Notable Positional Matchups to Watch in Preseason Week 4

Justin Onslow@@JustinOnslowNFLContributor IIAugust 29, 2012

Notable Positional Matchups to Watch in Preseason Week 4

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    Week 4 of the preseason is upon us, and although just about everyone is ready for the exhibition schedule to end (I’m talking to you, fantasy owners), there are still some important storylines to follow in the final week.

    The final round of the preseason slate is typically reserved for first-team final tune-ups. Most of the NFL’s biggest stars won’t see a lot of time on the field for fear of the injury bug.

    Fear not. There’s still plenty to take away from this week’s action. He is a list of notable matchups to watch with the regular season peeking around the corner.

Russell Wilson vs. Arizona’s Pass Rush and Secondary

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    Russell Wilson has been one of the best stories of the preseason. The Seahawks inked free-agent quarterback Matt Flynn to a three-year deal in March, then proceeded to use its third-round pick on Wilson.

    At well under six feet tall, many projected Wilson to be a niche quarterback at the next level. However, Wilson has looked like anything but, having made the most of his preseason playing time thus far.

    Wilson has thrown five touchdown passes this month, and has also displayed athleticism and versatility with his legs. Arizona’s defense has been a work in progress, but has shown steady improvement the last couple years. The Cardinals have an opportunity to make a statement if they can shut down the Seahawks and bring Wilson back to earth.

    The Cards boast an improved front-seven, anchored by defensive ends Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett. Arizona’s premier bookends will need to open some gaps for the linebackers to turn up the heat on Wilson and the Seahawks’ running game.

    Wilson may struggle in the passing game this week. Cornerback Patrick Peterson and safety Adrian Wilson are extremely talented. If Russell Wilson is to punctuate his stellar preseason with a good performance and carry that momentum into the regular season, he will need to show poise and patience this week against the Cardinals.

NYJ Quarterbacks vs. Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

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    Is there really anything good to be said about how Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow have performed this preseason? In their defense, the whole team is a mess right now. Inconsistency on the offensive line has crippled production in both the running and passing games.

    The Jets’ offense has a lot to prove going forward. The team needs an offensive identity and a leader under center. One of these guys will need to prove they belong, and both will face a tough test against the Eagles.

    Neither Sanchez nor Tebow are hot buys in fantasyland, and that is unlikely to change at any point this season. Fantasy owners should instead focus on how Philadelphia’s defense handles the chaos. Look for the Eagles to force some turnovers against the Jets, and prove they are worthy of being one of the first defenses off the board in many fantasy drafts.

Antonio Gates vs. San Francisco’s Whole Defense

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    For the first time in his career, Gates may actually be underrated by a lot of analysts. After dealing with foot injuries the last two years, Gates claims to be back to full strength and ready to make an impact this season.

    At 6’4”, 260 lbs. with the speed of a much smaller man, Gates presents matchup problems for an entire defense. Most linebackers can’t run with him. Most safeties can’t out-jump or out-muscle him.

    A healthy Antonio Gates is a scary, scary thing for opposing defensive coordinators. He will be tested this week, however.

    San Francisco returns one of the best defenses the NFL has seen in years, and with the Chargers’ searching for a new star to emerge at wide receiver, the 49ers will be able to focus a lot of attention on Gates.

    Look for Gates to tally a lot of targets this week and put together a solid performance, all while serving as one of San Diego’s only legitimate offensive weapons until Ryan Mathews returns.

Darren McFadden vs. Seattle’s Front Seven

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    If nothing else, Run DMC has proven two things in his young career: (1) He is explosive, and (2) he is fragile.

    McFadden, despite boasting more than five yards per carry the last two seasons, has failed to play in more than 13 games. He only saw the field in seven games last season, and fantasy owners are faced with the ultimate boom-or-bust scenario by drafting McFadden this year.

    He’s looked good so far, but fragility is a major issue. McFadden should see his share of carries in the first half against Seattle, as Raiders head coach Dennis Allen has recently spoken out about not “babying” his star runner this season.

    If McFadden is going to be a formidable runner this season, he will need to prove his worth against a Seattle defense that allowed just 3.8 yards per carry last season. Look for McFadden to get stuffed a few times, rip off a long run or two, and take his spot on the bench without sustaining any major injuries before the regular season opener.