- What can we expect in each of the 11 games to be played on Sunday? A quick look at the upcoming slate.
Each Friday, Andy Benoit will take a quick look at every NFL game to be played over the weekend. Here's his Week 9 Weekend Preview.
Packers at Patriots
It’s easy to forget that Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are not facing each other, but rather, New England’s and Green Bay’s respective defenses. How will those wars be waged? New England is set up to follow the gameplan that most teams use against Rodgers: man coverage with little blitzing. Don’t be surprised if the Patriots rush three and spy the QB with utility man Kyle Van Noy. The other side of the ball is harder to project. Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine prefers to disguise blitzes with extra defensive backs on the field. (The beauty is those blitzes can be super disguised because the defensive backs, being faster than linebackers, can cover more ground.) But blitzing the quick-striking Brady can be perilous, plus the Patriots are more than willing to put fullback James Develin on the field and ram the ball down a light dime defense’s throat. The guess here is Pettine will live with that possibility and hope that talented defensive linemen Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark can disrupt the running game. Recall that when Pettine was with the Jets, he sometimes played as many as seven defensive backs at once against Brady.
Rams at Saints
Running backs in the passing game could decide this one. Alvin Kamara was the reason the Saints were even competitive when they visited the Rams in Week 12 last year. Will Sean Payton go back to featuring Kamara on the weak side of spread empty formations? (Taysom Hill’s curious rise seems to have come at the expense of New Orleans’s once-foundational spread-empty passing game.) Speaking of empty sets, that’s what the Rams employed at times last week against Green Bay when throwing to Todd Gurley. This doesn’t necessarily reflect a shift in philosophy, though. Those empty formations were condensed, not spread, and out of them the Rams still ran many of their usual pass plays for Gurley. Whichever team gets more big catches from its tailback will win this game. And keep in mind it was reported yesterday that Saints DE Marcus Davenport will be out for about a month with a toe injury.
Lions at Vikings
Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are the best receiving tandem in football, but it’s worth casting a spotlight on Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones. Golladay is strong, long and athletic. The Vikings will almost certainly shadow him with top corner Xavier Rhodes and trust him to win one-on-one. Rhodes was back at practice Thursday so should play after missing last week. That frees up safety help for No. 2 corner Trae Waynes against Jones, who is a balletic route runner and acrobatic receiver. If the Vikings can keep Jones in check, Detroit’s offense will dry up.
Steelers at Ravens
The Steelers have football’s most athletic interior blocking tandem in Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro, and running back James Conner is playing great. But the coaching staff has been reluctant to pound the rock in recent matchups against an oversized, athletic Ravens front seven. That front seven struggled last week with a Panthers ground game that featured man-blocking and a bevy of misdirection. Pouncey and DeCastro provide the man-blocking dimension, but schematically, Pittsburgh’s ground game is pretty straightforward. Will the Steelers call upon it or ask Ben Roethlisberger to drop back 50 times?
Chargers at Seahawks
Under new O-line coach Mike Solari and play-caller Brian Schottenheimer, Seattle has the NFL’s most improved offensive line. It looks like an entirely different unit, especially on the ground, where there’s a greater diversity of schematic concepts and continuity. Seattle’s blocking improvements have stabilized to the point that tailbacks Chris Carson and Mike Davis have become more patient yet decisive runners. Expect Seattle to run the ball 35-plus times against L.A.
Buccaneers at Panthers
It will be tough for Panthers receiver Curtis Samuel to produce at a level commensurate with his 2017 second-round draft billing because everything Samuel can do, this year’s first-round pick D.J. Moore, can do better. Moore is gradually filling more of the increasing gadgetry demands in Norv Turner’s offense. That gadgetry—end-arounds, jet sweeps, orbit motion, play-action and misdirection screens—will be employed often against a fast-flowing Bucs linebacking unit that is diminished without Kwon Alexander.
Texans at Broncos
Will we get Chris Harris versus DeAndre Hopkins? Harris is playing a little more outside and a little less in the slot this season. Given his physical style and refined technique, it’d make sense for him to travel with Hopkins, who often aligns outside, including as an X-iso receiver on the weak side.
Falcons at Redskins
Washington’s run defense ranks second because linebackers Mason Foster and Zach Brown have been outstanding at diagnosing blocking structures and playing off an improved Redskins D-line. They’ve been especially adept against man-blocking run plays, but that isn’t to say they can’t perform against a Falcons ground game that features almost all outside zone.
Chiefs at Browns
The Browns do a lot of different things on defense…will that continue now that coordinator Gregg Williams has head coaching responsibilities? More immediately, will we see the schematic diversity this week against Kansas City’s electrifying, and often unconventional, offense? When the Browns aren’t diverse, they lately have played a lot of straight man coverage. As long as you can keep eyes on Patrick Mahomes, that’s usually the soundest way to defend Kansas City.
Jets at Dolphins
Head coach Adam Gase called a ton of his beloved “speed trips” formation when the Dolphins visited the Jets back in Week 2. In “speed trips,” three wide receivers align to one side and a tight end aligns by himself on the other. It’s a look so prominent that it prompted last year’s trade for Julius Thomas and, after Thomas failed to pan out, this year’s second-round selection of Mike Gesicki. But Gesicki has been somewhat slow to develop and has only played 44.26% of the snaps. Gase will run speed-trips with other tight ends, though not like he would if his second-round rookie were more of an every-down contributor.
Bears at Bills
Everyone piles on Nathan Peterman and Buffalo’s quarterback situation, but this team’s biggest problem is the O-line’s lack of athleticism. A plodding front five limits what coordinator Brian Daboll can do with the ground game that his offense—because of its youthful passing game weapons—must be built around. Even if an ankle injury again keeps Khalil Mack out, Chicago is not a D-line you want to combat with iffy athletes.
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