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Football Notes

Close ties to Law are apparent in Revis’s game

By Albert R. Breer
January 3, 2010

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When Ty Law arrived in New York last November, he came in as a five-time Pro Bowler and a former member of the Jets.

He had a history with the coach, Eric Mangini, going back nearly a decade. He could command respect from any teammate.

But there was one thing that Law wouldn’t do: Ask for his customary No. 24.

Darrelle Revis was wearing it, and the veteran cornerback wasn’t about to invoke seniority.

“It wasn’t even a question,’’ Law said. “He’s from Aliquippa. If it was anyone else, there’d be some negotiating. Something would be worked out. But part of the reason he got that number was me. So why would I do that?’’

Aliquippa is the Western Pennsylvania steel town of roughly 11,000 that spawned Revis and Law. In fact, the house at 222 Wykes Street where Law grew up once belonged to Revis’s grandmother.

Call it the Home of the Shutdown Corner.

Eleven years after Law became worthy of that tag, third-year star Revis is earning similar acclaim. In 1998, then-Patriots coach Pete Carroll assigned Law to cover the opposition’s best receiver each week, to follow that man all over the field. Revis has gotten similar marching orders this year.

And just as Law did back then, Revis has delivered.

“It’s damn scary,’’ said Law. “Hell, I looked like he does now. I’d like to say that when I was at the top of my game, I could play with anyone, and Darrelle’s showing that. The stats, mine in ’98 and his now, they’re damn near identical.’’

Hard to compare an ascending third-year player to a veteran who will be in the Hall of Fame conversation? Sure it is.

But after the season Revis has had, his age (24) and experience fade away in a mess of blanketed receivers. Matched with the NFL’s iron - players such as Andre Johnson, Steve Smith, Randy Moss, Roddy White, and Reggie Wayne - the corner hasn’t just been competitive. He’s been dominant.

It’s rare in today’s NFL, given the offensively-tilted rules and proliferation of spread sets, that coaches will simply assign a corner to the other team’s best receiver and have the faith to put that player out on an island. Jets coach Rex Ryan has done that, and Revis has responded by holding every player he’s been matched with to fewer than 70 yards.

Think shutdown corners don’t exist?

“I’m offended by that,’’ Revis said. “I think there are still shutdown corners out there. The defensive scheme has got to put guys in a position to make plays. This year, they’ve done that with me. They put me on an island, playing ‘man’ against the best.’’

As such, he wasn’t happy when the idea was floated that he had help in Week 2 against Moss.

“I think you give respect where it’s due,’’ said Revis. “There’s a lot of stuff that goes on with New England and [Bill] Belichick. I just don’t think they were giving me my credit. So in the second game, I had to show them again.’’

Predictably, he did that, and he has kept things rolling since. Most recently, he held Wayne to three catches and 33 yards through nearly three quarters last week, before Wayne and other Colts prime-timers were yanked.

Through this tour de force season, he says that Smith has been the biggest challenge to cover, with Johnson running second.

But as much as he’s proven to them, Revis may have shown more to himself. Is he the best corner in the league? He believes it’s evident.

“I’d summarize it like this: I’m the best corner because of what I do week in and week out, following the best receivers all over the field,’’ he said. “I’m at left corner one down, right corner the next. Some guys just play just one side, left or right. I move around. I’m versatile enough to play right, left, in the slot, follow the best receiver. That’s why I’m the guy.’’

And that, Law says, is the Aliquippa in him.

He’s big, physical, and athletic like Law. But it’s the competitiveness that really ties the two.

“Hands down, he’s the best in the game,’’ Law said. “You can always pick weaknesses with guys, and he really has no glaring weakness. But more than that, he wants to take the best guy, always.

“I remember when I was in New England, if Bill put me on anyone but Eric [Moulds] or Marvin [Harrison] or those guys, I’d go to his office and tell him, ‘No, I want the best guy.’

“Darrelle does that, and there are very few corners who can.’’

Apprised of Law’s comments, Revis responded, “That’s overwhelming, coming from a future Hall of Famer, a Super Bowl champion, a Pro Bowler. That’s just a guy that knows real football respecting other guys that play the game. I respect Ty to this day. I always will. I learned from him.

“We speak highly of our hometown, we wear it on our back, and we’ll ride until the wheels fall off. Ty is winding down, but for a young guy like me, I know now I’m living a lot of people’s dreams.’’

And so the torch is being passed from Law to Revis.

Law says that Revis is operating at a level as high as he ever did. That’s why, when the 15-year vet finally calls it quits, he will be excited to be like the others in Aliquippa - living that NFL dream through the young Jet.

“I’m going to continue to live and breathe the game through Darrelle,’’ Law said. “We still talk weekly, and I want that to continue. And as long as he’s still out there playing the way he does, wearing that No. 24, the only difference is that the jersey doesn’t say ‘Law’ anymore. I’ll live vicariously through him, and however I can help him, I will.’’

SNYDER TRIES AGAIN
In Washington, is this change to believe in?
Redskins owner Dan Snyder has tried just about everything in coaches: The reliable retread (Marty Schottenheimer), the college legend (Steve Spurrier), the franchise icon (Joe Gibbs), and most recently the lesser-known assistant (Jim Zorn).

Tomorrow, Snyder is expected to dump Zorn and start the process again. Mike Shanahan is widely presumed to be Snyder’s first and only choice.

But there’s one strong piece of evidence this time that Snyder recognizes his failures: Vinny Cerrato is out of the mix. Outside of being fired by Schottenheimer in 2001 and rehired within a year, Cerrato ran the football operation since 1999. Since 2000, the Redskins have finished 8-8 or worse seven times.

Cerrato’s presence was toxic enough to become a deterrent for coaching candidates in 2007, leading to the elevation of Zorn, hired originally as offensive coordinator after serving as Seahawks quarterbacks coach in 2006. Compounding that, Zorn was hired to run a West Coast system yet he had 2005 first-round pick Jason Campbell, ill-fit for the scheme, foisted on him.

Bruce Allen, installed as GM last week, is expected to help repair this longstanding disconnect between the coaching and personnel sides of the franchise.

Despite his reputation for treating the roster the way a kid handles a train set, Snyder said Allen will have final-say power. Charley Casserly, the GM Snyder inherited upon purchasing the team in ’99, says Allen’s hire is “a step in the right direction.’’

“They’re the fourth-best team in that division, and the talent needs to be upgraded,’’ Casserly said. “It’s going to take a couple of years. It can’t be a quick fix if they want to be a consistent contender.’’

The talent drain in D.C. has much to do with a win-now mentality that has made the draft an afterthought. The Redskins have preferred to deal for veterans (Mark Brunell, Clinton Portis, Jason Taylor, Santana Moss, Pete Kendall) and sign big-ticket free agents (Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders, Laveranues Coles, Shawn Springs, Albert Haynesworth), and that approach has led them to use just 14 top 100 picks in the last seven drafts.

ON THE UPSWING
Falcons miss playoffs but still make progress
The night of Dec. 19 wasn’t an easy one for the Falcons. As the Cowboys-Saints game kicked off, the Atlanta players were in position meetings, followed by chapel, a special teams meeting, and a team meeting.

Finally, at 10 p.m., as the team gathered for its snack, the players could watch the fate of their season unfold.

With Dallas’s win, the Falcons were eliminated from the playoff picture. But if that signified a step back from 2008, the next day showed why the future remains bright. The club went into the cold, windy Meadowlands and came out with a come-from-behind 10-7 win over the Jets.

“The one thing I found out about our guys as a whole is they’re going to play hard and respond to every situation, and most of the time in a positive way,’’ coach Mike Smith said. “That’s very, very encouraging.’’

As Year 2 of the Thomas Dimitroff/Smith regime draws to a close, a few things remain at stake. With a win today in Tampa, the Falcons will have consecutive winning seasons for the first time in their 44-year history. And with continued improvement from the club’s youth, Atlanta is making strides toward its most important goals.

“In 2008, we got experience for our first draft class - five of our rookies started opening day - and 2009 is the continuation of that growth,’’ said Smith. “You don’t learn everything you need to know in one year playing the game.’’

The offense added a major piece in tight end Tony Gonzalez in the offseason but kept the rest of its talented group intact. The defense, on the other hand, was overhauled with veterans like Keith Brooking, Michael Boley, and Lawyer Milloy jettisoned, and half the starting lineup turned over.

Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton was at the heart of the youth movement. The idea is for the defense to be augmented around him, and the offense to ascend behind Matt Ryan.

“[In 2008], we never talked about how many games we were going to win,’’ Smith said. “Our goal has been to be the best we can be individually and collectively. If we continue to do that, we’ll like the outcome we get more often than not.’’

Etc.

Frazier, Grimm may find opening this time
The coaching carousel always produces fresh names. But it might be worth looking at a couple of guys who’ve been on the market a couple times now as Black Monday approaches. Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier was a finalist in Denver last January. Cardinals assistant head coach Russ Grimm was a finalist in Pittsburgh, where he was an assistant for seven years, in 2007. Each has won a championship as a player and a coach, and is highly regarded within his organization. Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said of Frazier, “The biggest thing is, he creates a work environment you improve in. He knows how to talk to vets, listen to vets, and takes their input. He’s a man of great faith, and you can count on his word. Plus, he played the game, he has that credibility. He’ll make you productive, and mold and bend a little to create the workplace to do it.’’ And here’s Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt on Grimm: “He’d be an outstanding head coach, he has all the qualities you need. He was successful as a player, and successful as a coach. He’s one of the best line coaches in the league. And he shows great leadership getting the group to think along the same lines. You can see how he’d bring a team together there.’’

Cowboys ride taller in the saddle
Opening December with consecutive losses, the Cowboys appeared destined for their annual late-season swoon. The rough start to the month dropped Wade Phillips’s December record as Dallas coach to 3-7, and further added to the idea that when the pressure is ratcheted up, the Cowboys wilt. But it’s that pressure now that’s proving how far this Cowboys team has come. Quite simply, the players are dealing with all that goes with being “America’s Team’’ soundly, and that has made all the difference. “There’s no question we’re handling it better, and the message has never changed: Keep working to get better,’’ one Dallas official said. “We’ve got a mentally tough group. They’re close, they’re a team, and they understand that what they do on the field is the only thing that really matters.’’ It’s been well-documented that some of the distractions that came with Terrell Owens, Tank Johnson, and Pacman Jones made a difference in that regard. “Not that those guys are bad or worse than other guys,’’ said the official. “It just shows we’re serious. Guys here are going to be accountable.’’ Another difference? Quarterback play. Prior to this year, Tony Romo had a 14-19 touchdown-to-interception ratio, a 71.4 passer rating, and a 5-8 record in December. He finished this December with a 104.0 rating and a 7-1 TD-INT ratio.

You can’t blame them for not trying
Last week’s Colts-Jets game brought into focus, again, the peripheral damage done by elite teams resting starters to gear up for playoff runs. The Jets’ late-charging victory over Curtis Painter & Co. took control out of the Broncos’ hands (to be fair, by losing to the Eagles, they also did it to themselves) going into the season’s final week, and also adversely affected the Steelers’ and Texans’ chances. Titans coach and Competition Committee member Jeff Fisher told Sirius NFL Radio, “Clubs have a right to do what they choose or see fit from the standpoint of what’s best for the club, you know, with the goal of reaching the Super Bowl. And I think that’s always going to be the case . . . I’ll just say this: I mean, the teams that are upset and complaining and this and that, they should have won a couple more games earlier in the year.’’ It must be said that Fisher once benefited from such a circumstance, qualifying for the playoffs by beating a similarly halfway-committed Colts team in Week 17 of the 2007 season. But the greater issue is legislating such action by teams, which would be very difficult. The Colts, by the way, listed 30 players on this week’s injury report, showing the inherent problem in any such plan.

Bills go old-school with Nix
Earlier this decade, the Bills tried to breathe some of that early-1990s magic back into their operation by hiring former coach Marv Levy as general manager. And in a roundabout way, they’re making that same kind of attempt again. The new general manager, Buddy Nix (above), worked for John Butler and A.J. Smith in San Diego from 2001-08. Butler and Smith, of course, were the right-hand men of Bill Polian - the architect of those Bills teams - when Polian was Buffalo GM. As Smith’s assistant GM in San Diego, Nix was a point man in the college scouting process that annually leaves the Chargers roster among the most talented in the NFL. And it’s clear that he plans on building Buffalo the way Smith and Polian build their teams: through the draft. “I like to go out and, as some of them old scouts used to say, smell their breath,’’ Nix said. “I want to see them in person. I’ll do it as much as I can, and I’ll see them all on tape.’’

This and that
Through 15 games, the NFL already has had more 4,000-yard passers than ever before, with eight. And with strong days from Brett Favre, Eli Manning, and Kurt Warner, that number could bulge to 11 today . . . Tennessee’s Chris Johnson needs just 75 yards from scrimmage to break Marshall Faulk’s record of 2,429 set in 1999. But would you believe that Josh Cribbs has 50 more total yards than Johnson? It’s true; including returns, the Browns’ dynamo has accounted for 2,405 yards. . . . One reason to sit Wes Welker (left) today? He has an average of 9.4 catches per game, which would eclipse the record of 8.9 set by Marvin Harrison during his 143-catch season of 2002. Playing a part-time role actually could wind up costing Welker that record.

Albert R. Breer can be reached at abreer@globe.com.

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