NFL Week 7 Early Game Previews

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons

The Atlanta Falcons have been thrashed with injuries throughout the roster this year. The offensive line is patched together, Steven Jackson has missed significant time, and Roddy White hasn’t been healthy all year. The Falcons are searching for their footing and trying to find out what is going to work best for them going forward.

The Bucs are clearly stuck to their zone based defense. The Bucs have also morphed into a blitzing team. They can’t get consistent pressure by only rushing four and have relied on blitzing to get to the QB. It’s been effective but the Bucs are leaving large voids when they bring extra guys.

If Tampa learned anything from every team that’s faced Atlanta this year, they need to double team Tony Gonzalez in the redzone and they’ll have Mark Barron on him pretty much every snap everywhere else on the field. Matt Ryan has played well despite all the injuries around him and Jason Snelling is a very good football player. Look for the Falcons to attack the edges with the run and to test the corners opposite Revis. The Bucs have been susceptible in the middle of the field and up the seams so TE Toilolo could grab a deep one on a Bucs’ miscommunication.

The real matchup here is how Mike Glennon reacts to the mix of coverages that the Falcons will throw at him. Safeties DeCoud and Moore will have themselves in robber roles pretty much all day long and looking for the pick. This really hasn’t been a good defense thus far this season. The rookie CBs for Atlanta have played well and they should be well prepared for a Tampa offense that is the same offense that it was in week 1 this year. They don’t change and won’t change based on a defense’s gameplan against them. Tim Wright is a legit receiving threat. He’s a big bodied wide receiver that lines up in line and in the slot. This is an important weapon for the Bucs to continue to develop.

The Falcons win by 6. Darrelle Revis might jump an out route and get a pick 6 today.

Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins

The Bills will be without EJ Manuel again this week and Thad Lewis will start in his place. Thad Lewis was fun to watch last week but I think the hype has surpassed his actual skills. Lewis is an athletic guy but has a long way to go to be an NFL passer week in and week out. He looked great against a good Bengals defense but I don’t think you can expect that level of play out of him every week, especially now that a team has film on him.

The Dolphins offense is really being restricted by coordinator Mike Sherman. The offense isn’t evolving and I’m beginning to wonder if it’s holding Ryan Tannehill back from progressing as he should.

Chicago Bears at Washington Redskins

Robert Griffin III is getting better week by week. He’s still not to the same comfortability that he was last season – his feet are the telling point. He’s getting there but slowly. I’d love to see him really plant his back foot consistently and throw darts. When he doesn’t get his feet in line or throws off his back foot, the ball sails and he’s inaccurate. As he begins to run more I think he’ll find more rhythm and so will the offense, but he has to stop taking unnecessary hits. His body is not built for it.

Bear’s offensive line was really good against the Giants. Jay Cutler looked like a composed QB last week and Marc Trestman is helping to scheme to get the ball out quickly with Cutler. The development of Alshon Jeffrey as a weapon has been a huge part of this offense. They now have an offense that has very few weaknesses. They can attack you on the outside with Jeffrey and Brandon Marshall, in the middle of the field with Martellus Bennett, can run the ball with Forte and Bush, a solid OL, a good QB, and a scheme that fits the personnel.

The Redskins defense has been on skates pretty much all year. They’re resorting to sliding Kerrigan inside to DT on nickel packages and the back end can’t tackle. DeAngelo Hall is an average CB with good speed but can be beaten at times if targeted enough. I’d rather throw at him than Josh Wilson at this point. The Redskins have to find their pass rush niche. They’ve got to find what works in each game and stick with it.

On defense, the Bears can’t get a pass rush. Julius Peppers doesn’t look like the same dominant player that he used to be and injuries have ravaged the rest of the line. Their figuring out that they’re needing to blitz and that’s taking them out of what they’d really like to do – which is mix up zone and man more often.

The Bears are clearly the better team at this point but the QBs in this game kind of function on a week to week basis. It can go either way which leads me to believe this is a very close game even though I think the Bears could torch the Washington secondary.

Bears win by more than a field goal.

Cincinnati Bengals at Detroit Lions

This is a fascinating matchup to me. The Bengals might be one of the few teams in the league with a defense that can contain both Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson.

The real story for the Lions has been the development of Matthew Stafford. Stafford has looked so much better this year than I anticipated. He still has mechanical issues but the offense has been redesigned to give him different reads and not having him hold the ball so long. When they do go deep it’s often off of play action and that gives him a split second more to let the routes develop. Rookie OG Larry Warford has been one of the best linemen in the league thus far and I think the lack of pressure in Stafford’s face has really helped him as well.

Most teams have opted to try to take away Calvin Johnson over Reggie Bush and Bush has torched them for it. The Bengals have a good enough pass rush along with CBs that they can defend the pass well enough. The LBs are a bad matchup when Bush lines up as a receiver and I’m interested to see if the Bengals stay in nickel and assign a safety or a CB to Bush rather than a LB. Rookie LB Jayson DiManche may be the only LB with enough athleticism to keep up but I would be nervous about putting that burden on the rookie.

The Bengals on offense are only held back by their QB. Dalton has good games and bad games and this is a game where he’ll need to be perfect. The Bengals’ run game is developing into a week by week affair. They’re relying on positive matchups to determine who gets the rock. Last week it was Benjarvus Green-Ellis and it worked very well for them. Depending on how they feel the matchups line up, you could see him or Giovanni Bernard dominate touches. I’m really interested to see how the Bengals use their TEs this week.

Lions’ LB Deandre Levy had a fantastic game last week against the Browns to continue a very good year. The Lions are trying to get too cute with their movement up front. They have the personnel to line up and win and need to keep doing that. Let the DL create havoc up front and let the back seven clean up anything they can’t get to. The stunts and twists are really annoying to watch because it doesn’t play to their strengths and are being used too much. The Lions’ CBs can be attacked if the Bengals can protect Dalton long enough.

At the beginning of the year I would have said the Bengals would win this game easily. With the dynamic of Bush and Calvin and an improved Stafford, I’m not so sure the Lions aren’t the better team here. I still trust the Bengals’ coaching staff more in this game and that’s a big tilt to their sides.

If this game gets into a shootout, I don’t think the Bengals can keep up. The Bengals can score 28 but they really need to try to keep the Lions under 21 points to have a chance. I think the Lions get the points they need and win a close one.

Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles

This is such an intriguing game to me. There are a lot of dynamics in play here and how each team has prepared for this game and how they make in game adjustments will be the deciding factor.

Nick Foles, simply put, is a better QB in this offense than Michael Vick is. Foles wins in every facet except in being able to run the ball. That dynamic seems to give Vick a leg up in Chip Kelly’s eyes but Foles is a much better passer. Last week Foles proved he can make every throw and doesn’t often miss open receivers against a solid defense. He doesn’t turn the ball over and he gives his receivers the opportunity to run after the catch with good location. I really don’t see why the Eagles would go back to Vick. Also, the one thing I love about Foles is the expediency with which he makes decisions. He deciphers information at a much faster pace than Vick does.

The Eagles defense will always look statistically bad because of the way the offense plays. However, at this point, the statistics match the level of play. The linebackers allow too much space in the middle of the field and they have trouble getting a pass rush. The corners are highly inconsistent in man coverage and can be targeted one-on-one. Fletcher Cox is the real deal, though.

The Cowboys are a much better offense when they’re productive in the run game. Unfortunately, this is the better part of the Eagles’ defense. The good part is that the Eagles don’t have anyone that can cover Dez Bryant. They’ll need to double team him all day long to keep him from exploding. If they do, that means Romo will need to spread the ball around.

On defense, the Cowboys don’t understand the fundamentals of this type of defense up front. Jason Hatcher is a fantastic player but he’s not staying disciplined in his assignment. They front line gets pressure but also gets turned out of the hole too often against the run. They lack gap integrity and the linebackers haven’t filled the hole as efficiently as they should. Safety play hasn’t been great either and that pretty much means that the corners are put in a tough position all game long.

I think this game ends up being a shootout and it’s really hard to call a winner. The Cowboys NEED a run game. They have the passing offense to keep up and I trust their defense only slightly more than the Eagles. The Eagles are much better on offense against zone than they are against man coverage. I’m interested to see if the Cowboys commit to that today. They’re really not playing as much cover 2 as you’d expect from a Monte Kiffin defense.

I think the Eagles eek out a win in an exciting game.

St. Louis Rams at Carolina Panthers

The Panthers are a team that I still need to watch more film on. In the couple of games I’ve studied, Cam looks like a legit franchise QB who is stuck in an offense that doesn’t play to his strengths. Without really seeing him being able to let loose, it’s impossible to know if he can really be good or if we’re all just hoping he can be. Mike Tolbert may be the best running back on this roster – or at least the most effective. I’m thoroughly surprised at the lack of inclusion of TE Greg Olsen in this offense. He’s really their best receiving weapon right now (Steve Smith included) and is only used sporadically.

The Rams appear to be a week to week team. The offense lacks consistency and that’s only outweighed by the lack of consistency on defense. At the base, on defense, they’re a team that can rush the passer but can’t defend the run or defend the deep ball. They looked much more disciplined last week against the Texans and I think that was because they knew they had to be against that type of offense. If they can maintain that, this defense can become everything we expected it to be early in the season. They need to get better play from their secondary to be able to win games.

If you’ve read my game previews over the last week, you’ll recall I had been promoting Zac Stacy as the lead back for this offense for a while. He’s a tough runner who is a guy that can sustain drives and get those 4-5 yard gains they need to stay on schedule and that’s incredibly important to this offense. Without a run game, they’re an inept offense. With Zac Stacy, the offense looks so much more efficient because they’re not stuck in 3rd and long and defenses are now having to defend an extra dimension. I’m convinced Bradford isn’t the long term answer at QB – at least with Brian Schottenheimer as the OC. The combination of the two leaves me wanting more from an offense that has weapons in Chris Givens, Jared Cook, Tavon Austin, and Austin Pettis.

The Panthers traded away LB Jon Beason and may have actually gotten better. I loved Beason as a player but Thomas Davis looks really good lately and even though he’s played on the opposite side, I think Davis has stepped up since Beason left. I still think the secondary is beatable but is making it’s living off of the pass rush being really good. Give an offense time to throw and I think they could really target this secondary.

The Rams are a tough team to predict week to week at this point. Last week seemed more like a fluke than a statement that they’re legit. This teams are a little bit of a mirror image of each other but the Rams have more weapons. But the Panthers have the better QB. Cam has been running more and the offense is being shifted more towards the run. I think they’ll go with that this week and the Rams won’t have an answer.

Panthers win this one by a TD or more.

New England Patriots at New York Jets

The Patriots will be without Aqib Talib but in this matchup that’s not going to have a major impact on the scheme for today. The bigger impact is the loss of LB Jerod Mayo. He was the every down linebacker for the Pats and wore the green dot. Now they’ll have to rely on Jamie Collins to be the WLB and provide the athleticism they need. Look for the Pats to fall back to more of a cover 2 based defense with a lot of man mixed in.

The Jets front seven is so good. Muhammed Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson are so tough to deal with up front on a play to play basis and that allows the linebackers to flow to the ball and get to the QB. The back end really benefits from this front seven. Antonio Cromartie got beat last week because he was targeted on a play where he got lazy with his technique which is something that happens at times with him.

On offense the Patriots stepped up when they needed to. They had a very good gameplan last week against a Saints’ defense that relies so heavily on scheming to get pressure. The Patriots need to continue to find ways to be effective with the run. It adds an element that forces that defense to focus on something other than Brady. Stevan Ridley looked fantastic running the ball last week. I’m not confident in his stat line this week but I bet he’s featured in the gameplan heavily.

The Jets on offense still want to run the ball. Geno Smith has played up and down like a rookie QB always does. I would expect the Patriots to come out with a gameplan that is designed to take away Geno’s first read by bumping guys at the line of scrimmage. They’ll want to make him get through his progressions and hesitate which will give time for the pass rush to get to him. Geno is willing to stand in and get hit to deliver a throw so the pressure needs to be quick and from the blindside.

With all the injuries, I worry about how the Pats defend the Jets. But I believe in Belichick’s ability to scheme against a rookie QB and Marty Morningwheg. Kenbrell Thompkins is a bad matchup for Antonio Cromartie. Cromartie’s length will help him down the field but Thompkins’ ability to run the option route means Cro will have to rely on his change of direction skills to stop the ball. That’s not ideal for him. If Gronkowski is indeed healthy and 100% it’s a major boost to Brady’s confidence and you could see him really deliver the ball with authority.

For the Jets to win, they’ll need to pound the rock and play field position football. I wouldn’t want Geno throwing the ball all over the yard even if the Pats’ D is banged up.

Patriots win by less than 7.

San Diego Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars

The Chargers had a good showing on Monday night that really alerted the world to how good they can be if they weren’t already aware. Philip Rivers has been almost flawless this year and the offense really plays to his strengths. Rookie WR Keenan Allen has emerged as a really good receiving options and they’re incorporating Gates as much as ever. The offensive line isn’t as good as Rivers has made it look but they’ve been serviceable. The offense really helps them out with running backs and chip blocks when necessary.

The Chargers defense is still a work in progress. They lack personnel along the front seven but safety Eric Weddle is fantastic in support of them. They had a great scheme last week against Indianapolis. The had some great blitz concepts matched with coverages behind them. They did a good job of confusing the offensive line and really getting pressure on Andrew Luck. They could do the same thing this week.

Jacksonville’s defense isn’t bad. I’ve been saying this week to week but it finally showed a little bit last week in how they played against the Broncos. The offense looked slightly better with Henne at QB but still needs some upgrades along the OL. Justin Blackmon leads the league in targets over the last few weeks and he’s doing a good job of finding space and getting open. He’s piling up catches but the other weapons on this offense aren’t bad either. Ace Sanders and Cecil Shorts are both solid players. Still not much of a running game which is an element that could help them out.

I know the cross country trip can be tough on a team but I still think the Chargers are significantly better than the Jags at this point. Weddle will bait Henne into a throw he shouldn’t make and the Chargers shouldn’t have any problem scoring with all the weapons they have. Jags will still be looking for their first win next week but may find some hope in keeping this game close.

Chargers win by about a TD.

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