Hakeem Nicks, Nnamdi Asomugha and the Best Individual Matchups of NFL Week 3
The NFL regular season is right in the thick of things as we enter the third week of the season. With plenty of shocks and surprises already in the books, there is no reason for any football fans not to be glued to their screens this weekend once again.
While the best team matchups will already be on show, as television networks pick their prime time games. However with NFL Network's Red Zone becoming ever more popular, many of you will be won't be focused on just one football game.
For those who will be flicking from game to game, or following red zone, here is a matchup from each game worth watching.
Dan Connor vs. Maurice Jones-Drew
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It would be easy to pick out Cam Newton and point out how he needs to watch out for Rashean Mathis, or talk about Steve Smith and how he needs to take advantage of Mathis' aggressive style of play.
However, there is another group of players playing in Carolina also, if there wasn't they wouldn't be 0-2. The Panthers' defense is in serious trouble. In reality, it entered the season in trouble after losing Ron Edwards, however the losses of Jon Beason and then Thomas Davis, may be too much for the team to overcome.
Davis tore his ACL last week for the third time in three seasons, while Beason was lost the week before to a torn Achilles. Dan Connor will step into the middle linebacker position that he filled last year. Connor is a solid player but will need to have a huge game this weekend, as Maurice Jones-Drew lines up across from him.
The Jaguars offense, whether Blaine Gabbert or Luke McCown is under center, is always a run-first offense that relies heavily on Maurice Jones-Drew.
If Jones-Drew can be unleashed, he will be able to put up huge numbers against the Panthers' defense, which lacks size at defensive tackle. While Jon Beason could have at least provided a physical presence to match Jones-Drew, without him Connor will need to make plays consistently if they are to allow Cam Newton his first ever NFL win.
Eric Wright vs. Michael Jenkins
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This may not be the star studded matchup that you were hoping for, however this matchup should be the deciding factor in the outcome of this game.
Donovan McNabb needs to get the passing game going and he can't do that relying on Percy Harvin. Michael Jenkins has shown flashes in a Vikings' jersey, while Eric Wright has benefited a lot from the Lions' talented front seven.
Jenkins has the height advantage but Wright is a crafty veteran who should be able to stick with him down the field. Jenkins will need to eclipse his total yards for the season in this game, six receptions 55 yards and a touchdown, if the Vikings are to beat the Lions.
With Harvin likely seeing double coverage, and the Lions front seven focusing on shutting down Adrian Peterson, this is the soft spot that the Vikings will be looking to expose against the Lions.
Aldon Smith vs. Andre Smith
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With Andrew Whitworth protecting Andy Dalton's blindside, the 49ers would be best served at trying to get to the quarterback through Andre Smith. The team drafted outside linebacker Aldon Smith to be that specialist pass rusher, however he has shown very little in his first two regular season games.
However Smith did notch 3.5 sacks in the preseason and is an incredibly talented blitzer. Despite not being a key in the defense so far, the 49ers may look to Smith this weekend, and hope for a breakout day.
A rookie who is definitely a mainstay of his team, is Bengals' quarterback Andy Dalton. Dalton reminds me a lot of another AFC North rookie from last season in Colt McCoy. He shows good poise in the pocket and makes accurate throws with good velocity and a tight spiral.
Of course, he remains a rookie however, and the best way to disrupt him and in turn the Bengals' offense, is with pressure. Aldon Smith will be the 49ers best chance at putting pressure on the former TCU product as he is a great mismatch with Andre Smith.
Andre Smith is a talented right tackle, but speed and quick feet are constant issues with him. Aldon Smith has a quick first step and shows great explosiveness in hunting the quarterback. If the 49ers line the Smiths across from each other, Andy Dalton could be in for a very long day.
Brandon Marshall vs Joe Haden
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Joe Haden is a stellar young cornerback who is looking to take the next step in his career after a strong rookie season. One major issue that always gives you a good idea of where you stand, is by going against one of the best receivers in the league.
Brandon Marshall is not the best receiver in the league, however his size makes him one of the most difficult receivers in the league to matchup with. Haden is not the biggest of corners, neither is he the most physical, however that does not mean that he cannot intelligently shut down Marshall.
The Dolphins will be desperate to put up points this week and come away with their first victory of the year. To this point Marshall has been a big part of the of the Dolphins' attack with 13 receptions in the first two games.
His 218 yards through the air will make Chad Henne look his way often, however Joe Haden has the ability to get his hands on the ball also. Haden has good ball skills, therefore if Henne is not accurate, then Marshall may not be the only one getting in the end zone.
Dan Connolly vs. Kyle Williams
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Above all else, this matchup will determine if the Buffalo Bills can upset the New England Patriots. While it has not been celebrated nationally, Tom Brady's interior pass protection has been a huge reason as to why he has made such a good start to the season.
Brady seems to always be throwing from a perfectly clean pocket, which is every quarterback's dream. While some pressure has come from the outside—not much—there has been none through the middle. Brian Waters, Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly will look to continue that against the Bills' talented nose tackle.
However, that is definitely much easier said than done. Williams is one of the most underrated players in the league. His motor is constant, while his strength can match almost any defensive tackle in the league. He is one of the most disruptive players in the whole league from that position.
Disruption is exactly what the Bills need to overcome the Patriots. No other team has so far been able to get pressure in Brady's face, but neither the Dolphins or Chargers had a presence like Williams in the middle.
With Dan Koppen's injury ruling him out, Dan Connolly will step into the starting role at center. Williams will line up directly across from Connolly and hope to take advantage of the center who is naturally a guard.
Hakeem Nicks vs Nnamdi Asomugha
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Hakeem Nicks's struggles against the St. Louis Rams on Monday night, were more a reflection of the Giants' offense as a whole, opposed to any lingering effects of his injury.
Nicks finished the game with three receptions for 15 yards and a touchdown. However, he proved how troublesome he is to man up to, as his touchdown came in a one to one situation in the end zone, while he also drew a big pass interference penalty leading up to that touchdown.
The third year receiver is among the most talented in the league, while he is not overwhelmingly tall, standing at 6'1", his wingspan is incredible. Lining up against Nnamdi Asomugha will be enthralling for this very reason.
Asomugha's wingspan is also huge. Watching the pair fight for the football will be interesting as Nicks can snatch the ball from almost any position.
There is little doubt that the Giants will throw at Asomugha. The St. Louis Rams showed, against the Eagles, that challenging Asomugha isn't always a bad idea. Asomugha didn't look to have lost a step last week, as he had a strong showing against the Atlanta Falcons.
The truth is that he may have done. Brandon Gibson caused him problems in the team's opener. Considering that Asomugha hasn't been thrown at much over the past three seasons, and the fact that many teams simply never looked his way, may have masked a drop off in his abilities.
It may sound crazy but he is 30 years of age now.
Michael Roos vs. Von Miller
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The Tennessee Titans had a huge game against the Baltimore Ravens as they came away with an upset victory. Matt Hasselbeck had an even bigger game as he threw for 358 yards and repeatedly hit his receivers deep.
Hasselbeck showed that the Titans offense can be balanced with the return of Chris Johnson and Javon Ringer also in the backfield. Against the Broncos, the Titans should run the ball a lot as they look to take advantage of the Broncos injuries in the front seven.
However, the passing game will still be crucial to watch in order to find out just how good this Titans team can be. Shutting down Von Miller will be the first part of that process. Miller will have a great leverage advantage over the 6' 7" Michael Roos. Roos is a veteran however who will look to use all his experience over the rookie.
If Roos can give Hasselbeck time to find his receivers deep, he could be in for another huge day. Connecting with Kenny Britt, Nate Washington and Jared Cook could see Hasselbeck be the best fantasy quarterback of the week.
Zach Strief vs. Mario Williams
Zach Strief is the one change to the New Orleans Saints starting offensive line. He made an impressive debut against Clay Matthews in the season opener, while the offensive line as a whole only gave up one sack to the New Orleans Saints.
Israel Idonije did get the sack against Brees, but Strief was unfortunate in that he simply stepped too wide and allowed Idonije to push him off balance on that play. For the most part, Strief played well.
This weekend however will see him face his biggest test to date, as Mario Williams comes to New Orleans with his revamped Texans' defense. Williams may now be standing up rather than playing defensive end, but his talent and physicality remains.
Williams has two sacks so far this season, but the Texans' defense is yet to really be tested. The Saints' offense will provide a much sterner test for the Texans opposed to the Colts or Dolphins. Getting pressure on Drew Brees will be vital as he proved last week that he can still perform even without Marques Colston.
Julius Peppers was unable to be the difference-maker for the Bears last week, Williams will be hoping to achieve that this week.
Colin Baxter vs. Richard Seymour
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Colin who? Colin Baxter is the New York Jets' backup center who will start this weekend against the Oakland Raiders. Most NFL fans know Nick Mangold, and he carries the reputation of the best center in the league, but Baxter is a rookie who will be starting for the first time ever.
Richard Seymour is a dominant defensive tackle who has already racked up two sacks this season. Seymour is someone the Jets will know a lot about after his years in New England. Seymour may be 31 years of age but he is still a dominant all-pro playing at an elite level.
Seymour's reputation alone could intimidate Baxter on his debut. The prospect of seeing Seymour on every snap could distract Baxter from his mental assignments and responsibilities, which are vital for the center position.
If Baxter cannot handle Seymour upfront, then Mark Sanchez has no chance of leading his offense effectively. The true value of an all-pro center will be discovered this weekend.
Chris Long vs. Michael Oher
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The Baltimore Ravens gave up three sacks to the Tennessee Titans last week, as they were upset on the road. The Ravens' offensive line has been a point of contention throughout the preseason but excelled early against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
However, the Titans got sacks from both of their defensive ends last week as Michael Oher and Bryant McKinnie gave Ravens' fans more reasons to be worried. Derrick Morgan and Dave Ball got their hands on Joe Flacco last week. This week Chris Long, James Hall and rookie Robert Quinn should be all over the field.
Chris Long in particular, should be able to have a big day against Michael Oher. Oher has a lot of talent but has struggled with his consistency since his rookie season. Long's first step should give him an advantage but he will also be able to bull rush Oher should he need to.
The Ravens' receivers will be able to get the better of the Rams' secondary, so Steve Spagnuolo's side will be looking to crank up the pressure. If Long can repeatedly beat Oher, then the Rams can get their first win of the season.
Vincent Jackson vs. Brandon Flowers
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Brandon Flowers is one of the better cornerbacks in this league, however Vincent Jackson proved last week that he is one of the best receivers in the league.
Anytime you get a matchup such as this one, you cannot prevent your eyes from wandering towards the sidelines on every play. Last week Flowers did a pretty good job against Calvin Johnson, limiting him to three receptions, however two of those receptions went for touchdowns.
Vincent Jackson had the opposite against the New England Patriots, as he posted 10 receptions for 172 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson may not be involved as much this week, as the Chargers should look to Antonio Gates to take advantage of the loss of Eric Berry in the middle.
However Jackson will still feature heavily in the offense, and whenever Rivers does look his way, his battle with Flowers will be a feisty affair.
Aqib Talib vs. Roddy White
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Roddy White is a big physical receiver who will return to being the focus of the Falcons' offense this week in all likelihood. White had only three receptions last week against Nnamdi Asomugha, but the Falcons should look his way more this week.
What makes this matchup so intriguing is that both players are built like running backs. Aqib Talib may be the most physical corner in the whole league. He is very talented and will be able to stick with White both running down the field and in jump ball situations.
Talib will be able to fight White for position, unlike most corners in the league. Last season, White was limited to four receptions in the team's first matchup. He did return with seven receptions the second time around however Talib left that game with a season ending hip injury.
The young Buccaneer has made a good start to the season including a pick six against the Detroit Lions in Week 1. Despite his off the field issues, Talib could be in for a huge season this year.
Marshawn Lynch vs. Adrian Wilson
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Adrian Wilson is one of the biggest safeties in the league who excels at stuffing the run. He is a hard hitting veteran that is built like a linebacker. He did suffer a torn bicep early in the preseason when attempting to tackle Chris Wells.
Marshawn Lynch is generally the last back in the league you want to see when you have a bicep injury. Lynch broke the most tackles in the league last year, he is a physical specimen that cannot be arm tackled on a regular basis.
There could be a few huge collisions worth watching this weekend as this figures to be the matchup of an unstoppable force and an immovable object.
Julius Peppers vs. Chad Clifton
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Getting to Aaron Rodgers is the only way to stop him. He is at worst, the second best quarterback in the league, and more likely to be, the best quarterback in the league.
The Bears' secondary has no hope of sticking with the Packers receivers and tight ends because of their depth. Therefore Peppers and Idonije will be looked to to set the edge, while Henry Melton and Anthony Adams push the pocket.
Peppers has the best chance of impacting Rodgers however. Coming from the blindside will allow Peppers to hit Rodgers without him seeing him. That is vital because of Rodgers' elusiveness, Rodgers will be able to escape Melton, Idonije and Adams but Peppers has the speed and element of surprise to effect the game.
Chad Clifton is a veteran tackle that has the ability to shut down Peppers. However Peppers remains an elite pass rusher and no matter what tackle is in front of him, he will find a way into the backfield at some stage.
Dwight Freeney vs. Jonathan Scott
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Jonathan Scott is not a quick left tackle. Dwight Freeney is the fastest right end in the league.
Despite the early prognoses for this game, it is not as clear cut as many believe. The Colts offensively will struggle, but so will the Steelers. With Jonathan Scott and Marcus Gilbert starting on the outside, the Steelers have two tackles that can be exposed.
The Baltimore Ravens showed in Week 1 that the Steelers offense can be shut down with enough pressure. In that game Terrell Suggs managed three sacks lining up against Scott. Dwight Freeney has the capability to have a similar performance for the Colts.
At some stage an element of pride will kick into the Colts' organization, Freeney is one of the team's biggest leaders. Leading from the front this week shouldn't be a problem.
Brian Orakpo vs. Doug Free
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The most important matchup here was going to be Dez Bryant and his ability to manhandle DeAngelo Hall. However Bryant's injury may limit him, while pass protection became even more important with Tony Romo's injury issues last week.
Romo's punctured lung and broken rib probably won't keep him out of the game considering he played last week. However, he won't be able to sustain many more hits this week. Keeping Romo's jersey clean should be the team's number one priority entering this game.
That isn't an easy task with Brian Orakpo attacking the quarterback's blindside. Orakpo registered his first sack of the season last week and will be looking to kick on in this division game, especially on the big stage of Monday Night Football.