What to watch: Prisco's film-study notes on key matchups in every NFL Week 8 game
Here are the key matchups in every Week 8 game that'll likely decide who wins
Here's a look at a film nugget for each team playing this weekend that should impact the action on the field (all times ET):
Washington vs. Cincinnati (London), 9:30 a.m. (FOX)
Outside rusher Ryan Kerrigan has six sacks, three in the past two games, and is playing at a high level in the run game. Kerrigan had 13.5 sacks two years ago, but is playing at a level that could surpass that total. On his sack last week, Kerrigan bull-rushed Riley Reiff, showing his power, knocking Reiff down and running through him to dump Matt Stafford. He will line up a lot on Bengals second-year right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi this week, which will make that a battle to watch in this early game.
One reason the Bengals have had trouble running the ball much of this season has been the poor run blocking of center Russell Bodine, right guard Kevin Zeitler -- a bit of a surprise -- and first-time starting tackle Cedric Ogbuehi. But those three were much better in the run game last week vs. the Browns, and Cincinnati ran for 271 yards.
On a 40-yard run by Jeremy Hill in the first quarter, Bodine got a nice cutoff block on the defensive tackle, Zeitler got a great block on a hard-crashing end and Ogbuehi got to the second level to block linebacker Demario Davis to create a giant hole for Hill. They then caved in the right side on the next play, a 5-yard TD run by Giovani Bernard. On Hill's 74-yard TD, the right side was again caved in with good blocks by all three and that allowed the left side to pull around and create a huge cavity. This is something the Bengals have been waiting for all season, and is something we expected to see.
Kansas City at Indianapolis, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen is the latest to be used as a buck linebacker in nickel situations -- and excel. The safety from BYU had two big plays last week against the Saints. His first big play came in the first quarter when he picked off Drew Brees and returned it 48 yards for a touchdown. On the play, Sorensen was lined up as the buck linebacker and appeared to be looking around and unsure of his assignment before the snap. But at the snap he dropped into zone coverage, and when Eric Berry made a play on the ball intended for Willie Snead, Sorensen plucked it out of the air and scored.
On the next series, he sacked Brees when he came on a delayed blitz and was untouched. He also made a nice play in the run game in the first quarter where he kept Mark Ingram to a 2-yard gain to the outside. Sorensen doesn't actually line up at safety, but is used almost entirely in the box as an extra linebacker. At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, he isn't big but is tough enough to hold up in the run game when it's coing at him. He's a nice pawn on that defense.
Colts cornerback Patrick Robinson had missed three games, but was back in the lineup last week and did a nice job in coverage vs. the Titans. He had an interception in zone coverage, jumping the route, though it was called back by a penalty. He also did a nice job in man coverage.
The Colts have had major coverage issues, but with Vontae Davis, Robinson and Darius Butler all back in the lineup, the coverage was much better. Robinson played a lot of slot corner when he was with the Chargers, but now he's starting and playing on the outside on the left. If he can continue to play as he did last week, the Colts will have a nice mix of corners, something they've lacked because of injury.
Arizona at Carolina, 1 p.m. (FOX)
One of the reasons Arizona traded for pass rusher Chandler Jones was because Cam Newton tore up the Cards in the NFC Championship Game last January. He had way too much time. Jones has made the deal with New England look good. He has five sacks and got one last week vs. Seattle when he used his hands and then had a nice bend to blow by Bradley Sowell and hit Russell Wilson, knocking the ball loose.
Jones plays with his hand on the ground and standing up in the Cardinals' scheme, and looks comfortable either way. He's also been good against the run, but his pass rush has been outstanding. Guys like Wilson and Newton are the reason the dealt for Jones.
There's been a lot made of the lack of pass-rush production from the edge rushers. As a result, the secondary has had major problems. This is a defense that has to win with the front four. But it's not only the ends. The inside players, Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei, are also not playing up to their 2015 standards, when the Panthers reached the Super Bowl. Short was one of the best inside players in the league, but is in a long line of Panthers who seem to be caught in a Super Bowl hangover. He hasn't been bad, but hasn't been what they expected.
Oakland at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Oakland's offensive line is playing well, and had an impressive game last week at Jacksonville. Left tackle Donald Penn really impressed, particularly in pass protection, and faces his former team this week. He put on a clinic in one-on-one blocking vs. the Jaguars' edge rushers. He also did a nice job in the run game. On Latavius Murray's 2-yard TD run, he started on a double and then moved to the next level to get a piece of Paul Posluszny to get Murray into the end zone. Penn was a free agent in March, and could have signed elsewhere but ended up on a two-year deal in Oakland for $14 million. At 33, he's playing good football.
Two rookies -- CB Vernon Hargreaves and DE Noah Spence -- are coming off good games last week vs. San Francisco that should give them confidence. Hargreaves who has started all season, showed off his coverage skills but also threw his body around in the run game, impressive for a corner who is 5-11, 195 pounds. Spence played his most snaps, 41, this season and flashed some pass-rush against Joe Staley, a good veteran tackle. He got his second sack of the season on the final play, jumping inside of Staley with a quick move. He also batted down a pass.
Seattle at New Orleans, 1 p.m. (CBS)
The offensive line, as a unit, was terrible last week at Arizona, though it was the tackle play that was most repulsive. Right tackle Gary Gilliam had his issues in pass protection, and was nabbed for a holding penalty in the first half and one in the second. Left tackle Bradley Sowell, who left in the fourth quarter because of an injury, also had a rough go. Chandler Jones went by him for a sack/fumble play in the fourth quarter before he got hurt. He also had a holding penalty.
When George Fant replaced Sowell, he got a holding penalty for grabbing Jones. All night long, it looked like quarterback Russell Wilson had a fast clock in his head, and rightfully so. This O-line must play better, or defensive efforts like the Seahawks put forth vs. the Cards, will go to waste. Wilson is clearly dinged with the knee, and doesn't move as well, so that magnifies issues. It got so bad that he looked to want to leave pockets almost immediately after the snap -- even if when it wasn't called for.
It looks like the Saints have decided to stick with Craig Robertson rather than veteran James Laurinaitis at middle linebacker. Robertson brings a little more thump and speed, and made a few nice plays in the run game last week vs. the Chiefs. Laurinaitis was starting until he suffered a quad injury two weeks ago. He didn't get a snap last week. Robertson opened the season as the weak-side linebacker, so he's been on the field. He's done a solid job for against the run all season.
Detroit at Houston, 1 p.m. (FOX)
The Lions look they have a good one, and potential Pro Bowl player, in rookie LT Taylor Decker. He was really impressive in pass protection last week vs. the Redskins, though he did get called for holding in the fourth quarter. That was when Matt Stafford held the ball, and Decker got his hands up on the shoulders of Preston Smith. But Decker did a nice job overall and has all season. He also had some nice blocks in the run game, getting one on a 9-yard run by Justin Forsett, coming off the double to get the linebacker on the second level. Decker has been much better than Riley Reiff, who moved from the left side to the right side.
What's the issue with quarterback Brock Osweiler? Two things: He's not patient and often decides where he's going to throw before the snap, in an almost-stubborn way. Osweiler has not taken many shots down the field, and didn't last week at all at Denver.
The Broncos changed things up from their normal aggressive man defense and played more zone than expected. They focused on making Osweiler read the field. When he did, he took the easy throws quickly rather than allowing the deeper routes to develop. In fairness, it's not like his receivers won down the field, so there weren't a lot of shots available. Osweiler isn't playing well, but needs help. The coaches should tell him to be more patient. He needs to let things develop.
New York at Cleveland, 1 p.m. (CBS)
One of New York's big problems: No pressure from outside pass rushers. In their scheme, they need to get pressure from the edge guys, not just the down players. That was the case last week when Lorenzo Mauldin had a solid game as a pass rusher vs. the Ravens. The Jets have been expecting Mauldin to be an effective edge rusher from his stand-up spot, but that hasn't been the case. Last week, he didn't get a sack but he had a handful of pressures and pushed the pocket when he rushed, sometimes with power. He did get a hit on Joe Flacco, looping from the left side to the middle to beat the guard, who had no chance. Flacco got the ball off just before taking the sack and it was badly overthrown. The Jets need more of that from Mauldin.
Word is left tackle Joe Thomas might be on the market for a second-round pick. If true, tackle-needy teams should invest. He's still playing at a high level and did a really nice job last week on Cincinnati's Michael Johnson. Thomas isn't the player he was a few years ago, but remains on of the league's best. He hasn't always been overpowering in the run game, but did some good things last week, getting to the second level on some runs to create space. At 33, he can still play quality left tackle, which isn't the case for a lot of tackles right now.
New England at Buffalo, 1 p.m. (CBS)
There is something magical outside Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots train and play, that takes the stink off a player. Whether that player has an attitude issue, or failed somewhere else, many flourish when they get to New England. The latest is corner Eric Rowe, who cost the Patriots a fourth-round pick before the season.
Rowe was an Eagles first-rounder in 2014, but was buried on their depth chart, though he has talent. Some said it was a scheme-fit issue. Whatever the case, he's fit in with the Patriots. He did a nice job in the second half two weeks ago as the nickel corner vs. Cincinnati's A.J. Green. Smith is a physical player who got his hands on Green to slow him in the second half, including a nice breakup in the end zone.
He played all 73 defensive snaps last week, and while he got beat for a touchdown in the slot by Darrius Heyward-Bey, he was sound the rest of the game. He got beat on a cross for a TD by Heyward-Bey later, but it was wiped out by penalty. He responded to play much better. He also showed to be a willing tackler. Rowe is a bigger corner who can get physical with receivers. I always thought he might be a better safety, but for now, he's a big part of the defense at corner.
The Bills have the leading sack man in the NFL: Lorenzo Alexander? Who? Alexander has bounced around, but in his first season with the Bills he has nine sacks. He got one last week against Miami when he beat TE Dominique Jones around the corner to dump Ryan Tannheill.
The Bills move Alexander around. He lined up over guard Jermon Bushrod on one rush and forced a holding penalty with a nice quick move. He forced Tannehill into a bad throw on a loop inside form the left side of the defense. The guard had no chance and he nearly had another sack. He also made a really nice play in the run game, knifing inside of tackle Brandon Albert to dump Jay Ajayi for a 2-yard loss. Alexander has to be the best free-agent signing this season. Without him, where would this defense be?
San Diego at Denver, 4:05 p.m. (CBS)
Rookie Joey Bosa has played three games, missing the first four because of a contract dispute, but he's already making his mark. He has four sacks and double-digit pressures as he shows off his talent. He had two sacks last week at Atlanta. On the first, he beat Jake Matthews by using his hands to go around him and bending the corner. Then he beat Ryan Schraeder with another good use of his hands and chased down Matt Ryan.
There were other impressive plays. On a bootleg, he got caught inside but was able to scramble back and chase down Ryan, diving at his feet to tackle him. On the very first play of the game, he split a double in the run game and kept a run to a 2-yard gain. He looks like he's been playing the position for years. He isn't huge, but understands leverage and power and has speed to go with it. The Chargers move him around, putting him down on the left and right end spots and standing him up at other times, sometimes even inside. He has the athletic ability to do all that, which gives a hint that Bosa just might be the league's next great pass rusher.
We knew the Broncos were really good at corner, but veteran Aqib Talib is playing the best football of his career. He's been a glove in coverage, and is coming off an impressive game vs. the Texans where he helped limit DeAndre Hopkins to five catches for 35 yards. At 33, Talib shows no signs of slowing down. Known for his man-coverage skills, he's also become a pretty good zone player. He does gamble at times, but he has the ability to recover. Teaming with Chris Harris Jr., there is no better tandem in the league.
Green Bay at Atlanta, 4:25 p.m. (FOX)
CB LaDarius Gunter is talented but lacks consistency. Three weeks ago, he was really good vs. the Giants, then struggled vs. Dallas, getting turned around a few times. Give him credit, though. He bounced back vs. the Bears last week in man and zone coverage. He did a good job when matched with Alshon Jeffrey. He is a long corner at nearly 6-2, and weighs 200 pounds. With all the injuries the Packers have had at corner, Gunter has done a nice job as a second-year player. I remember coaches taking a liking to Gunter in his first camp two years ago. This week, he could spend a lot of time on Julio Jones, who's an even bigger test than facing Jeffrey.
The Falcons came into the season liking corners Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, though they didn't know who their nickel corner would be. Brian Poole has done a nice job filling the role. He had a nice play in off-man on a third-down pass last week against San Diego to force a punt. He's also aware when in zone coverage and could be key vs. Randall Cobb.
Philadelphia at Dallas, 8:30 p.m. (NBC)
Cowboys guard Zack Martin is the best offensive lineman in the league. Eagles DT Fletcher Cox is one of the best inside players. When they've been matched up, it's been a treat to watch the past couple of seasons. Cox and the run defense had a rough go two weeks ago at Washington. Brandon Scherff did a nice job on Cox. But he was back to being himself last week vs. the Vikings, getting push and doing a nice job in the run game. On one draw, he threw guard Brandon Fusco to the side with one hand and dumped Jerick McKinnon for a 4-yard loss. The Cowboys are the best rushing team in the league. So it will be up to Cox to win his battles with Martin and the rest of the line to slow Ezekiel Elliott.
While rookie quarterback Dak Prescott has been a major surprise, the corner play has been the same on defense. It was considered a concern before the season, but even without Orlando Scandrick the past four weeks the corners have played well. Veteran Morris Claiborne is having his best season, while Brandon Carr is coming off his best game this season at Green Bay.
The biggest shock might be how well nickel corner Anthony Brown has played. With Scandrick expected back, there will be even more talent at coordinator Rod Marinelli's disposal. Scandrick, their best corner in 2014, missed last season with a torn ACL and then injured a hamstring early this season. It's unlikely he will be a starter with the way Claiborne and Carr are playing, but he could take Brown's spot inside in the nickel, where he has excelled. Whoever plays, the position is now one of strength.
Minnesota at Chicago, 8:30 p.m. Mon. (ESPN)
O-line issues might quiet some of the Super Bowl talk; it was very bad last week at Philadelphia. They are down both starting tackles, so you expect problems there. But the guards didn't do much either. Alex Boone, a high-priced free agent signed from San Francisco, had problems all day. On one pass play, Beau Allen threw him aside and blasted Bradford to force an incompletion.
He also got beast for a sack that led to a fumble that he recovered. He was also called for a hold late in the game. But the tackles were even worse. Brandon Graham did what he wanted against anybody he lined up against. They mostly used T.J. Clemmings at left tackle with Jeremiah Sirles at right tackle. But Clemmings went to the right side when Jake Long played a handful of snaps. Graham beat Clemmings from both the right side and the left side, getting a sack against him when he was at left tackle and hitting Sam Bradford to force an end-zone pick when he was at right tackle. This is an issue that needs to be remedied or that great defense could go to waste.
Here's another having tackle issues. RT Bobby Massie, signed as a free agent from Arizona, has really had problems in pass protection. LT Charles Leno has been better, but isn't Pro Bowl caliber either. That's a problem when you face the Vikings, who get after the quarterback. Massie has to be better in pass protection this week.
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