Published: September 9th, 2011 | Tags: NFL Playbook, Anthony Castonzo, Antonio Gates, Donald Penn, Jason Witten, Josh Freeman, Kerry Collins, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Malcom Floyd, Mario Williams, Matt Ryan, Ovie Mughelli, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo, Vincent Jackson
At this late stage of the week, you have surely heard about every story line centered around quarterbacks, star skill players, loud talkers and frequent Tweeters.
But there are 11 players on either side matching up on any given play. Below we list five matchups that, based on tape study, we are interested in seeing play out in Week 1.
Williams, now a stand-up edge rusher in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme, will be lined up on the weak side of the offense on most downs — and that means he’s often lining up on QB Kerry Collins‘ blind side against Castonzo, the rookie left tackle.
With all the attention focused on Collins — and Peyton Manning on the sidelines — it’ll be up to Castonzo to make sure Collins stays upright and doesn’t join No. 18 in plain clothes. Williams, at 290 pounds, only gives up about 10 pounds to the rookie and will use his size and long arms to bull-rush.
Castonzo looks capable of using his feet to properly mirror pass rushers and anchor versus the bull-rush, but Williams will be his greatest test yet. If he fails, it becomes that much more difficult for Collins to transition into the Colts’ starting quarterback position.
Cowboys at Jets
TE Jason Witten vs. Jets LBs
The Cowboys are in an interesting predicament versus the Jets’ heavy blitz defense. Do they keep Witten in to block and slow down New York’s pressure, or do they release the Pro Bowl tight end as QB Tony Romo‘s quick option when the pressure is coming?
Rookie RT Tyron Smith, who was projected to start, suffered a knee injury and is day to day. Witten might need to help whoever replaces Smith on that side. But at the same time, the Cowboys could counter the overload blitzes, which often leave giant voids in coverage on the backend.
This could be a feast or famine game for Witten — or the Jets defense.
Vikings at Chargers
QB Philip Rivers vs. Minnesota secondary
After losing DE Ray Edwards to free agency, DT Kevin Williams to suspension and not re-signing DT Pat Williams, the Vikings’ ability to pressure the quarterback is now in question. Moreover, you don’t want Rivers with time to see the field against Minnesota’s zone-heavy secondary.
The Vikings play a lot of base defense (Cover 2 zone), with two high safeties playing deep halves and the corners covering the flat. Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates could have a field day if they are given time to find voided areas.
Defensive ends Brian Robison and Jared Allen need to get to Rivers, or San Diego could charge up the scoreboard via the air.
Falcons at Bears
FB Ovie Mughelli vs. Chicago LBs
Although the attention will be on Atlanta’s passing game — including first-round pick Julio Jones — this could really be a battle between one of the best fullbacks in the league and Chicago’s grizzled linebackers.
If the Bears pull numbers out of the box to respect QB Matt Ryan and his weapons, that leaves opportunities for Mughelli to seal off Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher or Nick Roach, who are aggressive fillers. Mughelli is the key to RB Michael Turner getting into the secondary.
If the Bears stack the box, perhaps by dropping safety Chris Harris into the mix as a run defender, Mughelli’s aptitude to seal the edge on misdirection plays could allow the Falcons to remain efficient on the ground and stay balanced in their attack. That’s when the Falcons are best through the air.
For the Bears, they will have to pick their poison — and the Falcons could still poison the Bears either way, if Mughelli makes his blocks.
Lions at Buccaneers
DE Kyle Vanden Bosch vs. OT Donald Penn
Penn was off to a slow start during the preseason in protecting QB Josh Freeman, and now he will set up across from the relentless Vanden Bosch. And with the load the Buccaneers’ line will have to handle against the Lions, most notably DT Ndamukong Suh, opportunities to slide protection to Penn’s side might be hard to come by. Tampa Bay’s running backs will need to stay in to pass protect, and heat will be coming through multiple gaps, including off right tackle with Cliff Avril.
Freeman, look out.
— Jon Blau, “Playbook” video editor/researcher
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