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  • Can the high-powered Saints crack the Ravens’ top-ranked D? Will the Dallas offense stay on track against Washington? Can the Bengals put the clamps on Patrick Mahomes? A look at the keys in each Sunday game
By Andy Benoit
October 19, 2018

All times Eastern.

Titans vs. Chargers, 9:30 a.m. ET (London), CBS

The Titans gave up an astonishing 11 sacks last week. Now they’re facing a Chargers defense that doesn’t bring as much designer pressure as the Ravens but has one of football’s best young blitzers in first-round rookie Derwin James. Expect Tennessee to line up in run-heavy formations early on, especially on second down, to discourage Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley from unleashing James out of disguised fronts.

Patriots at Bears, 1 p.m., CBS

There’s plenty to like about Mitchell Trubisky, especially if you believe his under-appreciated mobility can become a bigger facet of Chicago’s offense. That said, the second-year QB must develop better vision from the pocket. Trubisky left some throws on the field last week against Miami, at times because he was overly reactive in moving within the pocket. New England’s pass rush won’t challenge him the way Miami’s did, but the Patriots’ coverages will challenge him more. Trubisky will see a lot of man-to-man but with different free defenders dropping back or down inside.

Panthers at Eagles, 1 p.m., Fox

Devin Funchess is one of the most improved wideouts in football. He has evolved into a much better No. 1 receiver than his predecessor Kelvin Benjamin has in Buffalo. Refined route-running is to credit. Funchess, at 6’4”, 225, isn’t the twitchiest man, but he has deliberate, deceptive movement. Look for him to align on the right, where he can attack vulnerable cornerback Jalen Mills with double moves.

Vikings at Jets, 1 p.m., Fox

Minnesota finally got its rushing attack going last week, with Latavius Murray gaining 155 yards on 24 carries. That, however, was against a callow Cardinals linebacking corps. A bigger test comes this week against Jets linebackers Avery Williamson and Darron Lee and safety Jamal Adams, who play fast behind a sturdy defensive line. It would have helped if the Vikings’ own speedster, tailback Dalvin Cook, were back from a hamstring injury, but he’s been ruled out.

Lions at Dolphins, 1 p.m., Fox

Detroit’s front seven has a bevy of capable man-to-man defenders, which fits how head coach Matt Patricia wants to play, but it’s hard to envision any defense going far with such a lethargic pass rush. With Ziggy Ansah out, the Lions presented zero threat to opposing quarterbacks. Can Ansah's return this Sunday spark the entire pass rush? Even when he was healthy, too many of Detroit's plays have resembled seven-on-seven drills. Miami’s offense features a lot of quick strikes, but Adam Gase is one of the best downfield route designers in football. Even with backup QB Brock Osweiler, expect Gase to punish Detroit for an inept pass rush by dipping into his bag of deep throws.

Texans at Jaguars, 1:00 p.m., CBS

Speaking of an inept pass rush, that’s what has (very uncharacteristically) plagued Jacksonville’s D the last two weeks. It has disappointed against two outstanding offensive lines in Kansas City and Dallas. When trying to regenerate a pass rush, there’s no better foe to face than Houston and its lethargic tackles. If “Sacksonville” doesn’t get going against a Texans O-line that surrendered seven sacks to the Bills last week, it’ll be time for Jags fans to panic.

Browns at Buccaneers, 1:00 p.m., Fox

Jameis Winston looked very “Jameis Winstony” in his first full game of 2018. He hit some nice skinny posts inside and extended a few plays from within the pocket, but he also forced a throw or two and uncorked an ugly deep ball that Falcons free safety Da'Montae Kazee easily intercepted. Winston will probably never operate like a fine-tuned machine (he has a little too much cowboy in him, which is also part of what can make him great), but for the Bucs to right their ship, their talented QB must play a little steadier.

Bills at Colts, 1:00 p.m., CBS

Bills 35-year-old defensive tackle Kyle Williams is still terrific. He has lost some of his initial burst, but effort, technique and physical strength allow him to make plays later in the down. Williams will have a chance to make many on Sunday, as Colts rookie left guard Quenton Nelson has struggled against crafty pass rushers.

Saints at Ravens, 4:05 p.m., Fox

The Ravens, who have allowed the fewest points per game, love to rush five and play zone coverage with six. This is commonly called a “fire zone.” The Saints, who have scored the most points per game, have two staple plays that naturally attack fire zones: slant routes, where top receiver Michael Thomas excels, and backfield screens, which running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara execute extremely well. Slants and screens get the ball underneath, away from that fifth Baltimore pass rusher.

Cowboys at Redskins, 4:25 p.m., CBS

Don’t let the 40-point showing against Jacksonville’s vaunted defense fool you: Dallas’s passing game still has severe limitations. Even in blowing out the Jags, those limitations showed up, particularly on the perimeter. To overcome this, slot receiving ace Cole Beasley must continue to be featured underneath, and Dak Prescott’s legs must be a prominent part of the game plan. When he’s comfortable, Prescott is not overly reliant on those legs. He’ll patiently stay in a clean pocket—of which, lately, there have been many. Prescott can count on his protection winning again this week against an up-and-down Redskins pass rush.

Rams at 49ers, 4:25 p.m., CBS

For San Francisco to have any chance at slowing down L.A.’s high-powered offense (which, it should be noted, is minus stud receiver Cooper Kupp this week), the pass rush must get home. Where is Solomon Thomas? The third overall pick from 2017 has not turned his explosive second and third steps into a viable pass-rushing repertoire. Lately, some of Thomas’s reps at nickel defensive tackle have even gone to former Jaguars backup Sheldon Day. The Niners are already weak at edge rusher. It’s imperative Thomas give them more interior rush alongside DeForest Buckner.

Bengals at Chiefs, 8:20 p.m., NBC

The Bengals are a zone-based D, but some of their best work this season has come in highlighting former first-round corners William Jackson, Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard in man-to-man. Should defensive coordinator Teryl Austin play more of that Sunday night? The Chiefs have recently decreased their use of gadgetry and misdirection, but not enough for it to not still concern to a defense. Man-to-man makes defenders less susceptible to those deceptive offensive designs. Plus, out of traditional offensive designs, the Chiefs are lethal against predictable zone looks. The conundrum for Austin is that Dennard will likely miss this game with a shoulder injury. Would Austin trust No. 4 corner Tony McRae in man coverage? McRae will be in the slot, where the Chiefs often put Tyreek Hill.

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