Matchups to Watch  


Former top picks Russell, Manning square off at Giants Stadium


Here's a look at all the key matchups to watch in Week 5:

1 p.m. ET, CBSCincinnati at Baltimore
Cincinnati OT Andrew Whitworth vs. Baltimore DE Terrell Suggs
This game has become a key AFC North matchup, with both teams fielding playoff hopes. Both teams have very good quarterbacks, whose performances will most likely decide the outcome of this game. It is very hard to run on Baltimore. The Ravens lead the NFL in rushing defense, allowing just 59.5 yards per game. The Bengals are also pretty good against the run, ranking 14th.

Whitworth needs to play outstanding against Suggs, who is a very good pass rusher. Whitworth is very athletic for a man his size (6-foot-7, 335). He has very long arms, good feet and is very strong. He's an outstanding competitor. In Week 1 this season, he pitched a shutout against Denver sackmaster Elvis Dumervil.

Suggs is a dangerous pass rusher -- he had eight sacks in 2008 -- and he can also drop into space (he added two interceptions in '08). He has great first-step quickness and can change directions easily.

1 p.m. ET, CBSCleveland at Buffalo
Cleveland return man Joshua Cribbs vs. Buffalo special teams coach Bobby April
These teams are just 190 miles apart on I-90, but they have played just 14 times in their history. While the Browns have four more wins in the series, the Bills have outscored them, 266-259.

Cribbs is the Browns' offense. Over the past four years, he has returned six kicks for touchdowns -- five kickoffs and one punt. He is a very good special teams player even without the ball in his hands, leading the Browns in special-teams tackles for three consecutive years. On returns, he is a very strong-legged runner with outstanding speed, good vision and quickness. He also plays some receiver.

April is considered by many to be the best special teams coach in the NFL. He does a great job scheming to limit the opponent's best threats in the return game, but he'll have his hands full with Cribbs. April also is known to throw in a few gadget plays on punt formation and fake field goals. The winner of this battle most likely wins the game.

1 p.m. ET, FOXWashington at Carolina
Washington CB Carlos Rogers vs. Carolina WR Steve Smith
This series belongs to Washington, as the Redskins have won seven of eight between the two teams. Both teams have been disappointing this season, mainly due to a lack of offense.

Rogers is a very good athlete. He has good closing speed, is physical in press coverage and is a good tackler. He is not always consistent in his play. Rogers will most likely play opposite Smith wherever he lines up, with help -- similar to how Dallas played Smith two weeks ago.

Smith is short (5-foot-9) but very strong, with great quickness and speed to make big plays. He has averaged 1,288 receiving yards in the previous four years. Smith has a tendency to break off routes when he gets frustrated by coverage, which was the cause for an interception that was returned for a TD by Dallas two weeks ago.

1 p.m. ET, CBSPittsburgh at Detroit
Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau vs. Detroit QB Matthew Stafford
LeBeau played with Detroit from 1959-72 and played 171 consecutive games at cornerback, which remains an NFL record for the position. LeBeau is considered the architect of the zone blitz and loves to play against young quarterbacks. He'll have a different blitz to show Stafford on each series, looking to force the rookie into a lot of interceptions. LeBeau's defense creates much confusion and is meant to force turnovers and create sacks as the quarterback often holds the ball too long. He may have a different strategy if Stafford's knee injury prevents him from playing and Daunte Culpepper starts in his place.

Whether it's Stafford or Culpepper, the Lions' quarterback is playing behind a marginal offensive line. Stafford is very tough with a quick release. He has a strong arm with good accuracy. He can run when he needs to. He made a big play in the win vs. Washington, picking up a key first down in a third-and-13 situation by scrambling 21 yards. Stafford needs to play well because it is difficult to run on Pittsburgh.

1 p.m. ET, CBSDallas at Kansas City
Dallas QB Tony Romo vs. Kansas City CB Brandon Flowers
These two teams started in Dallas in 1960. The Chiefs were known as the Dallas Texans in their first three years of existence. They've met five times since Jerry Jones bought the Cowboys in 1988, and those games have been unofficially played for the "Preston Road Trophy." That's the street on which Jones and late Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt lived across from each other.

Romo was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2006, his first season as a starter, and his career has been up and down since. He has outstanding athletic ability, a quick release, very good accuracy and arm strength. He is somewhat of a take-charge player and has a little gunslinger in him. That has resulted in both good and bad.

Flowers is just 5-foot-9, but he plays very physical in press coverage and has good ball skills. He lacks elite speed, but has good recognition and is a good tackler. Flowers started 13 games for the Chiefs as a rookie in 2008. He had two interceptions vs. Brett Favre last year, returning one of them 91 yards for a score.

1 p.m. ET, CBSRaiders at N.Y. Giants
Oakland QB JaMarcus Russell vs. N.Y. Giants QB Eli Manning
This is one of those west-to-east games with a 1 p.m. ET kickoff, which means the Raiders' body clocks will feel like it's 10 a.m. On top of that, the Giants allow 16 points per game, while the Raiders are scoring 11 points per game. The Giants defense leads the NFL in fewest yards allowed, while the Raiders are 32nd in total offense. This is also a matchup of former top draft picks going in opposite directions.

Russell started 15 games in 2008 and looked to be improving, throwing five more TD passes than interceptions. He seems to have fallen back in 2009, however. Russell has rare size and arm strength, but lacks accuracy on passes longer than 15 yards. He's been sacked eight times in four games and is completing fewer than 40 percent of his passes. Russell should be helped this week by the return of the team's best receiver, Chaz Schilens.

Manning, who is day-to-day with a heel injury, seems to have everything needed to be an outstanding quarterback -- accuracy, arm strength and size. He also has great poise.

Tampa Bay CB Aqib Talib vs. Philadelphia WR DeSean Jackson
These teams have played 14 times -- 10 times in the regular season, four in the playoffs -- and the series is tied at seven. Tampa Bay has won the last three, including the 2002 NFC Championship Game. After being tied for first in the NFC South through Week 13 of 2008, the Buccaneers have lost eight straight games.

Talib is coming off a big game against Washington in which he had three interceptions. He limited Santana Moss to two catches. Talib was the highest pick Tampa has ever used on a cornerback (20th overall in '08). He has good height and is hard to throw over. He has very good ball skills, but he lacks cat-like quickness, and that could hurt him in this matchup. One thing he doesn't lack is the aility to trash-talk, and this is a matchup of championship trash-talkers.

Jackson is on fire -- he has 12 catches for 259 yards (21.6-yard average) and two TDs in three games. He also averages 22 yards on punt returns. He runs the 40 in 4.39 seconds and has great explosion, and even greater quickness. He makes some outstanding catches and has excellent vision on punt returns. He might be the most exciting player in the NFL. Coach Andy Reid just needs to keep him from getting a big head.

1 p.m. ET, FOXMinnesota at St. Louis
Minnesota LB E.J. Henderson vs. St. Louis RB Steven Jackson
The Vikings lead this series, 17-14, but the Rams have won three of the last four, averaging 43 points over that span. The Rams have scored only 24 points all year, however, and have been shut out twice.

Jackson is the Rams' offense. He's produced 434 of the team's 1,005 yards of offense this season (43 percent). Jackson is a complete back -- he can run, catch and block. He is very strong with good speed and quickness.

Henderson is coming off surgery that forced him to miss the last 12 games of the 2008 season. So far in '09, he's the leading tackler on the Vikings' third-ranked defense. He plays all downs from his middle linebacker spot. He chases plays and runs down ball carriers. He has good speed, tackles with power and he's very good at attacking the pocket on blitzes. He is just average playing in space, but fellow linebackers Chad Greenway and Ben Leber make up for that.

4:05 p.m. ET, FOXAtlanta at San Francisco
Atlanta WR Roddy White vs. San Francisco CB Nate Clements
From 1967-2001, these teams were division rivals playing twice a year. The Falcons moved to the new NFC South in 2002, and they've met just twice since.

White is coming off a Pro Bowl season, but he missed a portion of training camp before signing a new contract and the time off may be evident. He is not showing the speed and explosion he showed in 2008. He has the same number of catches (15) he had at this point in 2008, but for only 119 yards (as opposed to 232 in '08). White has above-average hands and will go inside to make the catch.

Clements joined the 49ers as a free agent in 2007. At the time, it was the richest contract ever for a defensive player, and Clements has lived up to expectations. The 49ers are second in scoring defense. Clements matches up with the opponent's best receiver. He is very physical with good ball skills. He is also adept at forcing fumbles.

4:15 p.m. ET, CBSHouston at Arizona
Houston QB Matt Schaub vs. Arizona QB Kurt Warner
The Texans and Cardinals each entered 2009 with playoff expectations, but both have two losses already -- and the loser of this game will face an uphill struggle to make the playoffs. That puts even more pressure on the marquee quarterbacks.

Schaub has good size and accuracy. He has eight TD passes, three interceptions and a 60 percent completion rate. He is not a scrambler, but he moves around well in the pocket. He is smart and has good arm strength and touch on his passes. He plays under control and does not make bad decisions. He is finally healthy, and it shows.

Warner is coming off a sensational season in which he led Arizona to the Super Bowl. He has not played as well the first three games this season as he did last year. One reason might be the health of his receivers. Warner is very accurate -- his career completion rate is more than 65 percent, best among active quarterbacks. He still has a lot of zip on the ball, is able to make all throws needed and gets rid of the ball very quickly.

4:15 p.m. ET, FOXNew England at Denver
New England CB Shawn Springs vs. Denver QB Kyle Orton
The focus in this game, of course, is on the pupil-vs.-teacher matchup. Broncos rookie coach Josh McDaniels was a member of coach Bill Belichick's staff for eight years in New England. Denver's big improvement from 2008 is on defense -- the Broncos have allowed just 26 points in four games. Last year, they gave up more than 26 points in three of the first four games.

Springs is in his 13th season. He was the third overall pick in 1997 by Seattle and has at last one interception every season since. Springs is very physical. He is the Pats' third-leading tackler this season. He is the only defensive back in NFL history to lead his team in sacks and interceptions in the same year (with Washington in 2004). I think Denver will go after him in the passing game.

Orton has yet to throw an interception in four games, while tossing five touchdowns. He is 18-2 at home throughout his career. Orton makes all the throws, is very smart and understands the offense. He will not throw a lot of passes down the field.

4:15 p.m. ET, FOXJacksonville at Seattle
Jacksonville QB David Garrard vs. Seattle LB Aaron Curry
This is just the second time the Jaguars are going to Seattle, and it's a long trip -- 3,000 miles away. After opening 0-2, the Jaguars have looked good and are playing with a great deal of enthusiasm and confidence. Garrard signed a new deal in 2008 and for about 12 regular-season games, he struggled. He seems to be back on track the last few games. Garrard is a mobile QB -- he ran the ball 73 times for an average gain of 4.4 yards in '08. He averages 5.1 yards per carry in '09, which is pretty good for a quarterback. He is accurate on the move, with enough arm strength to get the ball down the field in a hurry. He can make all the throws.

Curry, the fourth overall pick from Wake Forest, is starting at right outside linebacker. He has 22 tackles, one sack and one fumble recovery this season. Curry is smart and very instinctive. He has very good speed and is a good blitzer. He plays with power and is very good at the point of attack. He plays well in space, and I imagine he'll be something of a spy on Garrard in this game.

Indianapolis DE Dwight Freeney vs. Tennessee OT Michael Roos
Since starting the 2008 season at 3-4, the Colts have won 13 consecutive regular-season games. No team has won as many games as the Colts this decade.

Freeney does not play as well on the road as he does at home, where the crowd noise plays into his strengths of quickness and speed. He's a very disruptive player, and opponents don't have a chance if they can't neutralize him. He has four very god moves, but his favorite seems to be the double spin inside the tackle.

Roos is the best left tackle in the NFL. He was an All-Pro in 2008. These two only played against each other once in '08 (Freeney missed one of their matchups). In the one game, Roos did not allow a sack. He has long arms and quick feet to go with strength and quickness. He is a very competitive player.

8:30 p.m. ET, ESPNN.Y. Jets at Miami
N.Y. Jets LB David Harris vs. Miami RB Ronnie Brown
The Jets are playing back-to-back road games, and rookie QB Mark Sanchez is coming off his first bad game. You can be sure Miami defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni will try to fool him with various coverages like New Orleans did last week.

Harris is a third-year player, who is playing at a Pro Bowl level. He was the Jets' leading tackler as a rookie in 2007 and leads them in tackles through four games this season and has two sacks. He has very good instincts, is very active and aggressive, takes good angles, and is a good tackler. He is said to be the player Denver coveted in a possible trade for Brandon Marshall before the draft, and now everyone can see why the Jets were not willing to part with him.

The Saints ran 32 times vs. the Jets with good success, so look for Miami to do the same. Brown is a strong runner with speed and good receiving ability. The southpaw can throw the ball from the Wildcat or on an option play. He's also a good blitz blocker, and he has acceleration and quickness. He's a bit of a straight-line rusher.



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