The Buffalo Bills' young cornerbacks plan to bring all the confidence they can muster into Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals.
They know they are going to need it, because Arizona has one of the top passing games in the NFL, and the Bills will be without their best cornerback, Terrence McGee. He's out with a sprained knee.
Cardinals star Larry Fitzgerald is the top-paid receiver in the NFL at a salary of $10 million a year. He led the NFC last year in catches (100) and receiving yards (1,409). Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner has thrown for the third-most yards in the NFL this year (300 a game) and has the fifth-best passer rating (100.8).
So even though there's a fair chance the Cardinals will be without one of their receiving stars -- Anquan Boldin suffered a significant blow to the head against the Jets on Sunday -- the Bills will face by far their biggest pass-defense challenge of the season.
"I don't want to put pressure on myself," Bills cornerback Jabari Greer said. "You have to go out there and play. I'm on the same field with this guy [Fitzgerald]. He's a big guy. He's a big name. But at the same time, I have the ability and I have attributes that I feel confident in. As long as I can play to my strengths and minimize my weaknesses, I think I can put myself in a position to make a play."
McGee's injury means Ashton Youboty and rookie Leodis McKelvin both will see a ton of action. Youboty has played well this year working on
the slot receivers.
The Cardinals use three- and four-receiver sets a high percentage of the time. So even if Boldin does not play -- he suffered a fractured sinus -- both Youboty and McKelvin are likely to be on the field a lot of snaps.
"I've got to be ready," said McKelvin, the Bills' No. 1 draft pick. "Terrence went down. Another corner has got to dress -- Reggie Corner. So we only have four corners. Terrence was our best DB, so I've got to come in, step up, fill those shoes and live up to expectations."
"I'm very excited," McKelvin said. "It's just exciting to play football, period."
If Boldin sits, he would be replaced by second-year man Steve Breaston, a fifth-round pick last year out of Michigan. He caught nine passes for 122 yards last week. Jerheme Urban, a 6-foot-3, 207-pounder, would be the third wideout. Rookie third-round pick Early Doucet would move up to fourth and make his season debut.
The Cardinals will catch a lot of passes on any defense. But Greer said he doesn't want McKelvin to have the mind-set that a big passing day by the Cards is inevitable.
"You don't want to be like, 'OK, Leodis, he's going to catch a lot of balls on you,' " Greer said. "Nooooo, man. You want him to go in there with the confidence that I'm going to do what I can do. I'm going to do my best to put my team in the best position to win."
Fitzgerald is 6-foot-3, 220 pounds. He has a big size edge over the Bills. Greer is 5-11, 180, Youboty 5-11, 189, and McKelvin 5-10, 184.
"That's not really a problem," Youboty said of the size edge. "When the ball's in the air, they're going to try to make a play, whether it's Steve Smith [Carolina's 5-9 star] or Fitzgerald. You have to read your keys and stick to your technique and you'll be good."
Youboty said he and his teammates can work on defending fade patterns into the end zone in practice against Bills 6-5 receiver James Hardy.
"Both corners try to get a look at Hardy, get a couple reps with him, to give us a sense of jump balls so we can be prepared on game day," he said.
The Cardinals tied for fifth in the NFL last year in pass plays of 20 or more yards with 52. Safety Donte Whitner said the Bills must not give the Cards any cheap, deep completions.
"You have to be a little more patient and prevent the big play," Whitner said. "They want the big play. They have big-play receivers. You have to keep it all in front of you. When you have opportunities to strip a ball, knock a ball out or intercept it, you have to make 'em pay. You have to be ready at all times."
Jabari Greer: 5-11, 180
Leodis McKelvin: 5-10, 184
Ashton Youboty: 5-11, 189