- Plus, pay close attention to the Vikings’ first-down play-calling in Atlanta, Josh McCown’s faith in Robby Anderson, Goff’s growth, pressure on Hundley, a big week on tap for Cameron Jordan and a bigger role for Marshawn Lynch
1. Julio Jones vs. Xavier Rhodes is the best receiver-corner matchup you can get. Both are top-three at their respective positions, and they have similar styles of play. Don’t be surprised to see Jones in the slot a little more than usual this week; Rhodes doesn’t play inside often, but over the years he’s had success against bigger receivers here in man coverage. If it’s zone coverage, Rhodes will remain outside, and Jones will work against safeties Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo. That’s a matchup Matt Ryan will attack downfield.
2. On Thanksgiving, Minnesota ran the ball on 26 of its 34 first down plays at Detroit (that’s 76%; in the NFL, 55% running on first down is high). Those runs averaged 4.3 yards a pop. Notably, on Minnesota’s eight first-down passes, Case Keenum had seven completions for 94 yards and a touchdown. Look for this approach again Sunday at Atlanta. The Vikings must establish power football to negate Atlanta’s speed on defense.
3. Over his last four games, Jets wideout Robby Anderson has three touchdowns on vertical routes from just outside the red zone. All three times, Anderson lined up on the offense’s right. If he does this Sunday, it’ll be against Chiefs star corner Marcus Peters. Will Josh McCown be reluctant to target Anderson here? Probably not. Anderson’s 33-yard touchdown last week against the Panthers came against a clear double-team (corner James Bradberry and safety Mike Adams). It was a ball McCown should have never thrown. The veteran QB has a lot of faith in his second-year receiver.
4. The Panthers like to stabilize their passing game by sliding the entire offensive line to one side and having a tight end and running back stay in as blockers on the other. You get only three receivers out in routes this way, but those receivers have time to stretch the field. Expect Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to get creative with his fronts and pressure concepts in order to get bull-rushing extraordinaire Cameron Jordan working against that running back/tight end side. Jordan would have two blockers to face, but it’s still a mismatch favoring New Orleans. And if Jordan winds up facing offensive tackle Matt Kalil or Darryl Williams, well, that’s fine too. Both blockers struggled against power rushes last week versus the Jets.
5. DeShone Kizer has been making better decisions recently, and defenses still seem surprised to learn that he’s mobile. The concern is down-to-down accuracy. Kizer’s ball placement has been erratic. It was at Notre Dame, too. This portends limited long-term growth potential. You can’t teach a passer to be accurate. Kizer was, at least, more precise last week against Cincinnati. We’ll see if that carries over this week against a Chargers defense that’s not necessarily better than Cincinnati’s, but is more dynamic.
6. Raiders offensive coordinator Todd Downing has been under fire, in part for not feeding Marshawn Lynch enough. That might be changing. Against Denver last week, Downing ran 19 times on 27 first-down snaps. Lynch’s overall numbers were modest—67 yards on 26 carries—but he kept the Raiders in more manageable third downs, where Derek Carr was 6 of 8 for 156 yards. And it’s worth noting: Lynch was most effective running out of shotgun (11 carries, 43 yards), which he did well in Seattle. Will Downing stick with the run again? Oakland faces a formidable Giants defensive line on Sunday.
7. Add Mike Pouncey to the growing list of Dolphins offensive players who are struggling. Pouncey had some terrible snaps in pass protection against New England, mentally and physically. The Broncos will show some five-man rushes on Sunday to isolate Pouncey one-on-one.
8. The remarkable part about the Rams’ transformed offense is its young quarterback, Jared Goff, is still a work in progress. An upward trending one, sure, but a work in progress nonetheless. Goff is still getting accustomed to making full-field reads from the pocket. He was off-target a few times downfield against the Saints last week, and there were some receivers he failed to see. And yet the Rams still functioned well. That’s a great commentary on the play design and play-calling. Ultimately, that play design and play-calling helped Goff locate his rhythm. It’s encouraging to see a young QB correct himself over the course of a game. This week Goff faces a Cardinals defense that’s strong along the front (don’t expect much from L.A.’s ground game) and explosive blitzing off the edge. Win or lose, this will be another building block game for him.
9. Last time the Jaguars faced the Colts, Jacoby Brissett was sacked 10 times. Many of those stemmed from coverage or from Brissett holding the ball. Because of this, and because the Jaguars have an even more potent pass rush this time around (quick, agile weakside defensive end Yannick Ngakoue has really come on), expect the Colts to feature more quick-strike throws. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes; quick strikes don’t fit Brissett’s skill set or offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski’s system.
10. Sunday is all but a must-win game for Green Bay at homes against Tampa Bay. Brett Hundley is facing a Bucs defense that plays predictable zones and can’t rush the passer (a bad combination). It’s imperative he be patient from the pocket, like he was for much (but unfortunately not all) of last week’s game at Pittsburgh.
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