NFC North: Lardarius Webb

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears receiver Brandon Marshall learned the hard way about underestimating players based on size the first time he faced Baltimore Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb.

In 2009, his final season with Denver, Marshall matched up against Webb, and the cornerback essentially shut him down, limiting the receiver to four catches for 24 yards. Marshall now admits he “wasn’t prepared” for the type of fight he’d get from the diminutive Webb, who is listed at 5-foot-10 and 182 pounds.

“He pretty much dominated me,” Marshall said. “You look on a piece of paper, and you see that he’s a fairly small guy compared to other guys around the league. But he’s probably one of the strongest corners I’ve ever faced.”

The next time Marshall, who is 6-4 and 230 pounds, faced Webb was in 2010, when Marshall was with Miami. Marshall caught just five passes for 30 yards -- with the bulk of that coming on one 21-yard reception -- and Webb had an interception.

Marshall thinks Webb is beginning to regain his form as one of the NFL’s top corners. Before Webb tore his left ACL last October, Marshall considered him the second-best player at his position, behind only Tampa Bay’s Darrelle Revis. In Baltimore’s win over Cincinnati last Sunday, Webb was targeted in coverage 12 times and allowed four catches for 58 yards.

“He’s playing at a really high level. Now you’re starting to see him as the season goes really getting back to that form,” Marshall said. “He’s a difficult opponent. I have a lot of respect for the guy. The last thing I remember is him dominating me a little bit and talking trash, and [I was like] ‘Man, that sucks.’ Now I get another opportunity to play against him. It’s gonna be tough. He’s a technician, he’s athletic, and he makes plays.”

Asked what took place the last time he squared off with Webb, Marshall said “he pressed me up and my releases [weren’t] good,” which “threw off the timing.”

“He was all over me,” Marshall said. “I didn’t much separation.”

Marshall currently ranks ninth in the NFL with 786 receiving yards and has eight touchdowns. His plan for Sunday against Webb is to try some different tactics to break free.

“It’s one of those things where this guy is so strong that it’s not always about being physical with him,” Marshall said. “You may have to finesse it a little bit and change up your approach. He’s one of those guys that you really have to study.”

Respect for run game set up shot play

October, 15, 2013
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When Aaron Rodgers connected with Jordy Nelson for a 64-yard touchdown pass in the Green Bay Packers’ 19-17 win over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, it was the perfect illustration of what a running game can do for an offense.

Last season, when the Packers ranked 20th in the NFL in rushing yards per game, they often tried deep shot plays like the one Rodgers and Nelson hit on Sunday.

And they rarely worked.

What does one have to do with another?

Well, the shot plays -- where usually only one or two receivers go out -- are predicated on the defense, specifically the safeties, overplaying the run. Without the threat of an effective running game, there’s little or no reason for the safeties to come up closer to the line of scrimmage.

“It’s a play we’ve used a number of times in the past; we haven’t hit it much recently,” Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements said.

On the third-quarter play, the Ravens kept both safeties outside the box. It’s a look the Packers often get from defensive coordinators who feel more threatened by Rodgers’ ability to beat them deep than any running play. But with the fifth-ranked rushing offense in the NFL, that appears to be changing.

Indeed, the Ravens’ safeties bit hard on the play-action fake to the left by Eddie Lacy, who was in the midst of a 120-yard game.

As recently as two weeks ago, defenses still had not shown that kind of respect for the running game.

“It’s a good development,” Clements said. “I think last year when we tried to run those types of plays, we got no reaction from the secondary. They were playing pass first, and they weren’t reacting to the run as much as they had in previous years. So with your ability to run the ball, I’ve said a number of times, if you run the ball it’s going to open up the play-action pass game and it certainly did.”

It left Nelson one-on-one with Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb. Nelson beat him easily and Rodgers, who rolled out to his right, threw a perfect deep ball.

“The run game’s been great for us this year,” Nelson said. “It’s great to have it. Hopefully we can continue to keep building with it. We just need to do our job on the outside.”