Each Friday, Andy Benoit will take a quick look at every NFL game to be played over the weekend. Here's his Week 4 Weekend Preview.
Ravens at Steelers
After playing like an elder, sagacious field general in Pittsburgh’s quick-strike offense the last few years, Ben Roethlisberger is suddenly back to being Big Ben. Some of the throws he’s made under duress in sandlot mode have been jaw-dropping. Will we see more of that this week? No defense does more with zone coverage disguises than Baltimore. It’s easy to envision Big Ben holding the ball and letting those disguises shake out. However, recall that last year in Week 14 against the Ravens, Roethlisberger threw a career-high 66 times. All but 13 of those throws were underneath, many of them on quick timing.
Texans at Colts
No defense is overachieving more than Indy’s. It’s a young group with limitations throughout its front seven and only a so-so secondary, but every week you see these players execute their zone assignments soundly and rally like hell to the ball. First-year defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus deserves a lot of credit. His unit has looked very well-coached in all three games.
Bills at Packers
This is a tough road mission for Bills rookie quarterback Josh Allen. His receivers don’t match up well to Green Bay’s zealous man coverage, and many of those man coverages have hybrid elements that put zone defenders inside. When Allen’s reads are perfectly clear, he displays his awesome arm talent and even a little of the nuanced body language to manipulate zone defenders. But when the reads aren’t clear, Allen looks like a deer in headlights. With Green Bay’s scheme, a QB’s reads are often unclear.
Saints at Giants
New right tackle Chad Wheeler (or Mr. Not Ereck Flowers, as he’s formally known to most Giants fans) faced J.J. Watt in his first start last week. To put it kindly, Wheeler had his hands full. This week? He gets Cam Jordan, whose energy, talent and technique last year garnered First Team All-Pro honors. Expect the Giants to often align a tight end on the right side to help their new tackle.
Bucs at Bears
It’s evident in his play-calling that Bears head coach Matt Nagy feels QB Mitchell Trubisky must be brought along slowly. Trubisky seems to be most comfortable with misdirection concepts that work underneath. It’ll be interesting to see how those play out against aggressive downhill linebackers like Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander.
Dolphins at Patriots
If safety Patrick Chung is out, the second level of New England’s defense becomes slow. Linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy are pounders, not chasers. The Lions exploited this Sunday night with quick throws underneath. That’s something the Dolphins do better than maybe anyone. Offensive architect Adam Gase tags a lot of slants, flat routes and wide receiver screens onto his run plays. QB Ryan Tannehill gets to the line, reads the D and checks accordingly. Chung’s presence is crucial for the Patriots this week. Fortunately for them, he has practiced all week and seems likely to play.
Lions at Cowboys
Thanks to Sean Lee’s ailing hamstring, Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch is making his first NFL start. One thing the first-round rookie must be prepared for are “counter” runs out of shotgun from Lions rookie tailback Kerryon Johnson. Those runs tend to keep Johnson on his original side in the formation. In other words, if he’s aligned left of the QB, the run will go left. It’s a subtly unusual look that a linebacker, paradoxically, must diagnose both quickly and patiently.
Bengals at Falcons
Cincy should try to recreate the success it had in Week 2 with throwing to receivers from the slot. Put A.J. Green in there and run him on vertical routes down the middle, where injuries to linebacker Deion Jones and safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen have depleted Atlanta’s defense.
Jets at Jaguars
This is the first time in a while that Jekyll and Hyde QB Blake Bortles is coming off one of his Jekyll games. (Or is it Hyde? Which one is the bad one again?) Last week against Tennessee, Bortles was off-target on several routine throws. By the end, you could see his mental gears churning and confidence wavering as he started aiming the ball. The Jets, who are rich at safety and cornerback, should press Jacksonville’s receivers and not let Bortles locate his timing and rhythm. Linebackers Avery Williamson and Darron Lee will be big in this equation; Jacksonville excels with rub routes and intersecting crossers (i.e. mesh concepts) to beat man-to-man. Williamson or Lee must help pick up receivers here.
Eagles at Titans
Carson Wentz was overly aggressive early in his first game back, throwing deep and outside on several occasions that demanded throws short and inside. Twice he even went to No. 3 tight end Joshua Perkins against a starting corner who had sideline and/or safety help. EEK! The Colts showed Wentz a lot of Cover 2 that game, and as the afternoon progressed, the young QB settled in. Now Wentz is facing a Titans defense that has prospered playing straight Cover 2 (last week versus Jacksonville) and uniquely disguised Cover 2 (two weeks ago versus Houston). It’ll be interesting to see what the Titans show Wentz.
Browns at Raiders
Let’s see where the Baker Mayfield mania lands Sunday night after he’s played his first game as a starter, on the road, against a defense that prepared for him. This is about as perfect of a defense as a new QB can face. The Raiders right now are rotating heavily at linebacker, slot corner, safety and almost everywhere along their defensive line. That speaks volumes about the unit’s overall lack of talent.
Seahawks at Cardinals
Cardinals first-year head coach Steve Wilks spoke this week about how important it is that he trust who he puts on the field. What does that say about linebackers Deone Bucannon and Hassan Reddick? Both are fast, dynamic young former first-round picks, and yet they’re benched behind journeymen Josh Bynes and Gerald Hodges (a player whom some coaches have explicitly NOT trusted at previous stops).
49ers at Chargers
The good with San Francisco’s D? Reuben Foster and Fred Warner look like the future best run-defending linebacker tandem in football. (Foster’s raw talent jumped off the screen in his season debut last week.) The bad? As pass rushers, Niners nickel defensive ends Ronald Blair and Cassius Marsh are barely better than you and me.
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