Odell Beckham Jr. had a big day against the Falcons defense (7 catches, 146 yards, and a touchdown). Most of that yardage came against third year cornerback Robert Alford. The backlash from Beckham's performance has been a bit strange. We have to keep two important facts in mind when looking at Beckham's stats:
1. Beckham is one of the best receivers in the league, and only a handful of cornerbacks are capable of completely slowing him down.
2. Dan Quinn's scheme will never ask the top cornerback, Desmond Trufant, to shadow the opposing team's top receiving option. This defense positions each cornerback to sides to of the field, Alford mans the right cornerback spot and Trufant is the left cornerback. In order to avoid facing Trufant, a lot of team are going to put their top targets across from Alford.
Overall, Alford didn't play a bad game against Beckham. He wasn't perfect by any means, but once you take note of the two facts above it's much easier to contextualize how he played.
Let's take a closer look.
In this instance, the Falcons are lined up in Cover One. Atlanta is playing all man coverage except for Ricardo Allen playing deep, and Justin Durant lurking in the middle of the field. Alford is in a one on one situation with Odell Beckham and plays him very well up until the point Beckham catches the ball, but it isn't on Alford here. Beckham gets away with an uncalled push off on this play, Alford was in perfect position to make a play on the ball until he was shoved out of position. If the referees had called offensive pass interference on this play, then the stat sheet would look a little kinder towards Alford.
Most of Odell Beckham's completions against Alford were short curl and slant routes where Alford was in good position to make a tackle immediately after the ball was caught. Great players are going to make plays on a routine basis, and Beckham is most certainly a great player in today's NFL.
The long touchdown that Beckham scored in the second quarter was more on Ricardo Allen than it was on Robert Aflord. Atlanta employed their standard Cover Three look with Allen playing the deep middle third while Alford was protecting the sideline at the top of the screen.
In this particular instance, Alford's responsibility was to play outside leverage with the free safety helping on potential routes breaking towards the middle of the field. The post route that Beckham was running ran right into Allen's coverage. Eli Manning threw a great ball that sliced right in between Allen Bradford and Nate Stupar into Beckham's hands.
Since Alford was loosely trailing Beckham the touchdown is likely going to be tallied under his name on the stat sheet. However, Allen was in a better position to make a tackle around the fifty yard line, so most of the blame should be shifted towards him. Allen took a poor angle which sprung one of the most explosive athletes in the game to sprint for a touchdown; I wouldn't really chalk this up as a "coverage bust" per se, just a great play by Beckham to read Ricardo Allen's angle on the fly and explode for a touchdown.
The Falcons were playing Cover Three again here, and Alford executed his assignment to the fullest. He had the deep, left portion of the field which essentially turned into man coverage on Beckham as he was running a "go" route towards the endzone. This is where Alford's technique and athleticism truly shined.
As the graph above shows, Alford tested well above the league average (for cornerbacks) in the forty yard dash, vertical jump, and broad jump. Long "go" routes like this play right into Alford's strengths as an athlete and player and he exemplified those traits in this instance.
Notice that Alford almost bites on the double move around the 45 yard line, but quickly accelerates as Beckham explodes out his route and flies down the sideline. Alford is able to keep up and make a phenomenal pass break up on the ball for an incomplete pass.
All of these plays took place in the first half of the game where Beckham did the vast majority of his damage. In the second half the Giants diversified where they lined up Beckham. He faced Trufant more frequently which Eli Manning obviously didn't test (Desmond Trufant, in my opinion, can be just as good as peak Darrelle Revis). Robert Alford is much improved from where he was this time last year, but the stat sheet doesn't always embody those same sentiments. It's not a bad idea to take a closer look at the film which clearly shows that Alford is capable of being the number two corner in this scheme that sees a lot of targets.
Moving forward, expect Alford to play much better as he becomes more comfortable with the coaching staff and scheme. Currently, Atlanta is ranked 13th in the NFL giving up 6.8 yards per attempt. Once Alford and Ricardo Allen gain more chemistry through in game reps, don't be surprised to see that number move into the top ten in the league.