New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore has shut down some of the NFL’s best and most productive receivers over the last three weeks. In total, he’s allowed nine receptions on 20 targets for 108 yards while guarding these five players (numbers per PFF):
Amari Cooper (Cowboys): four catches on seven targets, 39 yards, 2 pass break-ups
Mike Evans (Buccaneers): no catches on one target, one pass break-up
Chris Godwin (Buccaneers): one catch on one target, 14 yards
Dede Westbrook (Jaguars): one catch on three targets, 23 yards, one pass break-up
D.J. Chark (Jaguars): two catches on six targets, 21 yards, one interception
Squarely in Lattimore’s crosshairs when the Saints come to Soldier Field on Sunday, then, will be Allen Robinson.
“The key is trusting your guys,” coach Matt Nagy said. “That’s important to have. There’s a lot of really good corners in this league and he falls in that category. He’s one of those guys that we’ll match with your top receiver, so you understand that.”
Robinson has 31 catches on 43 targets for 377 yards through five games, easily leading the Bears in those categories and likely leading him to draw the difficult assignment of matching up against Lattimore. He’s at the least been a safety net for Mitch Trubisky, and at the best been one of the NFL's top receivers in 2019.
So the expectation here is Trubisky still will target Robinson on Sunday, even if Lattimore is draped on him in coverage. Robinson has the talent to still make plays on those throws, as he's shown in the past.
But a more worrying aspect of Lattimore’s game goes beyond his ability to cover opposing receivers. It’s how he does it, specifically in disguising his coverages.
Usually, cornerbacks who travel with a team’s top receiver do so while playing man. But the Saints will have him stay with a No. 1 wideout in zone, too, and Lattimore himself does an excellent job in baiting opposing quarterbacks into thinking he’s playing man when he plays zone, and vice versa.
“If you have a guy follow, you don’t want him just to follow in man situations because as a defense you kind of tip your hand with man versus zone,” Robinson said. “So I think by them being able to move him around a little bit from a strategic standpoint helps them out a little bit, being able to disguise if it’s either man or zone.”
That ability to disguise his coverages is paired with another important skill, one which should worry any quarterback looking his way.
“He jumps plays real well,” Bears wide receiver Taylor Gabriel said. “He reads real well.”
While the Saints often use their safeties in two-high looks, with them dropping deep, Lattimore’s skillset allows defensive coordinator Greg Allen to do some different things with those guys at the back.
“(His) ability to cover outside and sometimes without safety help, it allows you an extra defender or allows you to populate the run a little differently,” Saints coach Sean Payton said.
If the Saints trust Lattimore to cover Robinson without help over the top, they could drop a safety into the box to aid their run-stopping efforts (it would in all likelihood, though, be a tell the Saints are in man coverage). And that’s the last thing a Bears offense struggling to run the ball needs.
So Lattimore's impact stretches to the entire Saints' defense. His coverage skills not only can trick opposing quarterbacks into seeing something that's not there, it allows the Saints to feel more comfortable selling out to stop the run.
But Trubisky can’t just ignore Robinson because Lattimore is shadowing him. At some point, Trubisky and Robinson will need to land a few punches on Sunday.
“For me, I like it,” Robinson said. “You’re matched up with somebody the whole game, it’s like boxing."