is saying with this statistic. The top thing to remember is that these are yards per target, not yards per reception, which is why this number may seem low. Next it is important to remember that we are only looking at passes targeted against, what Joyner defines as "red and yellow" cornerbacks. These are guys who for the season gave up less than 7 yards per target (red), or between 7-9 yards per target (yellow). These are the corners who severely limit a passing game, which is why it's important to see what receivers can "bust" the top level coverage. To qualify for Joyner's rankings receivers needed at least 35 targets against such corners.

So where does Garcon stand? Well we don't have the full amount of data, as we don't know his total targets against this level of corners, nor do we know what his breakdown vs red CB's as opposed to yellow CB's. Perhaps Garcon's drop off in production was due to facing more red corners than yellow corners in the 2nd half of the season?

One thing that probably shouldn't be given too much in Garcon's favor is the excuse of poor QB play. While it should be taken into account some, looking at this list of 18 names it is pretty clear that QB play had little to do with the success of these receivers. Two Ravens made the list despite Joe Flacco having a pretty bad year, Nate Washington made the list despite Matt Hasselbeck being an average at best QB (ditto for the situations in Buffalo and San Francisco). Also Larry Fitzgerald's on this list despite the QB mess in Arizona. Not to mention the lack of quality QB's that Brandon Marshall and Dwayne Bowe had throwing to them. So while you could maybe say Garcon had the worst situation, he's also one of the few receivers mentioned that had another capable receiver opposite him drawing some coverage.

One thing that did stand out to me was how few targets Garcon had vs good competition in the 2nd half of the season. Just 18 of his 60 targets in weeks 9-17 came against these quality corners. Now the first thing I did was look and see at Garcon's schedule to see if he just wasn't facing that level of competition on a consistent basis, but that didn't seem to be the case. The Colts played the Jags (x2), Falcons, Texans, Panthers, Ravens, Titans in the 2nd half of the year, and each of those team's have at least 1 corner who graded out in either the red or yellow category. The one team the Colts faced that didn't have that level of CB? The New England Patriots, who Garcon torched for 150 yards and 2 TD's on 9 receptions.

Now it is impossible to fully compare Garcon's 2nd half to his first half, since we don't know the number of targets against these corners, but there are some things we can infer. We know Garcon had 63 targets in the first half of the year. We also know that given the 35 target minimum for this list, Garcon needed at least 17 targets against red or yellow CB's. But with such a small number (3.8) in the 2nd half it was likely a couple targets above the minimum (though doubtfully more than 25 targets). What is clear though is that Garcon was a pretty different receiver in the 2nd half of the season.

Not only did his yards per target against quality CB's drop, but it did from an overall stand point as well. In the 2nd half of the season Garcon had just 378 yards of his 947 total (just 40%). And his yards per target went from 9.03 in the first half, to 6.3 in the 2nd half. And it wasn't just a function of Garcon's completion percentage dropping significantly as he caught 54% of the passes thrown his way in the 2nd half, opposed to 58% in the first half. Even more troubling is that Garcon's numbers in the 2nd half was based on his one great game against New England. Outside of that game he was pretty much a non-factor.

Now as I said earlier, there is a lot of incomplete data. But given the drop in production, it is clear that Joyner's concern about Garcon being an "anomaly" is a valid one. That level of inconsistency, should be a cause for concern and make the Redskins wonder how he'll match-up vs corners like Nnamdi Asomugha and Brandon Carr this year.

Steve Shoup will be covering Free Agency and the NFL Draft for his own site Fanspeak.com, but will provide write-ups on players for the Redskins here on Hogs Haven as well.

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