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ESPN Insider NFL Mismatches in Week 3


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NFL Mismatches in Week 3

By Ryan Early

NFL Insider

Friday, September 19


The game of pro football is predicated on individual matchups. Coaches seek out a match-up in their favor and devise a game plan to take advantage.

Each week we preview one lopsided match-up that should make an impact on the game, either through its exploitation or in changing a team's plans to try to compensate.

Bucs at Falcons

LB Derrick Brooks vs. RB Warrick Dunn

Almost half of the Falcons offense is run through their diminutive running back, and former Buccaneer. He has 26 carries and seven receptions after two games, accounting for 40 percent of all Falcon skill position touches. Dunn is a unique back in that he has the agility of a small back but the toughness of a much bigger player. But the Buccaneers defense, led by last year's defensive league MVP Derrick Brooks, has too much quickness for Dunn to pick up yards in more than bite size pieces. The Panthers showed last week that a power running game is the best way to attack the Tampa front, but such an attack would force the Falcons to shy away from their primary playmaker and use runners like T.J. Duckett and fullback Justin Griffith, who they have much less trust in.

Rams at Seahawks

FS Aeneas Williams vs. QB Matt Hasselbeck

The Rams have two very inexperienced cornerbacks, but their cover 2 defense protects them from bad individual match-ups, and they also have an experienced former cornerback and potential Hall of Famer in Aeneas Williams behind them to help them out. Despite two blowout wins, Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has not shown much accuracy or good decision making, completing just 47% of his passes. To make things worse, the Seahawks receivers have always had trouble with dropped passes and must have their thinking caps on to find the open holes in the Rams' zone defense.

Giants at Redskins


LB LaVar Arrington vs. TE Jeremy Shockey

As a rookie last year, Jeremy Shockey caught 16 passes for 200 yards in his two games against the Redskins. Even though he only has five catches for 44 yards so far this year, the Redskins will remember their two games against him last year and make stopping him a key focus of their defensive game plan. At times they will blitz Kerry Collins because their offensive line is battered and inexperienced and a constant barrage of pressure on the QB will force the Giants to keep an extra receiver back to help block. But also expect to see a lot of LaVar Arrington covering Shockey man to man. Arrington is the Redskins' best defender, and although he would rather play the run or blitz, he is the best Washington linebacker in pass coverage. He certainly has both the size and speed to keep up with Shockey.

Saints at Titans

FS Tebucky Jones vs. WR Derrick Mason

Both teams limp into their Week 3 game missing key players with others trying to play banged up. Eddie George is averaging a pathetic 2.5 yards per carry so far this year, putting much more pressure on the Titans passing game. But that part of the offense is a one-trick pony as Derrick Mason has caught 20 of the team's 47 receptions. With Steve McNair banged up, he can't carry the team like he did last year. He did not have a single rushing attempt last week for the first time in his career. Tight end Frank Wycheck is still out with a concussion, and none of the other receivers have stepped up to take the pressure off Mason. Expect the Saints to double cover Mason constantly with free safety Tebucky Jones, one of the better cover safeties around. It's hard to imagine how the Titans will move the ball once that happens.

Ravens at Chargers

LB Ray Lewis vs. RB LaDainian Tomlinson

This game will feature the two most one-dimensional offenses in the league. The problem for the Chargers is that the Ravens defense is much better situated to shut down their offense. With wide receiver David Boston not playing because of a sore heel, and their top two tight ends both injured, Drew Brees and the Chargers' passing attack is practically non-existent. The Ravens will drop a safety into the box to defend against the run until the Chargers burn him on it. LaDainian Tomlinson is one of the best young runners in the league, but he hasn't been able to carry the load all by himself. Last week he had 120 yards from scrimmage, but the team still scored just 13 points. Against the Ravens, he squares off against the best defender in the game in Ray Lewis. He demands two blockers to be assigned to him in order for the runner to pick up any yards. But with eight men in the box, there just aren't enough blockers to go around.

Steelers at Bengals


FB Dan Krieder vs. MLB Kevin Hardy

The Steelers have transformed themselves into a passing team, but they've gone a bit too far and need to come back from such an unbalanced attack. The Bengals are a good team to build confidence in the running game against as they have allowed 318 rushing yards in two games so far. The Steelers have had problems at the ends of their offensive line, but the interior is a strong as it has even been, so a power running game will pay dividends. Fullback Dan Krieder leads the way with a powerful punch as the first man through the hole. The Bengals signed Kevin Hardy in free agency from the Cowboys and installed him as their middle linebacker even though he has always played outside. Hardy is taking a while to adjust to the new position and looks uncomfortable taking on the fullback at the line of scrimmage as he would rather run around the blocker.

Jets at Patriots

RB Kevin Faulk vs. LB Mo Lewis

The Jets linebacker corps is the same unit built five years ago by coach Bill Parcells. They have always been a group of big linebackers to challenge linemen at the point of attack, shed the block and make the tackle. The Patriots' power running game with Antowain Smith is going nowhere fast, so the Patriots should switch to Kevin Faulk for this game, whose quick, slashing running style could pick up some nice yardage on cutbacks. Even more importantly is the mismatch of Faulk against a much slower linebacker, like the 33-year-old, 13-year veteran Mo Lewis, in the open field after taking the ball on a screen or swing pass.

Browns at 49ers

QB Jeff Garcia vs. FS Earl Little

Almost every 49ers' starting offensive lineman is banged up in some way. Lucky for them, they face a toothless Browns defense that gave up a single game NFL record in rushing yards last week. Because of that, they will be extra charged to stop the run on Sunday and will be highly susceptible to Jeff Garcia's play-action passing. Garcia's mobility will also help the 49ers offense keep moving in spite of their line woes. The Browns' free safety, Earl Little, needs an extra pair of eyeballs this week to keep track of the entire field. The 49ers love to use three wide receiver formations, even to run the ball, and Little will try to keep track of all three while also stealing time to see where Garcia is and if his inexperienced linebackers are out of position.

Vikings at Lions


WR Randy Moss vs. CBs Dre' Bly and Andre Goodman

Last week, the Bears limited Randy Moss to just 27 yards, but the extra attention they gave Moss allowed the rest of the offense to flourish. Against the Lions, Moss will return to his big play-making ways. After starting cornerback Chris Cash was lost for the year in preseason, the Lions were left with arguably the worst starting tandem in the league. They allowed the Cardinals' Anquan Boldin 217 yards in his first NFL game ever. Andre Goodman is quick, but isn't very physical. Dre Bly signed a huge contract with the Lions as a free agent, but takes too many gambles and will be burned at least once by Moss. Neither cornerback has the size to challenge Moss in the air.

Chiefs at Texans

OC Casey Wiegmann vs. NT Terrance Martin

The Texans suffered a huge blow with the loss for the season of nosetackle Seth Payne last week. A 3-4 defense requires the nosetackle to be one of the best players on the defense as he must draw a double team on every play, and at least battle the two offensive linemen to a standstill. Payne excelled at this duty, allowing the four linebackers behind him to use their speed to attack the ball. For his replacement, the team is going with an undrafted rookie in Terrance Martin, who played defensive tackle for North Carolina State for the last two years. The Texans placed him at defensive end, but are moving the 290 pound lineman into the middle to see what he can do. He will be matched up against eight-year veteran Casey Wiegmann, one of the most underrated centers in the league and the keystone of the Chiefs dominating offensive line. When Wiegmann handles Martin by himself, that will allow both the Chiefs guards to move upfield and challenge the linebackers. The result will be gaping holes for Priest Holmes to run through.

Jaguars at Colts

CB Nick Harper vs. WR J.J. Stokes

One of the most surprising players of the beginning of the season has been Colts cornerback Nick Harper, who beat out last year's starter, David Macklin, in training camp. In two games, he has made three interceptions and loves the cover 2 defense because of the jump he can get on a poorly thrown pass. Against the Jaguars, the Colts will play a lot more man coverage than they are used to as they crowd the line of scrimmage to stop running back Fred Taylor. The Jaguars were able to beat man coverage in week 1 against the Panthers, but their receiving corps took a big blow last week with the loss of Jermaine Lewis for the year. They are still without Jimmy Smith for another two weeks, putting a lot of pressure on J.J. Stokes as their top wideout. Stokes has never done well with gaining separation from defenders, nor does he have dependable hands.

Packers at Cardinals


OGs Mark Wahle and Marco Rivera vs. DTs Russell Davis and Wendell Bryant

The Packers had their game against the Lions won practically on the first series when Ahman Green broke a long run for a score. Green Bay may have a difficult time handling the high temperatures in Arizona, but not the Cardinals front four. The Packers offensive line has returned in tact and healthy to be a large plus for the Packers offense. They are a unit that has been together for several years and work extremely well together. Mark Wahle and Marco Rivera are athletic 300 pound road graters who will clear a path for Green. The Cardinals' Russell Davis is a steady player but can get pushed around against the run and doesn't have a lot of pop at the snap. Wendell Bryant was a first-round pick last year but had a forgettable rookie season. After being blown out last week in their home opener, he'd certainly be willing to forget this season as well.

Bills at Dolphins

WR Eric Moulds vs. CB Sam Madison

Moulds is one of the few NFL wide receivers to have consistent success against the Dolphins defense. Last season he put together a two game total of 211 receiving yards and two touchdowns, almost all off of big plays. Most defenses try to double cover Moulds, but the Dolphins prefer to rely on their standard bump and run man coverage. That works the majority of the time, but when Moulds can get off the jam quickly, he can burn either cornerback deep. Sam Madison suffered an ankle injury in Week 1 but is playing his way through it. He'll not only need his ankle healthy to stick with Moulds, but he'll need more pressure on the quarterback as the defense has made just one sack so far.

Raiders at Broncos

WRs Jerry Rice and Tim Brown vs. CBs Deltha O'Neal and Lenny Walls

The Raiders veteran receivers were certainly looking their age last week when Rich Gannon passed for just 103 yards on the day. But the key was they still won their game despite such a horrible outing. They certainly miss the deep speed of Jerry Porter to open up the coverage, but Gannon is such an accurate passer that he will be able to find Jerry Rice and Tim Brown when they flash open quickly against the Broncos inexperienced cornerbacks. Deltha O'Neal and Lenny Walls are both very quick and athletic, but the Raiders starting duo will set them up with their route running for the big third downs to keep the drives moving. The Raiders will need to put together long drives to get any points on the board. But they had to do it the hard way most of last year and Gannon came close to the NFL single season passing record.

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the best way to slow a receiver like Shockey down is to hit him under the chin on the first play and keep doing it until you take him out of his game.

Shockey is young and excitable and I think can be baited into trying to retaliate instead of keeping to the gameplan.

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