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Mike Tannenbaum: Week 8 Matchups to Watch

Week 8 Matchups to Watch

Here are a few Week 8 matchups we’ve got our eyes on:

Jameis Winston must play better to beat his former team and Tom Brady

The Saints play mostly man to man on defense. If they decide to continue this strategy, Marshon Lattimore, Paulson Adebo, and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson will have the tough task of matching up with the Buccaneers weapons. After all, Tom Brady gave the Saints the answers to the test when he spoke to the Manning’s on Monday Night Football. He wants to see man coverage because he believes his WRs and TEs have the edge. We’ll see if the Saints continue to trust their secondary in these one-on-one matchups. 

On the other side of the ball, Jameis Winston will have to put up points this week. This isn’t going to be like the Seattle game where he was playing against a backup QB in bad conditions. With Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting on IR, the question will be whether he can make enough plays and avoid the costly mistakes. This is not going to be a 13-10 game; the Saints will need to score at least in the high-20s to win. While Winston won’t have to match Tom Brady score-for-score, he has to play better.

How will Dak’s health impact the game plan vs. Minnesota? 

One thing to look for in this game is Dak Prescott's health after straining his calf during the Cowboys’ game-winning drive against New England in Week 6. Even if Prescott does play this week, will his injury impact his mobility? If it does, will Mike Zimmer look to pressure early to test Dak and see if he can get out of harm’s way? For Dallas, the question will be whether Dak’s calf strain will impact their play calling. They have called boots on about 6% of drop backs, and perhaps that number will decrease. This will be a factor to focus on early in the game.

Defensively, the Cowboys will have to figure out how to matchup up with Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, in addition to K.J. Osborn, who has seen an increased role in his second season. Focusing on Jefferson though, it’s likely he will be matched up with Trevon Diggs often in this game. And while both are second-year players out of rival SEC schools — LSU and Alabama — they didn’t directly matchup against one another much in college because Jefferson played primarily out of the slot at LSU. It will be interesting to see how they fare on Sunday Night. 

Bill Belichick will test Justin Herbert’s patience

I expect New England to defend Justin Herbert similarly to how they played Brady. That is, they will go small, forcing the Chargers to run the ball. By playing a lot of nickel and dime, Bill Belichick will test Herbert’s patience and make him check the ball down. One of the keys will be if the Patriots can play good defense in the red zone like they did against Tampa Bay. 

Another key in this game is that Jonathan Jones, New England’s top slot CB, will miss the rest of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery. Last week against the Jets, Jalen Mills and Myles Bryant saw the most snaps at nickel corner. They will have a tougher task this week, however, as they face Keenan Allen. Because of this, Herbert and the Chargers may look to test them early. If Mills and Bryant struggle, Belichick could look to move J.C. Jackson to cover Allen in the slot, or he could try doubling him. 

As for the Patriots offense, any team playing the Chargers is going to look to attack their run defense. They have allowed 162.5 rushing yards per game, which is 32nd in the league. They are also last in EPA allowed per run play. The run game could open play action for Mac Jones, which is where he has thrived. Against the Jets, he went 11 of 13 for 169 yards and a TD on play action passes.

Quick Hitting Matchups

Falcons TE Kyle Pitts vs. Panthers S Jeremy Chinn: Rookie Kyle Pitts caught all 4 of his targets while aligned wide for 113 yards last week, the most by a TE in a game since 2016. Regardless of where he lines up, he will be a difficult matchup. But at 6-foot-3, Jeremy Chinn has the size and athleticism to challenge Pitts. 

Bills WR Stefon Diggs vs. Dolphins CB Xavien Howard: Howard and Diggs faced one another on 27 of Diggs’ 34 routes in Week 2. Diggs managed 53 yards and a TD, but Howard also earned an INT. In an otherwise lackluster game, this is a very intriguing matchup. 

Browns O-Line vs. Steelers D-Line: Strength vs. Strength. Going into the season, not many expected these teams to be 3rd and 4th in the AFC North. But they did expect these units to be each team’s respective strength, and they haven’t disappointed. The Steelers rank 4th in PFF Pass Rushing Grade. While the Browns are 12th in pressure rate allowed (26.3%), they also excel in run-blocking. Cleveland currently leads the NFL in yards per carry at 5.2.