What to Watch for in NFL Week 10
For some, it may be hard to focus on the actual game of football this week with so many subplots and soap operas going on. But for those who can manage through all of that noise, there are some incredibly juicy player matchups along with several exciting powers set for a Week 10 crash.
Can the Miami Dolphins fend off the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers amidst the national media circus?
Will the Houston Texans look like the same offense without head coach Gary Kubiak calling the plays?
Find out the answers to these questions and much more with my weekly rundown of what to watch for in the NFL.
How Will Miami Respond Amidst the Distractions?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably aware of what has been going on down in Miami. The circus which is the national media has officially arrived, and it seems to be setting up camp for the remainder of the season.
On the football side of things, the Dolphins still have to actually prepare to play a football game on Monday night; that is, if a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers qualifies as NFL football. I think so.
Remember, the Bucs have yet to win a game this year and seem to be on the verge of an all-out mutiny against their tyrant of a head coach, Greg Schiano, rather than piecing together a sound and effective game plan.
But if there was ever a week in which the Buccaneers could maximize their opportunity to beat the Miami Dolphins, that week would be now.
Not only are the Dolphins left to contend with distractions unlike anything anyone on that team has ever experienced, but they must do it without two starting offensive linemen, Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito.
Martin is taking time away from football at the moment to deal with emotional distress in what he claims is an unsafe working environment. Incognito, on the other hand, has been suspended by the team indefinitely for allegedly contributing to such a hazardous environment.
When you put your fingers in your ears and drown out all the noise, you’re left with a very interesting question regarding Miami: Who is going to be blocking for Ryan Tannehill?
On the ends you have two veterans in Bryant McKinnie and Tyson Clabo.
Clabo has struggled mightily this year, giving up a team high in both QB hurries (19) and QB sacks (eight).
Miami acquired McKinnie from the Ravens in late October for a conditional late-round draft selection.
On the inside, Nate Garner and John Jerry will flank center Mike Pouncey on each side. Garner is an experienced veteran who has some starting experience but has only played in 53 snaps this season.
Jerry is the regularly scheduled starter and has done a decent job thus far.
As a whole, the Dolphins have looked exceptionally weak up front, allowing defenses to get to Tannehill significantly more than he’d like. In fact, he has been sacked a league-high 35 times this year.
If things were that bad while they still had two viable starters, we may be in for a protection meltdown of Cardinal-like proportions.
It should be interesting to see if the Dolphins can block against Tampa Bay’s defense and if the team is able to focus amidst the chaos.
Drew Brees vs. Tony Romo
Drew Brees should be licking his chops this week knowing he gets to face one of the worst passing defenses in the NFL. Dallas is ranked 31st in passing yards allowed per game (305.2), while the Saints happen to be the third-best passing offense in the league (317.6).
If a team is going to stop, or even slow down, Brees’ high-powered offense, it'll at least need some talent on that side of the ball. Aside from a handful of guys, this defense has not been playing the way owner Jerry Jones had hoped back when he fired then-defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Ironically, Ryan will be on the opposite sideline as the coordinator for the Saints defense.
It must sting for Jones to watch his former coordinator take a ragtag group of castoffs that went down as the worst defense in the history of the NFL and turn them into a team strength in less than a year.
Tony Romo has been playing clutch football as of late and should be able to turn this game into a proper shootout.
In the end, look for the Saints to play this game with more passion and effort than the Cowboys. Nevertheless, these are two top-notch quarterbacks who should put on an exciting show for us.
Richard Sherman vs. Roddy White
That alone sets the stage for what should be a fantastic battle between two of the best in the business.
The results were somewhat mixed the last time these two met during the divisional round of the NFC playoffs one year ago.
Sherman did a nice job shutting down White for most of the game despite numerous attempts from Matt Ryan to connect with his No. 1 receiver. It seemed as though Ryan was convinced White would be able to get the best of Sherman, yet time after time the lanky Seahawks defender held his own and prevented the catch.
However, White was able to take advantage of a rare opportunity and get behind Sherman, who appeared to stumble on the play, allowing the receiver to make a relatively uncontested over-the-shoulder snag for a game-changing 47-yard touchdown.
The Falcons went on to win that game, but the true winner of that matchup remains unclear.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), White was one of only three players to score a touchdown on Sherman during the entire 2012 season, including the playoffs. With that said, the edge in this intriguing matchup is yet to be determined. It’s only fitting that Round 2 of this slugfest will commence this Sunday in Atlanta.
White has been bothered by injuries all year but expects to be ready for this heated matchup.
He and Sherman have each attempted to downplay the other’s talents through various interviews.
Who Is the Real Nick Foles?
Trying to project what type of quarterback Nick Foles can be in this league is more difficult than playing the lotto with his limited sample size. Lucky for us, Matt Miller provides his take on the subject.
Foles' performances have fluctuated so dramatically from one game to the next that it has even kept head coach Chip Kelly from committing to Foles despite his record-tying seven touchdown passes a week ago.
In the 11 career games in which he’s thrown at least 10 passes, Foles has completed less than 50 percent of his passes on three occasions. Conversely, he’s completed more than 70 percent of his passes on three outings.
One element that has been consistent regarding his output through the Chip Kelly era is the avoidance of turnovers. Foles has yet to throw a single pick this season to go with his 13 touchdown passes.
Foles’ worst performance this season came in the 17-3 loss to the Cowboys, where he completed only 37.9 percent of his passes. One of the more troubling components here is that the Cowboys defense currently ranks 31st in the league in passing yards per game. How could an inept passing defense such as theirs cause so much trouble for Nick Foles?
Eagles fans hope Foles retains some of last week's form against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
Cam Newton vs. Colin Kaepernick
There are indeed several elements of intrigue for this heavyweight collision, but perhaps none more enticing than watching two of the most physically gifted quarterbacks in the world go face-to-face.
Colin Kaepernick might have been drafted 35 spots after the first overall pick, Cam Newton, in 2011, but his success on the field has generated a worthwhile debate regarding which of these two dual-threat quarterbacks is really better. Up until now, they have never played against each other on any level of competition.
Both teams are red-hot and playing impressive football; Carolina has won its last four games, while San Francisco has won its last five. The 49ers have gone back to their physical, run-first roots and, in doing so, managed to win games with minimal production from their wide receivers.
Despite the lack of success through the air, Kaepernick has played efficiently over the last two weeks with back-to-back Total QBR scores in the 90s.
The Carolina Panthers have been floating on a sea of success in winning five of their last six contests. Most of those victories can be attributed to Cam Newton, who has willed his talent-deficient offense to victories with greatly improved accuracy from inside the pocket.
A critical element to this game that shouldn’t go unnoticed, as it may be the real key to who comes out on top, is the 49ers’ powerful, top-ranked running game (153 yards per game) facing the second-best defense in that category (79.1).
Which quarterback can keep the positive momentum going for his team and come out on top?
Will the unstoppable force sway the immovable object this Sunday?
How Will Houston’s Offense Flow Without Gary Kubiak Calling the Shots?
In Week 10 we’re faced with a unique situation where two NFL head coaches will be absent from their respective teams due to health concerns.
Both Gary Kubiak and John Fox will have to watch their teams compete this week from unfamiliar vantage points, to say the least. Kubiak suffered a “mini-stroke” just before halftime of last week’s game, while Fox had to undergo heart surgery.
In any case, the Houston Texans offense should be interesting to watch, not only due to young signal-caller Case Keenum under center, but also with Kubiak not calling plays this week. Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison will assume those duties.
Having studied a good number of Houston’s games this year while Kubiak called the plays, I know I’ll personally be watching closely to see if the Texans look any different on offense, for better or for worse.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player and currently covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.