• What can we expect in each of the 14 games to be played on Sunday? A quick look at the upcoming slate.
By Andy Benoit
September 21, 2018

Each Friday, Andy Benoit will take a quick look at every NFL game to be played over the weekend. Here's his Week 3 Weekend Preview.

Saints at Falcons

The Falcons have two young backups in the middle of their defense, with safety Damontae Kazee in for an injured Keanu Neal and linebacker Duke Riley in for an injured Deion Jones. Both have the speed for Dan Quinn’s scheme…and it will be Drew Brees’s aim to use that against them. No QB is better at using his eyes and subtle body mechanics (shoulder rolls, pump fakes, etc.) to manipulate zone defenders in the middle of the field. Brees will try to make Atlanta’s new interior pass defenders jumpy. 

Packers at Redskins

The Packers are a frustrating 3rd down defense to study. They play a lot of vague matchup coverages, sometimes with as many as seven defensive backs on the field. In front of those matchup coverages, they’ll show a pressure front only to drop multiple defenders into shallow underneath zones. They’re becoming very good at it. These are exactly the types of things you want to do against an often hesitant Alex Smith. It’s critical Washington run the ball well enough to avoid third-and-long.

Colts at Eagles

Carson Wentz is healthy, but none of Philly’s best receivers are. Mike Wallace and Mack Hollins are both on injured reserve. Alshon Jeffery has been out with a shoulder injury. Besides Nelson Agholor, the Eagles right now simply don’t have receivers who can win. Watching the team’s film against Tampa Bay, it was easy to forget backups Kamar Aiken and Shelton Gibson even existed. Jordan Matthews is back, but that doesn’t improve the receiving corps’ speed, which is grossly lacking. Carson Wentz is stepping into a tough situation.

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Bills at Vikings 

New defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson has looked great so far. His athleticism, which shows in his lower- AND upper-body movement, is as good as anyone’s. Buffalo’s offense has a litany of problems, the biggest being a deficient interior O-line. Richardson should be salivating. 

Raiders at Dolphins

In Week 2, Amari Cooper played with the confidence that we saw in his sterling first two seasons, when he averaged around 1,100 yards receiving. The Raiders can help their top wideout build on this by aligning him in the slot to avoid the press coverage that has sometimes hindered him. This week, snaps in the slot will pit Cooper against intriguing Dolphins first-round rookie Minkah Fitzpatrick, who has been mildly hit-or-miss in his technique underneath, but very sharp in his technique downfield. A good battle awaits. 

Broncos at Ravens

Sticking with “the slot,” that’s where Denver should put Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders on Sunday. Last Thursday the Bengals slaughtered the Ravens with throws to slot receivers out of trips sets. Some of that was about cornerback Tavon Young, who is approaching his third game back from a serious 2017 knee injury. More of it was about Baltimore’s pass D as a whole, which is weakened without inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, who has a bone bruise. 

Bengals at Panthers

Panthers top corner James Bradberry did not shadow any specific receiver in Week 1 against Dallas, but that well could be because Dallas has no receivers worth shadowing. Bradberry DID, at times, shadow Atlanta’s Julio Jones in Week 2. Will he shadow A.J. Green in Week 3? That could depend on how Panthers coaches feel about backup corner Corn Elder, who might have to fill-in for an injured Donte Jackson. Keeping Elder at right corner all game (which would keep Bradberry at left corner) could make him more comfortable. Then again, it also might leave him matched against Green, which can be incredibly uncomfortable.

Giants at Texans

New York’s O-line has short-circuited the offense in each of the first two weeks. After getting out-executed by a more talented Jaguars defensive front in Week 1, it got outsmarted by a familiar Cowboys front in Week 2. The Cowboys exposed the line’s lack of chemistry by rushing five and having players stunt and twist into different gaps. That’s exactly what the Texans are known for, especially in their patented “diamond front,” where Whitney Mercilus stands directly over the center. 

Titans at Jaguars

One reason the Jags offense is rolling is that offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett has designed some clever first-down play-action passes. That’s a great tactic with Blake Bortles. Play-action is a slower-developing play, which allows for Bortles’s slower-developing windup throwing motion. It also creates a lot of either-or reads, which aid more responsible decision-making. And, of course, it leverages Jacksonville’s run-first identity, which is what defenses are first geared to stop. 

49ers at Chiefs

Andy Reid isn’t blowing smoke when he says Patrick Mahomes can get better. Right now the second-year QB works through his progressions correctly, but not always fluidly. You’ll see subtle glitches in some of his vision and timing. That’s to be expected; most young QBs lack the acuity to even work through enough progressions to become glitchy. They freeze after their first or second read. Mahomes’s progression reading will only get smoother with experience. And that could happen sooner than later, given how masterful Kansas City’s spread passing game designs have been. This week that offense is facing a Niners defense that plays a lot of Cover 3 zone, which is what the Chiefs punished the Chargers and Steelers for playing in Weeks 1 and 2. 

Chargers at Rams

Wide receiver Keenan Allen is reportedly nine pounds lighter this season, and it shows. Allen has long been one of the NFL’s savviest route runners, particularly in how he sets up his breaks (most notably on slants and posts). Now, that body control is showing in how he releases off the line of scrimmage. He’s winning even earlier in the down than he did en route to the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award last season. The Rams have clever corners in Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters—both former AFC West players who have faced Allen multiple times and last season kept him in check. This will be a fascinating battle of techniques and wits. 

Cowboys at Seahawks

Earl Thomas only played free safety on 15 of Chicago’s 32 pass plays against Seattle last Monday night. On the other 17 plays, he was either at strong safety, where, in Seattle’s zone coverages, he becomes a more involved pass defender, or he was attached to a specific receiver in single-high man coverage, which the Seahawks employed seven times. The Cowboys are not a deep passing offense. Expect to see Thomas playing down closer to the box again this week.

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Bears at Cardinals

Slot blitzes were a staple for Arizona’s defense last season, and they’re a preferred tactic of new head coach Steve Wilks. But in this contest, it could be the Bears who have the strongest slot blitzing game. They don’t do it often, but when they do, it’s usually with Bryce Callahan, who is very adept here, including on longer blitzes where he’s coming from the wide side of the field. 

Patriots at Lions

Lions rookie left guard Frank Ragnow has struggled in pass protection. But can New England take advantage of that? Top pass rusher, Trey Flowers, is a master technician who can slide from end to tackle and rush inside, but he suffered a concussion early against Jacksonville. Without Flowers, this is a very underwhelming pass rush.

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