Week nine provided us with some classic contest that have been desperately lacking in the last few weeks. With teams still trying to find where they stand, early season front runners falling away and teams heating up after slow starts, the battles that inspired this article were lacking. That led this column to become a weekly diary of the worst beatings handed out the past Sunday. This week though, a change, some quality back and forth encounters.
There were some true marquees matchups out wide at receiver this week. We could have filled this column with matchups between wide receivers and cornerbacks alone but for the fact we had the little matter of our top rated pass rusher and top rated pass protector going head to head.
So what’s in store this week? We’ll take a look at a Bills receiver taking more yards from Darrelle Revis than any individual receiver in the last three seasons. Then we’re heading to Pittsburgh for a physical matchup between a receiver and a corner that encapsulated that entire game. Lastly we have that aforementioned mouthwatering matchup between our top rated pass rusher, finally seeing the snaps he deserves, and our top rated pass protecting tackle.
Buffalo WR Stevie Johnson vs. New York Jets CB Darrelle Revis
We’ve been pretty vocal about the kind of season that Darrelle Revis is having. Put simply he has shut down everything that has come. Despite tracking s team’s best target, which has led to several teams not even bothering to test him. That makes sense, as coming into this game a throw into his coverage was just as likely to be picked off or deflected by Revis as it was to be caught by your receiver. The Bills though had a different approach. They came into the game saying they wouldn’t allow Revis to take away Stevie Johnson, and that they wouldn’t forget about him. It turns out they weren’t lying. The Bills threw at Johnson five times with Revis in coverage, and he came away with 84 yards, more than any receiver has taken from Revis coverage in the past 61 games. That’s not to say Revis was beaten all day, far from it, as their battle turned out to be relatively even with little victories from both players. The first throw at Johnson was a slant in the first quarter which Revis batted away, and it seemed to spook the Bills away from testing him for a bit. When they plucked up the coverage to go after him again they found joy as they beat him down the sideline for a catch in the third quarter, before Revis himself answered with tight coverage on a shot to the end zone. Both players won battles in this encounter but perhaps the war remains undecided. Luckily they face off again in just a couple of weeks time.
With 7:13 to go in the 3rd quarter the Bills got tired of waiting and decided to take a trip to Revis Island. Revis lined up in press-man coverage on the outside but Johnson was able to get a good release down the sideline. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a perfect pass and Johnson’s speed meant that Revis never managed to recover the lost position. A missed tackle after the catch compounded matters and allowed Johnson to sprint for additional yardage. This represents by far and away the worst Revis has been beaten on a single play all season, and points to some play deserving of serious praise from Stevie Johnson.
Baltimore WR Anquan Boldin vs. Pittsburgh CB Ike Taylor
It seems fitting that in a matchup between the Ravens and the Steelers, a rivalry that has become synonymous with grit and physicality, that one of the most physical receivers in the league would go up against one of the most physical cornerbacks in the league. Taylor is having a strong season statistically and with Boldin coming off of a strong showing against Arizona in week eight this matchup was all set to be a really interesting one. The Ravens went after Taylor once on a screen to Torrey Smith early in the second quarter but he closed quickly to stuff the play, showing he wasn’t going to be beaten on quick hitters. However, against Boldin Taylor had his troubles on Sunday night and showed again why the stats he has given up in coverage do not tell the full story. Boldin was targeted seven times in Taylor’s coverage bringing in five catches for 57 yards. Only moderate statistics but four of those catches went for first downs with three of them third down conversions. Further to that on an eighth target (not included statistically as the play was nullified) Taylor was called for pass interference on a go route by Boldin which set the Ravens up with first-and-goal, a drive on which they scored. The statistics are not overpowering but the Ravens were able to get what they wanted from Taylor’s coverage when they wanted it. But for a drop by Torrey Smith on the decisive drive of the game Taylor’s game would have looked all the worse for him on the stat sheet.
The Ravens had scoring drives at the end of each half and Boldin picked up first downs against Taylor on each drive. Taylor’s worst piece of coverage came at the end of the first half, allowing the Ravens to close in on field goal range. By blowing his zone to allow Boldin a 13-yard gain to the Pittsburgh 42 yard line, the Ravens took one step closet to points. At 0:22 in the second quarter Taylor stays too long with his primary read, a vertical route by Torrey Smith, taking him into the zone of free safety Ryan Clark. This leaves Boldin wide open for the gain into Pittsburgh territory.
Tennessee RT David Stewart vs. Cincinnati DLE Carlos Dunlap
This is the kind of matchup that most players live for, the chance to pitch yourself against the very best. When it’s two players who are the best at what they do in the entire league it is only right that it is the focus of the media and fans that week. Unfortunately that focus wasn’t on the matchup between Carlos Dunlap and David Stewart this week. Stewart is widely seen as a solid, but unspectacular right tackle and Carlos Dunlap is so far off of the media’s radar that he’s not even on the NFL’s Pro Bowl ballot. But coming into this week there were no players performing better as pass protectors and pass rushers respectively. By the time the game was done Dunlap had re-stated his case as one of the best pass rushers in the league with a marquee victory, and David Stewart was left to re-group having given up a pair of sacks. Those sacks were the first two Stewart has given up all season and the first time he has allowed multiple sacks in one game in the last three and a bit seasons. Dunlap still it would seem is not getting the recognition he deserves and that may need to wait until he finally has a starting spot bestowed upon him. Marcus Gilbert and Michael Oher should be on notice in the next two weeks that he is on a mission to get both himself noticed, and the Bengals two divisional wins that could turn the AFC North on its head. You have been warned.
This game was alive to the very end and it was Dunlap, with his sack at 0:19 in the fourth quarter, who put the final nail in the coffin of the victory. Dunlap got up field quickly but Stewart was able to stay with him, seemingly job done. However Dunlap then flashed his athletic ability dipping and getting underneath the block of Stewart, driving off of Stewart’s right hip to quarterback Matt Hasselbeck at the top of his drop to make the decisive sack within 2.1 seconds, thus handing the Bengals a win that kept them tied at the summit of the AFC North as we reach the turn in the 2011 season.
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