• Can the Pack’s D-line slow Todd Gurley and the Rams? Will the Broncos’ run game keep Patrick Mahomes off the field? Can the Jags and Eagles find a pass rush? A look at the keys in each Sunday game
By Andy Benoit
October 25, 2018

All times Eastern.

Eagles vs. Jaguars (London) | 9:30 a.m. | NFL Network

Two teams that reached the final four last year are now playing for the prize of a 4-4 record. They can cite the same issue behind their woes: a declining pass rush. In 2017, Jacksonville and Philadelphia had the most dominant pass rushes in their respective conferences. Not anymore. We’ve seen flashes from the many talented individual players up front, but not a collective destructiveness. If that doesn’t change, these clubs will hover just below .500 for the rest of 2018.

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Saints at Vikings | 8:20 p.m. | NBC

Since Mark Ingram’s return from suspension, not only have Alvin Kamara’s snaps dipped, but so has his usage in the passing game. The Saints aren’t designing as many aerial opportunities for him. This includes on scripted plays early in games, where Kamara, historically, sees the ball about 50 percent of the time. Minnesota’s defense has started to stabilize after a rough start, but Sean Payton should still want to test linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks in coverage. Kamara is obviously the best weapon for that.

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Packers at Rams | 4:25 p.m. | Fox

Even with Dean Lowry filling in for an injured Muhammad Wilkerson, the Packers have one of the more talented three-man D-lines in football, with Mike Daniels (a terrific strongman) and Kenny Clark (a bigger, more athletic strongman) leading the way. And yet, despite this abundance of individual talent, Green Bay’s run defense is one of the NFL’s most inconsistent. It ranks 22nd overall after getting gashed for 174 yards by San Francisco’s outside zone running game two weeks ago. Now the Packers, coming off a bye, are facing a Rams offense that features the same rushing scheme only with better, more efficient players.

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Broncos at Chiefs | 1 p.m | CBS

The more you watch the Broncos, the more convinced you become that undrafted rookie Phillip Lindsay is their best running back. And that’s not to suggest that fellow rookie Royce Freeman (who might miss this game with an ankle injury) isn’t living up to his third-round draft status. Lindsay just has a different gear. He’s shifty and quick, yet he runs with enough balance and deceptive strength to break tackles. When these teams met on Monday night in Week 4, Denver ran the ball just 22 times, but for 159 yards. Lindsay had 69 of those yards on 12 carries.

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Redskins at Giants | 1 p.m. | Fox

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Beckham vs. Norman. The last time was New Year’s Day 2017, and Beckham sat for part of that game as the Giants had already locked up a playoff spot. The time before that was September 25, 2016 (Week 3), when Norman got all kinds of help by Washington’s scheme and got torched when he didn’t. (The ball, for a variety of reasons, didn’t always go to Beckham on those plays; Norman and the Redskins got lucky.) The Giants should have no reservations about lining Beckham up on the right side and working him against Washington’s top corner this Sunday.

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Seahawks at Lions | 1 p.m. | Fox

Damon Harrison, who arrives in trade from the Giants, may be football’s best pure front-line run defender, and yes Detroit’s run D, statistically, ranks third worst in the league. But it’s a run D that’s better on film than on paper and will most likely finish ranked somewhere in the low 20s or high teens. The bigger concern for this NFC North contending team is still the pass rush. It’s mediocre when Ziggy Ansah is healthy and nonexistent when he’s not. Harrison is certainly worth the fifth-round pick Detroit gave up, and his high seven-figure cap number is justified by his first- and second-down dominance. But it’s worth noting that his arrival does not correct Detroit’s edge-rushing ineptitude.

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Ravens at Panthers | 1 p.m. | CBS

With linebacker Thomas Davis back, Carolina’s defense looks complete. Think about this: In an era of detailed substitution patterns and front seven specialists, the Panthers play base 4-3 personnel against heavy formations (think “22,” with 2 back and 2 tight ends, “13” with 1 back and 3 tight ends, or sets with extra offensive linemen). And, though they’ve done it less this year, they can also play that same base 4-3 against three-receiver packages. Thank the versatility of Davis and fellow linebackers Shaq Thompson and Luke Kuechly. That linebacking versatility will come in handy against a Ravens offense that employs different looks out of different multi-tight end packages.

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Browns at Steelers | 1 p.m. | CBS

Cleveland coaches can be thrilled with first-round rookie corner Denzel Ward, but with injuries and personnel adjustments having occurred at No. 2 corner, you wonder if at some point they might look across to the other sideline and wish they still had Joe Haden. He’s been the most constant bright spot on what’s now (quietly) a gradually improving Steelers defense. Haden really thrives in downfield vertical coverage, especially when the ball is in the air. The Steelers played more matchup coverages in their last outing (Week 6 at Cincinnati). Haden makes this aggressive approach more available.

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Colts at Raiders | 4:05 p.m. | CBS

Don’t look now, but Indy could soon have one of football’s best offensive lines. The return of tackle Anthony Castonzo has stabilized the left side, where guard Quenton Nelson is becoming steadier, showing the combination of strength and mobility that got him drafted sixth overall. On the right side, ex-Seahawk Mark Glowinski has been very solid since taking over at guard in Week 6, and second-round tackle Braden Smith showed tremendous athleticism in the team’s dominating Week 7 performance against Buffalo.

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Buccaneers at Bengals | 1 p.m. | Fox

This could be a big game for Bengals receiver Tyler Boyd, who, besides a quiet showing at Kansas City last week, is having a sensational season. The Bucs are a fairly predictable zone-based D and are down a quality starting linebacker (Kwon Alexander, ACL). Expect the Bengals to stretch Tampa Bay’s zones with spread formations and target Boyd on option routes from the slot.

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Jets at Bears | 1 p.m. | CBS

Mitchell Trubisky is not a comfortable QB right now. What’s so concerning is that he’s not seeing receivers who are open in his early progressions. That happens when a quarterback doesn’t understand his own play designs or, more likely in Trubisky’s case, doesn’t quickly process the defense’s coverage. With his head (presumably) spinning fast, Trubisky is also misfiring on some throws that he has made in the past. The Jets will try to exacerbate these problems by moving lightning bug safety Jamal Adams all over.

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49ers at Cardinals | 4:25 p.m. | Fox

Since probably only the nerdiest, most passionate fans of these one-win teams are reading this paragraph, here’s some hardcore nerdy football analysis: When Kyle Juszczyk aligns in an offset fullback position, Cardinals linebackers must be alert for some sort of misdirection throw, and defensive ends must especially be alert for Juszczyk cut-blocking them. The Niners have a lot of neat designs off their offset two-back formations.

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


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