NFL Week 4 Sunday Early Games

Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills

The Ravens defense showed up last week against Houston. They finally looked like the defense that I expect to see as the season progresses. They have some new pieces and it’s taken a few games for them to really build that chemistry but I think from this point forward this will be one of the best defenses in the NFL.

That means that today we’ll find out a lot about rookie EJ Manuel and his ability to handle a game when a defense is putting pressure on him in multiple ways. They’ll rotate coverages and bring blitzes from multiple locations out of multiple looks. Manuel will need to be smart and quick with the football. His offensive line has played well for the most part this season but there are some weaknesses on the interior and that’s where the Ravens may try to bring blitzes.

The Ravens on offense is sputtering because of a lack of weapons. But the thing about the Ravens is that I actually see some progress. They’re figuring out what they have and what they don’t and they’re working around it. I am still looking for them to use Ray Rice more as a movable chess piece. His injury may hamper that (he’s expected to play) this week but it’s something I’m still looking for going forward.

The Bills secondary proved to be the part of the defense that teams can take advantage of. If any offensive line can hold up against the front seven, that team can put up some serious points on the Bills.

I saw a lot of EJ Manuel last week that I saw on college film. Inconsistent with accuracy and a little rushed in his reads. He will have another tough game today and I’m not sure CJ Spiller can carry the workload. I think the change to Matt Elam at safety shores up a solid secondary. The only question I have about this game is how many points the Ravens are able to put up on a solid defense. I expect the Ravens to win this one by 6 or more.

Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns

The Bengals are interesting on offense. Andy Dalton isn’t a bad QB but they aren’t afraid to keep throwing with him. They rack up the throws early and Dalton seems to have a short memory, good or bad, and he’ll continue to sling it. Gio Bernard looks special and Benjarvus Green-Ellis gives them a downhill option. They’re loaded with weapons and I still think they’re toying around with how to use their dual tight ends and backs. This could be a dangerous offense if Andy Dalton progresses throughout the season. The Bengals have used a ton of 12 personnel and they do multiple things out of that personnel. Those two tight ends offer them options.

On defense, the Browns are still figuring things out a little bit. I have some concerns about their secondary. They can be thrown on so it’s important for the front seven to get pressure on the QB to take pressure off the back end. Joe Haden will have his hands full against AJ Green and will probably get a little help. I would expect defensive coordinator Ray Horton to really pull out some new concepts and plays this week that he hasn’t put on film yet.

The Browns offense is now in the hands of the capable Brian Hoyer. He made some really nice throws last week. He’s not afraid to make tough throws and he’s smart. In comparison to Weeden, Hoyer doesn’t have the same deep ball but also won’t make some of the mistakes that Weeden makes. It’s give or take. Jordan Cameron has proven to be a legitimate weapon with his athleticism and he’s shown he’s not afraid to fight for the football. As I said in the preseason, Josh Gordon is a legitimate number one wide receiver. His presence really opens up this offense to do things underneath with Davone Bess and Greg Little. They should both benefit.

The biggest concern I have about the Browns is their offensive line. I truly thought they were a solid line but they certainly have not looked like it this season. Against the front four of Cincinnati? The Browns offense could be in trouble. It also means that the secondary could see some interceptable throws.

If the Browns offensive line holds up, don’t count them out of this game. If they don’t, it could get ugly. The Bengals need to take care of the football today and they should be fine. If Dalton or the offense coughs the ball up a couple of times early, the Browns have a real shot. The defense would really be able to get after Dalton and could make it a tough day. In reality, the Bengals should be able to win this easily but with it being a “rivalry” game, I’d say this game is closer than expected and Bengals win by 5.

Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions

This is a really interesting matchup. The Bears offensive line has looked much better because it is better but also because Cutler is playing within a better structured offense that gets the ball out quicker. That’s the interesting matchup today in the Bears OL and the Lions’ defensive line. The most effective defense against a good pass rush is quick passing and good scheming. I think the Bears have that and they have shown a good ability to be able to take advantage of the middle of the field – a place where the Lions can be exploited.

The Lions on offense are the same offense from a year ago but Matthew Stafford has cleaned up a few issues and it’s made a big difference. He’s not afraid to take chances still but it seems to be more calculated. He also will benefit from having Ryan Broyles back. The loss of Nate Burleson is important but I think he is just as good of a player as Burleson. One of the biggest helps to Stafford is the Lions have schemed to get Calvin Johnson all over the place and will have him line up in the slot at times. This creates interesting matchups for the Lions to take advantage of.

The Bears did a good job of limiting Calvin Johnson last year in their matchups and a lot of that had to do with Charles Tillman. Moving Johnson into the slot will force the Bears to adjust by either moving Tilliman inside where he’s less effective or they’ll have to match someone else up on Johnson which isn’t ideal either. The addition of Reggie Bush also makes them harder to plan against as well.

Both teams are playing better on offense than they did last year but I think this Bears team is one of the best in the league right now. They do a lot of good things all over the place. The defense is still the Bears defense and I think they’ll cause trouble for Stafford (but don’t underestimate the loss of Henry Melton). If one team has excessive turnovers this could be a blowout. If not, it should be an extremely close game that finishes within 3 points. I’ll go with the Bears simply because I trust their coaching more.

Seattle Seahawks at Houston Texans

It’s a very good thing for the Texans that this game is in Houston. Matt Schaub has not been playing well this season. I still think he’s serviceable but he’s not someone you want to lay your hopes on to win a game. Because the Texans have gotten down in games, they’ve had to rely on him a little too much. The offensive line has struggled, especially on the right side, and that needs to be fixed to get this team back on track. DeAndre Hopkins was my favorite receiver in this year’s draft and he’s proving why. He could end up being a special player and he and Andre Johnson lining up on opposite sides is a great thing for both.

The Seahawks are still the most complete team in the league. They are strong across the board on both offense and defense. There’s a slight weakness on the offensive line but they scheme very well to account for it. They also run an offense that doesn’t take a lot of chances and when they do they’re calculated so there isn’t a whole lot of risk. According to NFL Matchup and Greg Cosell, Russell Wilson has the fewest 1st down throwing attempts in the NFL so far. A lack of turnovers, efficiency, plus one of the best defenses in the league is a good combination.

The Texans defense will need to keep this game low scoring to give the Texans a chance. This could be a defensive struggle even though I don’t think it will be. The Texans are struggling on offense and facing the Seahawks isn’t really a remedy for that. I would expect the Texans to incorporate the tight end position more into the passing game to give Schaub more controlled options. The Seahawks seem to be a different team on the road and can struggle against the run. The problem is they struggle against more of a power run game than zone scheme. The Texans just don’t get it done this week because of that. Seahawks by 4.

Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars

I’m still waiting for the game where the Jaguars seemingly put it all together and beat someone that they shouldn’t. It happens every year with the bad teams. The Colts have flaws but if they play like they did last week against the 49ers, the Jaguars will have a long day.

The addition of Trent Richardson is interesting. He and Ahmad Bradshaw showed that they have similar running styles last week. Bradshaw is a tremendous pass blocker so he will continue to see lots of snaps but he’s out this week. Trent will get the carries this week and that power run game should cause problems for the Jaguars. The Colts love to run with extra offensive linemen and unbalanced lines and all kinds of wrinkles in the power run game. They are a power run team that throws off of that and it works very will with Andrew Luck at QB. I mentioned last week that Luck had issues with being a little too aggressive and passed up easy chain-moving throws for bigger ones that were less likely to be completed. Against the 49ers he did a very good job and scaling back on that and being more disciplined about those throws. If he find consistency in this, the Colts could be a very dangerous team.

The Jaguars are labeled as the worst team in the league this year. I thought that the addition of Gus Johnson would make this defense capable but it hasn’t proven to be the case. There are just too many weaknesses for him to be able to compensate for schematically. And this week is another tough test. On offense the Jags just simply can’t get a quarterback in the game that gives them any consistency. The scheme is also a little weird in that they have some playmakers that they aren’t using to their full potential. Cecil Shorts had a big game but the lack of inclusiveness of Denard Robinson is strange to me. Why draft him and not get him touches?

When will the Jags stun someone? Unfortunately, not this week. The Colts have proven that last year wasn’t a fluke. Colts by 10.

New York Giants at Kansas City Chiefs

The Giants’ offensive line can’t be as bad as it played last week. Just like the Giants weren’t as bad as their 34-0 drubbing against Atlanta last year, they had a bad game that was a sort of perfect storm of negative events. That isn’t to say this OL isn’t bad, but they looked like the worst in the league (by far) last week against one of the best front sevens in the league.

I think Tom Coughlin probably spent a good amount of work on the offensive line this week and will have some of their problems tightened up. The issue is that Chiefs’ defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has been brilliant in his gameplans all year. He’ll find a weak spot and like a sore bruise, he’ll put his thumb on it and keep pressing until the offense finally gives in (see Mike Vick’s INTs last week). The Chiefs are also coming off of an extended week since they played on Thursday night so they have extra time to prepare for a struggling Giants team.

As I’ve said every week, the Giants have major flaws in their back seven and without the defensive line playing other-worldly, they’ll easily be exploited. If the Giants don’t get a pass rush then the defense is pretty much a sitting duck. The Chiefs run a quick passing game that uses short passes as an extension of the run and they keep pressure off of Alex Smith even with a couple of question marks along the OL.

This sets up as a bad matchup for the Giants. Eli Manning is getting pressured so much he’s anticipating it on every snap. The wide receivers need more time to get out into routes and the run game has been nonexistent. Until the run game gets going (Hello John Conner!) the Giants are pretty much the Bucs’ offense with a better QB but worse offensive line and run game right now. Chiefs win by more than a touchdown.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Minnesota Vikings (in London)

Every team reacts differently to the trip to London. It’s not an easy thing to do to fly overseas and play such a physically demanding game. That makes this matchup very hard to predict. We can discuss the on-field aspects but these teams are close enough in talent that it’s really how well they adjust to the trip that will likely determine this game.

One thing to note in these games: The pitch/field is built for soccer, not American football. The grass is something that both teams will check immediately when arriving to the stadium. The first few games in London, teams had real issues with the turf coming up and I know specifically that one team altered it’s game plan midgame because of it. I also know that some teams take two gameplans into the London game in case the turf becomes an issue. The NFL and Wembley stadium have done a very good job in recent years of getting the field up to the standard to hold 300lb. linemen. It’s always something that needs to be mentioned going into these games.

The Vikings are going with Matt Cassel at QB because Christian Ponder is hurt. I’m not really sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing at this point. The Vikings could really make it a moot point by emphasizing Adrian Peterson. AP hasn’t had the same blocking that he had last year and it’s really making it tough on him. FB Jerome Felton is back and that could really make an impact against a defense that isn’t anything special in Pittsburgh.

I think the Steelers have reason to be optimistic going forward. Getting Heath Miller back is a major benefit and while I’m not sure Le’Veon Bell is the answer at RB, he can only be an upgrade at this point. The Steelers have to give Roethlisberger time to do his thing from the pocket or else he’ll have a hard time all year finding a couple of very good wideouts in Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. I’m still confused why Markus Wheaton hasn’t seen the field much. I think the skill set and talent is something that would really benefit this offense.

These defenses are about the same. They play different styles but they’re effectiveness this season has been similar. Neither is great but they aren’t exactly bad either. The difference here is the offenses. I think opinions on this game will vary based on whether a person emphasizes the run or pass more. I think Peterson probably has a good day but I’ll take Big Ben over Adrian Peterson and Matt Cassel pretty much every day. Steelers by 4.

Arizona Cardinals at Tampa Bay

The big story this week was the benching of Josh Freeman and naming of rookie Mike Glennon as the starting QB going forward. I don’t agree with head coach Greg Schiano’s statement that Mike Glennon gives them the best chance to win. I’m not sure many people truly believe that. I think the switch is deeper than that but that’s another story completely.

I went back and watched Mike Glennon’s tape from college and his tape from the preseason. I see a QB who isn’t ready yet. Maybe he’s made strides in the past 4 weeks but I doubt he’s ready. He does a good job of keeping his head on a swivel and trying to see the whole field. The problem is that he needs time to do that and he isn’t really “reading” a defense. He’s just looking for open receivers. Contrary to popular opinion, he doesn’t have a cannon for an arm, but it’s certainly good enough. Glennon throws a good deep ball but I see a little bit of timing issues when I watch him play. He’s not precise.

The issue here isn’t Glennon or Freeman. The scheme has to change for Glennon to be successful. If the offense doesn’t get the run game going and stop calling so many isolation routes then neither of these QBs could be successful. The Bucs need to take advantage of the middle of the field (or at least make the defense respect it) or else Glennon could have a very long day. Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson are both active but a rib injury for Jackson could be an issue. That’s a tough injury and he’ll feel it in everything he does. He could also get short arm syndrome today against a tough Cardinals’ defense.

The Cards’ aren’t a great team but they aren’t a bad team either. They’re solid in a lot of places and with playmakers Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu, this defense is fun to watch. They’re not as schematically diverse as they were last year but they’re talented enough to win matchups. On offense, the Cards are more efficient now that they have Carson Palmer under center. The wide receivers may not be well known but they’ve played really well so far this season. The offensive line is still a major question mark but have been good enough. If they can find a run game this offense could be solid. Mendenhall has been better than I thought but I really want to see more of Andre Ellington.

I am starting to like what defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan is doing in Tampa. He’s using linebackers more in blitz concepts and I think it’s been incredibly beneficial to the entire front seven. Lavonte David is a phenomenal player and has such good closing speed either on a ball carrier or a QB. This is one of the matchups to watch: Tampa’s front seven against the Arizona offensive line. Pressure on Carson Palmer could be debilitating for this offense.

While I hate to sound obvious and cliche, this game comes down to turnovers. Mike Glennon has real potential to throw 3+ interceptions today. If he does, the Bucs really have no chance. If he doesn’t and the Bucs get pressure, they could run away with it. When dealing with opposite ends of the spectrum, it’s usually best to align somewhere in the middle. Glennon will make a couple of big plays offensively for the Bucs but will also turn it over a couple of times. The Bucs will get pressure and probably force a couple of turnovers themselves. If the Bucs get the run game going, they’ll win. If they don’t, I think they lose. I’ll take the Cards by a field goal or less.

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