|With Albert Haynesworth and Kevin Williams on the field Sunday in Nashville, running the ball won't be easy.|
Here are some key matchups worth following in Week 4:
Minnesota DTs Kevin Williams and Pat Williams vs.
Tennessee DTs Tony Brown and Albert Haynesworth
Any defensive coordinator in the NFL will tell you that the top priority for his unit is stopping the run. Two defenses that do it better than most will face off this weekend when the Vikings visit Tennessee. Since 2000, the Titans have allowed just 102.4 rushing yards per game -- the fourth-lowest total this decade. Over the past two years, no team has allowed fewer rushing yards than Minnesota.
In order to have that kind of success, teams need defensive tackles who can get off their blocks quickly, keep their pad level low, and knock the blocker back. These teams each have two players who are very good at this.
For the Vikings, Pat Williams lines up at nose tackle. He is in on every down, playing with good quickness and balance, and good ability to locate the ball. He seems to get stronger as the game progresses. Kevin Williams plays the under tackle spot; he has an outstanding first step, and plays very good at pad level.
For the Titans, Tony Brown is strong and powerful with good quickness. He plays with great intensity and will use a good club move to get the guard off-balance. Albert Haynesworth is a dominant player, powerful with amazing quickness and great feet. He is at his best in the gap.
Both teams also happen to run the football very well. Minnesota's Adrian Peterson is second in the NFL in rushing through three games. Additionally, the Vikings are 7-1 when Peterson's backup, Chester Taylor, runs for 100 yards. Meanwhile, Titans rookie Chris Johnson leads the AFC in rushing; LenDale White rushed for 1,110 yards last year and already has four TD runs in '08.
Haynesworth and both Williamses made the Pro Bowl last season and continue to play at a high level. It's safe to say that whichever team's defensive tackles have the better day will win this game.
Denver QB Jay Cutler vs. Kansas City CB Brandon Flowers
Play-callers love to pick on rookies, and this game will be no exception as the undefeated Broncos will target second-round pick Brandon Flowers, a starting CB for the 0-3 Chiefs. That said, while the Chiefs allow 357 total yards per game, they have only allowed 153 yards per game vs. the pass. That makes for an interesting matchup against Jay Cutler, who in three games has 914 passing yards and three TDs.
Cutler has everything you're looking for in a quarterback -- mobility, arm strength, accuracy and good recognition. And he also has WR Brandon Marshall, who has at least 100 yards receiving in five of his last six games (732 yards in the six games).
Flowers is not a burner but he has great feel for the game and will make plays. Kansas City does a good job of matching up in the passing game -- coach Herm Edwards, being a former defensive back, is good at planning to avoid getting caught in mismatches. Denver will be trying to get Marshall in a mismatch.
While Kansas City has not given up a ton of yards, it has yet to record an interception this season, and the Chiefs have just 14 INTs in their last 19 games.
One interesting random note on this game: Since 1995, there have been 12 occasions when a team riding a winning streak of at least three games has gone to Arrowhead and lost.
Buffalo LT Jason Peters vs. St. Louis DE Chris Long
Buffalo likes to run the ball, and they especially like to run left behind 2007 Pro Bowl tackle Jason Peters. When they need to pick up first down in short yardage, they almost always run behind Peters. He has great feet, is good at the point of attack and has long arms that help him in pass protection.
Long was the second overall pick in this year's draft. He has a good first step and goes hard on every play. He looks good after three games, but facing Peters presents a very tough matchup for any rookie. Still, if Long loses this matchup, it won't be due to lack of effort.
San Diego RB LaDainian Tomlinson vs. Oakland defensive coordinator Rob Ryan
Despite a relatively slow start to the season, it can't be overlooked that LaDainian Tomlinson has been lights out vs. the Raiders. In 14 career games, he has rushed for 1,709 rushing yards and 16 TDs. With 55 yards in this game, he can boast the best rushing total ever after 15 games against one opponent (Barry Sanders rushed for 1,763 yards in 15 games against Tampa Bay). The best TD mark in 15 games against one opponent is 19, set by Emmitt Smith against Arizona.
It's no secret that San Diego's offense starts and ends with Tomlinson. He makes plays running, receiving and passing, and he competes until the whistle. An injured big toe on his right foot has led to the slow start this season, but it's hard to imagine him having a bad game against the Raiders. Compounding matters for Oakland defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is that he must account for the improved play of QB Philip Rivers. Ryan has his work cut out for him. Expect a lot of run blitzes to keep Tomlinson from getting started.
San Diego has won nine consecutive games in this series, outscoring the Raiders in those games by a combined 149 points.
Philadelphia QB Donovan McNabb vs. Chicago DT Tommie Harris
Donovan McNabb returns to his native Chicago, where his parents still live. And it's clear McNabb enjoys playing the team he watched as a child, having won four of his five career starts against Chicago.
In his first three games this season, McNabb certainly looks like the pre-2006 McNabb. He has completed 67 percent of his passes for five TDs -- impressive when you consider that two of the three opponents, Dallas and Pittbsurgh, feature strong defenses. Last week against the Steelers, McNabb threw his 176th career TD, passing Ron Jaworski on the team's all-time list. McNabb still doesn't have top-notch receivers; he makes his receivers look good, as opposed to vice versa.
Harris is the Bears' under tackle, and he will line up on either side of center. He is very good at guessing the snap count and has a very good club move. Short sets in pass protection give him problems. Harris had eight sacks for the Bears last season, and the Eagles allowed 49 sacks a year ago.
Washington WR Santana Moss vs. Dallas CB Terence Newman
There are plenty of good matchups in this game, and this one happens to pit two players who have had great success in this rivalry: In five games against the Cowboys, Santana Moss has 28 receptions for 537 yards (19.2 yards per catch) and four TDs; Terence Newman has six career INTs vs. the Redskins.
Of course, Redskins-Cowboys is one of the great rivalries in the NFL. And while it's not an on-field matchup, the rivalry is enhanced by the fact that Washington's Dan Snyder and Dallas' Jerry Jones are probably two of the most competitive owners in the game. Also, Redskins rookie coach Jim Zorn was signed as an undrafted free agent out of college by the Cowboys.
Perhaps the best example of how unbelievable this rivalry has been over the years is that it dates back to before they ever started playing. Washington owner George Preston Marshall was believed to be against having an NFL franchise in Dallas, fearing that he would lose some of the radio stations in the South and Southwest that were part of his team's vast radio network. To help secure Marshall's vote, Dallas owner Clint Murchison purchased the rights to the song "Hail to the Redskins." Prior to the vote in February of 1960, he explained to Marshall that the Redskins now needed Murchison's permission to use the music.
Needless to say, the Cowboys were voted into the NFL that day.