What to Watch for in NFL Week 5
The first quarter of the NFL season certainly flew by with a flurry. With a record-breaking month now in the books, we look ahead to some awesome matchups and intriguing storylines throughout the first week of October. This is the time when the weather cools and teams get hot as they begin to separate from the pack.
It’s officially fall football, baby!
This is your weekly list of football news to pay attention to while enjoying an exciting slate of NFL action.
The Return of Justin Blackmon
Second-year wide receiver Justin Blackmon couldn’t return fast enough from his four-game suspension to help turn around the winless Jaguars and the worst offense in the NFL.
Blackmon was allowed to participate in meetings throughout his suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy but wasn’t allowed to practice. His return should give Jacksonville’s anemic offense a much-needed shot in the arm as the Jaguars face a struggling St. Louis Rams squad.
Last season he racked up 865 yards receiving with five touchdown catches as a rookie. And he did it with Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert as his quarterbacks.
There’s no doubt Gabbert, who is the current starter, would love to have one of his favorite targets back as he looks to salvage what’s left of a quickly fading career as an NFL quarterback.
If Blackmon can’t help save the season for all the fans in Jacksonville, at least he has the potential to save a few fantasy teams out there. For those of you who have patiently stashed this talent away on your bench, it’s finally time to dust him off and let him rack up some points.
Don’t be surprised if the Jaguars start him this weekend as they look to capture their first victory of the season.
Andrew Luck vs. Russell Wilson
For all those interested in witnessing a head-to-head showdown between two of the best young quarterbacks in the league, this is the game to watch.
There’s been much debate around the league about which of these two sophomore quarterbacks is actually better. Come Sunday, we get to see if Russell Wilson will have more success against the Colts defense than Colin Kaepernick was able to have. The difference here is that Wilson will be traveling to Indianapolis, while Kaepernick got to face the Colts on his own turf.
On the other side of the ball, Andrew Luck will be facing off against one of the most formidable secondaries in the NFL, led by Richard Sherman. Finding open receivers is bound to be a challenge all game long. Look for him to rely on his underestimated athleticism to open up holes in coverage and keep the chains moving.
Both Luck and Wilson are quarterbacks who tend to thrive when their backs are against the wall. It should be captivating to watch which guy fights harder for the victory on Sunday.
With these two, the quarterback with the better box score might not end up with the “W” at the end of the day.
Eugene Monroe Traded to Baltimore
With an offensive line that’s struggling as much as the Baltimore Ravens, it made sense for them to execute one of the most surprising trades of the season. So far, the Ravens offense is averaging only 2.6 yards per carry and is the 11th-worst team in quarterback hits allowed.
Earlier in the week the Jacksonville Jaguars sent their starting left tackle, Eugene Monroe, packing to Baltimore in exchange for a fourth- and fifth-round selection in the 2014 draft.
It should be interesting to see if Monroe starts on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins or if he is worked into the offense slowly. The move does put the incumbent starter at the position, Bryant McKinnie, on notice, as he may be playing in his last game as the starter this week.
Keep an eye on who starts against the Miami and if Monroe sees any action at all.
Should Monroe actually play after only a few days of learning the offense, it would be fascinating to observe how well he’s able to communicate with his fellow offensive linemen.
Audibles and blitz pickups are generally things which require time in order for a player to get truly comfortable. With that in mind, look for the Dolphins defense to try and exploit Monroe with stunts and blitzes to his side if the Ravens decide to play him.
Strong Teams with Struggling QBs
On Sunday Night, the Houston Texans (2-2) head to San Francisco to face the 49ers (2-2). Both teams are laden with talent on both sides of the ball yet share a commonality they’d prefer wasn’t the case.
Quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Matt Schaub have each faced a litany of harsh criticism this season by their fanbases for substandard play at critical times—which has indeed led to some early-season struggles. There’s no doubt the losing quarterback from this game will have to shy away from grocery stores and restaurants for at least the entire week.
This is a big game for both teams who are looking to find their groove heading into the second quarter of the season. Starting the season with a 2-3 record was nowhere near an expectation for either organization, yet this will sadly be the reality of one unlucky team.
To make things more interesting, both pass defenses are ranked in the top three in the league, which should made for some tough sailing in that department.
In any case, you can be sure both quarterbacks understand that losing this matchup in front of a national audience will likely set off a firestorm of doubt from across the country. So get ready for a hard-fought game against two talented defenses with a lot on the line for each of the two starting quarterbacks.
Watch out for Donald Stephenson of the Chiefs
Last week against the New York Giants, first-overall pick Eric Fisher suffered a concussion causing him to miss the second half of the game. He has not practiced all week and has been ruled out of the game on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.
Fisher will be replaced by second-year tackle Donald Stephenson, who was probably the most athletic offensive lineman to come out of the draft a year ago. Stephenson was raw as a rookie in 2012 but now has the added experience of some NFL starts under his belt and a year in the Chiefs weight program.
This kid has one of the highest ceilings of any of the young left tackles in the NFL today. Keep an eye on how he performs against the Titans while filling in for the first-overall draft pick. Given the way Fisher has been playing so far, don’t expect too much of a drop-off from his talented replacement.
Who’s in and Who’s out in New England?
The New England Patriots have been trying to live by the “next man up” credo for the last four weeks now. Unfortunately, just as they start to get some guys healthy enough to possibly return to action, they suffer yet another series of setbacks.
Starting running back Stevan Ridley will miss the Bengals game this Sunday with a knee injury. With both Ridley and Shane Vereen out of commission, the Patriots will likely turn to LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden to step up in their absence. Although, Bolden is also listed as questionable against the Bengals as he deals with his own knee issues.
Meanwhile, the receiver position continues to get decimated with injuries—the latest victim being rookie Aaron Dobson, who left the game last week with a gruesome neck injury. He’s currently listed as questionable, but it would take a miracle for him to play this week. Fellow rookie and starting wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins is also listed as questionable with a shoulder injury he sustained against the Falcons.
In response to the injuries, the Patriots brought in veteran wideout Austin Collie to provide Tom Brady with some warm bodies to get the ball to.
Danny Amendola had been nursing a groin injury for the past few weeks and could make a much-needed appearance against the Bengals. He has seen limited practice this week and is officially listed as questionable.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski is another favorite target of Tom Brady who has been missing in action. He’s currently listed as questionable as well and is less likely than Amendola to play this week.
In addition, the defensive side of the ball is banged up. Starting nose guard Vince Wilfork has been placed on injured reserve this week after tearing his Achilles in the Atlanta game.
With all the injuries mounting for the Patriots, it should be interesting to see how they respond on the road against a talented Bengals team who have made the playoffs two years in a row.
It might be wise to get your program out for this one, as there are sure to be several moments throughout where you have no idea who a particular player is.
Can Dallas Force Peyton Manning’s 1st Interception?
There really is no stopping Peyton Manning—the best you can hope for is to slow him down.
I suppose the real question is whether or not Monte Kiffin’s Tampa 2 defense will be able to force the first interception for Peyton Manning all season long? His only turnover so far was a lost fumble.
Manning is coming off perhaps the best month of quarterback play in NFL history, leading the league in passing yards (1,470), yards per attempt (9.4) and touchdown passes (16) to go along with no interceptions.
Once you wrap your head around those numbers, you start to have a small inkling of what the Cowboys defense is up against. Let me remind you, this is a defense that gave up 30 points to the Chargers a week ago and 31 points to the lowly Giants in the first game of the season.
In response to their most recent loss, the Cowboys have benched their former sixth overall pick from a year ago in Morris Claiborne. He will be replaced by veteran cornerback Orlando Scandrick.
Claiborne was a guy the Cowboys liked so much that they traded a first- and second-round pick to move up eight spots just to acquire him. It seems ominous that his demotion comes against the most prolific passing attack in the NFL.
The Cowboys defense has being formatted this year to emphasis both hustle and turnovers. Outside of Week 1, the Cowboys have disappointed in generating both interceptions and forced fumbles. Come Sunday, this trend must change if they hope to grab a much-needed win over Peyton Manning and the red-hot Denver Broncos.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player and current Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report