- Plus, why Xavier Rhodes has been the best cornerback in the NFL through four weeks, Ameer Abdullah and Casey Hayward impress, and why Cam Newton should have just pointed out how well Devin Funchess played
1. The Rams are positioned to become the NFL’s most talked-about team on Monday. A win over the more-established Seahawks would make them 4–1 and put them in command of the NFC West. No offense has looked better-schemed than first-year head coach Sean McVay’s. And remember, last year Rams offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur was QBs coach for a Falcons offense that thoroughly exploited the hidden weaknesses of Seattle’s foundational Cover 3 zone. Seattle defensive coordinator Kris Richard is gradually turning the Seahawks into more of a man-to-man unit. The Rams would welcome Richard’s man coverages; McVay has installed a lot of the man-beating pick and rub routes, similar to those that New England runs so well.
2. The Seattle matchup also favors Los Angeles on the defensive side of the ball, for the simple reason that every play will start with Seattle’s offensive line trying to block Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn and mechanically savvy strongman Michael Brockers. Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips should press the Seahawks receivers (Phillips can keep two safeties back to minimize the risk). If Russell Wilson consistently has to hold the ball, Los Angeles will win.
3. I recently tweeted that Minnesota’s Xavier Rhodes has been the best corner in the NFL this season. The most pushback was from Jalen Ramsey supporters. Hey, no complaint here—the Jaguars second-year pro is very much in that discussion. I like Rhodes because, before dominating Detroit’s Marvin Jones in Week 4, he won matchups against Mike Evans and Antonio Brown. Those are two elite wideouts with extremely different styles of play.
4. We finally saw the Jets blitz from depth last week, at least early in the Jacksonville game. Linebackers and defensive backs lined up several yards off the ball, where the offense’s pass protection call is less likely to account for them. From there, they rushed Blake Bortles. That’s a Todd Bowles staple. Expect more disguised interior pressure this week. Not only is Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer young, but he’s playing in an offense that has its very average wide receivers run a lot of downfield routes. That approach begs to be blitzed.
5. Another note on the Jets: Defensive lineman Leonard Williams has some of the quickest hands in football. It’s standing out more and more.
6. Lions running back Ameer Abdullah has unique lateral agility that stems from terrific stop/start control. Not many runners can slow their feet and make defenders miss like Abdullah. He gained a hard-fought 94 yards on 20 carries against a terrific Vikings run defense last week. Detroit will need that sort of sustainable balance this week versus Carolina.
7. Two weeks in a row now, the Eagles have won close contests by leaning on their power running game. That run game built their lead in Week 3 against the Giants and protected it in Week 4 against the Chargers. Week 5 will be tough. The Cardinals condense their defensive front, cramming linemen tight inside to force one-on-one battles against guards and centers. Eagles center Jason Kelce has been outstanding down the stretch these last two games, but historically he is not a great phone booth fighter.
8. Deshaun Watson is thriving, but I can see him crashing back to earth against Kansas City. Let’s not forget: Houston’s offensive line must overachieve to play well. The Chiefs have a lot of dynamic players up front.
9. The Chargers’ Casey Hayward is coming off one of the best showings of any corner in the NFL this season. He broke up several passes against the Eagles, from a variety of coverage techniques. Hayward had stopped traveling with top receivers after Jason Verrett went down, but last week defensive coordinator Gus Bradley had him shadow Alshon Jeffery. (This suggests Bradley is feeling better about his other corners, Trevor Williams and Desmond King. If Hayward plays all over, those other corners must play all over.) The Chargers face the Giants this week. Will we see Hayward travel with Odell Beckham Jr.?
10. Our Jenny Vrentas nailed it: Cam Newton, instead of denigrating Charlotte Observer reporter Jourdan Rodrigue and her perfectly legitimate question about routes, could have taken that opportunity to really praise third-year receiver Devin Funchess, who played maybe the best game of his career Sunday at New England. The play that stands out was the third-down pivot route that Jenny broke down. That was the exact type of quick-timing play that people like me have doubted Newton and the lanky Funchess can execute. It represents a positive early step in this offense’s schematic transformation. Too bad Newton shifted everyone’s focus.
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