The Shadow Knows Week 6 2017

By Gary Davenport
Gary Davenport The term “shadow cornerback” gets thrown around a lot in the NFL today. But the fact of the matter is that there aren’t many corners who consistently follow around the other team’s top wideout week after week all season long.

In fact, over the first five weeks of the 2017 season there’s really been only one – Patrick Peterson of the Arizona Cardinals.

Most teams, whether it’s the Seattle Seahawks or Denver Broncos, simply leave their corners to guard their respective side of the field. Line up right, and it’s Richard Sherman. Line up left, and it’s…well…not Richard Sherman.

But with the Cardinals the biggest name gets Peterson 90 percent of the time. And in Week 6, that means a meeting with the most heavily-targeted wide receiver in the NFL last year – Mike Evans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Back in June, Evans told NFL Films (via Bonnie Mott of Bucs Wire) that in his opinion Peterson was the best in the league at what he does.

“Patrick Peterson was the toughest matchup for me,” Evans said. “We had a good little matchup. His interception was one of the best plays anyone has ever made on me. It was a deep-ball one on one coverage. We got the look we wanted. Jameis looked at me and I was thinking it’s about to be a touchdown. His speed – he has remarkable speed and good coverage skills. I think he’s the best corner in the game.”

If the love child of Darrelle Revis (when he was good) and Deion Sanders was on coverage against Evans you’d probably still start him. You don’t sit Mike Evans. And it’s worth pointing out that in their meeting last year Evens posted a respectable 6/70/1 stat line.

But the reception and yardage numbers signify that Evans will be earning his production Sunday one hard yard at a time.

Here’s a look at some of the other more interesting WR/CB matchups – beginning the Big Kahuna himself.

Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers (at Kansas City)

Chiefs head coach Andy Reid admitted to ESPN’s Mike Teicher that he knows his young star cornerback can be a bit of a hothead after Peters got in a dustup with defensive coordinator Bob Sutton after giving up a long touchdown last week.

"Everybody's got a different personality and goes about it a different way. It's no different than a family that way but you manage it knowing he'll calm down and when he does, he's OK. He's got a short memory about that. That's part of his personality and we work with it . . . We're all wired a little bit differently. We understand that and we work with it.'

THE SHADOW SAYS: Peters isn’t the only player angry at himself after a bad outing who will be on the field at Arrowhead – Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is coming off a five-interception dumpster fire of a performance. Big Ben is going to want to wash that stink off as soon as possible, and the easiest way to do is to pepper No. 84 with targets. I think Peters gets a pick in this one, but Brown’s going to eat – and given the chunk plays Peters has allowed this year he may eat well.

Brandin Cooks, New England Patriots (at NYJ – Morris Claiborne)

As Tyler Calvaruso of Jets Wire reported, Claiborne told reporters he’s tired of everyone expressing shock that five weeks into the season the Jets have a winning record. “It sounds like that’s how it’s supposed to be,” Claiborne said. “We shouldn’t have let the first two go, but obviously that’s in the past and we are where we are now from working and playing together.”

THE SHADOW SAYS: You know what’s even more shocking than the Jets’ 3-2 record? That Claiborne has been a top-15 cornerback in pass coverage per the graders at Pro Football Focus.

Claiborne’s been good – but not so good that he’d affect my assessment of Cooks in Week 6. Well, at least not directly. But if Claiborne’s on Cooks, that leaves Chris Hogan running routes opposite the artistic stylings of Jets cornerback Buster Skrine. And Skrine is so bad in coverage that the Cleveland Browns didn’t want him.

Hogan goes off (again) on Sunday. Watch.

Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers (at MIN – Xavier Rhodes)

Nelson missed the final drive of last week’s wild win over the Dallas Cowboys with a back injury, but he told Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk that he’ll be good to go for this week’s NFC North showdown in the Twin Cities. “I went through everything like normal [and] feel good,” Nelson said. “It’s nothing serious. Everything is good. Like I said, practicing all week and playing on Sunday.”

THE SHADOW SAYS: In this writer’s humble opinion Xavier Rhodes is one of the more underrated young cornerbacks in the NFL, but Nelson did just fine against him and the Vikings in 2016. If you think that 14 catches for 227 yards and three scores is “fine.”

But the real reason I mention this matchup isn’t Nelson. It’s that if Rhodes is on Nelson the majority of the afternoon, that leaves Davante Adams with Trae “Toast” Waynes. If that’s the Adams could be set for a second straight gonzo stat line.

Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos (vs. NYG – Janoris Jenkins)

The Giants have been decimated by injuries on offense and distractions and strife on defense. Still, despite the suspension of cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and the benching of youngster Eli Apple, Janoris Jenkins told Dan Duggan of that the New York secondary remains a cohesive unit.

"We're still together," Jenkins said. "There's people that try to cause distractions, but we keep our heads together and stay tight."

THE SHADOW SAYS: Let’s be frank (or maybe Sam. But not Roger. He’s trouble). The Giants are hot garbage in just about every way a team can be hot garbage. But the catastrophe at corner could actually be a bad thing for whatever receiver lines up opposite Jenkins (in theory, Thomas).

After all, why bother targeting a Pro Bowler when there’s a perfectly scorchable scrub just waiting to be victimized lining up opposite him?

Mike Thomas, New Orleans Saints (vs. DET – Darius Slay)

As Mansur Shaheen wrote for Lions Wire, Slay’s performance last week in a loss to the Carolina Panthers is tape best watched once – and then never again. “Slay was outmatched by the Panthers receivers almost all day,” he said, “and did not live up to his “Big Play Slay” moniker. He spent much of the game lined up across wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, and could not keep up. Benjamin caught four passes on the day for 58 yards and a touchdown.”

THE SHADOW SAYS: It wasn’t just Slay’s fault last week – Detroit’s defensive collapse was as thorough as it was complete. Slay has now allowed just over 250 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns this season. He’s a good young cornerback, but las last week demonstrated he struggles at times against bigger receivers.

Thomas is 6’3,” in case you were wondering. He also may be looking for a little payback – in a 28-23 loss to the Lions last year Thomas managed just four catches for 43 yards, with only two of those grabs coming against Slay.