- What can we expect in each of the 13 games to be played on Sunday? A quick look at the upcoming slate.
Each Friday, Andy Benoit will take a quick look at every NFL game to be played over the weekend. Here's his Week 1 Weekend Preview.
Texans at Patriots
Given how important Deshaun Watson is to the Texans long-term, it’s hard to imagine they’d put him out there if he weren’t truly 100% recovered from last year’s ACL injury. The Patriots should fully expect Bill O’Brien to feature Watson’s mobility as much as he did when these teams met last September. That doesn’t mean just running Watson, but also moving his pocket and giving him multiple options off of presnap motion. To augment these threats, O’Brien must run Watson on some sort of QB keeper early on, so that Watson’s legs stay at the front of the Patriots’ minds.
49ers at Vikings
49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan admitted this week that losing free agent tailback Jerick McKinnon to a torn ACL changes San Francisco’s offense “pretty drastically.” That’s primarily in the passing game, where McKinnon’s flexibility was to be featured both outside and inside. In Shanahan’s bevy of presnap shifts and motions, a respectable receiving back can control the defense without even touching the ball. How well the Niners fill McKinnon’s void this season will decide whether they play in January.
Bengals at Colts
When Andrew Luck steps to the line of scrimmage for the first time in 20 months, he’ll have to take a beat longer to survey the defense. New Bengals defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is not necessarily a high-volume, aggressive play-caller, but he makes a QB hesitant by aligning his safeties in a blurry fashion. It takes headier safeties to do this, which is why it was eye-catching a few weeks ago when the Bengals dumped George Iloka. They’re putting a lot of faith in second-round rookie Jessie Bates.
Bills at Ravens
This could be a tough week for LeSean McCoy. Baltimore’s stout D-line is much stronger than Buffalo’s retooled O-line, and the linebackers and safeties are all fast enough to chase down McCoy when he bounces outside. With so little threat posed by Buffalo’s passing game, you can bet those safeties will be triggering quickly against the run.
Bucs at Saints
Saints corner Marshon Lattimore got the better of Bucs stud wideout Mike Evans in both games last season (Evans, recall, was suspended after that first game for cheap-shotting Lattimore in a sideline argument). Lattimore, though not oversized, is the rare corner who can handle Evans’s unique speed and high-point ability on balls downfield. Expect the Bucs to motion Evans into the slot at times in hopes of giving him vertical routes against safeties instead of against New Orleans’s star corner.
Titans at Dolphins
Ryan Tannehill will be stressed intellectually in his first game in over a year. Tennessee’s defense under new coach Mike Vrabel and new coordinator Dean Pees could be the most diverse and aggressive in football, especially in the front seven. The Dolphins run a lot of 1-RB, 3-WR packages, which presents limited options in the ground game, making it easier for defenses to be schematically aggressive up front. The tradeoff is those 1-RB, 3-WR packages can make a defense’s coverage more limited and predictable—especially with how often Gase puts all three of the wide receivers to one side. Most of this matchup’s passing plays will be decided by Tennessee’s pass rush and Miami’s pass protection.
Jaguars at Giants
How will the Giants use Saquon Barkley? We’ll get a lot of answers this week, as facing the NFL’s fastest defense demands that an offense rely more on highly-schemed tactics. One ploy could be to put Barkley on the same side of the field as Odell Beckham—be it out wide, in the slot or even in an offset shotgun tailback position. The Steelers have done this for years with Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. It’s hard for a D to double-team two stars on one side.
Steelers at Browns
Speaking of Bell … his absence puts second-year back James Conner in the spotlight. The Steelers can tout Conner’s running ability, but the question is how much they can trust the young back in pass protection. No defense was more aggressive with disguises and blitzes than the Browns last year.
Chiefs at Chargers
The Pat Mahomes hype machine is in high speed at Sports Illustrated, where a shocking number of staffers picked Kansas City for the Super Bowl. Young QBs, especially when they have dynamic skill sets like Mahomes, can be frenetic when they get an unclear defensive picture. Fortunately, the Chargers under coordinator Gus Bradley aren’t a big disguising defense. Bradley prefers to stay simple and let his men play fast. Perhaps no defense is fast enough for Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Travis Kelce. If Mahomes can stay patient and poised, we could see some of the big plays that have our staffers so excited. ;
Cowboys at Panthers
Last we saw Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner, he was struggling with an injury-ravaged offensive line in Minnesota, where he ultimately resigned as Mike Zimmer’s offensive architect. Now, he finds himself with a Panthers O-line that is without left tackle Matt Kalil (knee) and made no moves to replace departed stalwart guard Andrew Norwell. Such is life in the NFL. Turner, who employs a downfield passing game, must adapt by keeping extra men in to pass-block. The Cowboys will stress his offensive line with stunts and twists, including in the running game.
Redskins at Cardinals
Much of Washington’s passing game occurs inside to take advantage of top weapons like tight ends Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis, slot man Jamison Crowder and backfield receiver Chris Thompson. An inside-based passing game is notable this week for two reasons: 1) It naturally keeps Cardinals shutdown perimeter corner Patrick Peterson out of the equation, and 2) It can exploit the spacing issues that arise in new Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks’s scheme, which features a unique mix of slot blitzes and zone coverage.
Seahawks at Broncos
We talk so much about quarterback Case Keenum’s limitations that it’s easy to forget he was one of the more aggressive QBs in football last year. Will the Broncos use that aggression to go downfield against Seattle’s revamped (downgraded) secondary? Before Tuesday, the answer would have surely been yes. But then Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas ended his holdout. Now we must wait and see.
Bears at Packers
All eyes are on Khalil Mack. He’ll face a not-always-pretty, but often-effective Bryan Bulaga Sunday night. Typically, the Packers don’t give Bulaga much help in pass protection, preferring instead to get all five eligible receivers quickly out in routes.
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