BRONCOS

Pat Surtain’s ascension continues after the CB stifles San Francisco

Sep 27, 2022, 6:33 AM
Pat Surtain...
(Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)
(Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

Following a remarkable season in which he became one of the NFL’s most dynamic and dangerous players, San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel was rewarded with a three-year, $71.5 million contract extension. In the Denver Broncos’ bizarre, 11-10 victory over the Niners on Sunday night, the versatile Samuel did catch five passes for 73 yards, but none of those were against second-year Broncos cornerback Pat Surtain II.

As a matter of fact, nobody caught any passes against Surtain. San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo tested him six times, and each and every one of those efforts ended up bouncing harmlessly on Denver’s mile-high turf; two of them by Surtain’s own hands. Not bad for a guy that was questionable to play thanks to a shoulder injury.

“All around, it was great getting back out there with the guys. The injury… I expected it to be day-to-day, and I expected to play, which happened,” Surtain explained in his usual, understated nature on Monday.

With apologies to pass-rusher Randy Gregory, who’s off to a terrific start with the Broncos in his first three outings in orange and blue, Surtain has already become the one player that the Denver defense simply can’t do without. Always under control and armed with impeccable technique, the Alabama product made an effortless move to the NFL last season, with many observers believing that Surtain was already among the league’s top-10 cornerbacks for the 2022 campaign.

Despite his covers being targeted 15 times this season, Surtain’s surrendered a grand total of 45 receiving yards on eight catches this season; 36 yards and seven of those by Seattle’s Pro Bowl wideout D.K. Metcalf in Week 1. Even when his man catches it, Surtain’s in position to make the tackle and finishes the job; he’s allowed only five — yes, five — yards after reception on the season. Quarterbacks have a passer rating of only 63.1 against him, which would rank 32nd in the league. For reference, even New England’s Mac Jones — who’s thrown two touchdowns and five interceptions on the season — sports a 76.2.

In other words, Surtain’s side of the field is where big plays go to die. By the end of the season, calling him a top-10 cornerback might be considered an insult.

“I probably wouldn’t throw his way either,” Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett said on Monday. “First and foremost, as a person, this guy is special. I think that is what makes him such a great player up to this point. He’s just going to continue to get better. Just his natural athletic ability, his ability to not panic is huge. When you take this amazing athlete, you take this guy that’s so humble, a guy that wants to be coached, wants to be great, that’s when you see him continually grow and get better.”

Fox Sports’ Brian Baldinger summarized what makes Surtain elite after Sunday’s win, writing on Twitter that Surtain “can do it all; off the ball, press man, ball skills. Difficult CB to beat… always under control and trusting his skills to win.”

It’s not hyperbole to suggest that Surtain is already the Broncos’ best cornerback since at least the “No-Fly Zone” defensive pairing of Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib.

“It’s all about confidence; stepping in, making plays, and doing what’s best for the defense,” Surtain said. The coaches put me in the best position possible for me to have that game yesterday, and play to the best of my ability. It goes to your preparation, your film study and getting your confidence going throughout the game. I think that’s what leads to it.”

Virtually every NFL player has talent; the raw athleticism and physicality that propels them to football’s grandest stage, but not all of them develop skills. Those are the result of meticulous hours of study and repetitive practice. Not every player has the desire to spend much time on the parts of the game that are undoubtedly less fun, but most of the great ones do. If a player wants to have a long career that will have to weather some decay in talent over the years — Father Time remains unbeaten, after all — it’s a must.

Almost preternaturally calm and composed, Surtain’s nature is to continually work on the small things, without skipping any steps. The result’s been something big for the Broncos, and in the pass-happy AFC West division, he’s become as integral to the team’s success as new — and far more decorated — quarterback Russell Wilson.

After handling Metcalf and Samuel, Surtain faces an even bigger test this week when the Broncos travel to Las Vegas. He’ll be asked to contain newest Raiders wideout, Davante Adams, arguably the finest receiver in the entire league. Despite the Raiders’ disjointed 0-3 start under former Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels, Adams has still managed to catch a touchdown pass in all three games, showing that his rapport with quarterback — and former teammate at Fresno State — Derek Carr is as strong as ever.

The Raiders desperately need a win on Sunday, and you can count on Adams — who said he was “frustrated and angry” at his team’s poor start — being a big part of McDaniels’ game plan. That’s just the way Surtain likes it.

“I embrace it a lot, going against premier receivers like that week in and week out. You just expect that, especially coming from our division,” Surtain said. “We’re facing top receivers each and every week, so you just have to come out and do what you have to do. Going against a receiver like that — a top receiver — it comes down to film study and your preparation throughout the week. You can only control what you can control, going forward. It’s going to be a good battle, and I’m looking forward to it.”

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