Sunday, January 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Revis-Fitzgerald jazzes up Bucs-Cardinals matchup

TAMPA — Darrelle Revis said he first met good friend Larry Fitzgerald about 10 years ago, while on a recruiting trip to the University of Pittsburgh.

Revis, then a coveted high school cornerback from Aliquippa, Pa., took a tour of the Panthers locker room and caught up with Fitzgerald, the star sophomore receiver who would finish second in that year's Heisman Trophy voting.

The two never got to play together at Pitt, as Fitzgerald was drafted third overall by the Cardinals before Revis started his college career there.

And while both Revis, 28, and Fitzgerald, 30, have become among the best at their positions in the NFL, the two Pro Bowl players have only gone head-to-head once in the regular season, in 2008.

That makes Sunday's showdown at Raymond James Stadium, where the Bucs' Revis will likely match up often with the Cardinals' Fitzgerald, a special treat.

"Will they be on each other all the time? Probably not," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said this week. "But when they are, you are talking about two Hall of Famers."

Revis, who has been locking down opponents' top receivers for years with the Jets, is coming off knee surgery and hasn't been used completely in that exclusive man-to-man role yet in his first three games with Tampa Bay. But Fitzgerald, recovered from a hamstring injury, said the Bucs defense is the best they've faced this season, and Revis is a key reason why.

"Darrelle is playing at an elite level, as always," Fitzgerald said. "I don't see any difference in his play."

In that 2008 meeting, a 56-35 Cardinals loss to the Jets, Fitzgerald had 122 yards on eight catches when Revis was on the field at the same time, according to ESPN Stats and Research. But Revis had two passes defensed and two interceptions, including one late in the game.

It's the kind of showdown both savor.

"He's a great receiver," Revis said. "He's big, he's physical and kind of shields you when the ball is in the air, so it's kind of tough for (defensive backs) to fight for the ball or try to make a play. When you play against Larry, you know it's going to be a physical game just because of how big and physical he is."

What makes the matchup unique, NFL Network analyst Darren Sharper said, is their similar styles. Both are savvy veterans who like to use their bodies, boast great ball skills and awareness. Fitzgerald, at 6 feet 3, 218 pounds, has the size advantage over Revis (5-11, 198) and is a bigger presence because of his leaping ability.

"As tight of coverage as you can possibly get on him, he still has the ability to just (gain) body position and outjump guys and come down with guys draped all over him," Bucs defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan said. "He's as good as anybody now for sure. He'll be one of the best ever."

Sharper, a former Saints safety, said Fitzgerald makes every route look the same, making it difficult for a cornerback to anticipate. "And he doesn't drop anything," Sharper said.

But Revis, Sharper said, can do it all.

"He's a big corner, likes to get his hands on you," Sharper said. "And when you're a patient corner and have good size, you can always destroy your opposing receiver's routes.

"Offense is always predicated on timing, so if you can get a quarterback to throw that timing off, as a route progresses, he's got great ball skills. If you throw in his area, you're taking the chance he might pick it and take it back to the house."

Sharper believes the Cardinals will try to move Fitzgerald around, sometimes put in stacked formations so he can avoid Revis' press coverage. Sheridan said the bigger challenge might be that Arizona has a couple of other solid receivers, Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts, who warrant attention.

The Bucs still will play some zone, so Revis and Fitzgerald won't always be one-on-one.

"But that's exactly why you have a guy like (Revis)," Sheridan says, "to cover other teams' top receivers."

Follow Joe Smith @TBTimes_JSmith.

 
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