Colts Key Matchup: Harper vs Wilford
Nick Harper (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Nick Harper (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Posted Dec 9, 2006

The Colts will be leaning heavily on cornerback Nick Harper this weekend against the Jaguars. Greg Talmage explains why in his analysis of Harper's key matchup with Jaguars wide receiver Ernest Wilford.

Jacksonville has tried various starting wide receiver combinations all season. But since David Garrard took over as the starting quarterback one thing has been consistent. Wide receiver Ernest Wilford has lined up to his right as the starting receiver on that side.

Garrard is doing a good job of spreading the ball around among WR Reggie Williams (37 catches), RB Maurice Jones-Drew (32), WR Ernest Wilford (30), TE George Wrighster (30), WR Matt Jones (28) and RB Fred Taylor (22). With one of the taller receiving corps in the league, the Jaguars rely on the short passing game with the potential for big yardage after the catch. One way to do that is the underthrow. The Jaguars executed it to perfection last week against Miami.

It’ll be interesting to see if the Jaguars can utilize such a play again this week. Quarterback David Garrard throws the ball up high in these situations, but a bit behind his intended receiver. If the receiver can't jump up and catch it, the ball usually falls incomplete. Such a play gives the Jaguars' tall receivers an opportunity to use their height as an advantage. This is something they’ll likely try again this week given the fact that Indianapolis’ starting corners Nick Harper and Jason David are 5-foot-10 and 5-foot-8, respectively.

Wilford, specifically, stands at 6-foot-4. He is a big and very physical receiver, who proves valuable in the red-zone because of his excellent size, good leaping ability and body control. He also does a good job of extending and making the catch away from his body. Oh, and watch out if he gets by you. Ernest Wilford is a long-strider with sneaky speed, deceptive power and strength after the catch. It’s very important to tackle well against Wilford.

Wilford lacks ideal burst, so he has a tendency to get held up at the line by physical corners. His long stride will cause him to struggle to close the cushion against "off" coverage and he’s not particularly a great route-runner. He’s too stiff and straight-lined, plus his size hinders his ability to come out of cuts and routes smoothly.

Nick Harper knows that at 32 years old, age might be catching up with him a bit and that his quickness is not what it used to be. But thankfully for Harper and the Colts, he’s developed into a very good zone corner. Harper does an excellent job keeping receivers in front of him and tackling well when they do make a reception. That’s extremely important this week given Jacksonville’s newfound love of the underthrow and Wilford’s sneaky post catch speed.

Harper’s strengths and sound approach to his position in this defense are the big reasons why the Colts won’t hesitate to leave him on an island if they want to show a safety in the box or roll coverages to the other side or middle. The Colts trust that even if a receiver makes a catch in single coverage against Harper, he’ll be tackled immediately. If Jaguars QB David Garrard sees single coverage, he’ll test it, hoping to take advantage of Wilford’s 6-inch height advantage over Harper.

Keep an eye on this matchup. It’s going to be essential to the Colts’ success for Harper to be able to minimize Wilford’s impact on the game without much help from his teammates.

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