I was listening to the 1050 ESPN Radio pregame show driving in my car last night. Jim Leonhard was one of the guests. Something he said jumped out at me. He started talking about how Antonio Cromartie is playing. He said Cromartie has been consistently using his hands well at the line in camp.
This is significant. When Cromartie wants to be physical, he can be as effective as a man to man corner as anybody in the league, including Darrelle Revis and Nnamdi Asomugha. He is so big and strong that he can win a matchup at the line with his muscle and then use his great speed to run with anybody at an equal starting point. The reason nobody mentions Cro in the same breath as those two is how inconsistent he has been doing this.
Football is fundamentally a game of one on one matchups. The more guys capable of winning one on ones, the better shape a team is in. It can devote extra resources to weaker areas. Think about the pursuit of Nnamdi Asomugha. It would have been a great signing because the Jets could close down outside receivers with just two defenders. Safeties who normally are needed to help corners on the outside could be used as extra blitzers. They could also to the middle to help clog passing lanes.
That is what the Jets did to the Patriots in the Playoffs. New England was so weak on the outside that the Jets could trust Revis and Cromartie on their own. They at times rushed three and used the other six defenders on the other three eligible receivers, creating exceptionally small windows.
The only thing preventing Cromartie from being a top flight corner is himself. If he gets consistently physical, the Jets are going to be really tough to complete a pass against on the outside and will have extra resources to use elsewhere. He played well last night. Apparently that is not an isolated incident.