Now probably isn’t the best time for a receiver to see Marshon Lattimore lined up across from him on defense.
The receiver may – or may not – finish the game with numbers that suggest some level of productivity. But lately, chances are that they won’t be significant or game-changing numbers. Lately, odds have been that Lattimore’s shadowing will be as preventive as a flu shot.
“That’s my job,” Lattimore said. “That’s what I’m here for. I just try my best to make sure they’re not the reason that they have potential to win the game, so I try my hardest to stop everything that they’re doing. That’s really it. I’ve been doing everything right, everything is just falling into place right now.”
It’s no coincidence that the Saints’ stinginess over the past three weeks (13.3 points and 245 yards per game allowed) has coincided with Lattimore’s blanketing. In three consecutive weeks, against three of the most productive receivers in the NFL, he been in his element, perhaps playing as well as he has at any point in a young career that includes him being named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2017.
Dallas’ Amari Cooper caught five passes (on eight targets) for 48 yards in a 12-10 loss in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sept. 29, with Lattimore breaking up a couple of passes and posting four solo tackles.
The next week, on Oct. 6 against Tampa Bay in the Superdome, Lattimore had another pair of pass breakups and three tackles, while Tampa Bay receiver Mike Evans didn’t have a catch on three targets.
Sunday, against the Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., second-year receiver D.J. Chark had his hot start iced: Three catches (on seven targets) for 43 yards, with Lattimore coming away with his first interception of the season, three more passes defensed and three tackles.
The interception may have looked like Lattimore getting a lucky break. Turns out, he may have anticipated the route better than did Chark.
“I really thought he was about to run a post,” Lattimore said. “That’s why I was over the top like that. (Jacksonville quarterback Gardner Minshew) just threw it, it fell in my hands. I needed that. It was like a gimme. You don’t get too many of those in this league, so I’ll take it whenever I can get it.”
If chance favors the prepared mind, Lattimore has been preparing his more and more via film study and experience.
“He’s hit a stretch here where I feel like he’s playing some of his better football,” Saints Coach Sean Payton said. “And look, he’s played exceptionally well prior to this year. But he’s drawn some top assignments. He almost had a second interception (Sunday), he got his hands on a ball. But he’s playing very well.”
From the looks of it, no assignment has been too large for Lattimore, who admitted to concentration lapses last season but says that he has learned to minimize them.
“We see those guys locked in, him especially, focused on the details and the small things,” left tackle Terron Armstead said. “We’re all professionals and we take our craft very seriously. I think they’re doing a really great job of playing well with each other. Communication has been a big emphasis and it has been excellent for them these past few weeks, and understanding where their help is. They’re playing really well together.”
None have played any better than Lattimore, and that deduction likely encompasses the league.
Lattimore said the plays he doesn’t make stick with him longer than the ones he does.
“When I make a play, it’s like, I made a play but there are a hundred other plays out there,” he said. “So I just wait until after the game to really say what’s going on. In the moment, you make a play, you celebrate for a minute, then it’s, ‘All right, the play is over. On to the next play.’ With a bad play, too, you’ve got to do the same thing.
“You’ve got to do the same when you’re winning and when you’re losing. If you celebrate too much, it’ll take away from your game and you’re, ‘I got it,’ and then you give up a play. It’s best to just stay locked in.”
Lattimore, it’s safe to say, has been locked in. And he knows there’s more.
“I can be better,” he said. “I always want to be better than what I was a week before. So I’m going to try to come out and top that performance.”