Each Friday, Andy Benoit will take a quick look at every NFL game to be played over the weekend. Here's his Week 5 Weekend Preview.
Jaguars at Chiefs
Patrick Mahomes has faced mostly Cover 3-based defenses this season. He’ll see another Sunday, but it happens to be the league’s best. Will Mahomes be able to execute Andy Reid’s designer Cover 3-beaters? Or will he have to do what he did Monday night and make second-reaction (and sometimes third-or fourth-reaction) plays? This is about as compelling as a QB vs. defense matchup gets.
Ravens at Browns
It’s unfathomable that Cleveland ever sat Baker Mayfield behind Tyrod Taylor. Something besides football had to be behind that decision. The Browns are a high-functioning offense with Mayfield. Or, at least, a potentially high-functioning offense. The rookie QB was right when he said they must become more detail-oriented in their passing game. But the foundation is there. With an upgraded receiving corps, head coach Hue Jackson is running a much more expansive scheme, which Mayfield has the football IQ, field vision and decisiveness to maximize. Sure, there will be first-year learning experiences. (The Reggie Nelson late game interception at Oakland last week was a great example. Mayfield threw deep when the coverage demanded he work to the backside, where wideout Rashard Higgins had yet again beaten cornerback Rashaan Melvin on a dig route. If Mayfield sees Higgins, Cleveland probably wins the game.) But all the evidence suggests Mayfield will learn quickly from his mistakes. As for this week specifically, there could be a lot to learn from if he isn’t careful. No defense disguises coverages more than Baltimore.
Vikings at Eagles
Carson Wentz has looked like his old self more often than not these first two weeks. He’ll just keep getting better. This week, “getting better” will entail throwing to tight end Zach Ertz. Minnesota plays a lot of zone coverage underneath, and linebackers Eric Kendricks and especially Anthony Barr have struggled. Ertz is one of the game’s best at uncovering against zone. The key for Philadelphia will be finding designs that isolate Ertz against those linebackers. A defining trait of Minnesota’s D is the aggressiveness of safeties Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo. That’s undoubtedly who the Vikings will try to primarily match on Ertz. Let the chess match ensue.
Rams at Seahawks
K.J. Wright where art thou? The eighth-year linebacker remains out following August knee surgery. Now his replacement, Mychal Kendricks, is suspended indefinitely as the league tries—aimlessly, it appears—to figure out how to punish him for pleading guilty to insider trading. That means Seattle is again relying on Austin Calitro, a second-year journeyman. (And no, "second-year journeyman" is not oxymoronic. Seattle is one of four NFL cities the undrafted linebacker has, perhaps ironically, already called home.) Sean McVay has a very specific target for his patented play-actions and backfield screens this week.
Giants at Panthers
Watching Giants film, you do get the sense that Eli Manning might not be totally confident in his offensive line. (That's understandable; the line has often struggled.) The 15th-year quarterback is not looking to go late into the down from the pocket. The Panthers, with a rich D-line rotation and stars both inside (Kawann Short) and outside (Mario Addison), are not who you want to face when doubting your O-line.
Titans at Bills
Even with offensive tackles Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin both healthy for the first time all year, the Titans last week did not attempt to run the ball against a formidable Eagles front. Instead, first-year play-caller Matt LaFleur went with a lot of play-action. The designs were sharp, even if they didn’t lead to many points early on. Expect more of that this week. The Bills aren’t as stingy in run D as the Eagles, but, like the Eagles, they play a lot of zone. Play-action offenses prefer that; zone defenders have a better view of the ball and can be more reactive to its fakes. Rookie linebacker Tremaine Edmunds has been especially vulnerable at times this year. LaFleur will undoubtedly make the 20-year-old process information.
Packers at Lions
Keep an eye on Detroit’s Jarrad Davis. He has the physical traits to eventually be the best linebacker in football, but he’s still learning the game. Last week against Dallas, he exploded to the ball several times, but he also had a tendency to wait on blocks—which is how a linebacker gets blocked. He was also beaten (not badly, but enough) in man coverage a few times, including on what amounted to Ezekiel Elliott’s game-winning 34-yard catch. That man coverage will only continue this week; it’s what Matt Patricia likes and it’s how defenses often approach Green Bay’s offense. Davis must be ready against Packers receiving backs Aaron Jones and especially Ty Montgomery.
Falcons at Steelers
We went over what’s ailing these teams in Wednesday’s Deep Dive. For the Steelers, it’s the No. 2 corner position. Problems there can be costly when facing an offense that has Julio Jones and, now, Calvin Ridley. Atlanta’s first-round rookie, thanks to great speed and the athletic prowess to control it, has five touchdowns over the last two weeks.
Dolphins at Bengals
Linebacker Vontaze Burfict is back. Can that shore up the run defense and underneath zone coverage that ailed the Bengals at Atlanta last Sunday? Can the Dolphins even exploit it? Their offense is built to beat you through the air in 5-10-yard chunks, but that’s irrelevant if O-line problems and general sloppiness keep creating the 3rd-and-long situations that play-caller Adam Gase abhors.
Raiders at Chargers
Philip Rivers probably salivated watching the Raiders safeties on film this week. Veterans Reggie Nelson and Marcus Gilchrist have both surrendered big plays in zone coverage. Backup Erik Harris, who’d shined as an open field tackler the first few weeks, all of a sudden became a whiffing specialist against Cleveland. The Raiders plays a lot of two-deep zone coverages, which invite an offense to attack the middle downfield. Expect to see wideout Keenan Allen on deep post patterns.
Cardinals at 49ers
When C.J. Beathard faced the Cardinals in Week 9 last year, he took an absolute beating from Arizona’s interior blitzers. New Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks prefers to blitz from the edges, but he may want to consider amending that this week.
Broncos at Jets
Jets linebackers Darron Lee and Avery Williamson must be on high alert in shallow coverage. Last week the Jaguars, who are great at beating matchup coverages with picks and crossing routes, hurt New York here. Now the Jets are facing a Broncos offense that likes to move QB Case Keenum’s pocket and run tight ends on crossing routes, with tailbacks leaking out underneath.
Cowboys at Texans
Dallas’s offensive line is starting to look like its old self. Even Joe Looney, filling in for stud center Travis Fredrick, has recently flashed in the running game. Now that O-line is facing perhaps the NFL’s most dynamic front seven. Set your sights in the trenches Sunday night. With Houston’s injury marred secondary, and Dallas’s just plain marred receiving corps, this battle will be decided primarily up front.
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