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Know Your Enemy: Detroit Lions Cornerback, Darius Slay

You know the name. Now find out how he’ll impact the game.

Chicago Bears v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The only way you don’t know who Darius Slay is, is if you just don’t pay attention to anything but Tampa Bay Buccaneers football. Still, even if you don’t, there may be something you don’t know so we’ll see if we can’t bring just a little more knowledge into your football repertoire.

Tampa Bay is going to be looking for a win to get just their second four-game winning streak in the Jameis Winston era. To do so, they’ll have to beat a Detroit Lions team without Matthew Stafford, Kerryon Johnson and Marvin Jones. Seems simple, right?

Unfortunately, the Bucs are also without key players as Mike Evans is done for the season with his hamstring injury, and Donovan Smith may miss the game because of the ankle he injured against the Indianapolis Colts.

All of this means the few impact players remaining on each side, are going to have to play even bigger roles than usual for their team to get the win. Slay is one of those, so we’re taking a closer look, before Sunday.

DARIUS SLAY’S HISTORY

Auburn v Mississippi State Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images

Following two years at Itawamba Community College, Slay finished his career with the Mississippi State Bulldogs after collecting 64 tackles (42 solo) and six interceptions, including five in his Senior season which ranked him first in the SEC for 2012-13.

His collegiate career and performance at the NFL Scouting Combine earned him a selection as the 36th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, going to the Detroit Lions with their second pick of that years selection meeting.

Despite concerns with the condition of his knee entering the league, Slay went on to play in thirteen games as a rookie, but failed to come up with a single interception that first year.

His first interception came against the New York Jets in Week 4 of his second season, and he finished the year with two of them.

Slay’s best season in the NFL thus far came in 2017 when the cornerback brought down eight interceptions and defended a career high 26 passes. He also had his second highest tackle number (60), coming just one tackle shy of matching his career best mark from 2014.

In 2017 and 18, he made the Pro Bowl, earning an All-Pro nod in ‘17, and has missed just nine games in his career, including two this season.

DARIUS SLAY IN 2019

Casual, non-Lions fans most likely recently heard about Slay as one of the more vocal members of the team to speak out about their disapproval of the trade which send safety Quandre Diggs to the Seattle Seahawks for a fifth round pick.

After trading away a team captain, Slay was not shy about his anger and hurt over losing Diggs. Even telling one reporter, “Anybody can get traded. I personally wouldn’t care,” when asked if he still wanted to stay with the franchise.

And the Lions at least entertained conversations about the cornerback, with NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reporting the team told other franchise’s interested they’d have to pay close to what the Los Angeles Rams paid for Jalen Ramsey (Two 1st-Round picks and a fourth).

Hefty price for any player, but Slay is one who will certainly drew interest in October, and will again this off-season.

This season, Slay has two interceptions and has successfully defended ten more. He’s got a big match-up this weekend facing one of the league’s best receivers in 2019 in Tampa Bay Buccaneers wideout, Chris Godwin.

Godwin and Slay match-up physically pretty well, with similar builds and athletic ability. If Godwin can get the better of the Lions defenders, then Tampa Bay’s chances of winning go up significantly.

Here are some things about Slay which will play directly into who comes out on top.

STRENGTHS

o Speed and Strength

Slay has enough wheels and is big and long enough to make an impact no matter where his receiver takes him.

Against smaller guys like Scotty Miller, his reach is going to be a problem. Bigger guys like Godwin and Justin Watson are going to have a hard time getting separation and solid position on the veteran cornerback.

Breshad Perriman might be the best athlete to athlete comparison, as he has the better combination of size and speed advantage comparatively. But we’ve all seen Perriman struggle at times against defenders who find a way to negate his long speed. Something Slay is fully equipped to do.

o Experience

Saying a guy was experienced used to be a way of calling him old. But at 28 (almost 29) Slay isn’t the youngest, but he’s not old by any means. What he is, is in the sweet spot of a career where the mental side of things is well tuned, and his physical abilities aren’t on the steep end of the downhill motion most players experience towards the ends of their careers.

Slay hasn’t had his best season, granted. But nobody in Detroit can be happy with the way things have panned out in 2019.

It’s not likely this defender is going to exit the season without doing everything he can in his role to get wins for his team, and if any Buccaneers player comes in taking the Lions’ record for granted, Slay is likely to make them pay for it.

WEAKNESSES

o Time

It’s your greatest asset, but to a defensive back, it can be your biggest enemy. No matter who you are, if an NFL wide receiver has time to find open space against you, he’s going to. And his quarterback is going to find him.

The Detroit Lions have sacked opposing quarterbacks just 25 times. Fifth least in the entire league, and one spot behind the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons.

Against both the Seahawks and Falcons, Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston threw for an average of 324-yards, at least two touchdowns and just two interceptions in those two games combined.

Winston also reached his second and third highest completion percentages of the year against both of those squads.

If a pass rush can’t get home, then defensive backs really don’t have much they can do to prevent completions, especially in today’s NFL.

o Double Moves

Having a strong work ethic is a desirable trait. And from what I can tell, Slay is one of those guys who cares about what he does and works to get better. One knock on him coming out of college was his foot work and ability to change direction. Wide receivers read this and think, ‘double move’, all day.

Add in a less than stellar pass rush, and opposing offensive coordinators are all the more confident they can dial up double moves and have time for them to develop for their quarterback.

Combine all of this with a defender who likes to play aggressive, and there’s bound to be opportunities an offense can try to take advantage of.

When bigger receivers match-up on Slay, they have to try and use their routes to push the corner where he doesn’t want to go. Then, if the pass protection is holding up, dialing up a well-timed double move could result in big opportunities and big plays.

The Lions have given up 56 20+ yard passing plays this year. No, they’re not all against Slay. But this is one way, the Bucs could get one or two on Detroit’s top corner, this Sunday.

These two teams are trending in completely opposite directions, but even the downward spiraling Lions have talent to be aware of. The Buccaneers come into this game having won three in a row, and the question is going to be whether or not the team comes out with the same hunger after being eliminated from the 2019 NFL Playoffs last weekend.

Some players don’t ever have to be questioned about their effort, and Slay is one. So expect a full performance from the veteran cornerback when the Detroit Lions host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.