Marquee Matchups Review

| October 7, 2011

Plenty of interesting matchups and talking points in the NFL this week, some outstanding individual performances and some intriguing one-on-one matchups that perhaps didn’t quite go to the script.
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As ever, we’ll take a balanced look at those balanced encounters and those that were decisively won by one or the other. We’ll head to Chicago to check out Steve Smith again hooking up with Cam Newton for a big day, causing at least half of the Bears’ defensive backfield nightmares. We’ll check in with Cleveland where a rookie sensation showed that he’s not just a pass rusher against one of the better right tackles in the league. Then we’ll finish in Green Bay where a second-year player might now be wishing that he hadn’t got his chance to star this week.
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Carolina WR Steve Smith vs. Chicago Bears Defensive Backfield
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In spite of a 1-3 start Steve Smith must be ecstatic with how the Carolina offense, and the passing game in particular, has opened the year. Smith has already nearly matched his 2010 output in receiving yards through just four games, having topped 150 yards on three occasions, this time against the Bears and their cover 2 defense. For whatever reason, the Bears chose not to matchup their best cornerback, Charles Tillman, on Smith – the Panthers’ only consistent and most dangerous receiving threat – and it cost them.

Smith and Cam Newton exploited this mismatch as Newton again showed great poise in the pocket, an impressive ability to read the coverage, and excellent accuracy to find Smith in the soft spots. Whether it was avoiding the jam and not letting the corners divert his routes or making things happen after the catch, the Bears’ defensive backfield (principally Brandon Merriweather and Tim Jennings) couldn’t contain Smith. The Bears were at least able to keep Smith off of the scoreboard but his dirty work driving the Panthers up and down the field gave them a chance in this one. It’s not bringing Carolina wins but when the rest of the team catches up to the play of Smith and Newton in the passing game, the Panthers will be moving on up.
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Headline Play
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At 11:25 in the second quarter, the Panthers’ first offensive snap after a Devin Hester punt return established a two-score Chicago lead, Smith showed not only his speed deep but also his ability to beat press coverage to get downfield against a pair of Chicago DBs. Against cover 2, Smith was able to juke inside of the press of LCB Tim Jennings, not allowing the Bears’ corner to direct him in towards free safety Brandon Merriweather. Smith then bent his route in behind Jennings not allowing Merriweather to have an angle to get to him, giving Cam Newton a shot at the cover 2 window. Smith showed his knowledge of the game finding the soft spot in the zone for a big gain that set the Panthers on their way to closing this one back to a single-score game.
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Tennessee RT David Stewart vs. Cleveland DLE Jabaal Sheard
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Last week Jabaal Sheard demonstrated – without sacking Chad Henne – just what a fine rookie pass rusher he is by taking Marc Colombo behind the wood shed to deliver a beat down to the tune of nine pressures. This week, Sheard was shut out as a pass rusher by David Stewart but he was able to fight back by delivering a strong performance as a run defender. That Sheard, and every other Cleveland pass rusher except for Ahtyba Rubin, was shut out in the passing game proved pivotal.

Matt Hasselbeck is a quarterback who often struggles under pressure but with no pressure at all he was able to find his receivers for some big plays that wound up as the difference. At a team level, this was a disappointment but, individually, Sheard continued to show just what a fine player he is by not letting his poor display against the pass filter in to his run defense. Sheard has shown fine form in run D before now, but to do it against a big nasty offensive tackle like Stewart, who is starting to recover some of his better form in 2011, is a really positive sign. As a result of this display we’re still waiting for Sheard to show up as a pass rusher against one of the better right tackles in the league but his display in against the ground game was noteworthy. Were it not for Von Miller in Denver, Sheard would be an early favorite for defensive rookie of the year.
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Headline Play
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When you record a perfect day in pass protection you don’t have a highlight reel, it’s all about consistency so our headline play will come from Jabaal Sheard’s effort against the run. Sheard was stubborn at the point of attack against Stewart but only recorded one stop and it was a tackle for loss on a 1st-and-10 play at 7:37 of the third. On a rush off right tackle, as Stewart was trying to steer Sheard inside, the rookie was able to slide off of the block and get in on the tackle for a loss. Last week Sheard displayed his outstanding athleticism as a pass rusher, this week he proved he has the run defense to compliment his speed off the edge.
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Green Bay RT Marshall Newhouse vs. Denver SLB/Pass Rusher Von Miller
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Every back up in the NFL wants a chance. They might only get one opportunity to prove they belong, and when it comes they have to take hold of it. Marshall Newhouse of the Green Bay Packers is now either wishing that his moment had waited or simply regretting that his time came against the rookie phenomenon Von Miller. Bryan Bulaga’s injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Packers as Miller showed, in his fourth career game, why he is already one of the best and most feared defenders in the National Football League.

Newhouse simply could not deal with Miller’s speed and even though these two only encountered each other in obvious passing situations, Miller left an indelible mark on Newhouse’s debut. Spread over the first three quarters, Miller registered two sacks, a hit and four pressures against the second-year player out of TCU. Miller’s consistency has been astonishing and, the very best should be winning matchups like this emphatically and he didn’t let his performance slip just because Bulaga was missing. Miller feasted on Newhouse and his disappointment will be that it couldn’t positively affect the outcome for Denver.
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Headline Play
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Miller got pressure inside of Newhouse as well as straight up by bullrush, but it was the two sacks he got tearing outside of Newhouse that will be giving the Packers’ OT nightmares. At the start of the third quarter (13.43) with the Broncos needing a big play to prevent the Packers extending an 11 point lead, Miller came up with just that. From a 2-point stance, wide of Newhouse, Miller bursted off the edge and downed Aaron Rodgers for a sack. As a story of the game though, that big play still wasn’t enough for the Broncos on that drive. Miller made the big play, putting the Packers into long yardage, but his individual effort wasn’t enough to shut the Packers’ passing game down on his own.
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  • motorcycle

    Von Miller is insanely good! It was my first time seeing him. Packers playing 3 or more wideouts meant Miller could play as a defensive end more often. Rodgers blamed himself for the first sack saying it was due to be a screen pass but there was a defender in the way of the throwing lane to Jimmy Starks. The 2nd sack showed he couldn’t outrun Miller so I think the sack is on Newhouse.

    I’m not so concerned with Newhouse though. A 5th round pick in his 2nd year who is normally a backup left tackle up against the 2nd overall pick is going to be difficult. I hope Bulaga can play v Atlanta, but I’d go for Newhouse and hope Rodgers has eyes in the back of his head like the last time he played in Atlanta (: Ray Edwards doesn’t have a sack yet and will be matched up on Newhouse most likely.