Last season Larry Fitzgerald was the toast of the National Football League. He was marked as the best receiver in football. The next Jerry Rice. Jesus in shoulder pads. He scored what could have been the game-winning and title-clinching touchdown in last season's Super Bowl. His catch, a 64-yard reception, where he overpowered a corner, ran by the linebackers and split the safeties with blazing speed was nothing short of amazing.
What that season did, one where he had 96 catches for 1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns, was make him a marked man. He has a target on his back. And every defensive coordinator on Arizona's schedule is looking for new and revolutionary ways to stop or contain Fitzgerald.
The San Francisco 49ers, in a 20-16 win Sept. 13, did exactly that. The 49ers frustrated Fitzgerald and keyed on him, throwing different looks and double-teams at him. He was held without a catch in the first quarter. In a season where he was supposed to explode, San Francisco allowed him to catch six passes for just 71 yards. His longest gain was 25 yards.
"San Francisco is one of those teams, they're going to say, 'You are not going to throw the ball downfield, you are going to beat us underneath,' " Fitzgerald told The Arizona Republic.
He was double-teamed for most of the night. This should be expected. Fitzgerald caught the attention of every defensive coordinator in the NFL. They couldn't stop him last season, so now some of the brightest minds in football are coming up with new schemes and coverages to keep the ball out of Fitzgerald's hands. Keep in mind teams watch trends and figure out ways around them like taxes. Their mothers didn't raise any fools.
Here we are, one week into the season and defenses have moved the first piece on the board. This season will be a game of chess for Fitzgerald---not checkers. The Cardinals will have to work on strategy and find different ways to get him the football. Arizona can also help take away pressure by receiving production from other receivers like Anquan Boldin or Steve Breaston. A good running game from Beanie Wells or Tim Hightower would help, as well. It's a challenge this season for Fitzgerald and the Cardinals. This season will be a different one. Even with all the attention, Fitzgerald can still become the best receiver in football. He just has to make the proper adjustments.