The Playbook: Previewing Lions-Bears, Saints-Dolphins, more Week 4 games
NY Giants (0-3) at Kansas City (3-0), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: The Chiefs could double their 2012 win total by dropping the Giants to 0-4. If New York’s going to make a stand, its offensive line will have to be much better than in Week 3, when Carolina sacked Eli Manning seven times. Kansas City’s Justin Houston leads the league in sacks with 7.5 (4.5 against the Eagles in Week 3), and the Chiefs’ 15 team sacks are tops in the NFL. – CB
Arizona (1-2) at Tampa Bay (0-3), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Apparently, this is the battle of teams who looked to sign Carson Palmer in the offseason. The Cards won that one, but the Bucs went heavy after Palmer, and Greg Schiano’s continued dissatisfaction with Josh Freeman blew up this week when he replaced Freeman with rookie Mike Glennon. It’s a bad time to break in a new guy, because Arizona’s defense is multiple and opportunistic. Good news for Glennon? He’ll have a bye next week to figure out whatever happens to him in this game. – DF
Cincinnati (2-1) at Cleveland (1-2), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Brian Hoyer surprised a lot of people in his second NFL start, at times looking like a franchise quarterback against the Minnesota Vikings. He’d better hold on to that memory. Mike Zimmer’s Bengals defense has what it takes to upend any hot QB, and Cleveland’s offensive line might be the league’s worst from a protection perspective. However, Ray Horton has redefined Cleveland’s defense, so it could be an equally difficult day for Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. – DF
NY Jets (2-1) at Tennessee (2-1), 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS: Last week, the Jets put up some historical numbers on offense but also set a franchise record with 20 penalties, yet they managed to beat the reeling Bills anyway. The Titans have their own inconsistencies, but quarterback Jake Locker is starting to improve, and Gregg Williams’ defense could set rookie Geno Smith back a few steps. Rex Ryan is right to be happy about his Sanchez-free offense, but he can’t lose sight of the little things. – DF
Dallas (2-1) at San Diego (1-2) — 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX: Two of the game’s biggest lightning rods at QB, Dallas’ Tony Romo and San Diego’s Philip Rivers, mix it up here. Want to know a little secret? They’re both playing exceptionally well so far, despite a few tough losses between them. Romo is hitting on 72.2 percent of his passes, Rivers on 70 percent of his, and they have a combined 14 touchdowns to two interceptions. – CB
Philadelphia (1-2) at Denver (3-0), 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX: Can anyone stop Denver’s offense? We may not find out until Denver faces the Chiefs’ ravenous defense twice in the second half of the season. The Eagles have allowed a 96.9 opponent passer rating, and any feelings of superiority they may have about limiting Alex Smith should vaporize when they start rolling Peyton Manning tape. Chip Kelly may find himself out-hurried by the current master of NFL offenses, and it could be an expensive lesson. – DF
Washington (0-3) at Oakland (1-2), 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX: You think Washington fans are panicking about Robert Griffin III now? What happens if he gets outplayed by another mobile QB in Terrelle Pryor on Sunday? Unfortunately, the concussion Pryor suffered late Monday night against Denver could rob us of that intriguing matchup. Of course, for RGIII, losing to Matt Flynn probably would be even worse. – CB
Only For The Faithful
Indianapolis (2-1) at Jacksonville (0-3), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: One of the Jaguars’ two wins in 2012 came against the Colts (in Indy, no less). Could the 0-3 Jags catch their division rivals sleeping again after Indy’s hard-fought statement win in San Francisco? — CB
Pittsburgh (0-3) at Minnesota (0-3), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Great Britain and America have lived in relative peace since the end of the War of 1812, but sending this game to London could increase tensions. Showing the Brits Matt Cassel playing quarterback and Todd Haley running an offense might set the international football initiative back 50 years. – DF
Baltimore (2-1) at Buffalo (1-2), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Rookie QB EJ Manuel had a bit of a rough outing against the Jets in Week 3. Will being back in front of his home fans help him and the Bills get back on track against a Baltimore defense that’s growing more dangerous by the week? – CB
(Unless otherwise indicated, all stats come from our friends at Pro Football Focus).
• Who says you need QB veteranosity to make things happen with defenders all around you? After three weeks, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson lead the league with three touchdown passes each while under pressure. In the meantime, Carson Palmer and Ben Roethlisberger have each thrown three picks with no touchdowns when they’re pressured.
• How good is Peyton Manning this season? He’s completed 89 passes on 126 dropbacks for an utterly ridiculous league-leading 84.3 percent accuracy rate — and that includes a league-leading 13 dropped passes from his targets.
• Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson has been the NFL’s most underrated deep target in recent years, and he’s doing it again in 2013. Nelson has caught five passes over 20 yards in the air on six targets for 157 yards. Yes, it helps to catch passes from Aaron Rodgers, but James Jones and Randall Cobb have only caught two deep passes this season. If Rodgers is looking to air it out, Nelson is his man.
• We focus on J.J. Watt’s skill as a pass rusher and pass deflector, but it’s his play against the run that makes him the NFL’s most complete defender. On 78 run snaps this season, Watt has 11 solo tackles, all of which were losses for the offense.
• Speaking of underrated defensive assets, how about Denver’s cornerbacks? Champ Bailey has missed the first three games of the 2013 season with a foot injury, but Tony Carter and Chris Harris have each allowed a passer rating under 50 (42.7 for Harris; 45.3 for Carter), and neither defender has allowed a touchdown. Not bad on a defense that has faced 142 opponent pass attempts, the most in the league.
• We’ll continue to beat the “Jason Hatcher is criminally underrated” drum as long as we have to. Last year, Hatcher was the NFL’s most disruptive 3-4 end in Rob Ryan’s Dallas defense, and though he’s moved to tackle in Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 scheme, he’s still attacking quarterbacks with abandon. He’s got three sacks, two quarterback hits and 10 hurries, and his 15 total pressures is second in the league among tackles, trailing only Ndamukong Suh’s 21. Of course, Suh has a few more years at that position under his belt. Next time you’re watching the Cowboys, keep a sharp eye on No. 97. You will be impressed. – DF
• Matchup to watch: Kyle Long vs. Ndamukong Suh. Bears offensive line coach Aaron Kromer revealed way back in May that the Bears drafted Long almost specifically to deal with Detroit’s surly defensive tackle. “Suh plays over the right guard and we have to win the division first,” Kromer told the Chicago Tribune.
Long has been even better than advertised thus far, starting with an impressive showing against Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins-led front. The Lions defense revolves heavily around the abilities of Suh and fellow tackle Nick Fairley to generate push into the backfield. If Long, Matt Slauson and Roberto Garza hold their own on the interior of Chicago’s line Sunday, the Bears could walk out of Detroit with a stranglehold on the NFC North.
• This week’s sleeper: Rod Streater, Oakland. Washington’s defense is, to put it gently, not good. That goes for both the rush defense and the pass defense, but it’s the latter in the spotlight here.
Streater currently sits tied for Oakland’s team lead in catches with 11, and the Redskins simply cannot stop anyone through the air. Last week, Washington focused much of its attention (and top CB DeAngelo Hall) on trying to contain Detroit’s Calvin Johnson. So the Lions’ No. 2 receiver, Nate Burleson, went off for seven grabs and 116 yards. (Johnson still had 115 yards and a TD of his own.)
If Hall draws the assignment of Denarius Moore this weekend, that will leave Streater free to roam the oft-uncovered field elsewhere in Washington’s secondary. He should find some receptions regardless of who (Pryor or Flynn) starts at QB.
• Pressure’s on …: Matt Ryan, Atlanta. His complementary weapons have been dropping like flies — Steven Jackson’s out several weeks, and both Julio Jones and Roddy White have been hobbled all year. And making matters worse, the Falcons have let two games — Week 1 at New Orleans, Week 3 at Miami — slip away in the closing moments.
Now, a Sunday night showdown with the 3-0 Patriots awaits in Atlanta. A loss could drop the Falcons three games back in the NFC South (New Orleans hosts Miami on Monday night). That would make for a long road back over the final 12 games.
• Rookie spotlight: Justin Hunter, Tennessee. Was that sensational Hunter TD grab in Week 3 just a one-shot blip or was it a tease of bigger things to come? The Titans certainly would prefer it to be option No. 2, especially with the Kenny Britt drama continuing to drag on. Hunter may see increased time against the Jets in Week 4. As the Chargers can attest to, he looks ready for it. – CB
• Indianapolis Colts. There’s some upset danger here, with the Colts headed to take on slumbering Jacksonville. A loss would erase all the momentum of Week 3′s stunner in San Francisco. Oh, and the Colts’ next four? Seattle, at San Diego, Denver, at Houston. – CB
• San Diego Chargers. The 1-2 Chargers have the Cowboys in their own backyard. If they want to make any impact in an AFC West the Broncos and Chiefs have on lock right now, they’d best overcome their fourth-quarter collapses and find ways to finish on the right side of the scoreboard. – DF