5 Best Cornerback-Wide Receiver Matchups of Week 1
The rest include a prized free agent of the St. Louis Rams tasked with subduing Calvin Johnson. There is also an AFC North battle that could be settled by an intriguing duel on the outside.
Sunday night's encounter between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos is dominated by Peyton Manning's return. However, it could be the performance of a veteran corner against a young wideout that determines the outcome.
Here is a breakdown of the five best cornerback-wide receiver matchups of Week 1.
St. Louis Rams at Detroit Lions: Cortland Finnegan vs. Calvin Johnson
Attempting to contain one of the NFL's best big-play wide receivers is a tough way to start a career with a new team. Yet that's just the kind of challenge Cortland Finnegan faces when he takes on Detroit Lions star Calvin Johnson.
Finnegan's usual tactic is to be physical and aggressive at the line of scrimmage. He likes to harass and maul his opponent, attempting to rattle and provoke him.
The problem is no corner finds it easy to be physical with the 6'5", 236-pound Johnson. Knocking him out of his stride is useful, if possible, but the real danger occurs when Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford gives Johnson a jump ball to go after.
That will be a major problem for the 5'10", 188-pound Finnegan. However, this is the kind of matchup he was signed for. It will be interesting to see how long Finnegan can keep things scrappy, or if Johnson manages to take to the air early.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos: Mike Wallace vs. Champ Bailey
He may have missed a lot of time this offseason due to an ugly contract dispute, but the Pittsburgh Steelers will still need Mike Wallace against the Denver Broncos. His ability to stretch the field changes the way a defense operates.
The Broncos will have to rely on veteran Champ Bailey to counter Wallace. Fortunately, Bailey is still one of the league's smartest and proficient cover men.
The 34-year-old has the rare talent among cornerbacks to combine excellent press coverage skills with the ability to shadow a receiver down the field in off-coverage. He will likely need both to keep Wallace at bay.
Denying him a clean release is the obvious place to start, and after so long out, it will be interesting to see how Wallace reacts to being bumped at the line. This battle of experience vs. youth should be a fascinating one, and its winner could prove to be the key in this AFC clash.
Atlanta Falcons at Kansas City Chiefs: Roddy White vs. Brandon Flowers
Julio Jones may have enjoyed a strong finish to his rookie season, but the Atlanta Falcons' pass offense will still go through Roddy White. That means the Kansas City Chiefs would be wise to assign their best corner to take on the prolific flanker.
Brandon Flowers is the best cover man on the Chiefs roster and one of the best young players at his position in the NFL. With Flowers in the secondary, Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel can feel comfortable using tight, press and man coverage on the outside.
However, that could be a risky strategy against White. He has been Matt Ryan's go-to receiver for the past four seasons and has been over the 1,100 yards mark in each of the last five. Few pass-catchers are adept at working the gaps in zone coverage or overpowering defensive backs at close quarters, than White.
According to KCChiefs.com, Flowers is struggling with a foot injury that has kept him out of the preseason. The Chiefs will certainly need him close to his best if they hope to contain White.
Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens: A.J. Green vs. Lardarius Webb
Can anyone cover Cincinnati Bengals youngster A.J. Green? Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh isn't sure, already ranking Green as perhaps the league's premier wide receiver, according to NFL.com.
That's strange timing for those kind of comments, considering Harbaugh's team get the first chance to try and stop the explosive 2011 rookie sensation. The Ravens handled Green well in the final game of last season, but his knack for the big play means he can change a game at any time.
Being able to match up with a corner as athletic as Lardarius Webb, certainly helps the Ravens chances. He can run with any receiver and possesses good natural agility and change-of-direction skills.
Shadowing Green is Webb's best bet, as he is sure to lose a physical, press battle against the 6'4", 207-pounder. Of course it won't hurt Webb's chances of corralling Green to have safety Ed Reed lurking around the deep zones.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton looks Green's way a lot, so the Ravens would be wise to bracket him as often as they can.
Buffalo Bills at New York Jets: Stevie Johnson vs. Darrelle Revis
Without a doubt the most intriguing cornerback-wide receiver matchup of Week 1 is the latest chapter in the ongoing battle between Darrelle Revis and Stevie Johnson.
Revis has become such a revered figure in the NFL, that any time any receiver makes a play on him, it is considered big news. Never one to shy away from making headlines, Buffalo Bills standout Stevie Johnson has had more success than most against Revis.
That's not to say that Johnson's numbers against Revis are eye-popping. He scored only one touchdown against the Jets last season and finished with 11 receptions for 159 yards after his two meetings with Gang Green.
However, it is fair to say that games against Johnson are more competitive for Revis than most. The Bills are certainly more likely to challenge Revis than many other teams.
The fact that Johnson is obviously not afraid to take Revis on prompted many to believe he has the better of him. The Jets soundly rejected that suggestion, according to the New York Daily News. However, it does still add spice to this opening-day encounter between two of the NFL's brightest young stars.