Matchups to Watch  


Manning-Schaub showdown highlights Week 9 matchups


Here's a look at all the key matchups to watch in Week 9:

1 p.m. ET, FOXHouston at Indianapolis
Houston QB Matt Schaub vs. Indianapolis QB Peyton Manning
Houston has been playing well, but the Texans are 1-13 in the all-time series against the Colts. Both of these quarterbacks are playing great. Manning is on pace for 5,000 yards, Schaub for 4,700 yards. Neither had a TD pass last week, but both are among the league leaders in TD passes and have passer ratings over 100.

Schaub has been outstanding on the road. His 16 TD passes this season are already a career-high. In his third season since being traded from Atlanta, Schaub is tall, has a good frame and throws a very catchable ball with good accuracy. He has completed more than 65 percent of his passes the last three years. He has poise, pocket presence and makes good decisions. He’s very good at throwing slant routes.

Manning has led the Colts to 16 consecutive regular-season wins dating back to last season. He is averaging 26 completions per game this season with six 300-yard games.

1 p.m. ET, FOXWashington at Atlanta
Washington RB Clinton Portis vs. Atlanta LB Curtis Lofton
This is just Washington’s third trip to Atlanta since 1991, having won the last two. The Redskins, coming off a bye, are without Pro Bowl tight end Chris Cooley. Atlanta is on a short week coming off the Monday night game.

Portis is on pace for 1,120 yards, and he needs to play well for an offense that averages just 13.7 points per game. He also needs 300 yards to reach 10,000 for his career. Portis is still very fast -- he ran under 4.4 when he came into the NFL. He has good running ability to go with power and receiving skills. Portis has his work cut out for him, because he plays behind a not-so-good offensive line.

Lofton is starting his second season at middle linebacker for the Falcons. He had more than 100 tackles as a rookie, is their leading tackler this season and has emerged as the leader of the defense. Lofton plays all downs. He is fast, very competitive and plays with intensity. A former high school running back, he is a good athlete. He’s very alert in space, but he is still looking for his first career interception.

1 p.m. ET, CBSArizona at Chicago
Arizona CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie vs. Chicago QB Jay Cutler
The Cardinals are going back home! They were originally the Chicago Cardinals from 1920-59, playing on the south side of town. They then moved to St. Louis, before heading to Arizona in 1988.

Rodgers-Cromartie is a second-year corner coming off a big rookie year (four interceptions, 23 passes defended). He seems to make a game-changing play almost every week for the Cardinals. He’s very fast, with outstanding closing speed. He has long arms, is a good competitor and will tackle. So far this year, he has 21 tackles and three interceptions, one for a touchdown.

Cutler needs a big game vs. the low-ranked Cardinals defense. He has a big arm and throws a tight spiral -- which will be important now that the cold and wind will turn up a notch in Chicago. Cutler is the Bears’ leader. He is strong, tough and has a quick release.

1 p.m. ET, CBSBaltimore at Cincinnati
Baltimore RB Ray Rice vs. Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer
The Bengals are coming off the bye week and are playing their third straight home game. Earlier this year, they won at Baltimore, 17-14. Both teams feature quarterbacks who are playing very well.

Rice is a matchup problem for the defense. He is not only the leading rusher for the high-scoring Ravens, but also leads them in receiving. He has great strength and does not go down easy. He’s very instinctive and is good in pass protection. He’s a threat to take it the distance on every play.

Zimmer is one of the reasons the Bengals are in first place in the AFC North. The defense has enabled them to win three games by three points. This game is a big test for Zimmer’s defense and they must continue to play well to give Cincinnati a chance. Zimmer is viewed as a solid coach, who makes good in-game adjustments.

Kansas City RB Jamaal Charles vs. Jacksonville LB Justin Durant
Jacksonville leads this series, 5-2. Kansas City is coming off its bye week and seems to have improved each week. The big news last week for the Chiefs was the team's suspension of running back Larry Johnson, putting the microscope on Charles this week. Both of these teams have struggled this year, but both have good young players on which to build.

Charles has rare speed -- he won two speed events running track in Texas. He’s more of an outside runner, who is a threat to go the distance on every attempt. He had 100-yard rushing and 100-yard receiving games as a rookie last year. His primary weakness is that he’s not good at taking care of the ball.

Durant is the Jaguars’ leading tackler despite missing two games. He made 16 tackles last week against Tennessee. He is a good tackler and an outstanding competitor, who uses his speed to make plays in space. He is adept at making hustle plays, as well.

1 p.m. ET, CBSMiami at New England
Miami RBs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams vs. New England LB Jerod Mayo
Last year’s Week 3 game in New England was where the Dolphins first unveiled the Wildcat offense, and they ran for 216 yards to break an 11-game road losing streak. You can be sure that Miami worked on something in training camp especially for this game.

Williams looked very good this year. He works hard, catches well, will block, and still has a burst when he runs. He’s averaging more than five yards per carry. Brown scored four TDs and ran for 113 yards in last year’s win at New England. He’s a strong runner with speed -- a complete player who can run, block and also pass from the Wildcat formation.

Mayo was the Patriots’ 2008 first-round pick and he led the team in tackles as a rookie. He had 23 tackles in two games vs. Miami last season. Mayo has very good upper body strength. He missed four games with a knee injury earlier this season but has come back strong. Before last week’s bye, he was showing the speed to make plays all over the field. He plays hard and has good recognition. New England needs him to stop the inside run game.

1 p.m. ET, FOXGreen Bay at Tampa Bay
Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers vs. Tampa Bay QB Josh Freeman
Tampa Bay is coming off its bye and has yet to win a game this season. Green Bay is 4-3 and can’t afford to lose after getting swept by the first-place Vikings. We’ll see a new starting quarterback for the Bucs. Freeman was the 17th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.

Capers has been Mr. Improve-It for every team he’s been with. He coached with Dick LeBeau at Pittsburgh before becoming the head coach at Carolina and Houston. He knows every blitz that has ever been invented and will not hesitate to use all of them. He is quick to change up coverage. After Brett Favre threw four TD passes last week, you can be sure he’ll come after Freeman.

Freeman is tall, has good speed and he looks even bigger in person -- like an oversized tight end. He has a strong arm and can make every throw. He can also scramble and throw on the move. He’s better in the shotgun than under center. Freeman struggled some vs. blitzes in college. He will be a good player, I’m just not sure it will be this season.

4:05 p.m. ET, FOXCarolina at New Orleans
Carolina RB DeAngelo Williams vs. New Orleans LB Jonathan Vilma
The Saints are coming off a tough stretch -- knocking off the Giants, Dolphins and Falcons -- and continue to score points at a record pace. Carolina is coming off a big road win at Arizona, where the defense had five interceptions and the offense racked up 270 rushing yards. The Saints are without defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis for this game, and that could be a factor.

Williams has averaged 88 yards per game this season. Last week, he had 23 carries for 158 yards against Arizona, which at the time had the league's top-rated run defense. He is a very strong inside runner with good vision and quickness. During the week, he went to offensive linemen and pushed them to block better, and they did.

Vilma is the leader of a vastly improved New Orleans defense. They were minus-4 in turnovers last year, but are plus-12 this year. For the season, Vilma has just 42 tackles, but he is the centerpiece of the defense. He is good vs. the run and plays well in space. Vilma’s motor runs on every play.

4:05 p.m. ET, FOXDetroit at Seattle
Detroit S Louis Delmas vs. Seattle TE John Carlson
These teams have played 10 times, with Seattle winning six (including the last two). Qwest Field is one of the loudest places to play, even for an outdoor stadium. This time of year, you can expect a drizzle throughout the game.

Delmas, a rookie starting at strong safety, is Detroit’s second-leading tackler. He’s not real big for the position, but he fills the hole extremely well against the run and is a good tackler. He plays well in space and has good coverage awareness. He’s very athletic. I was very impressed with his toughness when I watched him in training camp.

Carlson led the Seahawks in receiving yards and TD catches in 2008, but they don’t seem to be throwing to him as much this year since he had 12 catches and two TDs in the first two games. They are throwing more to the outside. Carlson has a good release off the line, good hands and will reach to pluck the ball out of the air. He is smart and has a good feel for the game. He needs to get stronger to be a better in-line blocker.

4:15 p.m. ET, CBSSan Diego at New York
San Diego WR Vincent Jackson vs. N.Y. Giants CB Corey Webster
These teams can’t face each other without bringing up the 2004 draft-day trade when the Chargers took Eli Manning with the first overall pick and then traded him to the Giants in exchange for the fourth overall pick, Philip Rivers, and future choices used on Shawne Merriman and Nate Kaeding. You’d have to say it has worked out well for both teams.

Jackson is San Diego’s go-to receiver, with 37 receptions and five TDs. He has outstanding size and speed, and great athletic ability for the position. He is very good at screening defenders, and he is effective in the red zone, because of his jumping ability.

Based on past history, Webster will go with Jackson wherever he lines up. He is the Giants’ best cover corner, and he has a good feel for playing the ball in the air. He has good closing speed and good hands (he was a receiver when he came to LSU as a freshman). The Giants’ pass defense still ranks third in the NFL, allowing 165 passing yards per game, despite its recent struggles.

4:15 p.m. ET, FOXTennessee at San Francisco
Tennessee RB Chris Johnson vs. San Francisco LB Patrick Willis
The 49ers lead this series 7-4, but they’ve played just once in the past 10 seasons. Tennessee won its first game of the season last week and QB Vince Young makes his second start of the year. The 49ers need to get back on a winning track if they want to make the playoffs.

Johnson had a monster game last week with 228 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He’s rushed for 824 yards at an exceptional 6.9 yards per carry clip this season, and he’s also a threat as a pass receiver. He ran a 4.24 40 at the combine last year -- the fastest time in the last 15 years, according to my figures. He was selected to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, but he didn’t play because of injury. Running inside or outside, he is a threat to go the distance on every touch.

If the 49ers are to win, Willis needs to come up big -– as he often does. He leads the team in tackles and sacks, he’s returned an interception for a score and he has two forced fumbles. He plays on all downs, is a great competitor and is an excellent tackler.

Dallas CB Terence Newman vs. Philadelphia WR DeSean Jackson
Since 2004, each team has won four games in this series. This is a big-time rivalry and these teams are in a playoff fight again this year. It’s a very important game for both teams, but it might be more important for Dallas, which has a very tough schedule the rest of the way. Note: This will be the 100th meeting between these teams, dating back to Sept. 30, 1960 -- making Philadelphia the first opponent Dallas has facd 100 times.

Newman, the fifth overall pick in 2003, has very good overall speed and is a consistent performer, who at times will be assigned to stick with an opponent’s top receiver. He is a good tackler and is very good at reaching around the receiver to break up passes. Newman is the Cowboys’ third-leading tackler and possesses good closing burst. He has 21 career interceptions, and he would have even more, if he had better hands.

Jackson is one of the most exciting players in the NFL. He can make big plays returning kicks, running reverses and catching passes. He’s not very big, but has great speed and is very explosive. He closes the cushion on defensive backs very quickly, and makes acrobatic catches. His one issue is that he does silly things from time to time that cost his team.

8:30 p.m. ET, ESPNPittsburgh at Denver
Pittsburgh CB Ike Taylor vs. Denver WR Brandon Marshall
Denver has won all three regular-season meetings with Pittsburgh since 2003, but the Steelers won the AFC Championship matchup in 2005. Denver QB Kyle Orton, who turns 27 one day prior to this game, plays extremely well at home.

Taylor plays left cornerback, but in some games he will move from side to side to cover the opponent’s most dangerous receiver. He is a very underrated player, who will blitz off the corner. He has good hips, which help him turn and run. He plays loose in certain blitz situations, and is a solid tackler in the run game. He knows how to jam the receiver in press coverage.

Pittsburgh is tough against the run, so the very-talented Marshall needs to step up in this game. He is Denver’s leading receiver, but he has not been as productive this year as he was in the past two seasons. He is big and runs faster than his timed speed. His size-speed combination makes him a matchup problem for the best cornerbacks. A good example was his game-winning TD grab vs. Dallas, where Terence Newman had him covered, but Marshall just out-jumped him for the ball.



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