Week 4: Analyzing Every Matchup and Every Team
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Week 4: Analyzing Every Matchup and Every Team

The Right Combination: Nelson and Cobb

The MMQB's Peter King asks Green Bay Packers' wideout Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb about being reunited on the field after an injury plagued 2015 season for Nelson.

Buffalo @ New England

Bills – Watching the film of their win over the Cardinals, Rex Ryan must have felt like someone who just took a hot shower after two months in the woods. The Bills looked like his defense again, with a multitude of interior and edge blitzes, disguised fronts and flexible safety play.

Patriots – With all the focus on the QB situation, people forget that this offense was supposed to be built on two tight ends: Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett. But so far New England has had to make due with one. Gronk returned from his hamstring injury last week, but in a very limited role. In fact, the Patriots out of regular multi-tight end sets against the Texans averaged just 3.2 yards per pass attempt on five plays and 1.9 yards per carry on nine runs.

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• THE TALE OF ONE SNAP: The unlikely story of how Bill Parcells bestowed Jacoby Brissett with a nickname that foretold the rookie QB’s future

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Kansas City @ Pittsburgh

Chiefs – Linebacker Derrick Johnson is still going strong. He read the Jets’ mail on a number of plays last week, including two that resulted in interceptions (his and Eric Berry’s).

Steelers – On Darren Sproles’s early 40-yard screen last week, otherwise reliable veteran corner Willie Gay did as bad a job as a defender can do in space. Overly concerned about the blockers out in front, it was full retreat mode. With Sproles being so tiny, Gay’s sad effort made the play look like one of those feel-good moments when a high school team lets an opponent’s beloved equipment manager score in the last game of his senior year.

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• MEMO TO QUARTERBACKS: Stop Testing Marcus Peters

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Indianapolis @ Jacksonville

Colts – This O-line’s trouble against “long stunts” last season first became evident in Week 4 against the Jaguars. It’s a much better O-line this year, particularly inside.

Jaguars – Andrew Luck has had success in the past tearing apart Gus Bradley’s zone foundation on specific Cover-3-beating route combinations. That’s why the Colts have won the last three meetings by an average margin of 22.3 points. Will Bradley change anything or just rely on all the new talent he has on defense this time around?

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• GAME PLAN: International Series is Here, But China Still a World Away

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Tennessee @ Houston

Titans – So far, this O-line has not performed well enough to make Mike Mularkey’s old-school smashmouth scheme work.

Texans – Brock Osweiler hasn’t been as bad as his turnover numbers suggest. The interception to Jamie Collins in Week 3 was awful, but the picks against Kansas City in Week 2 were more his receivers’ fault.

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• WATT’S INJURY: The Texans Got 99 Problems

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Cleveland @ Washington

Cleveland – Maybe there’s hope on the horizon for this lethargic four-man pass rush. Sixth-round rookie defensive end Tyrone Holmes, cut by Jacksonville just before the season, has intriguing speed off the snap and the potential to convert that speed into power when turning the corner. He’ll get more playing time over the next few weeks.

Washington – It was a win for the team last week but a loss for Josh Norman. Odell Beckham Jr. destroyed him. Unfortunately for Beckham, it wasn’t always reflected in the play’s outcome. On the Giants’ first third down of the second half, Beckham beat Norman on a quick slant for what would have been an 84-yd touchdown. (Eli Manning, playing a tad faster because the Giants were backed up, threw behind Sterling Shepard short of the sticks.) A little later, on the play Norman was flagged for a personal foul against Shepard, Norman was only in the middle of the field to deliver that cheap shot because he’d blown his Cover 3 assignment. Beckham was uncovered for a 75-yard touchdown over the top. Manning didn’t see him because it was play-action, which meant he was only reading one side of the field. Manning had chosen the other side. This isn’t meant to douse cold water on Norman; he’s a great player. But it is meant to douse cold water on the alleged Beckham-Norman rivalry. After last Sunday, there is no rivalry.

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• FANTASY WORLD: Hooray for Jordan Howard, Buy on Cobb, Sell on Blount, Eagles to Eye

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Detroit @ Chicago

Lions – One thing that makes Detroit dangerous when playing from behind is there’s no one better at throwing fastballs in the deep-outside voids of Cover 2 than Matthew Stafford.

Bears – The big question right now: Is Kevin White 100% healthy? The Bears had better hope not. Otherwise their 2015 first-round pick is too sluggish to be a quality NFL receiver.

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• THE COLLEGE COLUMN: Corey Davis Catches the NFL’s Attention

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Carolina @ Atlanta

Panthers – There’s a major concern with left tackle Michael Oher that Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen exposed on his way to the NFC Defensive Player of the Week award. That is Oher’s poor anchor in pass protection. Too often, the light-footed Oher makes initial contact with a pass rusher too deep in the backfield, closing down his quarterback’s pocket.

Falcons – Because of what’s stated above, Dwight Freeney needs to play on every passing down this Sunday against the Panthers. Freeney still has the leverage and strength to dominate a left tackle who can’t anchor.

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• MADE OF REAL PANTHER: Three players share insider knowledge on how to survive life in the NFL

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Seattle @ New York Jets

Seahawks – Last week was the first time this offense got going in 2016. But over the first two games, Russell Wilson at least consistently played on schedule from the pocket. That will translate to meaningful production over the season’s long haul.

Jets – And now we see why the Jets weren’t rushing to re-sign Ryan Fitzpatrick. Mentally and physically, he’s the consummate double-edged sword.

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Oakland @ Baltimore

Raiders – The good: just like last year, this has been one of the NFL’s most diverse offenses in terms of personnel packages and formations. The bad: Derek Carr has been a little up and down as a passer.

Ravens – With the Raiders so willing to throw quickly to the perimeter, Baltimore’s secondary must be willing to tackle. Cornerback Shareece Wright has had some nice moments here.

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Denver @ Tampa Bay

Broncos – Sixth-round rookie fullback Andy Janovich continues to be a significant part of this offense. Denver is one of the few teams that regularly operates out of two-back personnel. And it’s not just in the running game; they’ll drop back and throw on first down here too.

Buccaneers – The clock management error at the end of the Rams game really stings because no head coach puts more effort and energy into studying clock management than Dirk Koetter.

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• BENOIT’S EXTRA POINT: Trevor Siemian Learns to Fly

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Los Angeles @ Arizona

Rams – As great as Todd Gurley is, this game will come down to whether the Rams can connect on single-high zone-beating play-action passes on first down, when they’re faking to Gurley.

Cardinals – Something positive from last week’s loss at Buffalo (since everything the Cards heard from their notoriously honest coach has probably been negative): right guard Earl Watford and center A.Q. Shipley improved over the course of the game at picking up Buffalo’s aggressive and disguised pass rushing stunts.

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• THE SLOT CORNER: The New Position for the New Game

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Dallas @ San Francisco

Cowboys – Carson Wentz isn’t the only rookie QB being trusted to manage games from the line of scrimmage. The Cowboys are also putting Dak Prescott in empty backfield formations. He doesn’t quite have Wentz’s command—perhaps no rookie ever has—but he’s been very good here. Last week against the Bears, Prescott went 7/7 for 104 yards (14.86 YPA) out of empty sets, including his first career touchdown pass.

49ers – Allan Uy, my game charter extraordinaire, noticed a gem studying the 49ers this week. When the Niners put two tight ends side by side on the line of scrimmage and the running back on the other side in shotgun, it’s almost surely to be one of two runs: power or sweep.

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New Orleans @ San Diego

Saints – The season is never over after three weeks … unless, well, you have no pure pass rushers and are down to, what, your 14th cornerback?

Chargers – You feel for Manti Te’o (out with a torn Achilles). He’d gotten significantly better over the last two years and had really started to see the field clearly.

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• BUSINESS OF FOOTBALL: The CBA at Halfway, Part II

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New York Giants @ Minnesota

Giants – Shane Vereen’s injury hurts, particularly in the passing game, but a silver lining could be the emergence of Orleans Darkwa. He’s a shifty, balanced runner.

Vikings – T.J. Clemmings, now the left tackle with Matt Kalil out, looked better last week than he did as a rookie right tackle in 2015. He was assertive with his hand punch. Clemmings does, however, play a bit upright. The more opponents see that, the more they’ll expose it. The Panthers started making headway here late in last week’s game, in fact.

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• VRENTAS: The Vikings’ Secret Weapon

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Miami @ Cincinnati

Dolphins – If it weren’t for Odell Beckham Jr., there'd be no better player in the world at catching balls away from his body than A.J. Green.

Bengals – It’s hard to imagine that Ryan Tannehill saw Chris Lewis-Harris on the game-sealing interception on Thursday night. You never try to rifle a ball through a stationary zone defender like that.

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• KING’S MMQB: Carson Wentz and the Young NFL Quarterback Revolution

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Byes

Packers – Let’s hope tight end Jared Cook’s high ankle sprain heals soon. The Packers last week got a feel for how to use Cook all over the formation. Mixed with Randall Cobb’s versatility, this offense can expand significantly without having to actually install many new plays.

Eagles – Seventh-round rookie Jalen Mills won his battle against Antonio Brown when the situation called for press coverage. The Eagles may have stumbled upon something here.

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