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Time to cover the top five cornerback tandems

NEW ORLEANS -- With Darrelle Revis' return to the Jets, New York boasts a potential lock-down cornerback tandem. Though Revis' first game with new teammate Antonio Cromartie won't come until Monday night when the Jets host the Ravens, it shouldn't take long for them to anchor a secondary that will be crucial to New York's pass rush this season.

The Jets have shown they can get to the quarterback, but they don't have a great pass rusher, so they have to blitz and scheme to apply pressure, and that requires defensive backs shutting receivers down to buy the pass rushers time.

Revis has shown he can do that week in and out, and that's why it was so important for the Jets to get him signed before the regular-season opener.


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2010 team previews, predictions

» NFC EAST: Cowboys | Giants | Eagles | Redskins
» NFC NORTH: Bears | Lions | Packers | Vikings
» NFC SOUTH: Falcons | Panthers | Saints | Buccaneers
» NFC WEST: Cardinals | 49ers | Seahawks | Rams
» AFC EAST: Bills | Dolphins | Patriots | Jets
» AFC NORTH: Ravens | Bengals | Browns | Steelers
» AFC SOUTH: Texans | Colts | Jaguars | Titans
» AFC WEST: Broncos | Chiefs | Raiders | Chargers

"Anytime you have a corner that you can put out there on a receiver and know (the receiver) won't get any action it's a big advantage," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "(The opposition is) basically playing with 10 guys out there."

That's where Cromartie, who had a solid preseason, comes in. His critics can say he was this or that the past few seasons in San Diego, but Jets coach Rex Ryan will make sure to put him in position to make plays. It's up to him to make them.

Are Revis and Cromartie the best cornerback tandem in the NFL? That's up for debate. Here's one man's top 5:

1. Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph, Bengals

Entering the season, Hall and Joseph sit on top because they actually have played together. Revis and Cromartie might catch and surpass them, but we've seen the Cincy tandem's body of work -- and it's pretty solid. They combined for 140 tackles, 12 picks and three forced fumbles, with their overall totals nearly equal in every category last season. No reason to think those numbers won't be comparable this year, but having to deal with Baltimore's Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh makes their jobs tougher.

2. Revis and Cromartie, Jets

See above.

3. Tracy Porter and Jabari Greer, Saints

Porter's Pick-6 of Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl after his fourth-quarter interception of Brett Favre in the NFC Championship Game showed what he is capable of on a consistent basis, a Saints' official told me in the offseason. Greer, quietly signed as a free agent before 2009, was a solid cover corner teams tended to shy away from. With Porter's development, Greer might get more action this season. Porter had four interceptions, Greer two, with each returning one for a touchdown in the regular season.

Porter missed four games and Greer missed seven because of injuries. The Saints were far better when they were on the field, more vulnerable when they weren't. Porter is nursing a sore knee but he expects to start against the Vikings on Thursday night.

"Being able to play with him and to see the way he's matured as a player has been impressive," Greer said. "This season will tell (where they rank). We're working hard to put the best product out there and that we're being professionals. At the end of the year, when you ask me this question again, the production will speak for itself."

4. Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins, Cowboys

Jenkins made a huge jump last season, especially late, when he made life very tough for Eagles WR DeSean Jackson. His star is on the rise and his coverage ability goes hand-in-hand with the front seven's ability to get to the quarterback. Jenkins had a team-high five interceptions last season. Newman totaled three picks and he was also in on three forced fumbles. Playmakers find ways to make plays on the ball and Jenkins and Newman fit the bill.

5. Chris Gamble and Richard Marshall, Panthers


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These bigger corners offer up run support as well as making plays on the ball. Marshall had 88 stops last season, showing the consistency he delivers annually. Gamble had 58. They each had four interceptions. If Carolina's front can get after the quarterback like it did in the preseason and the offense can gain a lead and force teams to throw, these steady corners could be in on even more turnovers.

The problematic option

As much as Steelers coach Mike Tomlin might have preferred for Byron Leftwich to be his starting quarterback while Ben Roethlisberger sits out a four-game suspension, the move to replace the injured Leftwich with multi-threat backup Dennis Dixon has caused some trepidation for Pittsburgh's season-opening opponent.

The Falcons, who face Pittsburgh Sunday, have struggled generating a consistent pass rush against immobile quarterbacks, let alone guys who can move. Having to face a guy who can break containment and take off running has the Falcons doing some additional preparation.

"He's going to put a lot of stress on the defense, especially up front," Smith said. "He creates issues for the defensive line in terms of rush-lane integrity."

Translation: The Falcons' edge rushers will try to keep Dixon from hitting the perimeter and the defensive tackles must stay in their interior-rush assignments, so Dixon doesn't try to escape edge pressure by jetting up the middle.

"It doesn't change your game plan, it changes your emphasis points," Smith said. "Oftentimes, when you play a quarterback that doesn't have the ability to run, you hope they take off and scramble. With this guy, you hold your breath every time he takes off on a pass play. Don't forget he's got a strong arm. He's a guy that can throw the football, not just hurt you with his legs."


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More Falcons uncertainty

Atlanta cornerback Dunta Robinson will be making his debut with the Falcons against the Steelers. Not his regular-season debut, his 2010 debut. The former Houston standout that Atlanta signed to a six-year, $57 million deal did not take a preseason snap because of a lingering hamstring injury. He did get in more than a dozen practices but that can't equate to game situations.

"The biggest concern that you have when a guy hasn't participated in the preseason is just the conditioning part," Smith said. "Your body gets stung the first time you go play. No matter what type of shape you're in, you're not in football shape. He's ready to go in terms of everything else."

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