Breakdowns

Mike Tannenbaum: Week 4 Matchups to Watch

Here are five Week 4 matchups we’ve got our eyes on:

1) Tom Brady returns to New England

Brady makes his first trip back to Foxborough since signing with Tampa Bay in 2020, and everyone is wondering how Bill Belichick will defend him and the potent Buccaneers’ offense. Given how well they know each other, I don’t foresee any surprises. Instead, I expect Belichick to test Brady’s patience. Belichick wants to make the opponent go the long and hard way, so I think he will play a lot of zone and soft coverage. This will force Brady to check the ball down to his RBs. In turn, the Patriots’ hope will be to play really good defense in the red zone, forcing Tampa Bay to kick FGs. This is what I anticipate, but it’ll be very interesting to see what happens Sunday night.

2) Panthers defense vs. Cowboys offense

Carolina’s 2021 first-round pick, CB Jaycee Horn, was placed on IR after suffering multiple broken bones in his right foot during the Panthers’ 24-9 win over Houston last week. Horn was off to a strong start, allowing just 0.19 yards per coverage snap. In an effort to replace Horn and solidify the secondary, Carolina acquired CB C.J. Henderson and a fifth-round pick from Jacksonville in exchange for TE Dan Arnold and a third-round pick. Henderson was selected ninth overall in the 2020 draft.

While Henderson has struggled in 2021 (his PFF coverage grade is 43.3), the Panthers defense has not. They are PFF’s highest-graded defense at 80.1, and they are first in pressure rate at 49.6%. Dak Prescott and the Cowboys will have to deal with this pressure as they look to exploit the Panthers’ new-look secondary. Since passing 58 times in Week 1, Dallas has employed a much more balanced attack on offense. Their offensive line is first in PFF run blocking grade at 85.4. Look for the Cowboys to run the ball and use play-action to keep the Panthers pass rush in check.

3) Clash of undefeated NFC West teams

After a statement win over the defending Super Bowl champs, the Rams welcome the 3-0 Cardinals to SoFi Stadium this week. Both teams feature explosive offenses and potential MVP candidates at QB. According to PFF, Kyler Murray leads the league in big-time throw percentage at 9.5%, and Arizona is first in explosive pass percentage (15-plus yards) at 22%. Stafford and the Rams are close behind the Cardinals with an explosive pass percentage of 21.8%. To create these explosive plays, both Arizona and L.A. have excelled in protection, ranking first and sixth, respectively, in pressure rate allowed.

The key matchup in this game could be DeAndre Hopkins vs. Jalen Ramsey. For the first time in his career, Ramsey has lined up primarily in the slot (53%) as opposed to out wide. I don’t see this trend continuing in Week 4. According to Next Gen Stats, Ramsey has shadowed Hopkins on 75%+ of his routes in 7 of 9 career matchups (7-plus targets in every game). In their most recent matchup, Ramsey shadowed Hopkins on 75% of his routes (21 of 28), limiting Hopkins to just 2 receptions for 28 yards on 7 targets as the nearest defender.

4) Will Seattle’s defense hold up?

Based on multiple metrics, including yards allowed per game (32nd), Seattle’s defense is among the worst in the league. They have allowed over 30 points in back-to-back games. The only team they held under 30 was the Colts, who have been struggling offensively since playing Seattle in Week 1. On the other side of the ball, Russell Wilson is yet to throw an interception, and he will need to continue protecting the ball given how his defense has performed. As for Jimmy G, he only has one INT. Seattle’s defense needs to force San Francisco into mistakes, which has been hard to do thus far this season.

5) Denver’s toughest test

While Denver is off to a 3-0 start, their opponents (Giants, Jaguars, Jets) are a combined 0-9. This week, they host the 2-1 Ravens, who could be 0-3 if it weren’t for a Clyde Edwards-Helaire fumble in Week 2 and a missed delay of game penalty against Detroit. Regardless, they are clearly Denver’s biggest challenge to date.

In terms of QB play, Teddy Bridgewater is surprisingly first in the NFL in completion percentage above expectation at plus-11.1% (Next Gen Stats). Lamar Jackson, however, is last in Expected Completion Percentage at 58.2%, meaning he is attempting the most difficult passes in the league. He also has the longest Time to Throw at 3.25 seconds. His receivers will need to do a better job of getting open for Baltimore to have success against Denver’s defense.

Grant Reiter contributed to this story.

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