Plus, Tom Brady has a chance to attack the Buffalo D, how the Cowboys could tweak their approach for Russell Wilson, and a big test for the much-improved Ereck Flowers
1. The jury is still out on POAW (Philly’s Offense After Wentz); some of Nick Foles’s impressive numbers last week against the Giants were circumstantial. (Two examples: His TD to Trey Burton was on a blown coverage; the touchdown to Nelson Agholor was a great catch on a poor underthrow.) At times, Foles’s field vision and timing looked rusty. That can be corrected with more reps—and the fact that Foles showed outstanding pocket poise (especially on Alshon Jeffery’s four-yard touchdown) suggests it will. The Raiders are a more creative defense under John Pagano, but still not a good one. Christmas night presents a great chance for Foles to find his rhythm.
2. Besides his health, another reason to shut down Aaron Rodgers is it gives the Packers two more games to evaluate Brett Hundley. Saturday night against Minnesota will be the first time Hundley has faced a team he’s played before. The Packers need to find out whether he can be their long-term backup QB.
3. Who will Falcons head coach Dan Quinn put on Saints star rookie running back Alvin Kamara in man coverage? Typically, Deion Jones covers running backs in Atlanta’s matchup calls. But Kamara is not your typical back. Saints tight ends Josh Hill and Michael Hoomanawanui are unathletic; don’t be surprised if Atlanta’s usual tight end matchup piece, safety Keanu Neal, takes Kamara.
4. He’s gone largely unnoticed because the Bears haven’t won, but Akiem Hicks has been as destructive as any defensive lineman in football this year. On Sunday he’ll battle Browns second-year right tackle Shon Coleman, who is long-armed and talented but still a work in progress.
5. The Jaguars and Rams had great success playing Cover 4 against the Seahawks the past two weeks. Cover 4 is a zone structure with man-to-man principles. Each safety and outside corner is responsible for one-fourth of the field, which balances the defense and helps keep eyes on the quarterback. It’s a great way to defend Russell Wilson and Seattle’s rudimentary route combinations. Don’t be surprised if the Cowboys, normally a Cover 2 team, play more Cover 4 on Sunday.
6. If Titans first-round rookie receiver Corey Davis is to have a fruitful career, he must style his game after Eagles wideout Alshon Jeffery. Like Jeffery, Davis is long and strong-handed, but he’s not twitchy or fast. His success will come from out-sizing defenders, not out-running them.
7. In Week 13 against Buffalo, the Patriots ran the ball on more than half their snaps, and they didn’t attack vertically downfield. That’s a little surprising given that the Bills are a zone-based defense with a mediocre pass rush. Tom Brady usually feasts on those. It’ll be interesting to see New England’s approach in Round 2, with the Bills coming to Foxboro on Sunday.
8. The Ravens are at their best offensively when Joe Flacco, who has been overly cautious for much of this season, is throwing downfield on first down against predictable defensive looks. Or, when tailback Alex Collins is getting around the edge in the ground game. This Saturday there’s an opportunity for both against a Colts defense that’s playing with mostly second-string defensive backs and one of the league’s most vulnerable linebackers, Antonio Morrison.
9. The Texans interior O-line saw a slew of designer pass rushes from the Jaguars last week. Backup right guard Greg Mancz and left guard Xavier Su’a-Filo (who starts but would be a backup on 30 other rosters) were attacked repeatedly with stunts. The Steelers are one of the league’s best blitzing defenses, but theirs tend to come off the edges, particularly with slot corner Mike Hilton, who has been tremendous in Year One. Especially given that Ryan Shazier, an explosive inside blitzer, is gone, Houston must be on high alert for edge pressure Christmas afternoon. On third downs, look for Bill O’Brien to go shotgun and flank T.J. Yates with running back Lamar Miller and fullback Jay Prosch, creating a seven-man protection.
10. Giants left tackle Ereck Flowers still plays with ugly technique, but this year he’s the most improved pass-blocker in football (he had more room to improve than most). Flowers started slowly and then struggled a bit against bull rushes in last week’s Eagles game, but he recovered in the second half to finish strong. Now he gets maybe his stiffest challenge: Arizona’s limber, technically savvy veteran Chandler Jones, who leads the league in tackles-for-loss (25) and sacks (15).
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