Mike Tannenbaum: Week 7 Matchups to Watch

Week 7 Matchups to Watch

Here are a few Week 7 matchups we’ve got our eyes on:

Lamar Jackson must pass efficiently against underrated Bengals defense

The Bengals defense is not getting the recognition they deserve. They have allowed an average of 18.5 points per game, which ranks 5th in the league. Signing Trey Hendrickson this offseason has been a key difference for Cincinnati; he is 4th in win percentage (22.7%) among all defensive linemen, and tied for 5th in the league with 6 sacks. The development of Logan Wilson, who has 3 INTs in his second season out of Wyoming, has also proved to be significant.

While Lamar Jackson had been passing the ball at a much higher rate than in prior years, the Ravens reverted to their run-first approach against the Chargers weak run defense last week. This strategy will not be effective against the Bengals, who are 4th in the NFL in EPA per play allowed against the run. To his credit, Jackson has played very well from the pocket this season. On straight dropbacks, his completion percentage of 67.5% and his yards per attempt of 8.5 would both be career highs. For the Ravens to win this game, that will have to continue.   

Chiefs must avoid turnovers against Derrick Henry, Titans

I expect this to be a time of possession game, as Mike Vrabel will try to control the ball with Derrick Henry. It will be up to the Chiefs to make key plays on the defensive side of the ball, which they have struggled to do this season. Based on multiple metrics, the Chiefs are at the bottom of the league in run defense, including 27th in rushing yards allowed per game and 32nd in rushing EPA allowed. 

If the Chiefs are unable to stop Henry and the Titans run game, it will be crucial for Mahomes to avoid turnovers. Yet, Mahomes has done an uncharacteristically poor job of taking care of the ball; he has 9 turnovers (8 INT, 1 fumble lost) this season. Through the first six games of the 2018-2020 seasons, Mahomes had just 6 turnovers combined. He will have to do better this week, as the Chiefs cannot afford to give away possessions to a team led by Derrick Henry. This will be one of the key Week 7 matchups for determining AFC playoff seeding.

Colts vs. 49ers could be decided by INT

With all signs pointing toward Jimmy Garoppolo starting for the 49ers this week, this matchup could be decided by QB turnovers. Typically, when a QB isn’t taking care of the ball it is because they’re making difficult throws and pushing the ball downfield. This isn’t the case for Garoppolo. In four games this year, he has the worst turnover worthy play percentage (5.5%) for all qualified QBs, per PFF. However, he’s throwing the ball down the field and is 10th in the league in yards per attempt.

Unlike Garoppolo, Carson Wentz has the third best turnover worthy play percentage (0.5%); only Russell Wilson and Tom Brady have been better. Likewise, Wentz only has 1 INT this season, which is a clear improvement from the league-leading 15 picks he threw in 12 games in 2020. If Wentz continues to avoid interceptions and the Colts are able to force Jimmy G into making mistakes, the Colts could pull off the upset.

Quick Hitting Week 7 Matchups

Tristan Wirfs vs. Khalil Mack: Wirfs has allowed the lowest pressure rate for all tackles with at least 100 snaps this year (2.1%). Meanwhile, Mack has 6 sacks on the season, which is tied for sixth.

Zach Wilson vs. Bill Belichick: Wilson threw 4 INT against the Patriots defense in Week 2. He will need to do better against a Patriots defense that has allowed an average of 378.5 yards passing over the last two weeks.  

J.J. Watt and DeAndre Hopkins vs. Houston: While it may not be the most competitive game, the Week 7 matchup of Houston and Arizona will showcase Watt and Hopkins facing their former team for the first time. Watt signed with Arizona as a Street Free Agent (SFA) this offseason. Prior to the 2020 season, Hopkins was traded along with a fourth-round pick to Arizona for RB David Johnson, a second-round pick, and a fourth-round pick. 

Travis Kelce vs. Kevin Byard: Byard has been excellent in coverage this season, especially when matched up with TEs. He has allowed just 3 catches for 26 yards with an INT when the primary defender against a TE. This week he will face a harder challenge, as he has to defend the best pass-catching TE in the NFL. 

Lane Johnson vs. Maxx Crosby: Crosby has been exceptional in 2021, leading all defensive linemen with a pressure rate of 20.5%. If Lane Johnson is able to play, this will be Crosby’s toughest matchup of the season.

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