NFL Week 4 Biggest Individual Matchups
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Despite the fact that we begin the first of the off weeks for NFL teams (the Steelers and Colts won’t be playing this weekend), it’s nitty-gritty time around the league.
That’s because nine of this week’s 15 encounters are of the divisional kind, setting the table for what we could see later in the year in terms of deciding titles and playoff berths—and it started with the Ravens' 23-16 win over the Browns on Thursday night, their ninth straight win in the series.
Of course, the key is to hold serve at home, something the Giants were unable to do on the opening night of the season. And we’ll see if that comes back to haunt them, especially if the Cowboys complete the sweep later in the season.
As for this week’s matchups, you’ll see some familiar faces that have traditionally enjoyed big games against this week’s respective foes. It will be interesting to see if they can duplicate those efforts once again.
New England Patriots QB Tom Brady vs. Buffalo Bills Defensive Line
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Simply put, this is why the Buffalo Bills franchise went out and spent all that money to add defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson.
Buffalo hasn’t been to the playoffs since 1999. New England has won the AFC East nine of the last 11 seasons. And the standout quarterback has always enjoyed himself, for the most part, when facing the Bills.
Tom Brady is 18-2 lifetime vs. the Bills, throwing for 4,830 yards, 46 scores and just 17 interceptions. He has been sacked only 38 times in those 20 contests. Four of those picks came in Week 3 a year ago at Orchard Park, when Buffalo ended a 15-game losing streak in the series.
After a forgettable start, the Bills have totaled nine sacks in their last two games with wins over the Chiefs (5) and Browns (4). If they can get to Brady early and often, then it is mission accomplished for Chan Gailey and company.
Tennessee Titans OLB Will Witherspoon vs. Houston Texans RB Arian Foster
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A year ago, Mike Munchak got off to a fast start as an NFL head coach as the Titans open with three wins in four games led by a defense that helped hold opponents to a combined 56 points in those contests.
Last week versus the Lions, albeit in a win, Tennessee surrendered 583 total yards and 41 points. Munchak’s club has allowed 113 points so far, more than double what it allowed through three weeks of last season.
The defense will once again have its hands full this week facing Arian Foster. While the Pro Bowl runner sat out last year’s season finale against Tennessee, he enjoyed a monster day in Nashville, running for 115 yards and two scores while catching five passes for 119 yards and a touchdown in Houston’s 41-7 win.
It’s safe to say Will Witherspoon and the rest of Jerry Gray’s defensive unit has its work cut out for itself while the Texans look to remain the AFC’s lone unbeaten team.
San Diego QB Philip Rivers vs. Kansas City Chiefs Secondary
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Romeo Crennel’s 0-2 club appeared on its way to digging itself an even bigger hole after falling behind 24-6 to New Orleans last week.
But the Chiefs righted the ship and rallied for a 27-24 overtime win. Meanwhile, the Chargers were busy getting handled at home by the unbeaten Atlanta Falcons, as Phillip Rivers threw a pair of interceptions in a 27-3 loss. It was the ninth time in his last 19 outings that the Pro Bowl quarterback had been picked off at least twice in a game.
But the San Diego signal-caller is hoping that he can continue his recent string of success against this divisional rival. In his last six meetings with Kansas City, the Bolts are 6-2 and Rivers has excelled, throwing for 2,406 yards (300 or more yards in half of those contests) and 13 scores compared to only eight interceptions.
Of course, the Chiefs will do their best to limit the damage, and that means keeping Jamaal Charles on the field and Rivers off of it. But given the play of Crennel’s defense so far this season, the Chargers could put some points on the board in a hurry on Sunday.
Minnesota Vikings WR/KR Percy Harvin vs. Detroit Lions Special Teams
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Wasn’t that fun last week?
Of course, we’re speaking to everyone who wasn’t rooting for the Lions and watched the Titans score on five plays of 60 or more yards last week, including a punt return and kickoff return for touchdowns in Tennessee’s overtime win.
Now Jim Schwartz’s team returns to the Motor City with hope that it can slow down a Minnesota team beaming with confidence after a surprising win at home against the San Francisco 49ers. And the versatile Harvin, who’s totaled eight kickoff returns for 240 yards this season, is just the kind of player who could do in Detroit’s kick coverage units if they’re not paying attention this week, even if his opportunities are limited.
And that’s not to mention the damage he could do to a Lions secondary that gave up a pair of touchdown receptions of 60-plus yards in the thriller at Nashville. Harvin leads the league with 27 receptions after three weeks, although he has yet to catch a touchdown pass.
Yes, we’re aware that Calvin Johnson takes aim at a Minnesota defense that allowed an NFL-high 34 touchdown passes in 2011 and five more aerial scores this season—but following last week’s stunner in beating the 49ers, Harvin and the Vikings offense bear watching.
Carolina Panthers MLB Jon Beason vs. Atlanta Falcons RB Michael Turner
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To date, the Falcons’ road to 3-0 this season, at least on the offensive side of the ball, has been keyed by emphasizing the passing game.
Quarterback Matt Ryan and company have responded. The fifth-year pro has made great use of tight end Tony Gonzalez and wideouts Roddy White and Julio Jones, the trio combining for 55 receptions for 647 yards and seven of Ryan’s eight touchdown receptions.
Even more noteworthy is the fact that White (244), Gonzalez (214) and Jones (189) all have more yards receiving than Michael Turner (154) has rushing this season (and we know it is early).
But this week’s matchup is hard to ignore. In his last seven games vs. Carolina, the Atlanta runner has totaled 727 yards rushing, reaching the 100-yard mark five times while running for 11 scores.
Meanwhile, we’re still waiting for the Panthers defense to find itself. Beason and company are allowing 139.3 yards per game on the ground, and each of their first three opponents have rushed for at least 125 yards. That number could get worse in a hurry at the Georgia Dome this weekend.
Seattle Seahawks RDE Chris Clemons vs. St. Louis Rams LT Wayne Hunter
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We all saw what the Seattle pass rush was capable of on Monday night.
While Pete Carroll’s team didn’t get a sack in the second half of the 14-12 win over the Green Bay Packers, their performance in the first 30 minutes was enough to leave a strong impression.
Of course, Clemons had exactly half of Seattle’s eight sacks of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers last week, and he’s looking for more in the Gateway City this weekend.
Starting left tackle Rodger Saffold is still out, and his replacement, Wayne Hunter, was limited in practice on Wednesday. The latter should be ready for Sunday, but this Seahawks defensive unit may be too much for Hunter and company no matter how prepared they are.
San Francisco 49ers RDT Justin Smith vs. New York Jets LG Matt Slauson
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You could make a case that the San Francisco defender is the most versatile defensive lineman in the NFL and has been playing the best football of his career over the last few seasons.
Often forgotten that he was the fourth overall pick in the 2001 NFL draft by the Cincinnati Bengals, Justin Smith is a key cog up front for that 49ers defense that is one of the best in the business.
But that unit didn’t look like its usual self at the Metrodome last Sunday, as the Vikings rolled up 146 yards rushing and didn’t give up a sack in a surprising 24-13 victory over Jim Harbaugh’s team.
Now Rex Ryan’s team, known for playing a little defense itself, takes a crack at dealing with Smith, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and company. The Jets’ offensive line, featuring Matt Slauson and the Pro Bowl law firm of (D’Brickashaw) Ferguson, (Nick) Mangold and (Brandon) Moore, has surrendered only three sacks in as many games—they certainly will be challenged this weekend.
If New York’s running game can do to the Niners what the Vikings managed to accomplish last week, we may have to re-evaluate how good San Francisco's run defense is.
Miami Dolphins C Mike Pouncey vs. Arizona Cardinals LILB Daryl Washington
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The Cardinals are off to their best start since 1974, and Daryl Washington and his fellow defenders are a big part of that current success.
The former TCU standout led the team in tackles in 2011 and was third on the club with five sacks. This season, Washington once again leads the Cardinals in stops and has a team-high three sacks to date.
Regardless of who is in the backfield, the Dolphins have proved that they can run the football. Only three teams in the league have averaged more rushing yards per game than Joe Philbin’s club after three weeks.
Many expect coordinator Ray Horton to thrown the kitchen sink at rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and that certainly includes Washington doing his best to attack Mike Pouncey and the middle of Miami’s offensive front.
Oakland Raiders WR Denarius Moore vs. Denver Broncos CB Champ Bailey
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While the Raiders and Broncos have arrived at the same record in different ways (and both teams' lone victory of the season is over the same team), the fact is that we’re not exactly sure what to make of either club.
After looking fairly sharp in the Sunday night opener against the Steelers, John Fox’s team dug early holes against the Falcons and Texans. When they finally climbed out, the Broncos were on the short end of a pair of six-point decisions.
Meanwhile, after losing at home to the Chargers and then getting handled in Miami, Dennis Allen got his first win as head coach after his team rallied to beat Pittsburgh.
So far, the Oakland wideouts have not been the focal point of the team’s passing game. Injuries to Denarius Moore (who missed the opener vs. San Diego) and Jacoby Ford (who’ll miss the 2012 season) have played a big part in that.
Add in Darrius Heyward-Bey’s uncertain status this week, and Moore (targeted 10 times by Carson Palmer vs. the Steelers) may be the team’s best downfield option this week in Denver, where the crafty Champ Bailey will be waiting for him.
Cincinnati Bengals FS Reggie Nelson vs. Jacksonville Jaguars WR Cecil Shorts
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Marvin Lewis has to be scratching his headset these days.
Last season, the Bengals’ unexpected playoff appearance was not only due to the play of rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, as the defense, which finished seventh in the league in yards allowed, put plenty of heat on opposing quarterbacks.
Cincinnati allowed 323 points in 2011, the ninth fewest in the NFL. After three games this season, only the Titans have given up more points.
Still, Lewis’ club is 2-1. But this week’s visit to Jacksonville could be tricky. Second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert has Laurent Robinson and rookie Justin Blackmon at his disposal, but Cecil Shorts has saved his best for late in games.
He caught a 39-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds left at Minnesota in Week 1, and last Sunday at Indianapolis, he scored the game-winner via an 80-yard reception with 45 seconds to play.
Will Reggie Nelson and his secondary mates be ready for any last-second heroics?
Tune in Sunday.
New Orleans Saints MLB Curtis Lofton vs. Green Bay Packers RB Cedric Benson
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To say it’s been a disappointing start to the season for the Saints would be an understatement.
To say it’s been a shocking start for the New Orleans defense would be almost equally as surprising.
Now that’s not to say that the team didn’t have issues on this side of the ball; but who would have guessed that after three weeks new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo would be at the helm of a unit that was dead last in the league in both total yards and rushing yards allowed?
Of course, who would have also thought that the Packers, who scored 560 points last season, including 40 or more in a team-record six games in 2011, would total 57 points in their first three games?
The lack of balance in the Green Bay attack has been evident. Witness last week’s game at Seattle, when Mike McCarthy’s team ran the ball only four times in the first half. It was little wonder that Aaron Rodgers was sacked eight times in the first 30 minutes (although even that was a bit excessive).
Still, Cedric Benson and the Packers hope to do what every other opponent has done to Curtis Lofton and the Saints, who have allowed 153, 219 and 273 yards rushing, respectively, in losses to Washington, Carolina and Kansas City.
Washington Redskins Secondary vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Mike Williams
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Entering the season, it appeared that if Mike Shanahan could solidify his quarterback position, then the Redskins could be a player in the NFC East with an assist from an emerging defensive unit.
But who’s assisting who these days? The Redskins have scored an NFL-high 33.0 points per game to date, yet sport but a 1-2 record and have lost two straight games to the Rams and Bengals since stunning the Saints at the Superdome in Week 1. That’s because Shanahan’s club has given up at least 31 points in each game this season, with a total of 101 points in 2012.
While the recent losses of defensive end Adam Carriker and outside linebacker Brian Orakpo haven’t helped, giving up touchdown passes has been a season-long issue, as Washington defenders have surrendered 10 scores through the air this season.
Enter Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson, who figure to see plenty of passes their way. And while the latter actually leads the team in receptions, look for the former to have the bigger day this Sunday.
New York Giants RDE Jason Pierre-Paul vs. Philadelphia Eagles LDE Jason Babin
It's probably only a matter of time before this pair of NFC beasts start piling up big numbers, as was the case last season.
The Birds tied for the NFL lead with 50 sacks a year ago, and 18.0 of those came from Jason Babin. Meanwhile, Jason Pierre-Paul (16.5) had a tad over one-third of the Giants’ 48 sacks, tied for the third-most in the league in 2011.
The Pro Bowl tandem is off to a modest start. In three games apiece, Babin (2.5) and Pierre-Paul (1.5) have combined for four sacks.
While the Giants have allowed only five sacks in three games, Eagles quarterback Michael Vick has already been sacked nine times this season. It appears that Demetress Bell will get the start at left tackle for Philadelphia for the second straight week, and he could get rung up early and often by Pierre-Paul.
Chicago Bears RT Gabe Carimi vs. Dallas Cowboys LOLB Anthony Spencer
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While one of the Monday night spotlights will certainly be on sack master DeMarcus Ware, we’ll be focusing on the other side of the Cowboys defense.
Ware has not only been one of the game’s premier pass-rushers, he’s been the main man in that regard when it comes to his team. And the Pokes are still looking for a consistent complement to the perennial Pro Bowler, who had 19.5 of Dallas’ 42 sacks last season and has four of the club’s seven sacks to date in 2012.
Last season, Spencer was a distant second on the Cowboys with a half-dozen sacks. This year, he has just two sacks, both coming in the Week 2 loss at Seattle.
Given the Bears’ spotty pass protection, there will be extra emphasis on confining Ware, which may enable Anthony Spencer to make a name for himself in prime time against another former first-rounder in Gabe Carimi.