Growing up, when I first drew interest to the sport of football, the first player to catch my attention was Charles Woodson. I was about seven years old and he had just won the Heisman trophy. Since then, cornerback has been my favorite position in football, and arguably the most difficult position in the NFL. To this day, I have yet to see a cornerback master the art of defending the back shoulder fade. It is almost impossible to defend that route without being flagged for pass interference.
Morris Claiborne vs. Victor Cruz
The Giants are hoping to get starting WR Hakeem Nicks back from his injury for the season opener. Being that the Cowboys spent a fortune signing free agent CB Brandon Carr, expect him to shadow the best WR on the field, being Hakeem Nicks. Cruz is more of a slot guy and can be placed all across the field. Carr is best outside, rather than at nickel covering a slot guy. So expect to see first round rookie CB Claiborne to shadow Victor Cruz, while Carr is occupied with Nicks. The Cowboys new and improved secondary was their biggest weakness last year, and the matchups can go either way. At times, Claiborne might be on Nicks, and Carr might be on Cruz. Either way, we can assume the four professionals will give us an interesting display.
Corey Webster vs Dez Bryant
No one is sure how long second year cornerback Prince Amukamara will be out, as he sprained his ankle last week against Chicago. And once again, Giants CB Terrell Thomas will miss the season with another ACL injury. Corey Webster has been the anchor of the Giants back seven the past few seasons from my perspective. He despises the fact that he still doesn’t get much recognition, as he constantly shadows the best WR on the opposing team, and does a damn good job at it. Well, he will have his hands full this season, as the Giants have one of the toughest schedule, and many people are expecting the defending Super Bowl champs to not even make the playoffs this year. Webster could use some help from Amukamara if he is healthy, in shadowing other Cowboy WR Miles Austin. However, Bryant is the best WR on Dallas’ roster, and Webster will again try to prove to naysayers that he is one of the best cover corners in the league.
Vontae Davis vs. Brandon Marshall
On Sunday, August 26th, The Indianapolis Colts traded their second round pick to the Miami Dolphins for CB Vontae Davis. Not long ago, the Bears traded a couple late round picks to the Dolphins for WR Brandon Marshall. Two familiar faces will face off in the season opener, as Davis has shown flashes in the past as a potential lockdown CB, and Brandon Marshall can easily be one of the best WRs in the NFL. Especially now that he is reunited with his Offensive Coordinator and QB from Denver. A bunch of familiarity with the system, Marshall caught on fast, as we saw from him this preseason. Davis should adapt fast, as the Colts run a similar 3-4 defense that the Dolphins ran. He should immediately be the number one cornerback on their depth chart, as their secondary was suspect outside of FS Antoine Bethea.
Brent Grimes vs Dwayne Bowe
Grimes has constantly been labeled a Tampa 2 CB with the likes of Ronde Barber and Charles Tillman. I beg to differ. He can ball and plays exceptionally well in man coverage. With Mike Nolan now running the defense, expect Atlanta to get after the QB more often, and a lot more man coverage. Grimes can see time against Jon Baldwin also, as he is constantly impressing the coaching staff, and Bowe being left out in some 3-WR packages, as they throw Baldwin, Breaston and McCluster in there. In those situations, Grimes may shadow Baldwin with Asante Samuel in front of Breaston or McCluster.
Brandon Flowers vs. Julio Jones
Julio Jones has dominated the preseason and is in playoff mode already. I think he has a chip on his shoulder for he and the Falcons’ outing against the Giants in the playoffs last year, where they only scored two points (technically they didn’t, because it was a safety. Offense was shut out). Brandon Flowers is another underrated cornerback. He often struggles in zone defense, but is at his best in man coverage. I think the Chiefs should lock him up on up-and-coming WR Julio Jones the entire game. Roddy White is another fore to be reckoned with. Newly acquired CB Stanford Routt isn’t very good in man coverage, but he will have to get it together this year. Flowers and Routt may also switch on occasions. But Flowers is the best CB on the Chiefs, and Jones is rapidly developing into one of the best WRs in the league. Will be a fascinating matchup.
Joe Haden vs. Desean Jackson
The Eagles and Browns should be familiar with each other in the regular season matchup, for the fact that they faced off in the third game of the preseason. The Eagles were without starting QB Michael Vick, but everything else about their game plan should be familiar to Cleveland come September 9th. Joe Haden has been constantly getting better and week after week, he shows that you can leave him in one-on-one coverage with some of the best Wide Receivers the NFL has to offer. In their exhibition game this preseason, Haden shadowed Jackson the entire game, getting the best out of the matchup I would say. Jackson was targeted 5 times, and recorded only two receptions, but for a whopping 58 yards. Haden defended a couple of passes and intercepted one. Jackson has been a respected WR in the NFL for quite some time now, with his speed being the primary reason teams give him so much respect. And Haden is becoming a premiere cornerback in the league who demands respect. Will be a nice sighting for our eyes.
Cortland Finnegan vs. Calvin Johnson
Finnegan signed a five-year, $50 million contract this offseason. You only give a Cornerback that type of money if you have confidence in him to be the #1 CB on your team and he has shutdown potential. Finnegan in fact does have the potential. He will face arguably the best WR in the NFL in week one who will put that contract to the test. In one-on-one coverage, Calvin Johnson can make an example out of almost any Cornerback in the NFL. Finnegan, one of the more physical CBs out there, will have to get his hands on Calvin from the line of scrimmage and try to throw him off his routes. When untouched before the first five yards, you are allowing one of the fastest and strongest Wide Receivers to run free and can do whatever he wants to your secondary. Hope we see Finnegan get physical with Megatron as he was with Andre Johnson when he was in Tennessee.
Darrelle Revis vs. Stevie Johnson
As of lately, Johnson has become a nuisance to Darrelle Revis. He isn’t the fastest, tallest nor strongest wide Receiver Revis has faced, but somehow, he constantly manages to beat him on routes Revis is sure to defend and probably pick off. Usually, a Wide Receiver who is stranded on Revis Island might finish the game with three or four catches for around 35-60 yards. In their two matchups last season, Johnson tallied a total of eleven receptions for over 160 yards and one touchdown. On a consistent basis, Johnson beats Revis on slants, comebacks and skinny posts that Revis usually doesn’t allow. With his resume’, I am sure Revis has re-watched the tapes and is aware of the plays Johnson is capable of making against him. Revis is one of the best cornerbacks we have seen in a long time, so I expect him to get the best of Johnson in both match-ups this season.
Sean Smith vs Andre Johnson
One of the best young cornerbacks in the league, who also has significant length for a cornerback as he stands at 6’3”. Sean Smith is bound to have a breakout year this season, and he will start off with one of the best Wide Receivers in the NFL. Andre Johnson had a horrendous season in 2011, as he missed seven games and injured both hamstrings. He proved that he has fully recovered in the playoffs last year, as well as this preseason. Sean Smith has the size and speed, but I am not sure if he has the athleticism to run stride for stride with Johnson and break on the ball when Johnson runs certain routes. It is a Super Bowl or bust season for Houston, and the Dolphins are a young team in a rebuilding process. Smith’s potential will be put to test in week one. We will see what type of breakout year he will have from the opening week. Good luck, pal!
Richard Sherman vs. Larry Fitzgerald
One of my favorite players in the NFL, Richard Sherman will also have a tough obstacle to overcome in week one. Larry Fitzgerald has been heralded as a top 3 Wide Receiver since he entered the NFL. Richard Sherman, a former WR converted to CB, had his breakout year in 2011. We saw flashes from him in the preseason game against Denver as he shadowed Demaryious Thomas, and limited him to no receptions while on him. Fitzgerald is in a different world in comparison to Thomas. Sherman matches up with Fitzgerald in the height-weight-speed topic; but Larry’s ability to make acrobatic receptions is mind-boggling. The Seahawks defense was in the top ten last season, and has the ability to be a top five defense this season, as their secondary gets CB Marcus Trufant back, and they added free agent Jason Jones and rookie Bruce Irvin to the DL. KJ Wright is the anchor of the defense along with Earl Thomas, but Sherman is not as appreciated now, as he will be by the end of the 2012 season.
Leon Hall vs. Anquan Boldin
Easily one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL if he stays healthy, Leon Hall has looked very impressive this preseason and is getting back to his roots as a premiere corner. He will be put to test week one as they have to travel to B-More to face many peoples’ Super Bowl favorite Ravens and Anquan Boldin. Boldin is one of the most physical Wide Receiver some of us has ever seen. Hall isn’t the biggest cornerback in the league, but he can get physical with the best in the business at the line of scrimmage. In order to neutralize Boldin, Hall will have to be aggressive with him from the first blow of the whistle. If you plan on playing finesse against Boldin, he will simply disperse away from the competition and have a career day. The AFC North is full of competition, and these two teams will be going at it for the next few years; Baltimore is also looking at a “Super Bowl or bust” season, and Cincy is not looking back after making the playoffs last season. They want the crown for the AFC North, and Baltimore is in their way. Pay attention to these two when they face off.
Quentin Jammer vs. Denarius Moore
If you go to YouTube and type in “Denarius Moore highlights,” the majority will be him catching the ball over Quentin Jammer. Moore had the best game of his career last season against San Diego with Jammer defending. He also had a spectacular outing in their second matchup in 2011, catching a 78-yard bomb on Jammer. All in all, Moore has tallied 8 catches for 224 yards and 2 touchdowns against San Diego. The majority, if not all of those catches were with Jammer defending. Jammer has been a decent veteran in the league for quite a while; for a rookie to have such a fantastic performance on him on primetime television, Jammer should be out for vengeance. Moore is currently nursing a lingering hamstring injury, but he should be ready by week one.
A couple of other matchups to keep an eye on is Panthers’ Steve Smith vs Tampa Bay’s Aqib Talib, Jacksonville’s Aaron Ross vs Minnesota’s Percy Harvin; Tennessee’s Jason McCourty vs New England’s Brandon Lloyd and St. Louis’ Janoris Jenkins vs Detroit’s Nate Burleson.
There are more than enough one-on-one’s worthy to note, but these are marquee matchups I think deserve to pay attention to. Football speed is faster than one can imagine, so if you don’t catch it live, try to review the one-on-ones during NFL Replay.