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A Sizable Advantage At Receiver

Pro Bowlers Fitzgerald, Johnson can body their way to success


Cornerbacks have their hands full when defending big wideouts like Larry Fitzgerald (left) or Houston's Andre Johnson (right).
For a moment, Bryant McFadden considered the comparisons between teammate Larry Fitzgerald and Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson, whom will be the top responsibility for McFadden and his fellow Cardinals? cornerbacks Sunday.

?The only difference,? McFadden said, ?is one guy has long hair, the other guy?s got short hair.?

Simplistic, to be sure. But there is accuracy too, with the Cardinals? Pro Bowl pass catcher and Houston?s Pro Bowl pass catcher seemingly shaped by the same mold ? literally.

While the two are often considered right now in the argument as the best receiver in the NFL, that at least can be debated. As fact, they are both 6-foot-3, with Johnson?s 225 pounds slightly more than Fitzgerald?s 217 (ever since Fitzgerald trimmed down with the arrival of strength and conditioning coach John Lott).

Their skills are hard to match to begin with. But bringing the size changes the game.

?Those guys not only run good routes but know how to use their bodies,? McFadden said. ?They can put separation between the corner and the ball and that makes it difficult at times to get ?PBUs? (pass breakups) or ?INTs? (interceptions). They can use it as a shield.?

Johnson downplayed size as tipping point for greatness ? He said Carolina?s Steve Smith, for example, ?makes it look like size doesn?t matter?-- but Fitzgerald certainly embraces the possibilities.

?When things are even down the field, the quarterback can take calculated chances because you are a bigger guy,? Fitzgerald said. ?When the ball in the air you can potentially win the jump ball and that?s a distinct advantage.?

The Cardinals certainly put that advantage into play during the playoffs, when Fitzgerald made huge plays against both Atlanta and Carolina on jump balls thrown into double coverage.

Where the size increases in importance, however, is as a team moves toward the end zone. As teams will do in basketball by posting up smaller players near the basket, a similar thought process plays out in the passing game.

?The biggest asset with a guy like that ? and obviously there are a lot of assets with those two guys because they are special players ? is that you love them the most when you get down to the red zone,? Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner said. ?They give you opportunities when the field is shortened and there isn?t much space.?

Just having a 6-3 guy going out for passes isn?t enough, of course. The two haven?t built their glittering r?sum?s only on jump balls.

Johnson praised Fitzgerald?s ability to attack the ball in the air. Fitzgerald admires Johnson?s ability to make plays even though every defense knows he?s the primary target.

The same, of course, could be said about Fitzgerald, which is why both don?t have free reign.
Fitzgerald has been dealing with bracket coverage much of the season, and Johnson ? who was held to two catches in the win against Oakland last weekend ? said teams have done a good job defending him when they get a defensive back under his routes with help over the top.

Johnson insisted he never compares himself to Fitzgerald. With all the talk of who is the best receiver in the game ? he or Fitzgerald are usually top candidates ? Johnson said it was Moss, although he does draw motivation from someone like Fitzgerald.

?If I see Larry or Randy (Moss) or Chad (Ochocinco) go out and have big days, I want to go out and have a big day too,? Johnson said.

Fitzgerald preferred to sidestep the question altogether.

?I don?t know,? Fitzgerald said. ?I just want to catch touchdowns on Sunday and help us win.?

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