1. Rams fans are wondering why Sammy Watkins hasn’t produced. Don’t fret. For one, Watkins, who doesn’t have a great initial burst, has shown juice in his cuts once he gets into his route. He can work himself open. Secondly, the Rams have been designing plays for Watkins, and several times they’ve worked but the ball, for various reasons, didn’t find him. Head coach Sean McVay knows how to get playmakers involved. The Watkins-Goff relationship will blossom eventually—though maybe not this week, given that Watkins faces Cardinals shutdown corner Patrick Peterson in London.
2. When Adrian Peterson joined the Cardinals, I wrote that he fits their ground game but not their overall offense. I still believe his limitations in the passing game will become a factor, but obviously they weren’t last Sunday. Peterson ran with incredible vision and lateral burst, helping the Cardinals jump out to a 31-0 lead against the Bucs. That lessened the pressure on Arizona’s passing game. The runs were inside designs, but Peterson frequently bounced outside. He must do that again this week when Arizona’s questionable O-line battles a talented Rams D-line.
3. The Patriots are great at putting a running back or tight end out wide and forcing the defense to reveal if it’s man or zone coverage. But there could be a twist this Sunday. When Keanu Neal, Atlanta’s primary tight end defender, lined up across from Dolphins isolated tight ends last week, it looked like man coverage—and for Neal, it was. But a few times, on the other side of the field, the Falcons actually played Cover 3 zone. Brady will need an extra half-second to verify Atlanta’s coverages after the snap.
4. If the Packers are to have any hope with Aaron Rodgers out, their young, multifaceted defense must make plays in coordinator Dom Capers’s high-risk, high-reward scheme. It starts in the trenches. Second-year defensive tackle Kenny Clark, coming off a career game, is starting to show the anchor strength and athletic juice that made him a first-round pick. And there’s always Mike Daniels, who along with Ndamukong Suh and Fletcher Cox is the best in football at building up strength over the course of a play. His second effort can destroy blockers. You want to push the pocket inside against the 6' 0" Drew Brees; Clark and Daniels will be key against New Orleans.
5. Bucs second-year corner Vernon Hargreaves recently said, “I’m not making any plays, I’m not producing.” Yup. And you wonder about his confidence given the amount of cushion he has played with. He has a chance to close down that cushion on Sunday; the Bills do not have much speed at wide receiver.
6. Something the Bills and Bucs both do is line up with three tight ends and throw deep misdirection play-action. Defensive coaches Sean McDermott’s and Mike Smith’s zone units almost certainly faced this tactic in training camp. They must be ready for it Sunday.
7. One run we’ll see a lot in the Bengals-Steelers game is “counter.” The Steelers love to pull-block a tight end and right guard David DeCastro on this delay concept. The Bengals have been more inclined to pull a guard and offensive tackle.
8. The Jaguars go to great lengths to hide Blake Bortles. Third-and-long often means a screen pass or dump off, and early down pass calls are rare. One thing the Jags can do to make Bortles comfortable is put wide receiver Marqise Lee in motion. Lee motions in some of the two-back running concepts anyway, so it’s a natural segue to play-action. Plus, Lee needs the motion given that it forces corners to back up and allow him clean access off the line.
9. The Jermaine Kearse 44-yard catch against the Patriots was not a blown coverage. The Jets had a well-crafted downfield switch release, with Kearse and outside receiver Robby Anderson crisscrossing their vertical routes late in the down. The concept left no Cover 3 zone defenders to pick up Kearse. Why does this matter in Week 7? Because the Dolphins play a lot of Cover 3, and their head coach, Adam Gase, is the one who took these switch release tactics to new heights as a play-caller in Denver. Gase will make sure Miami’s defense has a plan.
10. The Ravens can’t win if their running game doesn’t produce, and that could be tough against Minnesota. Defensive tackle Linval Joseph is a nightmare inside, especially with Baltimore rotating backups Matt Skura and Jermaine Eluemunor at the injured Marshal Yanda’s right guard spot. Plus, Minnesota was great at setting the edge last week against a Packers zone running game that’s similar to Baltimore’s.
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