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  • Plus, a new star emerges for the Chargers’ defense, the plan for Josh Rosen, the emergence of Leighton Vander Esch, the dominance of Michael Thomas and more
By Albert Breer
September 30, 2018

1. The curtain officially goes up on the Browns’ Baker Mayfield Era this afternoon in Oakland. And provided they can manage down-and-distance effectively, the coaches will try and get Mayfield some easy completion early through the run-pass option concepts (yes, “RPOs,” I still have to write it out) he’s familiar and comfortable with. Those in the building say he’s brought an energy this week, and getting him off to a quick start would capitalize on that.

2. I always want to give you guys players you should be making an effort to watch, so here’s one: Derwin James. Lots of things have gone wrong for the Chargers, but that first-round pick isn’t one of them. He’s showing rare ability already in making plays at all three levels of the defense, as a pass-rusher, box safety, and centerfielder. Through three games, he’s got two sacks, four pass breakups, a pick, and 19 tackles. And maybe the coolest thing about him is that those in L.A. have a hard time coming up with a comp for him, which means you should feel free to throw the word “unique” around.

3. The Cardinals are going to simplify things schematically this week to help Josh Rosen. One lingering concern is that he didn’t get many preseason snaps (only 28 pass attempts), which could affect his acclimation to the speed of the NFL game. So by cutting down on volume a bit, and playing to his strengths, the hope would be he can play fast against the Seahawks.

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4. The Raiders have scored 35 first half points through three games, and just 17 second-half points. And the team’s propensity to fade late was addressed this week in Oakland. The coaches put an emphasis on finishing the late periods in practice on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and asked that the players stay off their feet on Friday night. We’ll see if it helps with Cleveland coming in.

5. Leighton Vander Esch will start in Sean Lee’s accustomed spot at the Will (weakside) linebacker this week, after serving as a spot player in his first three NFL games (he was in on 38% of Dallas’ defensive snaps). And as good as Lee is, the Cowboys are hopeful the dropoff won’t be severe. Most of Vander Esch’s regular-season snaps have come at the Will (about 90% of them, to 10% at the Sam), which is his most natural position and one that highlights athleticism and ability to chase.

6. The Jets are hopeful that second-year safety Marcus Maye will make his debut in Jacksonville today, and that would be huge—the team has absolutely missed Jamal Adams’s bookend the last two weeks. He returned to practice on Wednesday, after missing more than a month.

7. A.J. Derby’s injury opens the door for rookie Mike Gesicki to make an impact for the Dolphins in their showdown against the Patriots. And Gesicki is just the kind of weapon that could give the New England linebackers and safeties trouble (which makes Patrick Chung’s status coming off a concussion one to watch). I’d expect Miami to try and play matchup ball with him. The flip side is that Gesicki is the kind of tight end that the Patriots have, in the past, treated as a receiver in how they set up coverage.

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8. We pointed out last week how good Ryan Fitzpatrick has been on first down (31-44, 627 yards, 5 TDs, INT, 141.3 rating), and I’d expect the Bucs to keep being aggressive there. It’s probably the best way to keep Khalil Mack and the Bears’ ferocious pass rush at bay.

9. We hit up Michael Thomas for last week’s MMQB to explain his intergalactic start (on pace for more than 200 catches and 2,000 receiving yards), and he gets a Giants secondary this week that’s short his college teammate, Eli Apple. This week, I wanted to figure out what the Saints are doing, from defensive coaches’ perspective, to get their third-year star the ball. And what I got back: The Saints are moving him around, getting him the ball quick and short, and doing everything they can see to it that Thomas is a big part of every game. It’s been very hard to stop. And very smart for a New Orleans staff that has had to work around its defense’s struggles thus far.

10. Calvin Ridley rebounded from a tough NFL debut like this: five catches, 64 yards and a touchdown against the Panthers, then eight catches for 146 yards and three touchdowns against the Saints. And in doing so, the Falcons’ vision when they took him in the first round is being realized. Defenses already have to deal with Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. Ridley was drafted to make them pay for focusing on Jones, or both of those guys. He’s starting to do that now. Which means the Bengals will have choices to make this week, like New Orleans did last week.

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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