Examining championship week’s 12 WR/CB showdowns

Mike Clay uses PFF's unique snap and route data to break down each NFC and AFC championship wide receiver/cornerback matchup.

| 9 months ago
(AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

(AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

Examining championship week’s 12 WR/CB showdowns

Same as last week, my weekly wide receiver/cornerback matchup breakdown will be a bit more in depth than it was during the regular season. During the playoffs, I’ll be taking a close look at each team’s top wide receivers and projected opposition at the cornerback position.

Before you set your DFS lineup this week, be sure to also study our Wide Receiver vs. Cornerback matchup tool.

More information on weekly WR vs. CB matchups can be found in the regular season Shadow Report.

Arizona Cardinals (vs. CAR)

Primary matchups: Larry Fitzgerald vs. Cortland Finnegan, Michael Floyd and John Brown vs. Robert McClain and Josh Norman

Considering the depth issues at corner for Carolina, the big question here centers on who will be covered by Norman. Carolina’s all-pro corner shadows, at times, having followed DeAndre Hopkins, Vincent Jackson, T.Y. Hilton, Davante Adams, Dez Bryant, Brandin Cooks, Julio Jones (twice), Odell Beckham, and Mike Evans during the regular season. During games in which he’s not shadowing, Norman will sometimes stick to one side and other times he will simply work on both sides of the field. Norman does not, however, work in the slot much. He’s lined up inside on two percent of the 734 pass plays he’s defended this season.

Floyd (69 percent) and Brown (64 percent) run more of their routes from the perimeter, whereas Fitzgerald (42 percent) is the team’s top slot corner. Assuming Norman doesn’t shadow, he’ll see a fairly even share of Floyd and Brown. That’s good news for Fitzgerald, who will run the highest share of his routes against Finnegan. Considering he wasn’t on a roster early in the year, Finnegan has been competent as the team’s slot corner. It’s still a major upgrade for Fitzgerald, who figures to be targeted plenty. When not covered by Norman, Floyd and Brown will see Robert McClain, who is filling in for injured Charles Tillman. McClain has struggled in the role and is guaranteed to be targeted heavily by Carson Palmer.

Although I don’t expect it, Floyd is in the biggest jeopardy of seeing Norman shadow coverage. He matches up best from a size standpoint, is emerging as the team’s most-targeted receiver, and, unlike Fitzgerald, spends most of his time on the perimeter. Because McClain has struggled opposite Norman, this makes Brown a bit more intriguing than Floyd in DFS tournaments this weekend. Fitzgerald is the safest play in cash games.

Carolina Panthers (@ ARZ)

Primary Matchups: Ted Ginn vs. Patrick Peterson, Corey Brown vs. Justin Bethel, Jerricho Cotchery vs. Jerraud Powers

Because Ginn is not a prototypical No. 1/standout wide receiver, he may seem like a candidate to dodge shadow coverage from Peterson. History suggests that won’t be the case. So far this season, Peterson has shadowed Brandin Cooks, Torrey Smith (twice), Kenny Britt, Calvin Johnson, Antonio Brown, Steve Smith, Travis Benjamin, A.J. Green, Tavon Austin, Stefon Diggs, and James Jones. Of these 11 players, nine were working as their respective team’s No. 1 wide receiver in the game. Additionally, all 11 primarily operate on the perimeter. In games against Philadelphia, Seattle (twice), and Green Bay (first meeting), Peterson did not shadow as those team’s top receiver primarily worked in the slot.

If we add all of that up, it works out to Peterson lining up in the slot on seven percent of the 635 pass routes he’s defended. On the other side of the field, Ginn has lined up in the slot during only nine percent of his routes. Peterson’s 2015-16 resume suggests he’s very likely to shadow Ginn this week. Ginn should obviously be ignored against one of the game’s best players.

Working opposite Ginn, Brown will see plenty of Bethel and may even be shadowed by Arizona’s other perimeter corner. It’s an upgrade for Brown, but not enough to push him into much fantasy relevance. Cotchery will draw Powers in the slot. Powers has struggled badly, but Cotchery’s fantasy ceiling is uninspiring. Devin Funchess doesn’t play much when the team’s top three receivers are active (he ran six routes vs. Seattle) and should thus be avoided.

Denver Broncos (vs. NE)

Primary matchups: Demaryius Thomas vs. Logan Ryan, Emmanuel Sanders vs. Malcolm Butler, Jordan Norwood vs. Justin Coleman

When these two teams met back in Week 12, Butler shadowed on 36 of Sanders’ 40 pass routes. Ryan shadowed on 31 of Thomas’ 42 routes. That usage aligned with how the duo was used throughout the 2015 season. Considering that little has changed personnel-wise since that point, we should expect the same gameplan this Sunday. Thomas struggled in that first meeting, although plenty of it was his own doing. He caught 1 of 10 targets for 36 yards and dropped three passes. Eight of those targets (and the one catch) came against Ryan. Sanders, meanwhile, hauled in 6 of 8 targets for 113 yards. He caught 4 of 5 targets for 85 yards against Butler.

Thomas and Sanders make up one of the game’s top one-two punches at wide receiver, but the same can be said about Butler and Ryan at corner. Expectations for both receivers should be held in check, but neither needs to be crossed off your list in cash games thanks to a high floor in the target department. Despite a good matchup against underwhelming Justin Coleman, Jordan Norwood is not used enough to warrant your attention.

New England Patriots (@ DEN)

Primary matchups: Julian Edelman vs. Chris Harris, Brandon LaFell vs. Aqib Talib, Danny Amendola vs. Bradley Roby

This one is a bit tricky for a variety of reasons. First of all, New England moves its wide receivers around quite a bit. Edelman is listed as a perimeter receiver in our chart, but actually works from the slot on 53 percent of his routes. Amendola, of course, works inside 85 percent of the time, which is why we bump Edelman outside. LaFell is usually out wide, but plays both sides and is in the slot 22 percent of the time. Rob Gronkowski, Scott Chandler, and James White also spend some time at wide receiver, which allows plenty of situations where both Amendola and Edelman are in the slot. Unfortunately for New England, both Harris and Roby are very good and have plenty of slot experience.

The second variable is the health of Harris, who is questionable with a shoulder injury. He appears to be on the good side of the ‘Q’ tag, but if he sits out, expect Talib to follow LaFell and Roby to match up with Edelman quite a bit.

The third variable is the inconsistent shadowing by Denver. The team has used its corners to shadow during three of 17 games this season. That might make it seem unlikely that Denver will shadow this week, but from a size/speed standpoint, it makes a lot of sense to match up Harris with Edelman and Talib with LaFell. We saw this dynamic a few times during the regular season. Talib followed Calvin Johnson, while Harris covered Golden Tate in Week 3. In Week 9, Harris handled T.Y. Hilton and Talib covered the bigger Andre Johnson. In Week 15, Harris covered Antonio Brown and Talib followed Martavis Bryant.

These teams met in Week 12, but it wasn’t a game we can learn much from as both Edelman and Amendola were out due to injury. New England had a third wide receiver on the field on four pass plays during the game.

Especially with Harris not operating at 100 percent, Edelman is the top play here. LaFell is your second-best option, but should be downgraded against this secondary.

Follow Mike Clay on Twitter: @MikeClayNFL

  • Bryan

    GO PATS. We should dominate this game. The only thing that would make a victory even more sweet is if Manning struggles enough to get benched at some point. The perfect punctuation on his disappointing career.

  • Mike

    Love how Brady ended up being the harassed, hurried, humbled & disappointed one when EVERYONE thought the Patriots would dominate the Broncos. Poor Brady!