Here's a film nugget for each team playing this weekend that should impact the action on the field:
Dallas at Pittsburgh
Cowboys right guard Zack Martin is the best offensive lineman in the NFL. But left guard Ronald Leary is also having a heck of a season. His timing is good as well since he's scheduled to be a free agent. Leary took over as the starter when La'el Collins got hurt in Week 4, and he's been a really good player.
In a league starved for good offensive linemen, he should get big play on the market next spring. Leary is a tough, physical player in the run game who has improved in pass protection. His ability to block on the move -- a big part of the Dallas offense -- has helped make Ezekiel Elliott the NFL's leading rusher.
On the first play from scrimmage last week against Cleveland, Leary did a great job of coming off the double and getting on the linebacker on the second level to create a lane for Elliott to scoot through for an 8-yard gain.
Later, on a 10-yard run to the right, he pulled around and got a great kick-out block on Jamie Collins to create a seam, which Elliott ran through for a 12-yard gain.
Leary is brutish at times in the run game, sometimes getting away with holds, which he did a few times last week. But his ability to play with power, and also move to the second level and pull around has really been an important part of the Dallas running game. He isn't Martin good, but he's pretty good.
The Steelers have had issues at corner for a while, but they are getting good play from Ross Cockrell, a player they picked up in 2015 when he was cut by the Buffalo Bills on the final cuts. Cockrell, a big, physical corner, shadowed Cincinnati's A.J. Green earlier this season as the Steelers helped limit Green to two catches for 38 yards and no scores.
Cockrell followed him in man coverage a lot that day, although he did get help over the top as well. The Steelers might opt to try that same thing this week against the Cowboys. Like Green, Dez Bryant is a big, strong receiver who needs to be matched with a corner who can handle it. Cockrell is that type of player and he's coming off a nice game last week at Baltimore.
Green Bay at Tennessee
The Packers are getting outstanding play from their offensive line, but particularly left tackle David Bakhtiari. The fourth-year player, who signed a contract extension in early September, has been outstanding in pass protection. He has some of the best feet of any tackle in the league. He is good at getting set quickly in his pass sets and he knows how to move to keep his quarterback protected.
The Packers aren't a run-first team, so he isn't asked to line up and play power football. But even when they do run it, he does a nice job. He technically allowed a sack last week when Erik Walden got Aaron Rodgers. But Bakhtiari handled Walden on the play and Walden only got Rodgers after he started to move to run in the pocket because of other pressure. Bakhtiari did get called for a hold on a run play wide where the defender jumped inside and then quickly made a move outside and Bakhtiari had to grab him. Aside from that, he was almost flawless and continues to play at a Pro Bowl level.
Rookie safety Kevin Byard is starting to play like he might be a fixture in the Tennessee secondary for a long time. He will be challenged this week against Rodgers, but he did some good things last week against the Chargers. He took a bad angle on a long Melvin Gordon run, but he recovered to chase him down and make the tackle before he could score. That's a good sign.
In the fourth quarter, he was involved on back-to-back plays to force a punt. On a run inside to Gordon, he came up and helped make the tackle and keep it to a 2-yard gain, showing nice instincts to come up fast and get in on the play from his position in the box. On the next play, the Chargers threw a slant and he was able to come up and get a part of the tackle to keep Dontrelle Inman short of the first down. Byard isn't starting yet, but it's a matter of time. He did play 49 snaps last week.
One of the Vikings defenders expected to make the big leap forward this season was linebacker Anthony Barr. After an impressive 2015 season, Barr came into this season with a good chance to be a Pro Bowl player. He is a fast, run-and-chase linebacker who doesn't pile up sacks. But he hasn't really been as good as expected.
He's been OK, but he hasn't been as good as he was a year ago. He won't ever put up big sack numbers in their scheme, but his ability to run to the football and excel in coverage is big in the Vikings' 4-3 defense, and his coverage hasn't been as good this year for some reason. Last week against the Lions, he went to make a tackle on a short pass and whiffed. He looked frustrated when he got up.
He did make a nice play early in the run game, beating the block of tight end Eric Ebron to dump Dwayne Washington for a 1-yard gain. Barr hurt his wrist earlier this year and there are times when he looks to be playing one-armed football. There was a run in the second quarter against the Lions where he diagnosed the play, ran to the football, and whiffed on the tackle in the hole when he tried to make the tackle without using his right arm. Something just doesn't seem right with his game this year.
He's getting to spots and then not wrapping up. He did make a nice play in coverage in overtime where he ran from what looked to be an A-gap blitz all the way outside to tackle Ebron for a 2-yard gain on a pass. That's where his speed shows up. He's been solid, but he just hasn't been where many -- especially me -- expected him to be this season.
There are always meat-and-potatoes players on every team, the guys who do the dirty work but don't get the attention they should. One of those players is Redskins defensive tackle/end Chris Baker. Every time you put the tape on, Baker is making plays, but he's also playing hard all the time.
Teams love having guys like Baker around to do the dirty work. As a 3-4 end in their defense, Baker has two sacks after getting six in 2015. That's production from a position you wouldn't expect to get it. He's also a nice player against the run.
Chicago at Tampa Bay
A young player who has improved in a big way this season for the Bears is safety Adrian Amos. He is a physical player known more for his run play than his coverage, but he's been a good, steady player on their defense and is coming off an impressive game two weeks ago against the Vikings.
He flashed big time in the run game, making a nice stop on Matt Asiata on a third-and-short play to force a punt. He came up from his box safety spot and made a nice tackle for little gain. He also had a nice stop on Asiata on the goal line later in the first half in the run game.
He did some solid things in coverage as well. When he was locked in man coverage with running back Ronnie Hillman, a tough task, he was able to get out and tackle him for a 5-yard gain in a one-on-one situation that could have been a big play with a miss. He did the same later in the game in a one-on-one situation with tight end Kyle Rudolph, keeping Rudolph to a 2-yard gain. This second-year safety is improving by the week and really flashes as a run player.
Two weeks ago in San Francisco, rookie corner Vernon Hargreaves was one of the young Bucs defensive players who took a step forward that day. In the two games since, Hargreaves has struggled. He has given up a lot of big plays the past two weeks and was beaten for a touchdown by Julio Jones last Thursday night.
Getting beat by Jones is something that happens to a lot of corners, but he also gave up some catches to others in that game. The week before Amari Cooper got the best of him against the Raiders. It doesn't help that the Tampa Bay pass rush isn't great. Hargreaves will eventually be a good corner, but the past two weeks haven't been good.
Kansas City at Carolina
One of the things that stands out when watching outside linebacker Dee Ford, who has nine sacks this season and 5 Â½ the past two weeks, is that he's become more than just a guy who goes up the field. He's developed some moves.
On one of his sacks last week against Jacksonville, he did a great job of using his hands and then bending the corner -- a key for any pass rusher -- to get around Jermey Parnell and dump Blake Bortles for the sack. On the other sack, he came up the field and then inside of Parnell to get Bortles.
The addition of hand usage and moves has made Ford a tough guy to block in the passing game. He almost had another sack when he didn't bite on a run fake inside and ate up the bootleg, but Bortles threw the ball away. The Carolina tackles will have problems this week with his speed and power. He drifts at times in the run game, which can hurt the defense. He got sealed on a Chris Ivory 13-yard run last week by tight end Julius Thomas, who isn't exactly known for his blocking. He sometimes can bite hard on the inside run, which could open the zone-read play up outside of him this week for Cam Newton.
This has been a strange season for the Panthers, certainly not one many expected to see. Even though they've won two straight, they still don't look anything like the 2015 team that went to the Super Bowl. Several players have regressed this season, and one of the strange regressions by a player is that of right guard Trai Turner. He was dominant last season, earning a Pro Bowl spot, but he hasn't come close to duplicating that this season.
In fact, left guard Andrew Norwell has outplayed him so far this season. But it's made tougher on those two by the poor play of the tackles. Last week against the Rams, Aaron Donald had his moments against both guards, but it was the abysmal tackle play that really showed up.
Normal right tackle Mike Remmers continues to play on the left side with Michael Oher still out, which means Daryl Williams is in at right tackle. Remmers gave up a sack to Donald last week when Donald ran right through him. Williams had all sorts of problems in the run game and the passing game. Against a good Kansas City front this week that line, and especially the tackles, needs to be better.
Atlanta at Philadelphia
There are a lot of talented, young players on the Atlanta defense, but one who is starting to emerge is rookie linebacker De'Vondre Campbell. He did a lot of good things last week against Tampa Bay in both the run and in coverage.
On an early run play last week, he chased down Peyton Barber from the backside to limit a run to a 4-yard gain. Then on a Mike James run, he was able to use his speed and to jump outside from an inside spot to limit him to a 3-yard gain.
The big deal there was he didn't get caught up in all the trash. He also did a nice job in coverage in both zone and man, but he did give up a late touchdown to Cameron Brate in garbage time. He also broke up a pass in man coverage with Brate. This rookie fourth-round pick was slowed earlier this season with an ankle injury that forced him to miss time, but he's back healthy now and could be a draft-day steal if he continues to develop.
The Eagles are 21st in the league in rushing yards per attempt. That's not good enough, and should be reason for concern. They've had issues on their offensive line, such as the suspension of Lane Johnson and some injury issues. But another problem is that center Jason Kelce, one of the most athletic centers in the game, is having problems with push with down players on his nose. He has never been a power center, but he's made due with smarts and angles and techniques. Now he seems to be getting beat by the power more than in the past.
On a second quarter run against the Giants last week, he tried to block Damon Harrison but he got abused and Harrison helped stop Ryan Mathews for no gain. On a third-quarter run wide right to Darren Sproles, he got a good angle and got out in front of Harrison, but Harrison carried him down the line and was able to disengage and tackle Sproles for a 2-yard gain. There were a handful of other plays where Kelce had problems with his push inside. At 280 pounds, he's great pulling out to lead sweeps at times. And he can get to the second level. But with power in front of him, that will be a problem -- even more so than in the past it seems.
Los Angeles at New York Jets
The Rams have a lot of talent on defense, and a young player emerging this season is safety Maurice Alexander. The former janitor at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis has become a nice back-end player on a defense that lost Rodney McLeod to free agency.
Alexander is a big safety -- his more natural position is probably strong safety -- but he's adapted pretty well as a coverage player next to T.J. McDonald, the strong safety. The trust that defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has in Alexander in the deep middle allows him to use McDonald up near the line to help in the run game. That was important last week against Carolina, which loves to run zone-read with Cam Newton. Alexander is in his third season and is just 26. Once he gets an ever better feel for the middle of the field, he has a chance to play in the Pro Bowl down the road.
The Jets have issues with some of their defensive lineman, especially Muhammad Wilkerson, but they don't with second-year player Leonard Williams. He is a force -- and he plays hard all the time, unlike some on that defense. He was impressive last week against Miami.
On a first-quarter run, he didn't make the tackle on a 1-yard gain by Jay Ajayi, but he blew the play up by beating Mike Pouncey with a power move that forced Ajayi into a quick cut right into Sheldon Richardson's arms. The quickness of Williams to not let Pouncey get a cut-off block on him made the play.
He came back on the next play to beat guard Jermon Bushrod inside to drop Ajayi for a 2-yard gain. On the first play of the third quarter, the Dolphins ran a zone play to the left but Williams abused Bushrod, shedding him to make the tackle on Ajayi for a 1-yard gain.
Later on the same series, he used a quick swim move to get around Pouncey and drop Ajayi for a 2-yard loss. While the Jets aren't getting the production from the highly-paid Wilkerson that they expected, Williams has emerged as the team's best defensive player. In only his second season, Williams has a chance to be special.
Denver at New Orleans
When the Broncos signed tackle Donald Stephenson as a free agent from Kansas City last spring, they thought they would alleviate a trouble spot at right tackle. He battled through some injuries this season, but he hasn't played well.
Stephenson, like left tackle Russell Okung, has to pick up his play going forward. He got beat early in the run game last week by Darius Latham on an inside move that led to a 2-yard loss by Devontae Booker. Khalil Mack beat him with an up and under move for a sack in the third quarter where Stephenson barely got a hand on him. Mack pressured Trevor Siemian several other times as well. The reason the Broncos signed him as a free agent was in large part to handle players like Mack, Justin Houston and Melvin Ingram. Moving forward, he has to play better.
2016 first-round pick Sheldon Rankins made his NFL debut last week against the 49ers after missing the first seven games with a broken leg. Rankins played 38 snaps last week and looked mostly like a guy trying to get his football legs back under him. He made one tackle in the run game where he powered through right tackle Trenton Brown with a nasty hit and then tackled DuJuan Harris for a 3-yard gain. He did get push once on a pass rush, but there were too many times where he got handled in one-on-one situations by the 49ers guards.
On one pass rush, he actually used his spin move twice. First, he used it against right guard Josh Garnett and then center Daniel Kilgore, but got nowhere with either. Despite his lack of a major impact in his first game, you can see the skill set. He is strong and quick and he will be a disruptive player on that defense as the season moves along.
Houston at Jacksonville
The Texans had major issues up front when veteran left tackle Duane Brown missed the first four games. But since he's been back, the line has been better. Brown has played well since his return. He missed the first part of the season as he recovered from a torn quadriceps tendon. He looked rusty in his first couple of games back, but the past two weeks he's looked much better.
When he's at his best, he can handle edge rushers in one-on-one situations, which is big for the passing game. He had a nice game two weeks ago before the bye against Ezekiel Ansah. As the season moves on, look for Brown to be even better as he gets further removed from his injury.
One of the players who has taken a step forward this season for the Jaguars defense is safety Johnathan Cyprien. The 2013 second-round pick is playing a lot more up close to the line than in the past, which suits his skill set. The addition of free safety Tashaun Gipson has helped Cyprien's game since he is built more as a box safety and they can use him that way.
In the past, he's struggled with coverage, but he's improved there as well. If Cyprien had to play in the deep middle, he'd have problems. Now that he's mostly up near the line, his coverage isn't getting him in bad situations this season. In the run game, he's a good tackler and he's done a better job in 2016 of identifying things and getting to the football. As a pending free agent, the timing of his improved season is a good thing for him.
Miami at San Diego
Branch played well last week against the Jets. He got push several times early in the game against left tackle Ryan Clady. On a Cameron Wake sack in the second quarter, he was right there to get the sack as well but Wake beat him by a split second to knock the ball away. On that play, Branch bull-rushed Clady and pushed him back into Ryan Fitzpatrick as the two ends sandwiched the quarterback.
Branch later made an effort play in the third quarter when he rushed from his left end spot up the field and then continued to play when a screen pass went the other way. He chased it downfield and made the tackle on a 15-yard gain. That's effort. He covered 30 yards on the play, 10 on his rush and 20 to get downfield and make the play. On the first play of the fourth quarter, he beat the cut block of Quincy Enunwa to tackle the runner behind the line. Branch has a chance to get to his career best of six sacks, which he had with the Jaguars in 2015.
Who was that guy in the No. 85 jersey last week? It was Antonio Gates, but it looked like a young version of Gates. He caught five passes for 75 yards and a touchdown, but it was the blocking that impressed.
Early in his career, he was a good blocker. As he aged, he wasn't asked to do it as much and he wasn't as good at it. He was good at it last week. The Chargers used him blocking in a bunch of different ways against the Titans. They motioned him and let him wham the defensive end a few times. They also lined him up on the end of the line and let him seal block.
Gates was a big reason why Melvin Gordon ran for 196 yards. Gates isn't overpowering, but he knows how to use his body to create angles and move players to open holes. As for his pass-catching against the Titans, he had a touchdown catch on a corner route where he looked years younger. He also had a 17-yard catch where he got away with a veteran move, pushing off linebacker Sean Spence. On the tape, you can see Spence complaining to the officials as soon as the play was over. With Hunter Henry out last week, Gates had to play like his old self -- and he impressed in doing so.
San Francisco at Arizona
The 49ers are last in the NFL in run defense, and if you put on the tape you can see why. They struggle at linebacker without NaVorro Bowman, but they also don't do a good job of getting off blocks at the point of attack. That was the case last week against the Saints. The down players got handled.
When Mark Ingram ran 75 yards for a touchdown, nobody got off a block up front. That created a nice hole to the right that Ingram burst through for what should just have been a big gain. But a poor angle by safety Antoine Bethea turned it into a 75-yard touchdown. It's been that way all season long. That's why Cardinals coach Bruce Arians has to be excited about the idea of pounding David Johnson at that defense this week. In the first meeting between the teams, won by Arizona, Johnson ran for 157 yards and scored two touchdowns. Look for Arizona to push to duplicate that again here.
There are a lot of heralded players in the Cardinals secondary, especially corner Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu, but one of the players who should be getting more attention is safety Tony Jefferson. He has been outstanding so far in 2016.
Jefferson excels in the run game, but he's also made major improvement in coverage the past few seasons. Jefferson shed weight this offseason to get quicker in coverage and it's paid off. He is heading to free agency, so the former undrafted player from Oklahoma might be about to cash in next spring.
Seattle at New England
The Legion of Boom, the Seattle secondary, is once again having some issues like it did early last season. There have been coverage busts and players haven't played as well. One of those players is nickel corner Jeremy Lane. The past few weeks he's been a trouble spot in coverage from his slot position.
He got beat bad by Robert Woods last week for a 13-yard catch on a deep out. Then Woods got him again on another deep out for a 25-yard gain. After that catch, you could see the frustration from Lane. Marquise Goodwin got him for a 13-yard catch later when he was in off-man coverage.
Lane is in the spotlight even more this week since it was his knee injury in Super Bowl XLV that seemed to give life to a Patriots offense in that New England victory over Seattle. When Lane went down, the Patriots started to pick apart the Seattle secondary with short passes. Look for Tom Brady to attack Lane this week with Julian Edelman from the slot. Lane has to pick up his play.
When the Patriots brought back offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia out of retirement this year, they were getting back one of the best ever to do it in the NFL. And now we are seeing his work pay off. The right side of the New England line was a major concern heading into the season, but both guard Shaq Mason and tackle Marcus Cannon have done a nice job so far this season.
Mason is one of the most-improved linemen in the league. In his last game against the Bills, he did some really good things in the run game against Marcell Dareus. On a touchdown run by LeGarrette Blount, he drove Dareus a yard into the end zone. Cannon has also made big strides.
Cincinnati at New York Giants
The Bengals haven't been the same team on defense this season. One of the reasons is the disappointing play of end Michael Johnson. When Johnson left the Bengals to sign with the Bucs in 2014 as a big-ticket free agent, he was on the verge of becoming a good pass-rushing end who looked like a double-digit sack guy and a player who was good against the run.
He didn't play well for the Bucs -- a bad ankle hurt -- and he was let go one year into his contract. He re-signed with the Bengals, but after playing solid football in 2015, he hasn't been the same player this season. Maybe that's why they brought back Wallace Gillberry, who was released by the Lions.
The Giants have to be thrilled with the play they are getting from rookie safety Andrew Adams. The undrafted player out of Connecticut was cut this summer and then brought back when injuries hit the back end. He made his first start against the Vikings in Week 5 and has done a nice job since.
He got his first pick last week against the Eagles, grabbing a bad overthrow by Carson Wentz and returning it 19 yards. But his best play came when he dove to knock away a sure touchdown pass to Jordan Matthews near the goal line.
Adams has the ability to play in the deep middle, which allows the Giants to use Landon Collins in a bunch of different ways up near the line of scrimmage. Collins is a second-year safety, so there is youth on the back end. Adams also is a willing tackler in the run game, saving a long run on one play last week against the Eagles. Darian Thompson was expected to be the starter, but he suffered a foot injury in Week 2 and is gone for the season. Nat Berhe had concussion issues at times this season and he badly misplayed a long pass last week. For now, it looks like Adams is the guy and the way he's playing that's probably not a bad thing.