- What can we expect in each of the 11 games to be played on Sunday? A quick look at the upcoming slate, plus the Monday nighter.
Each Friday, Andy Benoit will take a quick look at every NFL game to be played over the weekend. Here's his Week 11 Weekend Preview.
Bengals (5-4) at Ravens (4-5)
You can see why Marvin Lewis fired defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. In the embarrassing home loss to the Saints, Cincy’s defense was lethargic and out-schemed. A great illustration came at the end of the first half. With eight seconds remaining in the first half and the Saints on the 17, Cincinnati played Cover 2 zone. In Cover 2, defenders play more to landmarks than to men, and several defenders play underneath. With eight seconds left, there’s no reason to landmark and no reason to defend underneath—the only way the Saints can hurt you is by going for the end zone. They did, getting stud wide receiver Michael Thomas matched with leverage against struggling safety Shawn Williams. It was as costly as a bad defensive play call gets. Head coach Marvin Lewis will call the signals this week. There should be improvements, in part because the Bengals are facing a Ravens offense that’s unsure if starting quarterback Joe Flacco will even be available.
Cowboys (4-5) at Falcons (4-5)
Last Monday night was not Leighton Vander Esch’s coming out party. The Cowboys rookie linebacker had already been playing with that kind of burst and play recognition for much of the season. Vander Esch has tremendous pursuit speed and, thanks to long arms, an ability to close quickly on the ball. We’ve seen it in run defense and zone coverage.
Steelers (6-2-1) at Jaguars (3-6)
Last week the Colts gouged Jacksonville’s single-high coverages with designer vertical pass plays that made receivers’ route releases blurry coming off the snap. It resulted in several blown assignments. The Steelers did the same thing to the Panthers—a defense that, out of single-high coverage, employs the same zone rules as Jacksonville. If Jacksonville’s back seven isn’t sharper on Sunday, this defense will give up over 30 points.
Eagles (4-5) at Saints (8-1)
New Orleans last week fully unveiled a package that has gradually been in the works and is likely to stick around. The package features Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram and Taysom Hill on the field together. We’re seeing familiar Saints tactics from this different look. Kamara was often used as a jet-sweep decoy (though he also ran a jet sweep himself for a first down). Ingram caught screens out of the backfield. Hill was prominent in multi-option and misdirection designs. The Eagles must have a plan for this package on Sunday.
Texans (6-3) at Redskins (6-3)
You may want to sit resurgent tailback Adrian Peterson in fantasy this week. He’s running behind an O-line that’s down both starting guards and without star left tackle Trent Williams. Peterson still has some lateral burst and strength and can often create his own space between the tackles. But Houston’s D-line is too stingy. It’s not just J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. D.J. Reader is a stout but athletic gap-clogger. Brandon Dunn has been better than Reader this year. And backup Angelo Blackson flashes every week playing 12-18 snaps.
Raiders (1-8) at Cardinals (2-7)
When Arizona has the ball, only the most morbid of football fans will watch this battle up front. Arizona’s makeshift offensive line could not compete last week against Kansas City’s pass rush. Oakland’s anemic defensive line has not competed against anyone. Something has to give. Or, nothing at all will give and this game will bleh-and-blah its way to a 13 to 9 score.
Colts (4-5) at Titans (5-4)
Quenton Nelson has a chance to be the NFL’s best left guard by this time next year. He’s strong, mobile and nasty. When approaching a defender, Nelson closes quickly, as if there’s a magnetic connection between his hands and the defender’s torso. So far he’s been at his best in the running game, though his pass protection is much firmer than it was in September. This week Nelson faces one of football’s most challenging defensive tackles in Jurrell Casey. And since Nelson is so often used on pull-blocks, he’ll see plenty of ascending Titans rookie linebacker Rashaan Evans.
Lions (3-6) at Panthers (6-3)
Detroit’s O-line is struggling, but it has not been as awful as the 16 sacks it has allowed over the last two weeks suggest. Many of those sacks have stemmed from receivers not running great routes, aerial designs not working against zone coverage and Matthew Stafford uncharacteristically not seeing the field clearly. The Panthers, with great linebackers and quality pass rushers, are a tough defense to right the ship against.
Broncos (3-6) at Chargers (7-2)
We get to see two of the game’s best young, shifty, lightning bug type runners in Denver’s Phillip Lindsay and L.A.’s Austin Ekeler. Lindsay has been productive on traditional run plays, which you can execute against a Chargers D that’s down top run-stopping linebacker Denzel Perryman (last week he suffered a season-ending LCL injury). Ekeler, who can align all over the formation, hurts defenses on new-age perimeter-attacking concepts like jet-sweeps and receiver screens.
Giants (2-7) at Bucs (3-6)
Jason Pierre-Paul is eager to make the Giants pay for, well, not wanting to pay him. This past offseason, New York traded the longtime star and his $12.5 million cap number to Tampa Bay for a swap of mid-round picks. As a Buc, Pierre-Paul has been stellar but not spectacular. He remains a better interior lateral mover than edge rusher. The Giants could still have used him. Their only effective rusher this season has been Olivier Vernon, who has been far less consistent than Pierre-Paul.
Vikings (5-3-1) at Bears (6-3)
Meet football’s best “2-deep zone” defenses. The Vikings and Bears play with both safeties back on most snaps. Those safeties often have interior coverage responsibilities—they’re not just insurance over the top of cornerbacks. The “2-deep” alignments create balanced pre-snap looks that makes coverage disguising easier. Put that behind an explosive pass rush (which both teams have) and you force a lot of turnovers.
Chiefs (9-1) at Rams (9-1)
On Monday we’ll have a feature on whether either of these offensive juggernauts play opposite a good enough defense to go far in January. In this blurb, we’ll touch on those offenses, which is what everyone is tuning in to see. Jenny Vrentas provided a brilliant breakdown of Kansas City’s this week in her feature on Andy Reid, one of football’s most evolved coaches. We don’t think of Rams coach Sean McVay as “evolving” because, at 32, he hasn’t had time to. But in the short-term, McVay has evolved perhaps more than any coach in football. The offense he runs in L.A. is very different than the one he ran as a coordinator in Washington. And this year’s L.A. offense is essentially a successful spinoff of last year’s offense. The Rams have built new routes off their old routes and have added new formations and pre-snap wrinkles into their usual designs. This game offers offensive scheming at its finest.
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