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The New York Jets cornerback watches the end-zone angle capturing all 22 players. Three-by-one formations, two-by-two coverages, personnel packages, down-and-distance breakdowns, field position and splits. His eyes will scan it, back and forth, from quarterback to wideout and back again. What receivers do they like to use on certain sets? What does each wideout like to do on first, second and third down? What hand signals is the quarterback using when he audibles? Does he pump fake? If he drops a box of toothpicks, how many hit the ground?
And when you ask Revis about it all, this is what he says: "It's simple."
Simple. This is how you become the NFL's version of Secret Service – a man expected to relentlessly shadow an assignment without fail. It's how you impress upon your head coach that you are the best cornerback he has ever seen. And it's how you are attached to the hip of the best wideouts in the most wide-open passing era in NFL history.
Heading into this week's divisional matchup against San Diego, Revis has seemingly swallowed up every big-name wideout in the league this season. Andre Johnson(notes)? Thirty-five yards, no touchdowns. Terrell Owens(notes)? Two games, 44 yards, no touchdowns. Marques Colston(notes)? Thirty-three yards, no touchdowns. The Carolina Panthers' Steve Smith? Five measly yards. Even Randy Moss(notes), who might as well be nicknamed "The Standard", could crack Revis for only 58 yards and one touchdown in two games.
And then, of course, there was Chad Ochocinco(notes), who promised to change his surname back to "Johnson" if Revis shut him down. Two matchups later, the man soon to be formerly known as Ochocinco had collected a pitiful 28 yards in one game, and had his 120-game catch streak broken in the other. Forget about opponents getting lost on "Revis Island" … he's the Bermuda Triangle.
"As far as we've played this year and I've seen, he stacks right up there with the best of them," said Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers(notes). "He's just very patient; for as much press as he plays, he's a very patient corner. Obviously you see when he gets his hands on the ball he catches it. That's not always the case for those defensive backs, but if he gets his hands on it he usually comes out with it."
He did just that in Saturday's win over Cincinnati, when despite committing a pair of penalties, he also picked off quarterback Carson Palmer(notes) on a back shoulder throw that left Ochocinco flailing and falling out of bounds. And that play was a microcosm of how Revis has gotten to be so special.
After spending much of the afternoon playing physical press coverage at the line of scrimmage – constantly jamming and getting his hands on Ochocinco – Revis recognized an audible by Palmer. Isolated on one side of the field and facing third-and-six, he recalled a familiar sideline route to Ochocinco that the Bengals preferred to run in third-and-medium out of a particular formation. Knowing the ball would be coming his way, he gave Ochocinco a free release, then used his speed to run stride for stride and his body to box out any opportunity.
"It had me and Chad manned up back side and I saw Carson start audibling a little bit," said Revis, who was named to his second Pro Bowl last month. "So I knew they were going to come. That was the weak spot in the defense."
While he's clearly physically skilled, it's that kind of recognition – largely a benefit of film study – that has helped him become one of the game's best. But opposing players have been impressed by a total package that includes:
• Hands: When the ball isn't thrown perfectly, he has just as good a chance to come down with it as the receiver he covers.
• Reaction: On both short and complex routes, he has the burst to recover and go stride for stride with receivers.
• Strength: He rarely gets out-muscled for a pass, and has the upper-body strength to slow down or completely knock receivers off routes at the line of scrimmage.
Chargers coach Norv Turner, who sees Pro Bowl corners Nnamdi Asomugha(notes) of the Oakland Raiders and the Denver Broncos' Champ Bailey(notes) twice a season, said Revis is "probably more physical than the other guys we've seen and still does a great job with the coverage."
"They do put him on an island and he handles it extremely well," Turner said.
That ability is what had Jets coach Rex Ryan so certain in the preseason that Revis was one of the best, if not the best, cornerback he had ever coached. At the time, it seemed like Ryan's typical blustery confidence. Keep in mind that the former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator was on hand for some of the prime years of former All-Pro cornerbacks Chris McAlister(notes) and Samari Rolle(notes), and had even caught the tail end of Deion Sanders' career.
But Revis wasted little time proving Ryan's case, shutting down Johnson and Moss in the first two weeks of the season. And had it not been for a shocking 53-yard touchdown catch by Miami's Ted Ginn Jr.(notes) in Week 5, you could argue that Revis hadn't given up one truly bad play all season long. That's a reality that has made him so respected, opposing wideouts almost sound ready to surrender their own production if it means keeping Revis away from other players and securing a win.
"I think part of that [success] comes from teams trying to say, 'Hey, if you're going to try to take this away, that's fine because we should be able to beat you in other areas,' " said Chargers wideout Vincent Jackson(notes), who will draw Revis this week. "I would love to have a great game against him. But if I don't have 100 yards or something, I might only get the ball thrown to me twice, but that's OK. We've got [other players]. I'm not really focused on the one-on-one matchups."
Jackson might be the only one after Revis lost the defensive player of the year award to Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson(notes) this week. Ryan was heated about the announcement, which revealed that Woodson had double the votes (28) of Revis (14).
"I would like to congratulate the people who voted for Darrelle Revis," Ryan said, "that these guys obviously really know the game. … A number I think is interesting would be eight. And, no, that's not the amount of touchdown passes that Green Bay gave up against [the Arizona Cardinals in Sunday's loss]. That is the number of touchdown passes we gave up all season as the Jets. And the biggest reason for that is Darrelle Revis."
After shutting down so many league elites in 2009, you'd be hard pressed to find an opposing argument. But for the wideouts that would like to challenge Ryan's logic, Revis is waiting with his answer. And he's likely the only one who sees it as simple.
- Darrelle Revis