We are seeing the full maturation of fifth-year Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay right before our eyes. He's always been a super athletic cornerback with size, speed and strength dating back to the time he entered the league as a second-round pick in 2013.
But experience and a greater focus on film study are two big reasons why Slay leads the NFL with seven interceptions, and also has 20 defended passes.
Slay admitted after Saturday's two-interception performance against Chicago that he didn't dedicate himself to the film room like he probably should have early in his career. That changed with the help of former Lions cornerback Rashean Mathis and current Lions safety Glover Quin, who took Slay under their wings and showed him how to prepare. This season, all that work is paying off big time.
Slay's first interception Saturday off Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is a perfect example of how that film study has paid off for Slay, and it's the focus this week's Film Review.
The Bears are facing a 2nd and 8 from their 22-yard line, and come out in a shotgun three-receiver set with one receiver tight off the right tight end and two receivers left to the bottom of the formation.
The Lions counter with their nickel package of five defensive backs, two linebackers and four down linemen. Slay is the outside right cornerback at the bottom of the formation.
At the snap, Trubisky fakes the read option to running back Jordan Howard and rolls to his left looking to pass. The Bears are going to have a short, intermediate and deep four-route concept for Trubisky to choose from.
Josh Bellamy (#15), who was the receiver just off the tight end to the right, comes across the formation and is the short receiver on a little crosser in the flat.
The tight end on that side, Dion Sims (#88), will run a 10-yard in route across the field.
Kendall Wright (#13) was the inside receiver to the left, and he's running a 15-yard out route to the sideline.
The outside receiver left is Dontrell Inman (#17), who Slay is lined up across, and he's running the go route.
This is where we keep an eye on Slay, who's become such an instinctive player. He said after the game he recognized the play during film study and knew Wright, who's running the 15-yard out rout to the sideline as the inside receiver, is the preferred target.
Notice how Slay has his eyes in the backfield on Trubisky right before the throw.
Right as Trubisky starts to throw the ball to Wright, Slay comes off his coverage on Inman to try and jump Wright's route.
"I had, watching film, I saw it and I jumped it," Slay said afterward. "It was either going to be an incomplete pass or a complete pass to me, so, I just made a play on it."
Trubisky's throw isn't an accurate one, as the ball sails too high for Wright and right into Slay's hands. Slay does a nice job making the catch and toe-tapping the sideline to make sure he gets both feet in bounds.
The interception gave the Lions the ball at the Chicago 41-yard line, and Matthew Stafford and the offense would take advantage of the turnover nine plays later with an Eric Ebron touchdown to increase their lead to 20-3.
Slay joked after the game he's still amazed opponents continue to throw at him at the clip they do. With a smile, he said young quarterbacks like Trubisky will learn.