Larry Fitzgerald playing like 2008-self in postseason
One of the top stories of the Divisional Round was Larry Fitzgerald turning the clock back to 2008, dominating the Green Bay Packers’ coverage to the tune of 176 yards on eight receptions from 12 targets.
Fitzgerald scored a touchdown and had the back-breaking, 75-yard play in overtime that set the Cardinals up in the shadow of the goal line from where they would ultimately secure the win.
Fitzgerald’s career has been given a huge boost by moving inside and becoming more of a slot weapon—differing from 2008, when he was a true wideout. Against Green Bay, he ran 44 routes—26 of them were from the slot—but interestingly, only two of his targets were on passes when he lined up inside. Most of his damage was done on the perimeter.
He had a genuinely peculiar role that doubled as a productive wideout and almost a tight end inside by alignment.
Fitzgerald is one of the league’s better blocking receivers, but he was overmatched, given the kind of blocks the Cardinals were asking him to make against safeties and linebackers in the run game. Most receivers come from outside to inside to crack down on the box full of bodies, while the rest of the blocking moves outside them—giving them a leverage advantage to make the play they need to make—but Fitzgerald was being asked to work across his leverage and seal players to the outside. This was a hugely ambitious ask for any receiver, and it cost them multiple times when he failed to achieve it.
He ended the game with a very strong receiving grade, but a significant negative for both his run blocking and the penalty he received for an attempted block (which in college, would have resulted in him being ejected for targeting). Obviously no such rule yet exists in the NFL, but the point remains that this was a tough day at the office for Fitzgerald when it came to blocking.
Fitzgerald and the Cardinals now travel to Carolina, where they meet Josh Norman and the Panthers, setting up a fascinating matchup. With Fitzgerald playing both in and outside, he will likely face a variety of Panthers’ coverage defenders, such as Norman, Kuechly, Finnegan and others.
Norman seems more likely to draw Michael Floyd, leaving Robert McClain to cover Fitzgerald outside, and Finnegan to play him from the slot, with occasional cameo appearances from linebackers and safeties. Against these players, Fitzgerald would appear to have an advantage on paper, but should the Panthers elect to give him the Josh Norman treatment, he may need to spend as much time in the slot as possible to have any real productivity at all.
Larry Fitzgerald is balling like it’s 2008 all over again, and the Cardinals will need that to continue next week to have success against Carolina. If they can do that while also eliminating the crazy assignments he has been drawing in the run game, then all the better.