New look will keep Revis spread out
Moss, the veteran still able to make defenders look foolish on a regular basis, against Revis, who quickly established himself as an elite cover cornerback, doing everything he could to shut him down.
Revis shadowed Moss wherever he went on the field, once joking that when Moss needed a bathroom break, he’d follow him there, too. And he did a heck of a job with the assignment.
But for tomorrow night’s meeting, there is no Moss. And now the real chess match will begin.
Revis won’t be tethered to the hip of one Patriots receiver; it is very likely that he’ll line up opposite both Deion Branch and Wes Welker, and perhaps even tight end Aaron Hernandez.
“We’ll see,’’ said Jets coach Rex Ryan. “I have a feeling that he’s going to get an opportunity to cover a lot of different people.’’
Asked for an indication, Revis responded that he’d be covering Tom Brady. That answer makes some sense; if Revis is moving all over the field, Brady has to be aware of his whereabouts at all times. It’s one more thing the quarterback has to keep track of against an aggressive defense that will be sending players at him from every angle.
“I think the game plan specifically is that Darrelle will not be on Randy Moss, unless he goes to Tennessee,’’ joked Ryan. “We are not saying who he is or is not on.’’
The post-Moss Patriots offense has found its groove over the last few games. Where once there were fears that Brady was forcing the ball to Moss to keep the petulant receiver happy and abandoning the spread-the-wealth style at which he excels, there is now a return to New England’s version of normal.
Branch, Welker, Danny Woodhead, and tight end Rob Gronkowski have been Brady’s primary targets during a three-game winning streak, each taking turns making the big plays. Brady has completed close to three-quarters of his pass attempts (70 of 95) during the run.
But for Brady, Bill Belichick, and de facto offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, crafting the game plan this week wasn’t just about accounting for Revis; the Jets have Antonio Cromartie at the other outside corner position, and he has returned to form after a down season in San Diego last year.
In Revis’s words, Cromartie is the “lockdown corner’’ the Jets had been searching for to play opposite him. “We’re the same type of player,’’ he said.
The pairing is working. In part because of the corners’ performance (New York’s pressuring front seven deserves a share of the credit as well), opposing quarterbacks are completing a league-low 50.4 percent of their passes against the Jets, and not one has hit 60 percent for a game.
Cromartie was successful against Moss earlier this season when he had to cover him after Revis left late in the first half with a hamstring injury. But as has been clear for some time, neither Welker nor Branch is the type of receiver Moss is. A corner can be successful against Moss if he is physical with him at the line and can match him stride for stride down the field.
Things aren’t as cut-and-dried against Welker and Branch. Just ask the Lions’ Alphonso Smith, whom Branch spun like a top on his 79-yard catch-and-run touchdown last week.
“He’s pretty darn good,’’ Ryan said. “All you have to do is watch the Detroit game and look at the plays he made. He still has the vertical speed, he can still run and do a lot of things underneath. He’s doing a great job for them. Branch is an excellent receiver.’’
For his part, Branch wanted no part of getting into a discussion about squaring off with Revis.
“Look, I don’t want to turn this into a me-and-Darrelle thing because the thing is this guy has got to do what he’s got to do to help his team win, and I’ve got to do the same thing,’’ Branch said.
While Revis hasn’t spent much time tracking Welker on the field, he knows what Welker can do. He also sees no difference in Welker this year as opposed to last year before his knee injury.
“I think he’s still great,’’ said Revis.
Brady completed just 20 of 36 passes in the Week 2 loss in the New Meadowlands, with 12 completions going to Welker and Hernandez. Moss finished the game with two catches, one of which was a 34-yard, one-handed touchdown grab that saw him get the better of Revis for the first time since their first meeting, the 2007 season opener, which was Revis’s NFL debut.
But Brady also threw two interceptions in Week 2, one to Cromartie. That is not the type of performance he’s looking to duplicate.
Instead, he’ll be aiming for one more along the lines of his last performance. Against the Lions, Brady earned a perfect passer rating for the second time in his career. He is now generating MVP buzz for his overall performance this season.
He’s well aware of the challenge he and his receivers face.
“I don’t think you go into a game thinking, ‘Man, I can’t wait to start throwing the football at [Revis],’ ’’ Brady said. “There are definitely passes that have been completed on him this year. I’ve watched a lot of games where guys are getting open, but he makes just as many of those [plays].
“You really don’t want to come out of a game thinking, ‘Yeah, we went after him 18 times and we had nine completions.’
“And really, that’s what they’ve been doing to quarterbacks this year: Quarterbacks have been throwing at a 50 percent rate, and you can’t be a very effective passing team throwing at that low of a percentage because you won’t be able to sustain drives.
“He and Cromartie are two of the best in the league, and to have them both on the same team playing in the same scheme where their coach really allows them to do what they do best is something I’m sure they really enjoy as well.’’
Revis, who has had plenty to say about Moss in the past — some of it derogatory — still expressed surprise that New England traded Moss, though he gave respect to the Patriots receiving corps as it is now, mentioning Welker, Branch, Brandon Tate, and the tight ends.
Branch credited the Jets defense as a whole, noting that the cornerbacks can’t do their job well unless the front seven is handling its business.
Still, Branch won’t be lined up opposite Shaun Ellis or David Harris. He’ll be looking across the line of scrimmage at Revis or Cromartie.
“They’re good corners,’’ he said. “I don’t know what the game plan is for them. I think they’re good corners and they’ll go out and do their job and we have to make sure to do ours.
“I’m excited to see what the outcome is.’’