The Playbook: Previewing 49ers-Packers, Eagles-Saints, more wild-card games
• Matchup to Watch:
– Vernon Davis vs. ??? Sorry for the incomplete answer there. However, it remains to be seen what the Packers can do in hopes of limiting Davis. The 49ers’ tight end scored twice with 98 yards receiving back in Week 1 versus Green Bay.
The real problem is that the Packers do not have anyone who matches up all that well with Davis. (Granted, few teams do.) A.J. Hawk’s not a great answer, so the Packers may opt to bring a safety down for that responsibility. Likely, Green Bay will mix and match coverages with various defenders, hoping to at least give Davis some different looks. – CB
– Eagles OLB Trent Cole vs. Saints LT Terron Armstead. Saints head coach Sean Payton benched left tackle Charles Brown after New Orleans’ Week 15 loss to the St. Louis Rams and replaced him with Armstead, the third-round rookie from Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Armstead became a scouting combine star for his athleticism, but he’s had trouble solving NFL defensive lines and has allowed three sacks in two starts. Cole has been an underrated force for the Eagles all season — his sack total (eight) doesn’t pop off the stat sheet, but he’s also an exceptional run-stopper.
Asked on Friday if the Saints would give Armstead help against him, Cole replied simply, “They’d better.” – DF
• Pressure’s On …:
– Andy Dalton, Bengals. This may be too obvious an answer, but until Dalton starts getting the job done in the playoffs, there are going to be questions about the Bengals’ ceiling with him at the helm. It would be unfair to hang all of Cincinnati’s past two playoff exits on Dalton’s shoulders, but he has a postseason QB rating of 48.6 and has yet to throw a TD pass in 72 attempts. For the Bengals to beat San Diego, Dalton must be on his game. – CB
– San Diego’s defense. While Andy Dalton’s playoff performances have been far from impressive, they came in two games against Houston Texans defenses that were optimally constructed to take streaky quarterbacks like Dalton out of his game. Dalton is still off-and-on, but he’s got another year of experience, and second-year receiver Marvin Jones adds to his list of targets. Meanwhile, the Chargers have the league’s worst defense per Football Outsiders’ metrics, and they’re in the bottom three against Nos. 1, 2, and 3 receivers. – DF
• This Week’s Sleeper:
– Mark Ingram, Saints. Remember him? He actually performed relatively well this season considering his limited chances — 4.9 yards on 78 rushing attempts; 9.7 yards per reception. Pierre Thomas sat out practice Wednesday with a chest injury, meaning the Saints might need someone to provide a little boost in the ground game. Ingram could find himself with an increased role Saturday. – CB
– Riley Cooper, Eagles. No surprise that DeSean Jackson is Philly’s most efficient and effective receiver, but the guy in second place may surprise you — it’s Riley Cooper, who has managed to regain the trust of his team after his regrettable racial outburst in 2013. Cooper is averaging 17.8 yards per catch on 47 receptions, and he’s been a top-20 receiver when opponent adjustments are taken into account. If New Orleans’ defense spends too much time worrying about Jackson and LeSean McCoy, Cooper has the talent to burn them. He’s especially effective when asked to get open on seam routes, where quick cuts in space are the order of the day. – DF
• Rookie Spotlight:
– Eric Reid, 49ers. Reid had an interception of Aaron Rodgers and seven tackles in the 49ers’ Week 1 win over Green Bay. San Francisco could use a similar performance Sunday, as the Packers figure to test Reid and his fellow defensive backs early and often. Randall Cobb’s return to the lineup will make their job even more difficult, expanding the areas that Rodgers can attack. – CB
– Kenny Stills, Saints. Speaking of FO metrics, you’d probably guess for quite a while before coming up with the NFL’s most valuable per-play receiver in the 2013 regular season. It’s Stills, the fifth-rounder from Oklahoma who’s tied with Marques Colston among New Orleans’ receivers for touchdowns with five. No Saints receiver has had more deep targets than Stills’ 14, and all five of his touchdowns came on plays in which the ball traveled 20 or more yards in the air. – DF