After an impromptu week off for Week 15, Marquee Matchups returns with a bumper holiday er edition for the festive season.
Christmas is a time of excess, so why should this column be any different? This week Ben Stockwell takes a look at either a crucial or intriguing matchup for all of the weekend Week 16 games. There are some notable mismatches, but also some all-time classics like Andre Johnson vs. Champ Bailey, Terrell Suggs vs. Joe Thomas and … Bill Belichick vs. Chan Gailey?
Dallas C Andre Gurode vs. Arizona NT Dan Williams
This one isn’t a matchup of starters but if you consider a football game a three-course meal, this one is the main course after the Arizona starter (Bryan Robinson) has been cleared off the table. Dan Williams has been a rare bright spot for the Cards, a potentially dominant force in run defense. Williams is our No. 8 defensive tackle in run defense (+13.9) and the Cardinals should be looking to get him on the field more to assess him in a starting role. Gurode is our 7th rated center as a run blocker (+8.2) and will provide Williams a stern test to see what he’s made of.
Detroit WR Calvin Johnson vs. Miami CB Vontae Davis
A matchup featuring a receiver who moves all over the formation and a corner who tends to track the No. 1 receiver. Davis struggled last week in the Dolphins’ loss to the Bills and if Miami are to rebound Davis will need to have a big game to keep Johnson quiet. The Lions have adapted their scheme well to Drew Stanton’s abilities, but Johnson is still a big part of what they do through the air. Davis & the Dolphins’ secondary need a big day to keep him quiet whilst the front seven clamps down the shotgun runs of Maurice Morris & Jahvid Best.
Bill Belichick vs. Chan Gailey
Bill Belichick himself said earlier this week that the Bills are tough to gameplan for, and as a result it makes it very difficult to pinpoint just one key and intriguing matchup. So let’s look at the matchup between the head coaches and the units they take prime interest in. We at PFF were impressed with the work Chan Gailey did with the Chiefs in 2008 when he ran a pistol offense, getting some commendable performances from Tyler Thigpen, and Gailey has repeated that this year with the Bills. Gailey is earning a rep as someone who can get everything and more from talent sets that don’t seem to fit and it’ll be interesting to see what he comes up with this week on offense and what Belichick has prepared to stop them. This game should be a no brainer, but don’t be surprised to see an enthralling battle of wits between the two brains on the sidelines.
Washington ILBs Rocky McIntosh & London Fletcher-Baker vs. Jacksonville TE Marcedes Lewis
We’ve long been fans of Marcedes Lewis’ all round ability, but this season has finally seen Lewis emerge as the receiver that he was in college at UCLA; his spectacular catch against the Colts is the exclamation point on his season. McIntosh in particular has struggled in coverage this year and if the Jaguars can get Lewis isolated on him and Kareem Moore in the secondary the Jaguars should be on to a winner with this matchup.
Baltimore DRE Terrell Suggs vs. Cleveland LT Joe Thomas
Both players had strong games in the first encounter this season. Thomas raised his game against the Ravens, yielding only 1 pressure, but Suggs against other blockers was able to register a sack & three pressures. Thomas has re-found his form of late and Suggs has been hot all season (save for the defensive collapse against the Texans) and this should be a great matchup to watch. Colt McCoy showed more willingness to look downfield against the Bengals last week, and if the Browns are to be able to get after the Ravens’ secondary Thomas will need to keep Suggs quiet.
Tennessee DLE Jason Babin vs. Kansas City RT Barry Richardson
Richardson had been solid this season, but since his start at left tackle against the Seahawks Richardson has struggled. Welcoming Jason Babin & the Titans to town isn’t likely to help him recover his form this week. Babin has been a revelation this season, almost matching his career sack total in 2010. In the last 4 weeks Richardson has yielded a sack, four hits, and 10 pressures while Babin has registered three sacks, five hits and nine pressures. The saving grace for Matt Cassel is at least this pressure is coming from his open side.
NY Jets LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson vs. Chicago DRE Julius Peppers
After a big win last week in Pittsburgh are the Jets now back on schedule? Confidence will be high, and everybody is aware just how much confidence plays into the performance of this team, can they ride this momentum to a playoff spot and a potential rematch with the Patriots? In this game we have one of the outstanding matchups of the season on the line with Ferguson against Peppers, an MVP candidate at defensive end against one of the premier left tackles in the league, does it get any better than this? Even if Peppers decides that he can have more profitable hunting at left end, it will be fun to see what Israel Idonije can do up against Ferguson.
San Francisco RE Justin Smith vs. St. Louis LG Jacob Bell
Justin Smith’s recovery to the top of our 3-4 end rankings is complete, even though his untimely ejection against the Chargers limited his performance last Thursday. This game still has playoff implications, and this matchup will be important to the Niners’ hopes. Smith has been a destructive force after a slow start this season, and his first game against the Rams this season was no different. Smith registered a sack and five pressures along with three stops in run defense. The Rams will need better from Bell this week or they’ll be finding their playoff fate out of their hands as they enter their Week 17 encounter in Seattle.
Indianapolis RT Ryan Diem vs. Oakland DLE Lamarr Houston
Lamarr Houston exploded onto the scene in with an outstanding game against the Rams in week 2 (+7.2 overall) and since then has continued to be a penetrative force in the Raiders’ aggressive defense. But he hasn’t consistently finished the plays he puts himself into position to make. Houston is coming off of another big game two weeks ago against the Jaguars and finds himself with a favorable matchup against Diem, our 72nd rated tackle (-26.9), in both run and pass games. Houston has been most consistent in run defense but the Raiders will be looking for him to channel his performances as a pass rusher against the Rams (+4.0), Chargers (+1.7), 49ers (+2.4) abd Jaguars (+2.2) as they look to disrupt Peyton Manning & the Colts’ passing attack.
Houston WR Andre Johnson vs. Denver CB Champ Bailey
There’s no boxing match on the horizon here, just a top quality matchup between our second-rated wide receiver, Johnson +14.3, and our second-rated corner, Bailey +18.6. Johnson’s two games against Tennessee bracketed two games where he topped 140 receiving yards; conversely Bailey has yielded only 29 yards in the last five games. Something’s got to give in this one.
San Diego NT Antonio Garay vs. Cincinnati C Kyle Cook
This matchup is a response to the performance Kyle Cook put in during the second half of the battle of Ohio this past Sunday. Ahtyba Rubin has struggled stepping up to the starting line-up this season for the Browns and his encounter with Cook confirmed that. Cook absolutely dominated Rubin for the entire second half getting a lot of movement to open some huge running lanes for Cedric Benson. Garay will provide a sterner challenge for Cook, that’s for sure.
NY Giants RBs Brandon Jacobs & Ahmad Bradshaw vs. Green Bay ILBs Desmond Bishop & AJ Hawk
There’s really no articulation needed for this matchup, which will go a long way towards deciding the 6th seed for the NFC. It’s a game in December in Wisconsin, smash mouth football is going to play a big part in this game. How the Packers ILBs cope with and corral the fire/lightning combination of Jacobs and Bradshaw will go a long way towards deciding this one. Any one of these four have the prime opportunity to write their name on this game and thrust their side towards a hard-earned playoff spot.
Seattle DRE Chris Clemons vs. Tampa Bay LT Donald Penn
Clemons has a habit of feasting on subpar tackles, and what better time to feast than Christmas? Only ten tackles have yielded more pressure than Penn this season (five sacks, eight hits, 33 pressures) and only a handful of ends have applied more pressure than Clemons this season (10 sacks, eight hits, 47 pressures). This encounter is heavily weighted towards Clemons, and the Seahawks need a big game from him. Both teams need this game to stay in the playoff hunt, if Clemons can get after Josh Freeman it gives the Seahawks a great chance to come away with a big road win.
Minnesota MLB EJ Henderson vs. Philadelphia QB Michael Vick
How do you account for Michael Vick when he decides to play like he did last week against the Giants? Really you can’t, you can only hope to slow him down enough for your offense to outscore him. Henderson will be crucial in this encounter, be it spying Vick or working in the short passing lanes where he will surely be well-tested if the Vikings safeties & corners can take away the deep threat, though that’s not a given. If Henderson and the rest of the Vikings front seven can contain Vick then we might see Week 17 spiced up a little in the race for the second seed in the NFC.
New Orleans LT Jermon Bushrod vs. Atlanta DRE John Abraham
Homefield advantage is all but locked up for the Falcons even if they lose this game, but for the sake of momentum and a mental advantage there will be no interest in a slipup against the Saints this week. Matt Ryan has still only lost one home game in his career and at home, on familiar turf, Abraham should be ready to take advantage of this lopsided matchup against Bushrod and really get after Drew Brees to pressure the Saints’ passing game. The Falcons seem to be viewed as a good team that hasn’t necessarily elevated itself to elite status, in spite of their record. Clinching homefield advantage and completing a season sweep of the defending Super Bowl champs may just see people jump firmly on the Falcon bandwagon; this could easily be a divisional playoff preview.