Two of a kind. It takes two to tango. Two can play that game.
The best defenses in the NFL understand that cornerback is a job for two, and arguably the NFL’s best duo will be on display Sunday when the Chiefs ask L’Jarius Sneed and Trent McDuffie to take away 49ers receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel in Super Bowl 2024.
“The way to beat the Chiefs is not to go in with a game plan to say, ‘Our receiver is going to beat you,’” NFL on CBS analyst Tony Romo told The Post. “That’s not going to happen against them. These two guys are incredible — aggressive at the line of scrimmage, they press consistently and they make sticky coverage over and over again.”
Take, for example, the first third-down pass of the AFC Championship Game when the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson threw an incompletion to Nelson Agholor.
It set the tone for defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to play 1-on-1 coverage down the field and bait Jackson into some bad throws, leading to a trio of three-and-out possessions.
“He kind of drops it, but it’s because the rhythm is off and everything is not the same sequence that you have,” Romo said. “Those two guys make it easier for Spagnuolo to blitz. They’ve pressured more than he has in most years because they trust those guys. Having that at their disposal is what has really allowed them to win games because you can load up in the box and say, ‘Go ahead, throw it. I know this guy is going to have a hard time beating our guy.’”
The Sneed-McDuffie tandem made it so that the Chiefs’ secondary somehow only has gotten better (and younger) since Pro Bowler Charvarius Ward left for the 49ers in 2022 free agency.
“When you’ve got leaders, two All-Pros in the room, [young] guys can build and grow from that,” defensive tackle Chris Jones said. “They can watch their preparation, and they begin to prepare like that. They begin to want to be that guy, so it helps a lot.”
Here is The Post’s ranking of the best cornerback duos in the NFL, incorporating analytics and the eye test. Apologies to greats such as the Packers’ Jaire Alexander, Bears’ Jaylon Johnson and Broncos’ Patrick Surtain, guys who didn’t have a partner to share the load in 2023. No reputation-based pick for the Eagles’ tandem, either.
1. Sauce Gardner-D.J. Reed, Jets
Gardner is a two-time First-Team All-Pro with one touchdown catch allowed in each of his first two seasons and he led the NFL in preventing receiver separation in 2023, per Pro Football Focus.
Reed and elite slot cornerback Michael Carter II actually make it the league’s top trio, too.
2. Sneed-McDuffie, Chiefs
McDuffie was First-Team All-Pro after he led all cornerbacks with 18 quarterback pressures and five forced fumbles.
Sneed, who was robbed of the same honor after shadowing opposing No. 1 receivers around the field, is highly physical, which resulted in 16 passes defended but 17 penalties (six declined).
3. Da’Ron Bland-Stephon Gilmore, Cowboys
Another could-be trio. Gilmore is a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year still playing at high level, Bland just set an NFL record by returning five of his NFL-best nine interceptions for touchdowns and Trevon Diggs’ 11 picks in 2021 were the most in a season since 1981. Diggs was limited by injuries to two games in 2023.
4. Derek Stingley Jr.-Steven Nelson, Texans
The Texans actually boast four of PFF’s 31 highest graded cornerbacks of 2024 (Desmond King, Tavierre Thomas).
But Stingley and Nelson had five interceptions each, including the playoffs, and had the two-best ballhawk rates (ratio of disrupting a pass/nearest defender) in the NFL entering December, per NexGenStats.
5. Denzel Ward-Greg Newsome, Browns
The three-time Pro Bowler Ward is the only NFL player since 1999 with at least 10 pass break-ups and two interceptions in each of his first six seasons.
Newsome had the best year of his career, thriving in an aggressive style. The Browns allowed the fewest passing yards in the league.
6. Devon Witherspoon-Riq Woolen, Seahawks
The sky’s the limit for this young tandem.
Witherspoon is a finalist for Defensive Rookie of the Year, one season after Woolen finished third.
They are two of the fastest players in the league on defense and now will be coached by Mike Macdonald, whose Ravens’ secondaries were great.
7. Jalen Ramsey-Xavien Howard, Dolphins
Some would’ve said this was No. 1 entering the 2023 season.
Ramsey played up to his Hall of Fame reputation in 10 games after coming back from injury.
Howard took a step back after three straight Pro Bowls but still allowed 50 yards or more just three times, with two total touchdowns on his record.