- Plus, the Texans’ latest issues are on the blindside, the good and bad of Jacoby Brissett, and the rise of a reliable linebacker in New England
1. I don’t believe Eli Manning should be benched. The NFL is a here and now league, but there's something to be said for respecting a man’s decade-long greatness. Plus, Manning overall has not been horrible—his surrounding circumstances have. That said, Manning misfired on two would-be touchdowns at the end of the first half last week against the Rams, and he threw an interception to Trumaine Johnson on a blatant Cover 2 misread. (Manning, assuming Johnson would stay low to defend the slot receiver's flat route, threw without verifying where the cornerback actually was.) If Manning plays like this again versus a vulnerable 49ers defense, I wouldn't be surprised to see Davis Webb in Week 11.
2. Sammy Watkins and Jared Goff finally connected on a big play last week—a well-designed play-action deep shot that got Watkins matched with leverage against Giants safety Landon Collins. Expect another this week against Houston. The Rams love to put receivers in tight splits and on “switch releases” to distort and manipulate defenders’ coverage responsibilities. One defender who has looked slow at times is Texans safety Andre Hal. The Colts used a tight switch release to get T.Y. Hilton against Hal in man coverage on Hilton’s 80-yard touchdown last week.
3. Put “left tackle” at the top of Houston's growing list of problems. Fourth-round rookie Julie'n Davenport and veteran Chris Clark have both been benched at times because they’re liabilities in pass protection. Indy’s Jabaal Sheard killed them with bull rushes last week. Los Angeles's Robert Quinn will hurt them with speed rushes this week.
4. Kirk Cousins’ two big completions on the game-winning drive at Seattle (Brian Quick 31 yards, Josh Doctson 38 yards) might be the best back-to-back deep ball sequence we’ll see all year. (They were great catches, too.) That came against an elite Seahawks defense. This week Cousins faces the NFC’s best defense, Minnesota. He’ll see a lot more two-high safety coverages than he did at Seattle.
5. Keep an eye on Washington’s secondary; they have a nice rotation at cornerback. Josh Norman, despite his costly press-jam whiff in man coverage on Doug Baldwin’s 30-yard touchdown last week, is playing well on the left side. On the right side, Quinton Dunbar was so stellar filling in when Bashaud Breeland was out that the two men are now splitting reps. Dunbar is an excellent boundary defender. And in the slot, Kendall Fuller is coming off the best play of his career—his interception at Seattle where he drove from off-coverage on Doug Baldwin's in-breaking route. Fuller played with the exact timing and aggression that man coverage behind a blitz demands.
6. FOX's 4:25 Falcons-Cowboys game features maybe the two best outside-zone running teams in football. The Cowboys have a unique advantage in their outside zone game, though: Dak Prescott. His mobility often holds the backside run defender, who is worried about a bootleg. That makes it easier for the back (presumably Alfred Morris on Sunday with Ezekiel Elliott likely to begin serving his suspension) to cut it up inside.
7. The guy I heard the most complaints about for leaving off my midseason All-Pro Team was Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence. No argument here if you think Lawrence belongs. There have been several great edge players this season; continuously strong run defense and improved pass rushing make Lawrence one of them. He has a big challenge this week. The Falcons, with Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder, are one of the few offenses with strong pass blockers at both tackle spots.
8. Jacoby Brissett has the size, athleticism and throwing velocity to become a quality NFL starting quarterback, but at this stage, he reads coverages too slowly. Expect Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler to exacerbate this by disguising his looks on Sunday.
9. No pair of edge rushers make more splash plays than the Chargers’ Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. They must do that in run defense against Jacksonville. Putting the Jags in second-and-long makes it hard to hide Blake Bortles, whose game was littered with mistakes (physical and mental) early against Cincinnati last week. He got away with it because Cincy's D-line didn’t get the penetration to create negative plays.
10. Kyle Van Noy has quietly become a key player for New England. All season, he’s been the everydown stack linebacker—one of the two most critical jobs in a Patriots scheme that features a lot of 5-1 fronts. With Dont'a Hightower out, Van Noy is now essentially a defensive end. That’s the other most critical job.
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