Every team in the NFL has now passed the turn and is heading down the home stretch – after this weekend every team will be done with their bye weeks and will be non-stop to the playoffs. The season is heating up and so are the one-on-one matchups on the field. Whether it be on the line, in the defensive backfield, or in the minds of a rookie quarterback and a veteran defender, the games are starting to mean more and as we go deeper into the season, these one-on-one’s may decide not only a game here and there but potentially a team’s fate as well.
This week, we take a look back to emerging stars from the last two seasons, one veteran wide receiver who is finally putting it all together, and a second-year corner staking his claim as one of the best in the league. We take a look at a rookie quarterback who, for the second time in the month, was put in his place by the combination of a veteran defensive coach and a wily veteran defender. Finally, we wind the clock all the way back to the first Thursday night game and one of the worst beatings you are ever likely to see – a rush end devastating a backup tackle who was left vulnerable to such a beating by his coaching staff.
St Louis Rams WR Brandon Lloyd vs. Cleveland Browns CB Joe Haden
Khaled Elsayed, Guest Contributor
Given all the matchups that took place over the weekend, the Rams’ visit to Ohio didn’t garner much attention. It’s a real shame since the battle between Brandon Lloyd and Joe Haden was as good a contest as you’re likely to see from a receiver and a cornerback both at the top of their game.
Early on, it seemed like this one was going to be all Brandon Lloyd. The former Bronco had no problems gaining separation from the sophomore, even if he did drop the first ball thrown his way with 11:00 to go in the first quarter. That was the only low point for Lloyd in the opening quarter, as he went to work with a series of impressive receptions, highlighted by his incredible one-handed snag with 4:11 remaining. The catch was pretty special but watch the move Lloyd puts on Haden, selling him on the in route before breaking out and making the spectacular catch. Lloyd continued his beatdown of Haden in the first by picking up one more first down, and also getting open another time, only for Sam Bradford to overthrow him. This all culminated in Lloyd working Haden over for a touchdown early in the second, and you’d be forgiven for thinking this was going to be one-sided all day long.
As the game went on Haden gained an edge, only giving up one significant catch and that was short of a first down with the Brown in close coverage. The former Florida Gator was especially impressive in the fourth quarter, breaking up a pass on a deep comeback with 14:14 to go before his close coverage forced some errant Bradford throws. By the end of the game, Haden had done enough for this to be considered a wash, as both men proved their credentials.
Having already spoken about that catch, let’s look at the touchdown for the Rams’ receiver. Lloyd challenged Haden’s aggressiveness by faking an in route, before spinning around into an out route that catches Haden out. The end result a simple enough touchdown grab that owed everything to some great route running.
Minnesota Vikings QB Christian Ponder vs. Green Bay Packers CB Charles Woodson
In the first meeting of the Vikings and the Packers back in Week 7, Charles Woodson picked up two interceptions and broke up a further two passes in a game where Christian Ponder was only able to complete three of the 10 passes that he aimed into Woodson’s coverage. This week, in his first primetime start at Lambeau Field, the Packers’ veteran cornerback once again got the better of Vikings’ rookie signal-caller.
Ponder didn’t get much help in this game from the rest of his offense; he was sacked three times, knocked down once, pressured a further nine times, and his receivers dropped three passes. Against a veteran defensive coordinator, the rest of his offense didn’t pick up the slack and Dom Capers simply set Woodson free to rome and disrupt Ponder’s flow. In a sense, this was the slot corner equivalent of Troy Polamalu. Woodson popped-up in pass rush, batting two passes and registering pressure on Ponder on four plays. Woodson also showed his ability to time Ponder’s snap count, getting across the line and deep into the backfield to tackle Adrian Peterson for a 6-yard loss. Woodson did miss two tackles early in the game, but he was clearly eager to get involved and it wasn’t long before he made his presence known.
On the evidence of the two games this season, it seems apparent that Woodson and Dom Capers have a book on Ponder. Division rivalries are key in the NFL and Ponder will surely be spending a long time this offseason watching these two games to try to adjust his game and pick up on things he can adjust to limit Woodson’s impact on the Vikings’ games against the Packers in 2012.
Woodson was all over the field in this game and to go along with the plays he finished he had a number of near-plays that would have made his game all the better. One of those came at 1:25 in the first quarter when he was denied an interception by a challenge. Woodson spied a crossing route by Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe and broke on the pass to nearly steal the ball from Shiancoe. He didn’t quite manage that, but this play illustrated perfectly the jump that Woodson has had on Ponder and the Vikings.
San Diego Chargers LT Brandyn Dombrowski vs. Oakland Raiders Rush End Kamerion Wimbley
There are times when we’re presented with a matchup in which the outcome becomes obvious very quickly but you just can’t turn your head away – it’s car-crash television and a part of all of us loves it. We were treated to one of the finest examples of that in NFL Network’s first Thursday Night Football game of the season. Starting Chargers left tackle Marcus McNeill was carted off due to a stinger after merely eight snaps and from replacement Brandyn Dombrowski’s very first snap, Kamerion Wimbley made him all too aware that he was in for a long night. Dombrowski being on the receiving end of a beating by a speed rusher is nothing new, his game against Chris Clemons in Week 3 last season is the lowest-graded game we have ever given to an offensive tackle. This game might have beaten that if he’d played as many snaps but that’s for another discussion.
Dombrowski was beaten consistently to his outside and with the bullrush; only twice did Wimbley get pressure to his inside. Wimbley registered four sacks on the night, three of them coming to the outside of Dombrowski, who just couldn’t make it out to cut off Wimbley’s path. As baffling as Dombrowski’s awful performance, was the lack of adjustment from head coach Norv Turner and his offensive coordinator, Clarence Shelmon. Dombrowski only received blocking help from a back or tight end once, and that was on a play where the Raiders blitzed middle linebacker Rolando McClain outside of Dombrowski. Aside from that play, Dombrowski was left mano y mano with Wimbley.
Yes, Dombrowski’s performance was not good enough but that the Chargers never adjusted their blocking to keep a tight end or back in routinely to chip Wimbley and cut off his speed rush to the outside is astounding and may have cost them their chance at victory. Dombrowski’s display against Wimbley hung quarterback Philip Rivers and the passing game out to dry but Turner and Shelmon’s inability to diagnose this and make the necessary adjustment left Dombrowski out to dry just as much.
This matchup came to a head on the final two plays of the game, which took away the remote chance of overtime as Wimbley beat Dombrowski for a sack on the penultimate play, 0:14 in the fourth quarter and on the last play (at 0:01) Dombrowski just tackled Wimbley to make sure he couldn’t repeat the feat. The only chance Dombrowski had of sticking with Wimbley all game was by holding and he couldn’t even do that on a consistent basis. Utter dominance.
Follow our main feed on Twitter: @ProFootbalFocus