Josh Gordon on Aqib Talib: "I'm definitely going to make more plays [than him]"

Who would've thought, after shadowing the likes of Julio Jones, AJ Green, Jimmy Graham, Demaryius Thomas and Andre Johnson, that Aqib Talib's toughest test of 2012 would come from the Cleveland Browns and Josh Gordon? Obviously not me.

The Browns are headed for another top 10 pick in the draft, but Dawg Pound devotees can draw some optimism from Gordon's sophomore season. Gordon has exploded this year for 64 catches, 1,249 yards and 7 touchdowns, numbers that would look even gaudier if he hadn't been suspended for the first two weeks of the season. He also comes into the Patriots game as the hottest player in football, recording an eyepopping 498 yards and three touchdowns in his last two games. When you factor in the amount of games he's played with Brandon Weeden as his quarterback, those numbers become downright unthinkable.

Needless to say, he's feeling pretty confident, despite the likely matchup with Talib. He had this to say about the matchup to the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
“I’m pretty sure he'll make some plays, but I’m definitely going to make more plays. NFL cornerback is a hard position to play, and he’s doing a great job right now for that defense. He’s a real physical, scrappy player. But I’m going to come out there and do the same, go out there and make plays myself and try to make sure that nobody can stop me.”
Bold words, but the reality is the matchup likely won't be all that it's billed up to be. For starters, Talib seems to going into this fight with one arm tied behind his back, as he appears to be hampered a bit by his nagging hip injury. Many have speculated that the amount of zone coverage used by the Patriots last week against Houston was a tacit admission that Talib wasn't healthy enough to shadow Andre Johnson in man coverage, as he has with other team's top receivers this year. Johnson wound up with 8 catches for 121 yards, easily the biggest stat line given up by the Pats/Talib to a number one receiver this year.

If Talib is still that limited by his balky hip (and there's no reason to think he magically healed up in a week for this game), the Patriots will likely avoid keeping him alone on an island against the always dangerous Gordon. Whether they go back to more zone is a question of whether the coaches can trust the players to communicate better on the field. There were a number of blown assignments that lead to wide open receivers, particularly in the middle of the field, last week.

A better option for the Patriots could be to slant their coverage heavily to Gordon's side to give Talib some help. The Patriots have done a good job most of the year of taking away the big play from opposing passing offenses, something which has become Gordon's specialty. Gordon is averaging 19.5 yards a catch this season and already has 7 plays of 40 or more yards. The Patriots will likely have a safety, most likely Devin McCourty, assigned to prevent Gordon from beating Talib deep. They will gladly sacrifice shorter plays if it keeps Gordon from taking one 95 yards to the house, as he did last Sunday.

Giving Talib constant safety help will also allow the corner to play more physical with Gordon, as he'll have the reassurance of knowing getting beat won't necessarily mean giving up a big play. At 6'3" and 225 lbs, Gordon has the size to play physical, but playing physical should help disrupt some of Gordon's timing in setting up his routes.

Either way, Gordon has quickly become the kind of player who will make his plays regardless of how much attention he gets from the opposition. For the Patriots, it will be likely be less about Talib taking him one-on-one and more about working as an entire defense to make sure that Gordon doesn't single-handedly beat them.