A defense can gain big benefits from shutdown cornerbacks like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (left) and Charles Woodson (right).
A single cornerback out on the proverbial island, locking up with a star receiver every play an entire game, just doesn't happen.
There are caveats with a "shutdown corner."
There are going to be times when there is safety help over the top, or when the scheme dictates the cornerback do something a little bit different than stick to one guy. But for a defensive coordinator to have such a talent in his back pocket, to know on any given play he can stick his man in a one-on-one situation against a pass-catching problem and have him hold up, well, that's priceless.
"Players help coaches," Cardinals defensive coordinator Bill Davis said with a knowing smile. "Heck yeah you want a shutdown corner. You have two shutdown corners, you're really in business."
The Cardinals would settle for one for their Wild Card playoff game Sunday against the Packers. Pro Bowler Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was sidelined Wednesday with a bruised knee and sore toe, although he said he plans to practice Thursday and play Sunday – and that the Cards can use him as they always do.
"If I play," Rodgers-Cromartie said, "I expect to be 100 percent and they'll make the same (defensive) calls."
The Packers will already have that option with their own Pro Bowler and defensive player of the year candidate Charles Woodson. Woodson has nine interceptions, 21 passes defensed and two sacks this season as he has wreaked havoc all over the field.
Woodson is moved around everywhere, Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. But if needed – and especially if fellow receiver Anquan Boldin is out with his ankle and knee injuries – Woodson can be set up to take Fitzgerald one-on-one.
"If you have a great player on the other side you have to execute," Woodson said. "That comes from the course of watching the film, knowing what the team is trying to do to attack you. Of course, we feel like it's a plus having me on the team and being able to match up with Fitzgerald at times."
Using a shutdown corner exclusively on one player is based on the opponent, Davis said. With the Packers sporting a couple of high-profile receivers in Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, Rodgers-Cromartie – with a team-best six interceptions this season -- would likely move around.
The idea of a true "shutdown" guy may be a stretch anyway, said Cardinals cornerback Bryant McFadden.
"You are playing against great athletes, and they know where they are going," McFadden said. "You may study tendencies, but it is tough. You're out there in the Bermuda Triangle and you don't have any visitors. There isn't a corner that goes through a whole game for four quarters with no help."
There are advantages, however.
"If you have a guy that can hold up a little bit, you can roll the coverage to the other side and force them to throw that way and blitz more and play a lot more man coverage," Rodgers-Cromartie said.
Without Rodgers-Cromartie – or if he were severely limited – it would hamper what Davis would normally try to do.
Then again, the receivers on the other side aren't simply going to fold up. Driver and Jennings have been to Pro Bowls. And as well as Woodson is playing, there is a confidence with the Cards' receiving corps.
"You don't look at (shutdown corners) any different," wideout Steve Breaston said. "You try and carry out your game plan. You prepare, you watch film.
"I feel we are a very talented group ourselves, so you can't be timid once you run out there. Go play football. This is the playoffs, this is the NFL. You're going to run into teams with good corners. It's about competing."
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