X's and O's thoughts: Covering Johnson?

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson made it clear recently that he doesn’t believe there is a New England Patriots defensive back that can cover him.

It’s a bold proclamation from Johnson, though he’s had some success against the Patriots during his career, hauling in four touchdown passes.

Johnson’s words got us thinking about possible ways the Patriots could counter him tomorrow, which is the focus of the debut of “X’s and O’s thoughts,” which we’ll aim to use each week in this space.

Concept: Aqib Talib shadowing Johnson

Talib didn’t want to get into a verbal back-and-forth with Johnson this week, instead opting for praise of the five-year veteran. But as the Patriots' best cornerback, it could be Talib who is called upon to handle Johnson, as the Patriots used him, at-times, to shadow an opponent’s top receiver during the 2012 season.

Johnson is an efficient player from the slot whose game is more dependent on his precise route-running and quickness than it is his speed. Talib is typically the Patriots' left cornerback, though he does have the requisite traits to kick inside to the slot if needed.

One of the issues in shadowing Johnson with Talib is that it puts the onus on the Patriots' other cornerbacks to match up with Buffalo’s speed players, highlighted by receivers T.J. Graham and Marquise Goodwin. Talib is a talented perimeter cornerback who can neutralize such speed players with his own speed and length.

The Patriots did not have games where they exclusively used Talib to shadow an opposing receiver, rather he was called upon for particular stretches to take on such players as Andre Johnson of the Texans.

While it seems unlikely that they’d use Talib strictly in a shadow role over Johnson, if Johnson starts to have some success on Sunday, it’s a wrinkle the Patriots could turn to on an as-needed basis.

Either way, we’ll find out on Sunday whether Johnson’s words were accurate or an underestimation of the Patriots' secondary.