Each week, I’ll take a look at some critical match-ups between star offensive players and top-tier IDP opponents. The analysis will help you to determine whether or not a tough match-up will have an impact on the players’ “start” status. This week, I take a look at four match-ups. In the first, Giants wide receivers Hakeem Nicks & Mario Manningham go up against the Eagles’ vaunted secondary (Nnamdi Asomugha & Asante Samuel). In the second, Jimmy Graham presents a match-up nightmare for the Houston Texans. In the third, we change sides and look at Ben Tate’s match-up against the Saints’ porous run defense. And we close things out with a look at Chad Henne’s fear-inspiring match-up against emerging young pass-rusher Jabaal Sheard. Without further ado, let’s get to it…
Hakeem Nicks & Mario Manningham (WRs, Giants) vs. Nnamdi Asomugha & Asante Samuel (CBs, Eagles)
The Giants have been decimated by injuries to their receiving corps, and it’s still unknown whether Manningham (concussion) will be able to suit up on Sunday. Either way, this is an absolutely brutal match-up, as Asomugha and Samuel are historically two of the best cover corners in the NFL. Samuel’s played extremely well this season (+3.7 coverage rating, 3rd best in NFL), likely motivated by the offseason arrivals of Asomugha and Samuel. Look for him to be matched up against Manningham and for Asomugha to take on Nicks.
The Verdict: With the Eagles’ banged-up linebacking corps, it’s a safe bet that the Giants will run a run-heavy defense on Sunday. That, combined with the shutdown ability of the Eagles’ secondary makes both Nicks and Manningham tough plays. If you have another solid alternative, look elsewhere for WR production on Sunday.
Jimmy Graham (TE, Saints) vs. DeMeco Ryans (ILB, Texans), Jason Allen (CB, Texans), and Danieal Manning (FS, Texans)
Graham presents match-up problems all over the field, for his combination of size, speed, and jumping ability makes him virtually impossible to neutralize one-on-one. With Marques Colston out for at least another couple of weeks, Graham is Drew Brees’s preferred red zone target, and he should be quite busy on Sunday. Look for the Texans to utilize a combination of Ryans, Allen and Manning to try to neutralize Graham, with Allen – a 6’2″ slot corner – likely getting the bulk of the work. If Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem stretch the field – and if the Saints’ three-headed backfield (Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas) keep the Texans’ defense honest, it’ll be a big day for Graham.
The Verdict: Allen (-3.1 in coverage) will struggle, and pass coverage isn’t Ryans’ strong suit (-1.4), particularly given that he’s coming off a major knee injury. That leaves Manning, and an increased focus on Graham would leave Henderson and Meachem free to do serious damage one-on-one. Graham should be must-start, with a 6-catch, +75-yard, TD performance quite likely.
Ben Tate (RB, Texans) vs. Jo-Lunn Dunbar (MLB, Saints), Roman Harper (SS, Saints)
Tate has rebounded nicely from an ankle injury that cost him the entire 2010 season, and if he keeps up his Week 1/2 production, it’s quite possible that it’ll be an RBBC situation when Foster returns. A big, strong runner who capitalizes nicely on the Texans’ zone-blocking system and their dangerous passing attack, Tate should have a field day against the Saints’ defense. The Saints’ run defense (-10.1) is in the bottom third of the league for good reason, and unless the overrated Sedrick Ellis gives way to more snaps for Aubrayo Franklin and/or Shaun Rogers, anticipated starting MLB Jo-Lunn Dunbar will fare no better than did Jonathan Vilma (-4.2 run defense). In Games 1 and 2, Vilma got precious little of the needed assistance from Ellis (-2.8 run defense, 107 snaps), Franklin (-1.3 run defense, 42 snaps) or Rogers (-2.2 run defense, 36 snaps), and things could get very ugly indeed if it’s the inferior Dunbar manning the middle this week.
The Verdict: With Foster likely to be held out for at least one more week, look for Tate to play the bell-cow role well on Sunday. Against the Saints’ defense, he should run wild, because the distraction of the Texans’ passing game will be enough to keep the Saints honest. As a result, significant responsibility will fall upon Dunbar, who should rack up plenty of tackles if only as a matter of opportunity.
Chad Henne (QB, Dolphins) vs. Jabaal Sheard (DE, Browns)
Henne’s surprisingly been the least of the Dolphins’ problems this season, with their porous defense (-32.1, NFL-worst) giving rivals no trouble whatsoever… so much for Vontae Davis’s preseason boasting that the Fins’ secondary is superior to the Jets’. What the Dolphins’ defensive ineptitude means here is that Henne is likely to be playing from behind, setting him up for what could be a very ugly match-up. Left tackle Jake Long is historically one of the best in the game (+16.9 in pass protection in 2010, best in the NFL), but because Browns rookie DE Jabaal Sheard lines up on the left side, it means he’ll be going against right tackle Marc Columbo instead (yikes!). Already a -4.3 through two games, Columbo was one of the NFL’s worst pass-protectors in 2010 as well. For Henne, a regular visit from Sheard would be very bad news indeed.
The Verdict: Sheard will definitely wreak some havoc on Sunday (1.5 sacks, 4 pressures, 5 tackles). As for Henne, balance the benefit of him playing from behind (pass, pass, pass!) against the negatives of what will happen when Sheard gets to him and he makes hurried throws in the direction of Brandon Marshall, who will likely be blanketed all day by the very capable Joe Haden (+4.2).