The biggest thing that's been missing from Darius Slay's game the last couple seasons has been his interception total. It's what has kept one of the best young cover cornerbacks in the game out of the Pro Bowl the last two seasons.
Well, that's all changed in 2017.
Slay notched another interception in Tampa Bay on Sunday, which now brings his season total to five. That is the third most in the NFL, and second behind only Jacksonville's A.J. Bouye among cornerbacks. It just so happens Slay is the leading vote getter for the Pro Bowl by the fans this year among NFC cornerbacks. See how that works?
Slay's second-quarter interception off Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston shows not only Slay physical ability, but how his mental approach to the game has caught up with all those physical gifts. It's the focus of this week's Film Review:
The Bucs are facing 2nd and 9 at their 33-yard line. They come out in a three-receiver set with a tight on the line of scrimmage off right tackle and a long running back behind Winston.
The Lions counter with their nickel package with five defensive backs in the game.
At the snap, the Bucs fake a pitch to running back Peyton Barber to the short side of the field left, and roll Winston out of the pocket right, looking to pass.
Bucs receiver Adam Humphries, who was in the slot left, comes back across the line of scrimmage and is Winston's short option. Mike Evans, who was the receiver outside left, runs a crossing route and is the intermediate route. DeSean Jackson, the receiver outside right, has a deep out route.
Lions defensive end Anthony Zettel is athletic, and does a nice job chasing after Winston to take any possible scramble out of play.
Lions safety Glover Quin does a good job locating Humphries (#10) in the flat, and taking that option away from Winston (#3). There are just too many white jerseys in the middle of the field to consider Evans.
Now let's focus on Slay.
Slay has become a smarter cornerback over the last few years with experience. When asked about this play after the game, he said once Winston rolled out to the right, he knew the post was out of play because a quarterback isn't going to throw on the run across his body over the middle of the field. Slay recognized it, and immediately took away two thirds of the field.
If anyone ever watches the cornerback workouts on the NFL Network during the Scouting Combine, the terms "loose hips" and "change of direction" are used a lot. Great cornerbacks, like Slay, have an innate ability to swing their hips and change direction on a dime to allow them to break on the football. The stills won't do it justice on this play, but I'll provide video at the end. Slay's change of direction is some of the best in the NFL.
Jackson, who is one of the better route runners in the league, starts to make his cut to the sideline at the 36-yard line. Take a look at where Slay is positioned as Jackson makes his cut.
In just a second's time, Slay is able to flip his hips and be in terrific position to now read Winston and make a play on the ball, if necessary.
Now comes the athleticism to plant his left foot in the ground and break on the ball using his 4.3 speed. He simply cuts underneath Jackson, and makes a sliding interception to make sure he keeps both feet in bounds at the sideline.
Slay has been one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL this year, and his expected Pro Bowl selection is well deserved.
The interception led to Golden Tate's 5-yard touchdown catch on the ensuing Lions possession that gave Detroit a 14-7 lead.