What to Watch For in NFL Week 14
The storylines are aplenty heading into Week 14 of the NFL season.
Two of the best rookie quarterbacks go head-to-head.
Peyton Manning gets a chance to prove his critics wrong by winning in cold weather.
Two NFC West juggernauts face off in a rematch with a lot on the line.
And finally, find out what Brandon Marshall had to say about the cornerback assigned to shut him down...
Will Peyton Manning Have Success Through the Air?
As we’ve all been reminded of incessantly this season, Peyton Manning can sling a football with the type of efficiency that NASA employs. But what about when the temperature drops and those fingers can barely feel the grip of the football?
The forecasted weather in Denver by kickoff on Sunday is supposed to be around 16 degrees. I’ve been in this type of weather during a Green Bay matchup while playing with the Jets. The best word to describe it—miserable. Everything hurts when it’s this cold. I even remember my teeth being cold.
This tends to be Manning’s kryptonite.
According to USA Today's Lindsay H. Jones:
Manning's teams, dating to 1998 in Indianapolis, are 8-13 in games in which kickoff temperature was below 40 degrees—a winning percentage of .380, well below Manning's career win percentage of .675. The record is even worse, 1-8, in games below 30 degrees, including the recent Baltimore and New England losses—both in overtime.
However, Manning insists he doesn't play any differently when the temperature drops.
If those concerns are merely perceived as media-contrived, then at least consider the Broncos' Week 14 opponent. I know what you’re thinking—the Tennessee Titans are a marginal team led by Ryan Fitzpatrick. How much of a threat could they really be?
A real threat, actually. Don’t get me wrong here, I won't be throwing down any cash on a Titans upset, but for those thinking blowout—I would encourage you to read on.
The Titans defense has only allowed eight touchdown passes all season. That impressive statistic makes it No. 1 in the league in that category. So if Manning is able to remain unaffected by the frigid temperature, he still needs to find a way to penetrate a very capable secondary that includes one of the hottest cornerbacks in the NFL. Alterraun Verner has made a convincing case to be the latest addition to the list of elite corners in the league. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Verner has the lowest passer rating (30.2) against opposing quarterbacks among all CBs in the NFL.
A bit of good news for the Broncos, however, is that dynamic tight end Julius Thomas is listed as probable for Sunday’s game. This addition into the lineup could be the X-factor that gets Denver’s passing game off the tarmac.
Josh Gordon Seeking 200 Yards Receiving for the Third Week in a Row
The New England Patriots are allowing 224 yards passing per game. That’s all well and good until you consider Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon is averaging a whopping 249 receiving yards over the last two games. What’s more is that he has been doing this with Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell throwing him the ball.
This week Weeden is out with a concussion and will be replaced by Campbell, who is recovering from his own concussion issues.
The game plan for both teams should be well defined here. For Cleveland—throw the darn ball up to Josh Gordon whenever possible. As for the Patriots—do whatever you can to stop Gordon from catching it.
There really isn’t much to worry about with the Browns offense outside of Gordon. Tight end Jordan Cameron provides Cleveland with somewhat of an alternative target, especially in the red zone. But he has cooled off significantly after a hot start to the season.
The outcome of this game may not be marred in suspense, but at least we have a chance to watch a very special young player make history with three consecutive 200-yard receiving performances. He already made history last week by becoming the first ever in the NFL to do it in consecutive weeks.
SF Troubles on the Offensive Line
So, apparently the latest regarding left tackle Joe Staley and his sprained knee is that he will be a game-time decision. Officially, he’s listed as questionable as of Friday’s injury report. But according to Staley, per Andrew Pentis of 49ers.com, he sees no reason why he won’t be able to play through a sprain:
"Shoot, it was just a sprain, might as well tape it up. I can play through sprains. It still hurts. I'm not saying it doesn't hurt," Staley said. "It's stiff, but it's something I can play through."
Fellow offensive lineman Mike Iupati’s status is not as optimistic. He is pretty much a sure thing to miss the big rematch against the current NFC No. 1 seed Seattle Seahawks.
Iupati is one of the best at finishing blocks in the league and leads the way in setting a physical tone upfront. His presence will be sorely missed as the 49ers prepare to face their most important game of the season.
The Seahawks are loaded on the defensive line, which is a cause for concern considering the current state of the 49ers offensive line. The effects of this could have repercussions in all phases of the offense. Lately, their run game has been abysmal. Frank Gore hasn’t had a 100-yard rushing game since Week 6 against the Cardinals. Over the last three games, Gore has averaged only 2.9 yards per carry.
Something has to give if they hope to be victorious against the team with the best record in the NFL.
If there is a bright side for the 49ers in this matchup, at least both they and Seattle have been recently depleted in units that are widely considered team strengths...
Seattle’s Thinned Out in the Secondary
As the Seahawks prepare to face their most hated rival, they must do so without two of their top three cornerbacks. Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond will both be absent from this contest just as they were the week before when they shut down Drew Brees like few defenses ever have.
I wrote about this in last week’s segment of “What to Watch For” and got my prediction that Brees would dominate completely wrong.
I suppose the question now becomes whether the Saints game was an anomaly for the Seahawks defensive backs or are they capable of replicating this type of success on a weekly basis.
That's some familiarity there with Kaepernick. Those guys had a great rapport last year and made a lot of big plays down the stretch in some big games. That's a big-time weapon for them, a big-time guy he's used to, so it's a big addition for them.
Kaepernick has struggled passing the ball this season and is 0-2 against the Seahawks since taking over for Alex Smith as the starter. The last time he faced this secondary, he completed 46 percent of his passes for 127 yards and three interceptions. Considering his arsenal of weapons has increased while Seattle’s has decreased, it should be interesting to see if the outcome is significantly altered.
Another factor worth considering is that this game will be played in Candlestick Park. That means the 49ers offense will actually be able to audible and make adjustments at the line.
Stevie Johnson Looks to Continue His Success over Revis
We all know how good Darrelle Revis has been over the years. There’s a reason he is known as Revis Island. The name refers to the theory that you can leave him completely alone without help, and he will single-handedly shut down the opponent’s best receiver.
Though this theory has mostly stood up over time, there still remains one kink in its universal application.
Since 2008, Darrelle Revis has allowed a 91.5 QB rating vs. Stevie Johnson and a 46.9 rating against every other wide receiver during that same span of time according to Pete Damilatis of PFF.
Speaking of PFF (subscription required), Revis currently has the highest grade of any cornerback in the NFL.
The last time Revis faced Buffalo was in Week 1 of last year. He only allowed two receptions for 14 yards all day. He also had a pass deflection and an interception. Since Week 8 of 2010, Revis has only allowed three touchdown passes to be caught on him. Two of those touchdowns came this year while he continues to rehab from a knee injury while the only other touchdown came against Mr. Johnson himself.
Johnson’s production has been slowed down this season due in part to instability at the quarterback position. He has only eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark one time in 2013 and has a total of three touchdowns.
Nonetheless, this should be an intriguing matchup to keep an eye on.
One of the other interesting storylines to keep an eye on will be the two guys tossing the rock in this game…
The Clash of the Rookie QBs
According to Bleacher Report’s updated QB Power Rankings, EJ Manuel is ranked 27th among all current starting quarterbacks in the NFL while Mike Glennon is an impressive 23rd on the list. This makes Glennon the highest-ranked rookie on the list.
While EJ was the first quarterback taken in the draft last April and the only one picked in the first round, Glennon had to wait out 57 selections after Manuel before hearing his name called.
So which rookie QB would you rather have on your team?
Both of these youngsters have flashed promise while also reminding us they're still just rookies. Yet overall, each of these guys has done an incredible job preventing turnovers.
Manuel has thrown for nine touchdowns and only four interceptions while Glennon has racked up 13 touchdowns to five picks.
When it comes to fumbling, Glennon has lost three fumbles while Manuel has lost two to the opposing team.
Glennon seems to hold the edge in performance from the pocket while Manuel has been much more dynamic as a run threat. Manuel has accumulated 120 yards on the ground with one rushing touchdown. Glennon has only managed 34 yards with his legs and has yet to cross the goal line with the ball in his hand.
This game could be very telling with regard to who the best rookie quarterback of 2013 is.
Brandon vs. Brandon
Brandon Marshall was incredibly candid in an interview with The Dallas Morning News's about the Chicago Bears' upcoming Monday night matchup with the Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys' talented cornerback Brandon Carr should be assigned with the task of shadowing Brandon Marshall around most of the game. Apparently Marshall is none too thrilled about facing Carr:
I don’t like playing against Brandon Carr. He presents a lot of tough challenges throughout a game. You’ll notice he changes up his game when he plays against bigger receivers. He’s strong. He’s physical. He plays that way against guys like myself. I absolutely hate the matchup. It’s like playing chess out there with him. Every single play is a battle. He just makes you work so hard.
It’s hard to tell at this point whether or not Marshall is engaging in some odd form of psychological warfare, but it has certainly made their matchup a must-watch one.
Another element that should add to the challenge for Carr is that he may be asked to shut down Marshall without any additional help. Alshon Jeffery has been opening a lot of defensive coordinators' eyes this season, which should change the way defenses play these receivers.
"Teams now have to play fair," Marshall said. "He's starting to put on tape and show the NFL that the Bears have two wide receivers that can dominate, so if you want to double me or roll coverage, Alshon is going to be on the other side, licking his chops and taking advantage of each opportunity."
Carr has allowed two touchdowns all season while picking off three passes, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Marshall has nine touchdown receptions and 990 yards receiving.
The winner of this matchup could go a long way to determining the game’s victor.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player and currently writes for Bleacher Report
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