This is the first in a weekly series, and it’s pretty self-explanatory really. Every week, I am going to highlight several high-end, high profile one-on-one matchups that we are primed to see in that week’s upcoming games. Now, as we all know, that doesn’t mean that these specific matchups are going to occur on every single snap. But without any further ado, let’s dig right into Week 1.
Antonio Brown vs. Josh Norman
Norman’s first game playing for the Redskins is going to be prove to be about as difficult of a task as can be asked from any NFL cornerback: Try to slow down Brown.
Contrary to popular belief, Norman rarely travels with the opponent’s top wide receiver or even ventures into the slot. Well, that was the case during his time Carolina at least. So maybe the Redskins gave him an awful lot of money to travel with opposing top receivers, but nothing in the preseason indicates that is the case. Instead, he will most likely play a lot of Cover 3 on one side of the field-and still see plenty of Brown on Monday Night. Norman is best in a zone scheme, which is exactly what he walked into with the Redskins and excelled at in Carolina. He attacks the ball in the air very well, reads the quarterback and route, and uses his great size very well.
Brown is to the point where he is close to uncoverable, but if any style of cornerback gives him a difficult time it is one like Norman that can be physical with the smaller Brown and muscle him around a bit.
Still, in the end, Brown’s quickness, explosion out of his breaks and phenomenal route running prowess will prove to be too much for Washington’s new high-priced acquisition. Not to mention, that the type of receiver that gives Norman the most trouble is smaller explosive route runners like Brown…and Odell Beckham.
It also very much helps Brown that he has Ben Roethlisberger delivering him the football and an excellent Steelers offensive line to give him time to uncover.
Rob Gronkowski vs. Tyrann Mathieu
We know that Gronk is going to be without his triggerman in future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. But Gronkowski now has a new partner in tight end crime in Martellus Bennett, whose presence could help Gronk see even more favorable matchups this season — especially when Brady is orchestrating the offense at the line of scrimmage.
Gronkowski is on pace to be the best tight end that has ever played the position and is doubly dangerous near the goal line, where he almost becomes super human. Not to mention, Gronkowski is also an excellent run blocker, which is something that might just factor into this matchup more than you would expect.
Why is that you ask?
Well, the Cardinals, maybe more so than any defense in the league, loves to play with smaller faster personnel, often with six defensive backs on the field. If they so chose to do that Sunday Night, expect Gronkowski and Bennett to play inline and for New England to try to mash Arizona with the likes of LeGarrette Blount. However, any way you cut it, the Cards have to figure out some plan on covering Gronkowski in the passing game.
It might not be a huge shock if they decided Patrick Peterson, whom Arizona employs like Darrelle Revis or Deion Sanders against the opponent’s top receiver, handles those duties. It would be an unorthodox move nonetheless, as Gronkowski is a tight end rather than an outside wide receiver. So that could leave jack-of-all-trades Mathieu, as well as some linebacker support, to try and corral Gronkowski.
Mathieu is a superstar as well. Arizona asks a ton from this young phenom and Mathieu has been up to the challenge no matter what is needed. He can do it all. He’s an extreme playmaker with rare anticipation and movement skills. But Gronk gets the edge here based on his sheer size. As great at Mathieu is, and he does play big, matching up the size and power of Gronkowski in tight quarters is just such a steep task. However, Gronkowski is currently battling a hamstring issue, so that could work in Mathieu’s favor.
AJ Green vs. Darrelle Revis
Unlike how Norman is usually used and very much like how Peterson is utilized, the Jets are likely to stick Revis on Green almost the entire day in this matchup. That isn’t to say that Revis won’t have safety support or aid of any kind. Revis is heading to the Hall of Fame and is one of the top defensive players of this generation. His greatest asset as a cover man has been his mind and his great knowledge of the game and the specific opponent he is to lock down that given week. That portion of Revis’ game should be as sharp as ever.
However, it is fair to question if Revis’ speed, explosion and quickness are still at the levels they once were. Well, we are going to find out on Sunday, as Revis faces a very stiff test in Green.
Green certainly has a height and vertical advantage in this matchup and is also the better pure speed player. But Revis is a technique master. The deciding factor in Revis’ factor really doesn’t concern either player. Why is that? With Tyler Eifert out of the lineup, Todd Bowles probably has no reason to leave Revis on his island with Green. The Bengals are just lacking in receiving weapons too much for that right now, so expect Revis to receive plenty of over-the-top support while staying in Green’s hip pocket on short and intermediate routes without as much threat of Green just blowing right by him deep.