Buffalo Bills rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore has had an up-and-down rookie season. Through the first five games of his first season as a pro baller, the No. 10 overall pick out of South Carolina has had some steady performances, one excellent game marred by an unfortunately memorable rushing touchdown allowed (New England), and two fairly terrible performances in the season opener and last week in San Francisco.
This week? Gilmore gets to play against Arizona Cardinals mega star Larry Fitzgerald. This, friends, represents by far the biggest challenge of Gilmore's fledgling NFL career.
If Bills defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt has any sense whatsoever, he'll match Gilmore up on Fitzgerald every single snap. He'll do it not as some sort of trial by fire setup for Gilmore, nor because Gilmore has earned that level of trust; he'll do it simply because if the Bills line any other cornerback up on Fitzgerald - the struggling Aaron Williams in particular - he's asking for trouble. Gilmore, at least in theory, gives the Bills a fighting chance against Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald has thrived in the three games that Kevin Kolb has been back in the lineup at quarterback. In that three-game window, Fitzgerald has 25 receptions for 270 yards and two touchdowns. He's been productive despite the fact that Arizona has perhaps the league's worst pass-protecting offensive line, and he's put up big numbers without the offense having the benefit of any semblance of a rushing attack.
You don't need us to tell you that the Bills are having their share of earth-shatteringly major problems on the defensive side of the football. The front four is riddled by injury, there's a new rookie starting strong-side linebacker on the way, and the secondary has been an inconsistent mess all season. Regardless of whatever problems Arizona has themselves on offense, there's ample opportunity for them to exploit several of the Bills' numerous weaknesses on defense.
Fitzgerald taking advantage of a rookie cornerback tops that list. Gilmore had better be up to the task on Sunday (and Wannstedt had better task Gilmore with Fitzgerald), or the Bills will have a lot more to worry about than simply fixing their run defense and their maddeningly unproductive pass rush.