49ers @ Redskins – Back around Week 3 of the season, I wondered if the Redskins had the best set of 3-4 linebackers in the NFC. Ryan Kerrigan was looking like a star in the making, Rocky McIntosh was playing better than most people had anticipated, Brian Orakpo was coming off 2 consecutive Pro Bowl seasons, and London Fletcher was just going about his London Fletcher awesomeness as usual. Well, London Fletcher is still awesome, but since then, Kerrigan hasn’t been making plays the way he was when the Redskins were 3-1, Orakpo looks like he’ll be missing out on a trip to Honolulu this year, and McIntosh’s play has fallen off the cliff, as he has begun to lose snaps to Keyaron Fox.
I think the Niners have them beat. They have hands down the best pair of ILBs in the league with Patrick Willis and NoVorro Bowman. We all know what Willis can do, but Bowman has really emerged as an excellent NFL player. I was thoroughly impressed with his play against Philly earlier this season. There was an occasion where he was on an island against Michael Vick with a wide open field, and Bowman didn’t wait for Vick to make his move. He went right after him, and Vick tried to speed around the corner. Bowman stayed with him and make the play – There’s a microscopic number of NFL LBs that would have made that play. He’s small by NFL measures (6’0, 242), but he has a ton of speed, he hustles, and he’s physical. Gifted. He has 68 tackles already this year. Willis, for comparative purposes, has 54. Add in my new defensive rookie of the year front runner, Aldon Smith, who has 6.5 sacks as a pass rushing specialist, as well as Ahmad Brooks (4 sacks), and the Niners look to be set at LB for foreseeable future. The Niners’ backers ages, just FYI: Willis 26, Bowman 23, Smith 22, Brooks 27. That defense is going to be good for a while.
Offensively, the Niners actually look a little bit like the Redskins. Questionable QB, no scary threats on the outside, excellent play-making TE. But that’s where the comparisons end. The Niners have a far better OL that runs the ball very effectively with Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter, who both average 4.8 yards per carry.
I see kind of a boring one here, with both offenses looking to not make mistakes. Pick: Niners win, by a final score that’s closer than would indicate what actually happened on the field.
Giants at Patriots – I don’t even recognize the Giants anymore. On the one hand, they have a really good vertical passing game. On the other hand, they can’t run the ball… or stop the run. They kind of remind of… the mid-decade Eagles?
Here are the running back performances against the Giants the last 5 weeks:
|Reggie Bush||15||103||6.9||Bush’s first 100 yard game since 2006|
|Fred Jackson||16||121||7.6||In fairness, Fred has done this to a bunch of teams.|
|Marshawn Lynch||12||98||8.2||Lynch’s next highest YPC in a game this season – 3.8.|
|Beanie Wells||27||138||5.1||Wells’ YPC in the 3 games since… 3.0, 3.5, 3.8. He also had 3 TDs against the G Men.|
|LeSean McCoy||24||128||5.3||Actually, kind of an average game for Shady.|
Obviously, when you look at the Pats’ offense, you think Brady, Welker, and those 2 TEs (Aaron Hernandez & Rob Gronkowski) that cause so many matchup nightmares for opposing defenses. But if you over-commit to stopping their passing game, they can, and will, run it. I expect a balanced offensive from the Pats this week, and really, I believe the only shot the Giants have at stopping the Pats this week is if they hit Brady early and often. They’ve certainly proven they can do that, as they lead the NFL with 26 sacks.
Still, with Ahmad Bradshaw looking like a scratch (or at the very least banged up) this week, and Hakeem Nicks also likely out, the Giants simply don’t have the fire-power to stay with the Pats. I don’t think it needs to be analyzed much more than that. Pick: Pats easy.
Seahawks at Cowboys – Just because:
Ha, sorry about that. Anyway, Mike Jenkins is out for a month. Sean Lee’s season is in jeopardy and even if he plays it’ll be with a cast. Felix Jones is still out. Kyle Kosier is questionable. The Cowboys’ defense was exposed last week, and their offense looked anemic. None of that matters this week. The Seahawks stink… particularly on offense. Pick: Cowboys bounce back big.
Bears @ Eagles – I’ve done a few Q & A’s with Bears websites this week that have asked me whether or not the Eagles have become a “run first” team. I don’t think they have. Opposing teams are forced to give a ton of respect to the speed of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, and they’ve been showing a lot of soft, deep cover 2 looks, which has opened up enormous holes for LeSean McCoy in the run game. That’s what the Bears did last year, and they were able to contain the Eagles’ offense. Teams have tried that approach this season, and the Eagles have made them pay (see Dallas last Sunday night). I don’t think the Eagles need to have the mindset of being “run-first” or “pass-first.” They do both extremely well, so they’re in a position where they can take what the defense gives them and make them pay either way. If the Bears want to play that deep shell, they better get career games from Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs.
Defensively for the Eagles, all 22 eyes will be on number 22, and of course I’m talking about Matt Forte. Forte gashed the Eagles last season with 117 rushing yards on 14 carries, and added a couple catches for 22 yards. This season, Forte is aboslutely lighting it up. He’s on pace for 1536 rushing yards and 958 receiving yards. That would put him on pace for 2494 yards from scrimmage on the season, just 15 yards off the pace for the all time single season rcord of 2509, set by Chris Johnson back in 2009. If the Eagles can stop Forte early, they can pin their ears back and fire away at Jay Cutler, who has been sacked 21 times this year. The Bears’ OL also has been penalized 20 times this season. Big mismatch for the Eagles DL for the second consecutive week. Pick: Bears.