- Plus, why the Eagles will go heavy on the blitz against Brock Osweiler, why Deshaun Watson would have been the Colts’ worst nightmare, and why the Dolphins moved on from Jay Ajayi
1. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is coming off his best performance of the season; he threw dimes in the rain all game against the Jets. Now Ryan is facing a Panthers defense that he torched for 780 yards over two games last year. But fantasy owners, don’t salivate yet. It’s a different Panthers defense this time around. The secondary has been revamped (second-year pro James Bradberry is becoming one of the best zone corners in football) and new coordinator Steve Wilks has turned out to be a riskier play-caller than predecessor Sean McDermott. That’s neither good nor bad, just different. Ryan must prepare for more edge blitzes this time around.
2. Cam Newton didn’t seem pleased with the Kelvin Benjamin trade. And who can blame him? The Panthers were already thin at wide receiver, and Newton and Benjamin had just rediscovered their chemistry. Let’s hope Devin Funchess can be as good on slant routes as Benjamin was.
3. By the time you finish reading this sentence, Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension will have been back on and then back off eight more times. (America: land of the free, home of the brave and master of the court appeal.) Regardless of who runs Sunday against the Chiefs, the Cowboys still have an O-line that's hit its stride and is controlling games. They also have Cole Beasley. The sixth-year slot receiver has been a sneakily important piece of the ground game lately because of how he’s used on ghost action. Dallas’s best runs against San Francisco and Washington were when the ball flowed one way and Beasley went the other way. That’s a great tactic against a matchup coverage defense like Kansas City’s, where a defender is more likely to run with Beasley. And it’s a Chiefs run defense that’s allowing 4.9 yards a carry—third worst in the NFL.
4. Another team that plays a lot of matchup coverage is Seattle. Man-to-man has replaced Cover 3 as that defense's foundation. It will be fun to watch them against Washington. Linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are both quality man defenders. One of them will get assigned to running back Chris Thompson, Washington’s most dangerous weapon.
5. Staying along the lines of Cover 3 defenses that now play more than just Cover 3, the 49ers, under first-year coordinator Robert Saleh, are becoming an aggressive and diverse blitzing unit, especially early in games. They dominated Philadelphia’s offense for much of last week with extra rushers, as well as with stunts and twists. Expect more against the Cardinals, who have a deep dropback passing game and a bad offensive line.
6. Another team that should expect to be blitzed: the Broncos. Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz doesn’t blitz often, but when he does, it’s usually all-out. Schwartz will go Cover 0 blitz early in the game and then come back to it late. We’re all but guaranteed to see that against Brock Osweiler, a physically and mentally methodical QB.
7. The Dolphins dealt away a talented runner in Jay Ajayi, but what did they have to lose? Their rushing attack is tied for 30th in yards per attempt. Ajayi was slow to get on board with Adam Gase’s outside zone running scheme (and from afar, one gets the sense he maybe didn’t stay fully on board this year). Gase put Jimmy’s and Joe’s ahead of X’s and O’s (as the saying goes) on this one, hoping that the startling move can bring the locker room to attention.
8. By the way, the Dolphins might have a tough time with their zone running game against the Raiders Sunday night. A drawback with outside zone is it can put your tight ends in one-on-one blocking scenarios against the widest edge defender. That’s a problem when you’re facing Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin. The Dolphins have tried to alleviate this by giving some of tight end Julius Thomas’s playing time to Anthony Fasano, an above average run-blocker. But Fasano, savvy veteran that he is, can’t handle Mack on his own.
9. Besides getting beat when they blitzed, the Colts defense had trouble with misdirection concepts against the Bengals last Sunday. That would have been especially concerning this Sunday against a Texans offense that has brilliantly installed a litany of misdirection concepts to leverage Deshaun Watson’s mobility, but that was before the football gods cursed us again with another season-ending injury to a star player. With Tom Savage back at the helm, the Texans will have to rewrite much of their offense.
10. The Bucs play a lot of landmark coverage on defense, meaning their zone defenders tend to initially cover areas of the field rather than receivers who are near certain areas of the field. But will they change this week? Last week against New Orleans, the Bears implemented a lot of matchup principles into their zone coverages, and the results were fantastic. Drew Brees didn’t have any uncontested downfield throws.
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