NFL Week 2: Key Player Matchups

Matt Eurich@@MattEurichAnalyst ISeptember 16, 2011

NFL Week 2: Key Player Matchups

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    Week 1 of the NFL season saw many great matchups: Packers vs. Saints, Jets vs. Cowboys and Bears vs. Falcons, but what about the key player matchups? 

    Each week there are matchups pitting two great players against each other, whether it be an offensive lineman versus a defensive lineman, or a quarterback versus a middle linebacker—each game offers its own interesting matchup.

    Here is my breakdown of Week 2's best player matchups. 

Oakland Raiders vs. Buffalo Bills

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    Darren McFadden vs. Kyle Williams

    In the Raiders' Week 1 opener against the Denver Broncos, running back Darren McFadden rushed for 150 yards on 22 carries, but collected no touchdowns.

    In order for the Raiders to be successful, they have to continue feeding McFadden the ball, and the Buffalo Bills know that. 

    Enter Kyle Williams.

    Williams has been playing the nose tackle position in the 3-4 scheme that Buffalo runs since his rookie year in 2006, and was named as a Pro Bowl alternate each of the last two seasons.

    If Buffalo stands a chance at stopping the Raiders' running game, Williams needs to be effective at filling the gap and stopping McFadden.

    Advantage:  Darren McFadden

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Detroit Lions

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    Brandon Flowers vs. Calvin Johnson

    Last week against the Buffalo Bills, Brandon Flowers spent much of his time on the field getting beat by a good quarterback and a good receiver (Ryan Fitzpatrick and Stevie Johnson), although he was able to pick off Fitzpatrick once.

    This week, however, Flowers will be facing an even bigger challenge, going up against one of the best wide receivers in the league, Calvin Johnson.  Last week against Tampa Bay, Johnson hauled in six catches for 88 yards and two touchdowns.

    The deciding factor in this matchup may be size.  Johnson stands at a staggering 6'5", while Flowers stands at a meager 5'9".  In order for Flowers to stand a chance against the bigger and stronger Johnson is stay stride for stride with him, as well as stay in front of the receiver on short, quick passes.

    Advantage:  Calvin Johnson

Baltimore Ravens vs. Tennessee Titans

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    Ray Lewis vs. Matt Hasselbeck

    Last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, 13-year veteran Matt Hasselbeck was able to put up over 250 yards passing, while throwing two touchdowns and one interception.  Hasselbeck, in his first season with the Titans, has found a new reliable target in Kenny Britt, who finished the game with five catches, 136 yards and both of Hasselbeck's touchdown throws.  But in Week 2, the pressure will be on Hasselbeck.

    During his 16 years in the league, Ray Lewis has become one of the most feared players in the history of the game.  Lewis' combination of speed and athleticism and unrelenting passion are second to none.  In the Ravens Week 1 matchup against the Steelers, Lewis had seven tackles and intercepted Ben Roethlisberger once.  Expect Lewis and Hasselbeck to play a cat-mouse game between each other, with Hasselbeck calling hot routes and audibles, and Lewis changing blitz packages and coverages. 

    Advantage: Ray Lewis

Cleveland Browns vs. Indianapolis Colts

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    Joe Thomas vs. Dwight Freeney

    In football, speed is the name of the game.  In order to disrupt a quarterback and take him out of the game, the defense needs to get pressure.  In order for the Colts to be successful against the Browns' offense, look for the matchup between Browns left tackle Joe Thomas and Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney.

    After being drafted as the third-overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, Thomas has helped solidify the left side of the Browns' offensive line.  Thomas relies on strength and good footwork to help block against quick defensive ends, like Dwight Freeney.

    The best way to describe Freeney's game in one word: fast.  Freeney uses a multitude of moves to get past a blocker, a straight up bull rush, a lean and cut move, and most famously, his spin move.  Freeney is one of the best in the game at using a spin move to get past the blocker and make a play on the quarterback.  If Thomas stands any chance at keeping quarterback Colt McCoy upright, he'll have to play quick and anticipate the moves that Freeney is going to attempt.  But given the indoor atmosphere and the quick field, Thomas looks to have his hands full.

    Advantage:  Dwight Freeney

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Minnesota Vikings

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    Josh Freeman vs. Donovan McNabb

    Although these two players do not match up against one another specifically, their similarities make it a matchup to watch.

    Both Freeman and McNabb were first-round draft choices, and although the fans in Philadelphia did not like the pick at first, McNabb was able to bring many winning seasons to Philly. 

    Many characteristics of both quarterbacks' games are the same.  Both have good arms and can be fleet of foot when needed. McNabb currently represents the aging quarterback, set in place to help groom his successor (Christian Ponder), while Freeman represents what McNabb once was, the face of a franchise and the potential to be great.

    In a game in which two teams are trying to get their first win of the season, look for Freeman to stay on the course and produce like he did last week against the Lions (259 yards, 1 touchdown), and for McNabb to improve on his 7-for-15, 39-yard game. But in the end, the young talent will prevail.

    Advantage:  Josh Freeman

Chicago Bears vs. New Orleans Saints

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    Brian Urlacher vs. Drew Brees

    It is still unknown whether or not Brian Urlacher will play this Sunday after the passing of his mother Monday, but all indications are that he will be in New Orleans to take on the Saints.

    Last week against the Falcons, Urlacher finished the game with 10 tackles, one interception, one fumble recovery and a touchdown. Not a bad way to start a season.

    Not to be outdone, Drew Brees in his season debut against the Super Bowl Champion Packers threw for more than 400 yards and three touchdowns.

    In all three matchups between Brees and Urlacher, Urlacher and his Bears have come out on top.  Urlacher has entered this season looking as young as he did when he first stepped foot on the field in 2000.

    Look for Urlacher to be constantly changing his calls in unison with Brees' changes at the line.  With the added emotions, look for Urlacher to put together another great game against Brees.

    Advantage:  Brian Urlacher

Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New York Jets

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    Rashean Mathis vs. Plaxico Burress

    Sunday at the Meadowlands saw Plaxico Burress taking his first snaps in an NFL regular-season game in nearly three years, as he finished the game with four catches for 72 yards—one of which was a crucial fourth-quarter touchdown.

    On Sunday when the Jets face the Jaguars, look for nine-year veteran Rashean Mathis to be matched up against the tall, lengthy Burress. Despite struggles with injuries in recent years, Mathis appears to be healthy and typically gets assigned to the bigger, stronger receivers like Burress.

    With a defense that gave up a lot of yards to Matt Hasselbeck and the Titans last week, look for quarterback Mark Sanchez and the Jets to target Burress more, as the Jaguars will likely key in on stopping the other Jets receiver, Santonio Holmes.

    Advantage:  Plaxico Burress

Seattle Seahawks vs Pittsburgh Steelers

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    David Hawthorne vs. Ben Roethlisberger

    Last week against a very good defense, Roethlisberger and the rest of the Steelers struggled to put up points.  Roethlisberger finished the game with over 250 yards passing, but only threw one touchdown to go along with his three interceptions.

    Although Hawthorne has missed some time this week in practice, as well as last week's opener, he is expected to be ready this Sunday to go up against the Steelers.  Hawthorne has taken over the role held by Lofa Tatupu in recent years, and when healthy, will be expected to be a major contributor on defense.

    In order for Roethlisberger to succeed, he needs to read the defense, and get rid of the ball quickly.  With an injured middle linebacker on the field, expect Roethlisberger to attempt to attack his area of the field, as well as get himself out of the pocket to try and push Hawthorne a certain direction, which could affect his sore knee. Expect Roethlisberger to bounce back from last week's poor showing, and find himself a rhythm against this Seahawks' defense.

    Advantage:  Ben Roethlisberger

Arizona Cardinals vs. Washington Redskins

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    Larry Fitzgerald vs. DeAngelo Hall

    Consistently hailed as the best receiver in the game, Larry Fitzgerald and his new quarterback Kevin Kolb never got on the same page in their opener against the Carolina Panthers.  Fitzgerald only caught three passes for a total of 62 yards.  Fitzgerald's combination of size, speed and strength makes him one of the most difficult receivers to cover in the NFL.

    DeAngelo Hall has had his share of ups and downs in the NFL, but when his game is on, he is one of the best cover corners in the league.  With three Pro Bowl appearances and the 2010 Pro Bowl MVP under his belt, he enters this matchup with confidence.

    Look for Kolb to continue targeting Fitzgerald in the passing game, relying on his big-play abilities and size advantage over Hall.

    Advantage:  Larry Fitzgerald

Green Bay Packers vs. Carolina Panthers

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    Aaron Rodgers vs. Cam Newton

    Aaron Rodgers is already being hailed as one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and after a strong first game (312 yards, three touchdowns), there is no doubt he deserves the attention.

    Being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft put plenty of pressure on Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton to succeed.  Many doubted his arm strength and accuracy, as well as his majority to adapt to the NFL game, but in his rookie debut against the Arizona Cardinals, Newton tied an NFL rookie record by passing for 422 yards. He also finished the game with two touchdowns.

    Although Rodgers and Newton do not match up directly against each other, given their performances of Week 1, it looks as if the quarterbacks could be in a dual to see who can show up the other.

    Despite playing at home, look for Rodgers' experience to outweigh Newton's new found NFL success.

    Advantage:  Aaron Rodgers

Dallas Cowboys vs. San Francisco 49ers

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    DeMarcus Ware vs. Joe Staley

    This past Sunday night against the New York Jets, DeMarcus Ware matched up against former Pro Bowl left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, and made him look like a rookie—giving up two sacks to the five-time Pro Bowler Ware.  Ware, a former defensive lineman in college, uses his incredibly long arms and quickness to work himself against bigger, stronger offensive lineman.

    Given the difficult task to protect 49ers quarterback Alex Smith from Ware is fifth-year veteran Joe Staley.  Staley, a former first-round pick, uses his big 6'5". 315-pound frame to stave off defenders.  Staley, who played tight end coming to college, still possess the quick feet and uses his hands well when trying to stop a defender.

    In a game in which the Cowboys will once again be out to prove something, look for Ware to remain the lightning rod that sparks his defense.

    Advantage:  DeMarcus ware

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Denver Broncos

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    Kyle Orton vs. Denver Broncos Fans

    In last Monday night's game against the Oakland Raiders, the raucous fans at Sports Authority Field at Mile High starting booing Orton and cheering for backup Tim Tebow.

    Orton finished the game against the Raiders with more than 300 yards passing, one touchdown and one interception, but also made costly mistakes, including a fumble that led to a Raiders' touchdown.  Once Orton started having his troubles, the crowd began booing and chanting "Tebow!" "Tebow!".  Some Tebow fans are going as far as having billboards put up saying they want Tebow as their quarterback.

    The only way that Orton can come out on top of this is if he can put together a strong showing against a Bengals' defense that has former Pro Bowl cornerback Nate Clements and former All-Pro Leon Hall.

    Advantage:  Denver Broncos Fans

Houston Texans vs. Miami Dolphins

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    Andre Johnson vs. Vontae Davis

    Last week against the Colts, Andre Johnson did what he usually does: he had nearly 100 yards receiving and caught a touchdown pass.  Johnson, along with Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald, makes up the group of the top-flight wide receivers currently in the NFL. 

    Johnson possess the big frame, 6'3", and the overall quickness to beat most defenders.  What makes Johnson so effective is not only his ability to go up for a jump ball, but also make a catch in traffic.

    Set to defend Johnson will be third-year veteran Vontae Davis.  Davis, a former first-round pick, posses good size for a cornerback, 5'11", and once ran a 4.4 40-yard dash.  Davis' strength and athleticism gives him an advantage over many wide receivers.

    Despite Davis' ability to cover bigger receivers, like Andre Johnson, do not be surprised to see Johnson have his way with Davis, because that is just what Johnson does on a weekly basis.

    Advantage:  Andre Johnson

San Diego Chargers vs. New England Patriots

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    Chargers Secondary vs. Tom Brady

    Let's face it, the biggest story out of the Monday Night Football doubleheader was Tom Brady's 517-yard, four-touchdown performance against the Miami Dolphins.  To go along with Brady's aerial attack was tying the record for the longest pass play with the 99=yard catch and run by Wes Welker.  Despite being the first game of the season, Brady and his Patriots were on a role and never seemed to let up on the gas pedal.

    In order for the Chargers to try and shut down Tom Brady, cornerbacks Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason, as well as safeties Bob Sanders and Eric Weddle, need to be on their A game.  Jammer and Cason will be responsible for turning away receivers—Chad Ochocinco, Wes Welker, and Deion Branch—while Sanders and Weddle will need to provide protection over the top, as well as trying to stop young tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Grankowski. 

    The Chargers seem to have a very difficult task ahead of them, with not only Tom Brady being on a role, but with the Patriots playing in front of their home crowd for the first time this season.

    Advantage:  Tom Brady

Philadelphia Eagles vs. Atlanta Falcons

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    Michael Vick vs. Falcons Fans

    Once the former face of the franchise, Michael Vick makes his return to Atlanta.  Vick was indicted on charges of dog fighting shortly after the end of the 2006 NFL season, and was sentenced to 21 months in jail.  The Falcons were then forced to go in a new direction, and a fan base that once loved Vick, were hurt and disappointed.

    After his time in prison, Vick signed with the Philadelphia Eagles and was reinstated for the 2009 season.  After a strong showing in various opportunities, the Eagles traded former quarterback Donovan McNabb, and after an injury to starting quarterback Kevin Kolb, Vick reclaimed his place as a starting quarterback in the NFL.

    Vick finished last season with some of the best numbers of his career, hurling for more than 3,000 yards, connecting on 21 touchdowns and throwing just six interceptions.  Despite his success since his incarceration, Falcons' fans still hold a grudge against their former hero.  Look for the crowd to become louder and louder with each and every mistake Vick makes. The Georgia Dome will never be as loud as it will be this Sunday.

    Advantage:  Falcons Fans

St. Louis Rams vs. New York Giants

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    Bradley Fletcher vs. Hakeem Nicks

    In order for the St. Louis Rams to be successful this season, not only does Sam Bradford and the offense need to score points, but the defense needs to make stops.  Last week against the Eagles, their defense gave up too many rushing yards, but did a nice job at keeping the receivers in check.  If the Rams stand a chance at slowing down the passing game, third-year veteran Bradley Fletcher needs to step up his game, particularly in the wake of the opening-game starter Ron Bartell being placed on injured reserve.

    Last week against the Washington Redskins, Hakeem Nicks continued his protection from a year ago by amassing 122 yards receiving on seven catches.  Nicks posses size and speed, and has the ability to go up and get the ball.  Fletcher matches up well in the size department with Nicks, so expect him to compete with Nicks for the jump balls. But in the end, Fletcher's inexperience might get the best of him and open the door for Nicks to succeed.

    Advantage:  Hakeem Nicks