FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Few receivers have given the Patriots the amount of trouble that Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson has caused them throughout his career.
In that time, however, the Patriots haven't had a cornerback that can track a team's top receiver like Jackson's former Buccaneers teammate, Aqib Talib.
Since 2006, Jackson has played five combined regular season and postseason games against the Patriots, and has logged 27 receptions for 495 yards and three touchdowns. His 18.3 yards per reception is the second-highest for any receiver with over 10 receptions against them.
Needless to say, they could really use someone that can slow him down, but his versatile skill set presents a unique set of challenges for any defensive back trying to cover him.
"He runs routes like a smaller guy, and he runs them deep balls like a 6-4 guy," Talib said, "so I mean, he's kind of got the best of both worlds at wide-out so (he's) real hard to defend."
Jackson has lined up both in the slot and on the perimeter for the Buccaneers, but interestingly enough, he's spent most of his time in the slot, running 34 of his 58 total routes (58.6 percent) from the inside, as well as nine of his 12 receptions this season. You don't often say that about a 6-5, 230-pound receiver.
He showed what makes him such a valuable slot receiver when he ran a seven-yard post against man coverage from Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie.
The drag route from Buccaneers tight end Tom Crabtree cleared out the linebacker, creating a wide-open window for Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman to throw the ball.
Jackson shook the coverage of Antonio Cromartie, outmuscling him at the point of attack to get inside leverage, making it easy for his quarterback to complete the pass. From there, Jackson picked up a head of steam and turned a 10-yard throw into a 39-yard gain.
On this play in the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Saints, Jackson once again lined up in the slot and this time, ran a deep flag pattern toward the right sideline.
His teammate, wide receiver Mike Williams, ran a go route next to him, clearing out the coverage of the outside cornerback.
That afforded his quarterback a window to throw the ball, but he had to be quick.
The safety was sitting in Cover 2, ready to drop the hammer on any deep throw, and came crashing toward the receiver once the ball was released. That didn't stop Jackson from turning around and making the catch, then absorbing the vicious hit.
We've seen Talib line up on a bigger receiver in the slot already this season.
Against the Jets in Week 2, the Jets put their 6-4, 215-pound wide receiver Stephen Hill in the slot on the first play of their second drive. He ran a seam route right through the middle of the Patriots defense.
Talib had good position on Hill in coverage, but his path was interfered with by linebacker Brandon Spikes, who was out of position prior to the snap -- Talib was trying to get Spikes lined up over running back Bilal Powell, at the top of the screen.
The point is, Talib has the speed and coverage ability to handle responsibilities over the middle of the field. Regardless of where they line up Jackson, Talib should be following him. To this point, however, he has only played four snaps in the slot.
Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard, however, have both shown they are capable of lining up on the outside.
Indeed, preparing for a game-changing receiver like Jackson can be a mind-racking endeavor, but at least Talib has some measure of familiarity with him -- both from their time together with the Buccaneers and from the joint practices and preseason game between the two teams just three weeks ago.
"I mean, It's helped," he said. "I'm sure it helped them too, getting to practice against us. We got an early look at each other. Both teams kind of held a little back. You know, we don't show each other everything.
"We've got a small look, now we've got to go play the real game."
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