After watching tape on every team this week, here are some of the things that caught my eye and could be a major factor in each of this week's games.
I have one nugget for each team in all 14 games coming up Sunday and Monday that could impact what happens on the field in a big way in Week 4.
Indianapolis at Jacksonville
With Vontae Davis back in the lineup, the Colts played a lot of man concepts against the Chargers. He teamed with veteran Antonio Cromartie, who had a good game, in playing the aggressive man coverage. I would expect some of that this week against the Jaguars, who don't get creative with formations to try and free up their receivers against man. Who plays Allen Robinson?
Rookie linebacker Myles Jack isn't getting on the field, and some are wondering why. The big reason is how well linebackers Paul Posluszny and Telvin Smith are playing. Smith has been their best defensive player, an active, fast linebacker. The Jaguars would be wise to play Jack in place of Dan Skuta at their "Otto" spot, which they are considering, but that would mean he's on the field for 20 plays. Anything is better than nothing. Jack has worked in the middle and at weakside, so the strong side makes sense now -- even if he isn't an exact fit in what they want from that spot.
Buffalo at New England
The Bills ran the ball better last week against the Cardinals under new coordinator Anthony Lynn, a former running back. Expect more of that this week. The Patriots need to be aware of the traps and pulls by the Bills up front. It was a great trap block by Richie Incognito on Corey Peters that sprung McCoy on his 24-yard touchdown run last week. He crushed Peters as McCoy ran through for the big play.
When watching the Patriots on tape, the thing that stands out is how much improved the offensive line is this season. A lot of that has to do with the return of line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who is one of the best in the league. The sum of the parts is still better than the individual players, but they did a nice job last week against the Houston front. The return to health of left tackle Nate Solder, who is playing well, is key to the unit. They are still young at the three inside spots, with two second-year players and a rookie, but they are coached well, and it shows.
Oakland at Baltimore
The Raiders made a wise move last week by inserting rookie strong safety Karl Joseph into the starting lineup. Watching him on tape, you see a vintage Raiders safety, a big hitter who isn't afraid to stick his nose into runners or receivers. On several plays last week against the Titans, he came up from the deep safety spot to make sure tackles on runners as they broke into the clear. He was solid against the pass as well. He will be a big plus to the Raiders defense going forward.
The Ravens are really good up front on defense with Brandon Williams and Tim Jernigan playing well as down players and C.J. Mosley playing well as inside linebacker. Their matchup with highly touted inside three of the Raiders line will go a long way to deciding this game. Oh, and undrafted rookie Michael Pierce from Samford is stout against the run as well when he comes into the game.
Carolina at Atlanta
Yes, the Carolina offensive line has its share of issues this season, but the defensive ends need to play better as well. Kony Ealy, who had a great Super Bowl, hasn't done much, while veteran Charles Johnson has been just a little better. Neither has a sack through three games. At least Johnson is getting some pressure. Ealy is not. That could be a major problem this week against Atlanta. Carolina is built on defense to get pressure from a four-man front. Without it, they could have issues this week in Atlanta.
One of the biggest reasons why the Falcons are better on offense -- and lead the league in scoring -- is center Alex Mack. They signed him as a free agent from Cleveland and he's done a great job in the run game, but also keeping the pocket clean inside. That's been a problem for Matt Ryan for a long time, preventing him from stepping up like he should. Mack's play inside has changed that, which is helping Ryan off to his fast start.
Tennessee at Houston
When the Titans played the Texans in Houston last season, the Texans had seven sacks and brutalized Zach Mettenberger. But the Titans are better up front with the addition of rookie right tackle Jack Conklin. He is playing well and left tackle Taylor Lewan is having his best season. Plus, Marcus Mariota moves better than Metternberger. It's doubtful the Texans get half of that -- especially with J.J. Watt out.
The Titans main focus will be to try and run the ball. That's what they do. And that means the Texans need much better play from everybody up front with Watt out. After having back surgery this summer, Watt wasn't close to being the same player he's been in his career. He was on the ground a lot against the Patriots last week. He also wasn't as explosive and his power wasn't the same. Even so, he's going to be missed. That's because 75-percent of Watt is better than most. It's up to Jadeveon Clowney to pick up his game.
Seattle at New York
The pressure package the Seahawks put on the field in passing situations is one that could present problems for Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. They use Michael Bennett and Frank Clark, both ends, inside and put Cliff Avril and Cassius Marsh on the outside. Bennett is a big problem inside, and has been for a while. Clark is getting there, and is one of the breakout stars of the defense.
While Fitzpatrick was awful last week, he didn't get much help from his receivers. They didn't win as much as they normally do, and they didn't do a great job against zone coverage either. There was also miscommunication on two of the six picks that Fitzpatrick threw. That's not a good look when readying to face the Legion of Boom.
Detroit at Chicago
The Lions didn't get much pressure on Aaron Rodgers last week -- although they did get two sacks -- and a lot of that has to do with Ezekiel Ansah being out. He won't play this week either. One player who has been a surprise pass rusher for the Lions is Kerry Hyder, who was signed off the Jets practice squad last January. He made his first NFL start last week in place of Ansah. He had a sack, which gives him four on the season. He's not a prototype pass rusher, but he plays hard and has power. He also drew a key holding penalty on Bryan Bulaga last week.
The Bears get a big break this week with Ansah out, no matter how well Hyder is playing. They've had issues protecting the passer with their tackles, and Ansah is one of the better pass rushers when on the field. Even without Ansah, the Bears tackles have to be better, especially right tackle Bobby Massie, who has struggled after signing as a free agent.
Cleveland at Washington
The Browns started rookie Briean Boddy-Calhoun at left corner for the injured Joe Haden last week, and he did a solid job. He was claimed off waivers from the Jaguars after being signed by Jacksonville as undrafted free agent. He got a pick-six against Miami, but he did give up a touchdown to Jarvis Landry. He also ended up on his butt when Kenny Stills ran an out route that had his feet crossed. But there was good. One play on tape stood out for me. He was in man coverage on DeVante Parker, who ran across the field and Boddy-Calhoun was able to chase him and tackle him short of the first down -- showing nice closing speed. It will be interesting to see what they do with him going forward when Haden returns. There is a chance Boddy-Calhoun plays this week against the Redskins.
The Redskins have line issues heading into this one. Center Kory Lichtensteiger is out for the year. They would either turn to guard Spencer Long, who took over last week, or newly signed veteran John Sullivan. If Long plays center, it could mean left tackle Trent Williams would stay at guard, which is where he played some in last week's game. When that happened, the Redskins inserted Ty Nsekhe in at left tackle. He did a nice job in his 36 plays last week, so that might be the best option of Long goes to center.
Denver at Tampa Bay
We know Von Miller is a pass-rush menace, but the Bucs need to also spend a lot of time focused on Shane Ray. The second-year player from Missouri has really improved as a pass rusher. He had three sacks last week against the Bengals, one where he beat inserted tackle Jake Fisher as an extra lineman and another where he came around the back to get a sack when Andy Dalton had push inside. He plays the right side, but also moves to the left when Miller rests. Late in the game when Miller got a sack, Ray was pushing Andrew Whitworth into Dalton's legs, showing off his power too. He will be matched against Bucs left tackle Donovan Smith, who hasn't played well the past two weeks.
Where is the pass rush? Miller has as many sacks as the Tampa Bay team after three games, which is five. They have just three by their defensive lineman. One of those players is Gerald McCoy, who has to come up big in this if the Bucs are to have a chance. He will be the focal point inside of the Denver offensive lineman. McCoy is still the best defensive player on the Bucs roster, but needs to get to the passer more.
Dallas at San Francisco
The Cowboys are getting some solid play inside from rookie defensive tackle Maliek Collins. The third-round pick started last week against the Bears and was able to make some plays in the running game, including one for a 3-yard loss. He broke his foot in the summer, which hurt his development some. But he's showing improvement each and every week, which is why he got the start. He will be key to playing the 49ers' running game this week.
There will be a lot made about the Cowboys offensive rookies, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. But the 49ers have a good defensive rookie in end DeForest Buckner. He is coming off his best game in terms of run defense last week against Seattle. He plays mostly on the right side, so he will be lined up against Tyron Smith if Smith plays.
Los Angeles at Arizona
It's always fun to watch defensive tackle Aaron Donald work. He's one of the best in the NFL. His quickness is unmatched inside by any player. He will work a lot against Arizona left guard Mike Iupati, who is a physical mauler who is having another good season. The Cardinals line has had some issues this season, but Donald vs. Iupati will be fun to watch.
The Cardinals are a deep-ball passing team. But that's been an issue this season. Carson Palmer had 65 passing plays of 20 yards or more and 15 of 40 or more in 2015. So far this season, he has 11 of 20 or more and two of 40 or more -- and one of those is a screen pass. Palmer looks to be having trouble getting the deep ball to his receivers at times. It will be interesting to see how the Rams defend him in this one. Do they keep their safeties back? With their front, that's likely.
New Orleans at San Diego
With Terron Armstead likely missing another game with a knee issue, second-year player Andrus Peat would start at left tackle. That means he will be matched up a lot against Melvin Ingram. Peat wasn't awful last week against the Falcons, but he had some issues in pass protection. Ingram did a nice job last week against Anthony Castonzo, who is a much better player than Peat. Ingram didn't get a sack, but he did push the pocket -- he is good with power -- and got a handful of pressures.
With Manti Te'o out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon, the Chargers will turn to rookie fifth-round pick Jatavis Brown. He came on last week and played 32 snaps and did a nice job in all phases of the game. He can fly to the football, so his cover skills will be on display against the Saints and Drew Brees. He's 5-11, 220 pounds, so he looks more like a linebacker. He might not be big, but he is smart in the run game and uses his speed. He made a real nice play for a 2-yard gain last week against the Colts, knifing in from the backside with his quickness.
Kansas City at Pittsburgh
The Kansas City secondary was outstanding last week against the Bills, as the team picked off six Ryan Fitzpatrick passes. They used both zone and man to help take the ball way. Corner Marcus Peters and safety Eric Berry both had good games last week and both are playing well this season. But the Chiefs are also getting good play from Phillip Gaines, the other starting corner, and slot corner Steven Nelson. Those three corners will have to come up big against the Steelers passing game.
Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva has had some issues protecting Ben Roethlisberger this season. That could be an issue against Tamba Hali in passing situations. Hali is playing solid football after missing much of the summer rehabbing from a knee issue. He's starting to look like the Hali of old -- at least he did last week against the Jets. Villanueva has to be better here.
New York at Minnesota
The Vikings have had big time issues running the football. They are last in rushing yards and yards per attempt. The Giants are second in the league in yards per attempt. That means the Vikings have to find a way to block Damon Harrison inside. He has been a force against the run, and was that last week again against the Redskins. If Minnesota wants to get their Adrian Peterson-less running game going, they better handle Harrison.
When Matt Kalil was lost for the season last week with a hip injury, the Vikings moved second-year player T.J. Clemmings, who started last year at right tackle, over to the left side. I thought he did a solid job last week against Carolina. He showed good feet, good athletic ability, and a want to mix it up. The Vikings helped him some, but he was in a lot of one-on-one situations and more than held his own.
Bye week: Green Bay, Philadelphia