Each week Andy Benoit takes a quick look at every NFL game to be played over the weekend. Here's his Week 13 Weekend Preview.
Chargers at Steelers
Ben Roethlisberger threw for 462 yards at Denver last week. Ninety-seven came on a bomb to JuJu Smith-Schuster, the other 365 came mostly on dink-and-dunk throws from quick dropbacks. The Steelers likely took this hastened approach to neutralize edge rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. Recall that third-string rookie Chukwuma Okorafor started at right tackle that game. Matt Feiler is back healthy at right tackle this week, but the quick-timing throws still could be prevalent, given the threat posed by Melvin Ingram and especially Joey Bosa.
Vikings at Patriots
Eric Kendricks recently has been better in coverage than he was early in the season, but you can still expect Tom Brady to go after the fourth-year linebacker. The Vikings have a distinct coverage profile (a lot of Cover 4 structures), which make it easier (in theory) for the Patriots to design specific plays that isolate James White and Rob Gronkowski against Kendricks and fellow linebacker Anthony Barr. Of course, it’s one thing to design a play, it’s another to execute it. The Vikings employ a lot of Cover 4 because they’re great at it.
Ravens at Falcons
The hope is Falcons linebacker Deion Jones will play for the first time since injuring his foot in Week 1. Atlanta needs him. Linebacker has been a problematic position, with speedster Duke Riley failing to improve in Year Two and falling in the pecking order behind (albeit, an ascending) rookie Foyesade Oluokun. With Lamar Jackson under center, backside run defenders must play with both patience and burst, as they account for Jackson keeping the ball while still honoring their regular gap assignment. The Ravens exacerbate this conflict by incorporating moving pieces into their run designs—most notably, pull-blockers and jet-sweepers. Last week that approach wracked up 242 rushing yards against a downtrodden Raiders D. This week, the over/under for rushing yards is 200.
Rams at Lions
One area in which the Lions’ secondary has struggled is defending “switch releases,” which come when receivers align close together and run intersecting routes off the snap. The Rams align receivers tight and feature some sort of a switch release on almost every snap.
Panthers at Buccaneers
When these teams met in Week 9, Panthers corner James Bradberry traveled with Bucs No. 1 receiver Mike Evans and not only won the difficult matchup but, at times, dominated. Evans finished with a season-low 16 yards. Expect two things Sunday: 1. Bradberry to again travel with Evans (that’s obvious) and 2. Tampa Bay to align Evans in the slot early on, where he’ll face a safety or linebacker in Carolina’s foundational zone coverages. That’ll be a way to get the stud receiver going.
Browns at Texans
After simplifying in their first few games under new coordinator Freddie Kitchens, Cleveland’s offense expanded its scheme and exploited the lackluster Bengals’ zone coverages again and again last Sunday. The Texans, with a much more formidable front seven, pose a greater challenge, but expect the schematic expansion to continue, given how well Baker Mayfield is playing. What’s interesting is that Cleveland’s offense isn’t flowing through any particular receiver (not even Jarvis Landry). The ball distribution and play-calling balance have been great.
Broncos at Bengals
Bradley Roby has been perhaps the most up-and-down corner in football. (Remember: Up and down means both up AND down, not “down and down” as it’s so often interpreted.) With Tyler Boyd having such an excellent season in the slot, Broncos top corner Chris Harris is almost compelled to stay at his usual spot inside. That means the Bengals can match a healthy-again A.J. Green on Roby whenever and however they want.
Colts at Jaguars
Indy’s O-line is the NFL’s most improved and Jacksonville’s D-line is the NFL’s most disappointing. We were reminded of that three weeks ago when these teams met in Indianapolis, though to be fair, the Colts’ O-line was made to look more effective by a bevy of quick strike passes (including perimeter screens). Don’t be surprised to see a little more of a downfield-oriented approach from the Colts this time.
Also, not related directly to this game, but worth saying: How is it that the Jaguars, all at once, fired offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, benched quarterback Blake Bortles and then replaced Hackett with Scott Milanovich, who was Bortles’s position coach? Who, exactly, is head coach Doug Marrone trying to blame for the offensive ineptitude? (Besides “Not Doug Marrone.”)
Bears at Giants
It doesn’t feel like it, but Jordan Howard’s playing time has actually increased ever so slightly this year. A pure zone runner, Howard is not the most natural fit in Matt Nagy’s multidimensional offense, though don’t be surprised to see a heavy dose of him Sunday. The Eagles had trouble running on the Giants for much of last week but stuck with it and wore down that defense in the fourth quarter. Nagy will present his usual array of misdirection concepts early in the game but then could pound the rock from there.
Chiefs at Raiders
Derek Carr is playing a little better than people realize, but two concerns stand out on film. 1. Carr often looks uncomfortable making throws with bodies around him. That tends to happen when a quarterback plays behind turnstile rookie offensive tackles like Kolton Miller and Brandon Parker. 2. Carr at times is predetermining throws….another symptom of a QB losing trust in his protection. Dee Ford and Justin Houston are not the pass rushers an uneasy quarterback wants to face.
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49ers at Seahawks
San Francisco’s George Kittle has blossomed into one of football’s best route running tight ends. Not surprisingly, he’s also been effective running after the catch. Kyle Shanahan is comfortable scheming against Cover 3 defenses like Seattle’s. Recall how he broke down the Seahawks’ coverages with crafty multi-tight end route designs a few years ago with Atlanta. Expect Kittle to be at the forefront of San Francisco’s designs on Sunday.
Jets at Titans
The most intriguing Titans player early this season was Harold Landry, but in recent weeks, the explosive second-round edge defender has been hard to notice on film. Is he hitting a rookie wall? The Jets are serviceable but not spectacular at offensive tackle. Here’s hoping Landry gets back on track.
Cardinals at Packers
Green Bay’s Jaire Alexander is now in competition with Denzel Ward for unofficial title of Best Rookie Cornerback. The 18th overall pick has mostly played outside, though early in the season, he got snaps in the slot. Could we see that again this week given that slot maestro Larry Fitzgerald remains Arizona’s top receiving threat?
Bills at Dolphins
Josh Allen’s 99 rushing yards against Jacksonville last Sunday were not a total anomaly. Allen showed terrific mobility at Wyoming. It’s surprising the Bills didn’t feature it by design early in the season—especially considering that head coach Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane know from their Carolina days how valuable a big running QB can be. Miami’s linebackers have struggled at processing information. The Bills would be wise to show them a bunch of different run looks involving Allen.
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