What to Watch for in NFL Week 4
With plenty of entertaining options to choose from during this week's slate of NFL action, this slideshow offers a glimpse at some of the juiciest matchups from around the league.
As football fans, we’re forced to sit and wait around for months until football season arrives. Well once it finally gets here, it seems to fly by faster than LeSean McCoy racing down the sidelines for a touchdown. Believe it or not, after this week, most teams will officially be one quarter of the way through an entire NFL season.
Considering the speed in which things are moving, it’s important we try to soak up as much of the excitement as we possibly can. Hopefully this slideshow helps with that.
A Third Rookie QB Makes His 1st NFL Start
Week 4 will offer up an exciting opportunity for draft enthusiasts to watch yet another rookie quarterback take a crack at the NFL.
Mike Glennon was drafted in the third round of the 2013 draft ahead of USC’s Matt Barkley, Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib and Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson.
One problem Glennon shouldn’t have against the Arizona Cardinals defense will be tipped passes at the line of scrimmage. The rookie signal-caller is 6’6” and possesses a strong arm even by NFL standards.
The big worry with Glennon comes in his lack of poise while under duress. When the pocket is less than perfect, Glennon has a strong tendency to make erratic decisions. This often leads to incomplete passes or worse, interceptions.
During his senior year at North Carolina State, Glennon completed only 58.5 percent of his passes while throwing 17 interceptions. That type of production at the collegiate level is far from impressive and not what you want from a guy who’s apparently set to start for the remainder of the season. NFL throwing windows are significantly smaller, and decisions have to be made at rapid speeds.
Expect the learning curve to be great for this lanky signal-caller—though it’ll be hard to do worse than the 45.7 percent completion rate Josh Freeman had after three games.
Battle of the Unbeatens
Heading into the fourth game of the season, few people could have predicted the showdown between the Miami Dolphins and the New Orleans Saints on Monday night would be a battle of unbeaten teams.
Give the new defensive coordinator for the Saints, Rob Ryan, a lot of credit for the job he’s done so far in turning the worst-ranked defense in the league a year ago into the fourth-best unit through three games. The Saints are currently allowing only 12.7 points per game to opposing offenses, which ranks fifth-best in the NFL.
For the Dolphins, Ryan Tannehill is quietly emerging as one of the best young quarterbacks in the league after being an afterthought to the likes of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. But this week, he may have to win in a shootout against one of the best to play the game, Drew Brees.
One of the keys in this matchup for the Dolphins will be controlling the time of possession to keep Brees on the sideline. In order to do this, Lamar Miller will need to be effective, and the Fins must feed him the ball. This should open up big plays in the passing game for Mike Wallace while simultaneously eating time off the clock.
On defense, they must slow down one of the biggest matchup nightmares in the league in Jimmy Graham. He enters the game with 358 yards receiving and four touchdowns already.
As for the Saints, they need to take advantage of the questionable pass protection in Miami—especially considering Tannehill has been sacked more than any other quarterback in the league—albeit many of those sacks came from Tannehill holding on to the ball too long.
Kyle Long vs. Suh and Fairley
The Chicago Bears’ first-round draft pick Kyle Long's impressive performance in the preseason suddenly put the son of Hall of Famer Howie Long on the national radar heading into the regular season.
Since then, Long has been, arguably, the most dominating rookie offensive lineman in 2013, despite half of the top-10 picks in the draft being comprised of offensive lineman.
This Sunday, Long will face the biggest challenge of his brief career, as he goes up against the dominating interior line of the Detroit Lions. Long did see action against Geno Atkins when the Bears played against the Cincinnati Bengals earlier in the season. Atkins is, perhaps, the single-most dominating defensive tackle in the NFL and was held to a quiet day that week.
This week’s challenge should be even tougher considering he’ll be facing both Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley for a full 60 minutes.
If Long finds a way to hold his own against this intimidating defensive line, we might as well start seriously considering this guy for Offensive Rookie of the Year regardless of the fact that an offensive lineman has never won the award. Could this finally be the year this happens? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t deserving of the recognition.
Can Brian Hoyer Extend His Starting Role for Another Week?
While Brandon Weeden continues to nurse a sore thumb for the second straight week, backup quarterback Brian Hoyer will look to lead the Cleveland Browns to their second win of the season against their in-state rival, the Cincinnati Bengals.
Hoyer was able to pull off a shocking win against the Minnesota Vikings in his first appearance of the season just a week ago. If he can continue to add to the win column, it will be hard for head coach Rob Chudzinski to replace him with the disappointing incumbent, Weeden.
Weeden has a passer rating of 62.0, so far this season, while throwing only one touchdown and three interceptions. Hoyer has thrown three touchdown passes in only half the amount of reps. One thing he will need to do better is take care of the ball and avoid turnovers.
Sunday’s battle should be a nice test for Hoyer, as he and the Browns face a Bengals defense ranked ninth in the league for opposing passer rating (75.7).
One element in particular to watch for is how well Hoyer responds to Cincy’s talented group of pass-rushers.
Youth Against Youth
A lot of people are going to be "jacked" to watch two elite quarterbacks face off Sunday night, as Tom Brady and Matt Ryan go head-to-head. That alone makes this a highly anticipated matchup.
As for me, I’ll be more interested in the intriguing battle of youngsters that’ll go down between the New England Patriots receivers and the Atlanta Falcons young defenders.
On one end, the Patriots have been desperately trying to generate offense through the air with four rookies seeing significant playing time. The results have been up and down after three games. This inexperienced group comprised of wide receivers Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce, along with tight end Zach Sudfeld, have somehow found a way to generate enough plays to get the win.
Meanwhile, the Falcons will be relying heavily on four rookies themselves. Cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have done a nice job so far.
Linebacker Paul Worrilow has been a solid contributor when called upon, while one of the biggest surprises of the year has been the play of the undrafted rookie out of Texas State University, Joplo Bartu, who has earned a role as a starter on this defense.
On Sunday night in Atlanta, prepare yourself for the clash of the rookie receivers vs. the rookie defenders.
The winner of this game could be determined by which team's rookies play better. Can second-round pick Dobson beat confident first-rounder Trufant consistently as the game unfolds?
How will Robert Alford handle the short passing attack from Brady?
Interestingly enough, both Bartu and Thompkins went undrafted, yet each has been the most impressive rookie on his team.
Can Rivers Stay Hot Against the Cowboys Cover 2 Defense?
When Dallas owner Jerry Jones and head coach Jason Garrett decided to bring in Monte Kiffin as their new defensive coordinator, they were doing it with the impression that Kiffin’s Cover 2 defense would allow the players to move faster by thinking less and just reacting to what they see. This helps generate a high volume of turnovers, as evidenced by the Chicago Bears’ own version of the defense over the years.
On the other side the ball, Philip Rivers and head coach Mike McCoy will look to continue their offensive success so far this season. McCoy's system has already paid dividends for Rivers. He has amassed eight touchdowns to only a one interception.
This is a stark contrast from last season where Rivers threw 15 interceptions.
Will we continue to see this much-improved version of Rivers for the remainder of the season, or will the Rivers of the last two seasons reemerge once again against Dallas?
It’s hard not to be impressed by the way Rivers has played this season, given his limited options at the receiver position due to injuries. There is still reluctance, however, to fully buy into Rivers being one of the league’s best quarterbacks. Come Sunday, we will be given a great opportunity to find out whether or not this guy truly belongs.
The Unstoppable Force Meets the Immovable Object
It’s always fun to watch two top-ranked units face off in a head-to-head matchup to see which of the two is really the most dominant.
Though the Philadelphia Eagles are only 1-2 this season, they have still managed to cause quite a stir so far under new head coach Chip Kelly. His high-octane offense is currently ranked first in the league in rushing yards, as they head to Mile High to face the Denver Broncos.
When the awe-inspiring Peyton Manning is on the sidelines, take advantage of this rare opportunity to see the best take on the best. The Broncos just so happen to be the top-ranked run defense in the NFL, allowing only 43.3 yards per game on the ground. Meanwhile, the Eagles, led by LeSean McCoy, are averaging a league-best 209 yards per game on the ground.
Can Philly keep up this ferocious pace on offense while avoiding the costly turnovers that plagued them in last week’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs?
Will Denver hold strong for 60 minutes against the onslaught of speed, deception and inevitable fatigue that comes with facing the Eagles?
For Mike Vick and Co. to thrive on offense, they must continue to spread the defense out through a variety of formations and alignments. This naturally opens up huge lanes for the speedy McCoy to exploit.
Vick himself will also need to be involved in the running game in order to prevent the Broncos from keying in on "Shady" exclusively. After all, with all the attention No. 25 garners on every play, they must be able to take advantage of the opportunities given to them with designed runs from the quarterback.
Denver, on the other hand, needs to find a way to make adjustments on the fly to prevent being out of position during a high-tempo series from the Eagles offense. On average, the Denver defense will have a mere 16 seconds to line up properly and get all 11 players on the same page. Many of the big-play moments from Chip Kelly teams come when defenses are caught out of position.
The second thing Denver will need is exceptional open-field tacklers. There's no avoiding the fact that the Eagles will be able to get their talented playmakers out in space. If the Broncos fail to wrap up the ball-carrier, we could be looking at over 70 combined points scored in this game.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player and current Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.