NFL Week 3 Biggest Individual Matchups

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor ISeptember 21, 2012

NFL Week 3 Biggest Individual Matchups

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    On Week 3's Thursday Night Football, we watched the defending Super Bowl champion Giants “limp" into Carolina without key offensive personnel in wideout Hakeem Nicks, running back Ahmad Bradshaw and right tackle David Diehl.

    A mere 36 points and 405 total yards later, Tom Coughlin’s club showed why they can never be counted out.

    While this encounter between the league’s first-overall draft choices in 2004 (Eli Manning) and 2011 (Cam Newton) went New York’s way, it’s one of many intriguing matchups to watch this weekend. There are only six teams remaining—the fewest since 1997—that are in position to win all of their games this season.

    That list will be trimmed by two this week (barring ties) as we’ll see a pair of clashes between undefeated teams played west of the Mississippi. The Philadelphia Eagles travel to face the Arizona Cardinals, and the Atlanta Falcons go to California to battle the San Diego Chargers.

    Prepare yourself for the last full slate of NFL games until Thanksgiving; the bye weeks are on the horizon.

Buffalo Bills RB C.J. Spiller vs. Cleveland Browns RB Trent Richardson

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    While the Buffalo Bills have been as erratic as any team in the league after two weeks, they’ve also featured one of the season’s most explosive players.

    For those who think Spiller’s start this season is a fluke, take a look at how he closed 2011 after taking over for an injured Fred Jackson. The former first-rounder ran for 446 yards and three touchdowns on just 86 carries (5.2 avg.) in the team’s final six games a year ago.

    This season’s start has been mind-boggling, with Spiller owning an astounding 10.1 yards per carry after running for a combined 292 yards and three more scores on just 29 carries in the split with the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs.

    Speaking of first-round picks, Richardson rebounded after a disappointing Week 1 against the Eagles. He totaled 145 yards from scrimmage and a pair of touchdowns in a loss at Cincinnati.

    Don’t be surprised if both of these backs go for a C-note on the ground this Sunday.

St. Louis Rams DE Robert Quinn vs. Chicago Bears LT J’Marcus Webb

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    Admittedly, there was the temptation to put quarterback Jay Cutler vs. J'Marcus Webb as the best matchup in this contest, but it’s time for the Bears to put that behind them.

    That’s important if Lovie Smith’s club expects to beat a St. Louis team that is learning how to score.

    In two games this season, Jeff Fisher’s club has put 54 points on the board—quite the difference for a team that was last in the league in points in 2011 (193).

    Back to protecting Cutler, something that wasn’t done very well at Lambeau Field. Everyone, including the Bears quarterback, had a hand in those seven sacks.

    Now push comes to shove for Webb, who will try to keep Robert Quinn—who has the Rams’ only two sacks this season—from earning NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

Detroit Lions Tight Ends vs. Tennessee Titans Defensive Coordinator Jerry Gray

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    It’s hardly news that wide receiver Calvin Johnson leads the team with 14 catches after two games.

    It may be a bigger surprise that the Lions’ All-Pro performer hasn’t snared a touchdown reception yet—and that’s a big "yet."

    Then again, quarterback Matthew Stafford has only thrown for two scores in as many games—one to running back Kevin Smith and the other to Brandon Pettigrew, who ranks second on the team with eight catches. In fact, tight ends Tony Scheffler, Will Heller and Pettigrew have combined for 17 receptions for 164 yards and that aforementioned touchdown.

    We bring up those numbers because Stafford takes aim at a struggling Titans team that has allowed 72 points during its 0-2 start. Gray’s defenders have allowed five touchdown passes in those setbacks—all to tight ends—including three scores to San Diego’s Dante Rosario last Sunday.

    If the Titans focus too much of their attention on Johnson, look for Pettigrew to have a mega afternoon.

Jacksonville Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew vs. Indianapolis Colts Defense

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    To say that the Jaguars’ all-time leader in touchdowns has enjoyed playing against the Colts may be an understatement.

    In 12 career meetings against Indianapolis, the 2011 NFL rushing leader has totaled 1,212 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. He's caught 38 passes for 320 yards and three scores, and he also returned a kickoff for a touchdown against the Colts back in 2006. Maurice Jones-Drew has rushed for 100-plus yards 25 times in his six-year career, and seven of those games have come in this series.

    This is a new-look Indianapolis defensive unit that now utilizes the 3-4, a design known best for shutting down the run. It will be very interesting to see if it’s business as usual for the Pro Bowl runner. He may instead get his share of catches against a unit designed to stop him from doing what he does best.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Vincent Jackson vs. Dallas Cowboys CB Morris Claiborne

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    Lost in last week’s much-discussed ending between the Buccaneers and Giants was the production by one of Tampa’s prized free-agent acquisitions.

    Former Chargers wideout Vincent Jackson was quarterback Josh Freeman’s favorite target last Sunday afternoon. The productive pass-catcher not only hauled in five receptions for 128 yards and a score, but grabs produced five of the Bucs’ seven biggest plays from scrimmage vs. New York.

    This week, Freeman hopes to avoid Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware long enough to find Jackson downfield against Claiborne and/or fellow cornerback Brandon Carr. The rangy receiver remembers Carr, the one-time Chiefs defender, from their days in the AFC West.

    In any case, you can be sure that Freeman will test the Dallas secondary deep on numerous occasions.

Cincinnati Bengals LT Andrew Whitworth vs. Washington Redskins OLB Rob Jackson

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    In the opening week Monday night loss at Baltimore, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton had his issues, getting sacked four times by the Ravens defense.

    In last week’s home win over the Browns, Cincinnati held on for a 34-27 victory, but Dalton was sacked six more times.

    Now Marvin Lewis’ team makes the trip to D.C. in hopes of fending off a Redskins defense that suffered a few key blows last Sunday in the setback at St. Louis. Both defensive end Adam Carriker and outside linebacker Brian Orakpo were lost for the season, the latter especially notable considering he’s been the club’s sack leader since his arrival in 2009.

    Now Jackson steps in and will try his best against one of the more underrated blockers in the league. You can also expect fellow outside linebacker Chris Wilson to take his turn against Andrew Whitworth.

    Of course, there could be a battle royal on the other side of the line as second-year pro Ryan Kerrigan looks to get past massive right tackle Andre Smith.

Kansas City Chiefs Defense vs. New Orleans Saints Defense

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    They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

    You may want to rethink that if you’re a fan of defense and are heading to the Superdome on Sunday.

    After two weeks, the Chiefs and Saints are two of the six teams looking for their first win of the season. Defensive coordinators Romeo Crennel (also the head coach) and Steve Spagnuolo have to be scratching their headsets so far in 2012.

    Both Kansas City and New Orleans allowed 40 points in Week 1 and 35 points seven days later. Both teams have also given up eight offensive touchdowns. And when it comes to opportunistic football, the two teams have combined for one takeaway (Saints).

    It’ll be interesting to see how Matt Cassel and Drew Brees fare against these units.

    Of course, with the wackiness that is the NFL, this has 13-10 written all over it.


New York Jets SS Yeremiah Bell vs. Miami Dolphins RB Reggie Bush

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    From teammates in 2011 to division rivals this season, the productive tackler will try and minimize the damage done by the big-play weapon.

    Last season was a breakout performance for Bush, the former Heisman Trophy winner. He saved his best for December, when he totaled 519 of his career-high 1,086 rushing yards in his final four outings of the season.

    While Bush missed last season's finale at home against the Jets, he’s picked up where he left off. Last Sunday against the Raiders, he ran for 172 yards and a pair of scores in the team’s 35-13 victory.

    Although Rex Ryan’s team kept the Pittsburgh ground attack under wraps last week, they missed the boat the previous Sunday on Bills running back C.J. Spiller, who gained yards before and after the game was out of reach.

    If Bush does make it into the New York secondary, it may or may not be a happy reunion for Bell.

Atlanta Falcons C Todd McClure vs. San Diego Chargers NT Antonio Garay

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    It’s been an amazing start for Mike Smith’s team as they face their third straight AFC West opponent.

    Led by quarterback Matt Ryan, a new emphasis on the passing game and what appears to be an improved defense, the Falcons have yet to turn over the football while forcing seven turnovers in their wins over the Chiefs (three) and Broncos (four).

    While the Atlanta ground game hasn’t busted out a lot of yards, running back Michael Turner (who is expected to play this week) at last did his part in helping Ryan and Co. run out the clock in the final minutes against Denver, eliminating any chance of a Peyton Manning comeback.

    This week, don’t be surprised if Turner—who makes his first trip to San Diego since leaving as a free agent in 2008—Jacquizz Rodgers, Jason Snelling and the Falcons test the league’s top run defense, which has given up a whopping 83 yards on the ground in two weeks.

    If McClure can handle Garay one-on-one (a tall task), we may finally see some big numbers put up by the Atlanta ground attack this weekend.

Houston Texans DE J.J. Watt vs. Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning

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    There will be a bit of familiarity this weekend when Gary Kubiak, who once backed up John Elway with the Broncos, brings his undefeated Texans to the Mile High City.

    As many know, Manning made a habit of beating the young franchise on a regular basis. In 18 meetings vs. Houston, the former Colts star won 16 times, throwing 42 touchdown passes and only eight interceptions.

    But this may not be your father’s Manning, and these certainly aren’t your father’s Texans.

    Last season, coordinator Wade Phillips—once the Broncos head coach from 1993-94—turned the Texans defense into one of the better units in the league. That kind of play has continued into 2012 as the club has allowed one offensive touchdown in two games while totaling six sacks and forcing five turnovers.

    That latter number is just one more than Manning and the Broncos managed in the first quarter on Monday night. The veteran quarterback was also sacked three times at the Georgia Dome, and now he must avoid Watt, who has half of his club’s sacks this season and promises to make things interesting in his first encounter with the prolific passer.

Philadelphia Eagles WR DeSean Jackson vs. Arizona Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson

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    When these teams met last season in Week 10, the Cardinals rallied to win 21-17 at Philadelphia. It turned out to be the second win in what has become an impressive 9-2 stretch for Ken Whisenhunt’s team.

    Missing from that clash was Jackson, who comes off a seven-catch, 114-yard outing in the team’s come-from-behind win over the Ravens last Sunday. In two games this season, the speedster has totaled 11 receptions for 191 yards but has yet to score a touchdown.

    Let’s see if that changes this week against a Cardinals’ defensive unit that has given up two offensive touchdowns in as many games while totaling seven sacks. Peterson could have himself a big afternoon if Michael Vick continues to spread the ball around (six interceptions) to anyone and everyone.

Pittsburgh Steelers G Willie Colon vs. Oakland Raiders DT Richard Seymour

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    Back when the Patriots were getting the best of the Steelers for the majority of the last decade, Seymour came up with his share of solid performances.

    Now the seven-time Pro Bowler—the last two with the Silver and Black—is the veteran leader of a defensive unit that is still trying to find itself under new head coach Dennis Allen and coordinator Jason Tarver. The Raiders gave up 263 yards rushing last week to the Dolphins, 172 yards alone to Reggie Bush.

    So far, Pittsburgh’s running game hasn’t come close to that production. Mike Tomlin’s club has totaled 141 yards on the ground on 54 carries (2.6 yards per carry) during its 1-1 start. If former tackle-turned-guard Colon can get the best of Seymour, the Steelers’ ground game will get off-track in a hurry.

San Francisco 49ers WR Randy Moss vs. Minnesota Vikings CB Antoine Winfield

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    As the Niners continue their early-season tour of duty vs. NFC North teams, Jim Harbaugh’s team stops at the Metrodome. The former quarterback obviously has some memories from his playing days there, as most of those were with the Chicago Bears.

    Of course, Moss also has plenty of memories from his days with Minnesota, where he hauled in the majority of his 154 touchdown receptions. On Sunday, he’ll do something that he’s never done in his days with the Raiders, Patriots and Titans: face the Vikings.

    A year ago, Leslie Frazier’s team gave up a league-high 34 touchdown passes. If you include this season, the Purple Gang has allowed two or more scores through the air in 12 of their last 18 contests. So, can the veteran corner Winfield corral one of the game’s all-time touchdown producers? Stay tuned.

New England Patriots QB Tom Brady vs. Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco

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    If you remember last season’s AFC Championship Game at New England, many felt the Ravens signal-caller outplayed the three-time Super Bowl champion.

    Instead, a would-be go-ahead touchdown pass was knocked out of wideout Lee Evans’ hands. A missed, game-tying 32-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff in the final seconds ended Baltimore’s travel plans to Indianapolis.

    Back to this season: Both Brady and Flacco have thrown three touchdown passes and one interception while being sacked five times.

    More importantly, both the Patriots and Ravens are coming off losses; barring a tie, one of these AFC front-runners will be 1-2. If the Baltimore defense can get to Brady as the Cardinals did (four sacks), the defending conference champions could be in for a long evening.

Green Bay Packers OLB Clay Matthews vs. Seattle Seahawks LT Russell Okung

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    It’s been quite a start for the fourth-year defender and quite the early revival for the Green Bay pass rush, which fell off dramatically from the previous season when the team captured Super Bowl XLV.

    Off a 2.5-sack performance in the opening-week loss to the 49ers, Matthew corralled Bears quarterback Jay Cutler for 3.5 more sacks four days later. It gave the Packers linebacker a league-leading half-dozen sacks in just two games, equaling his total production for all of 2011.

    Green Bay has gotten to opposing quarterbacks 11 times in two contests, nearly halfway to last year’s disappointing total of 29.

    It will be up to Okung, who missed last week's game vs. the Cowboys, to slow down the aggressive Packer 'backer. If he's a no-go, Frank Omiyale could get the start at left tackle for the second straight week.