Eagles' Matthews, Pats' Carter among Week 2's X-factors

Eric Hartline/US Presswire
Casey Matthews will have to play big if the Eagles hope to slow down Atlanta's Michael Turner.

Most of the attention going into games is on the stars, but lesser-known players often end up being the difference-makers. Here are a few players who could have a great impact in Week 2:

Casey Matthews, Eagles, MLB

Matthews has been at the center of the criticism directed at the Eagles' run defense due to his preseason struggles taking on blockers at the point of attack. The whispers continued after watching the Rams churn out 154 rushing yards despite losing Steven Jackson early in the game. With the middle of the Eagles' defense vulnerable to power runs, the Falcons will certainly give Michael Turner plenty of touches between the tackles. Considering the Falcons are 16-3 when Turner rushes for 100-plus yards, Matthews needs to be a major factor against the run this week.

Andre Carter, Patriots, DE

The Patriots' abysmal defensive showing against Chad Henne and the Dolphins can be attributed to a lack of consistent pressure from their front line. Against a far more proficient passer in Philip Rivers, the Patriots must generate better pressure to keep him from taking deep shots to Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates. Carter, a 10th-year pro with 66.5 career sacks, has the potential to be a difference maker off the edge. With the Chargers likely to leave him isolated against LT Marcus McNeill, Carter has to win his fair share of battles to keep Rivers from establishing a rhythm in the pocket. How well Carter fares could be the deciding factor.

Nick Barnett, Bills, ILB

Barnett was added in the offseason to give the Bills a veteran playmaker with exceptional instincts. He made an instant impact in Week 1 by flowing freely to the ball from the middle to snuff out any potential cut-back runs. Against a potent Raiders' running game that features Darren McFadden and Michael Bush, Barnett will need to be forceful at the point of attack. McFadden and Bush combined for 180 rushing yards against the Broncos with most of their damage coming between the tackles. For the Bills to have any chance of stuffing the run, Barnett must stop McFadden and Bush in their tracks near the line of scrimmage to discourage Hue Jackson from pounding the rock.

Jimmy Graham, Saints, TE

The second-year tight end will see his role increase this week with WR Marques Colston sidelined with a broken collarbone. With his top target unavailable, Drew Brees will look for Graham to fill in as the anchor of the passing game. The former basketball player is not only a matchup nightmare with his superior size and athleticism, but also the Bears' propensity to play two-deep coverage leaves the middle of the field open. If Graham can make a few plays early in the game to loosen up the double coverage on the outside, Brees will be able to exploit the Bears' vulnerable secondary with downfield shots to Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem.

Other guys to watch

Tim Hightower, Redskins, RB: The Redskins' zone-based scheme routinely provides cutback lanes, which could be widely available if LB Darryl Washington doesn't suit up for the Cardinals. With Hightower looking for revenge against his former team, a big day could be in store for the fourth-year pro.

Listen to the 2011 NFL season LIVE -- hear all the action online in premium sound quality with NFL Audio Pass. Sign up now!

Jacoby Jones, Texans, WR: The loss of Kevin Walter moves Jones into the starting lineup opposite Andre Johnson. With double teams certain to head in the opposite direction, Jones could light up a Dolphins secondary that struggled against the Patriots last week.

Greg Olsen, Panthers, TE: Cam Newton will rely heavily on his tight end to combat the Packers' aggressive zone-blitz scheme.

Lance Kendricks, Rams, TE: The rookie had a shaky debut against the Eagles (two drops), but he will be a prominent part of the game plan with Steven Jackson and Danny Amedola on the sidelines on Monday night. If Kendricks can hold onto the football, he could have a big day against a suspect Giants' secondary.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks



The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop