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Bucs' Blount, Saints' Henderson among Week 3 X-factors

Chuck Cook/US Presswire
Devery Henderson, who has two 100-yard games this season, faces the No. 1-ranked Texans pass defense.


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 3:

LeGarrette Blount, Bucanneers, RB

Blount produced a 1,000-yard season for the Bucs as a rookie, but has gotten off to a slow start this year (86 yards in two games). Last week, he started to hit his stride in the second half against the Vikings and Raheem Morris said on the Cover Two podcast that Blount must be a priority in their game plan. Although the Falcons have been stout against the run, the Bucs must pound Blount between the tackles to set up their lethal play-action passing game behind Josh Freeman.

Aaron Ross, Giants, CB

The Eagles' Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson are two of the league's most explosive playmakers, which spells trouble for a Giants' secondary decimated by injuries. The re-emergence of Aaron Ross, however, has alleviated some of New York's concerns on the back end. The fifth-year pro broke up three passes in Week 2 against the Rams and must deliver a similar performance against the Eagles for the Giants to take down their division rival in this pivotal matchup.

Henry Melton, Bears, DT

The Bears need to generate a consistent rush to have any chance of disrupting Aaron Rodgers' rhythm. Melton, a third-year pro making his third career start, has shown promise as the penetrating force in the middle with two sacks in his first two outings. If he can set up shop in the Packers' backfield, the Bears can rely on their suffocating two-deep coverage to clamp down on Rodgers' big plays through the air.

Devery Henderson, Saints, WR

Henderson has tallied nine 100-yard games in his eight-year career, with two coming in each of the past two weeks. His speed and explosiveness routinely produces big plays, and Drew Brees certainly will target Henderson to take advantage of a vulnerable secondary. If Henderson gets behind the defense on an early deep ball, the rest of the Saints' playmakers will find plenty of room to operate in the underneath areas of the field.

Jesse Holley, Cowboys, WR

The Cowboys' receiving corps is a little banged up with Dez Bryant and Miles Austin reeling from nagging injuries. Both might be unavailable against the Redskins, which would place Holley in the No. 1 role in the passing game. He showed promise with a 77-yard catch-and-run against the San Francisco 49ers in overtime, but he will need to produce those kind of plays for the Cowboys' offense to thrive against a stingy Redskins' defense.

Others to watch

Denarius Moore, Raiders, WR: The rookie had a breakout performance against the Bills in Week 2, but doing damage against a Jets' secondary that features Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie will be a huge challenge.

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Shawne Merriman, Bills, OLB: The Bills need the former Pro Bowler to find his old form to have any shot of getting Tom Brady out of his rhythm. Merriman hasn't registered a sack this season, but he has provided enough pressure off the edge to quicken the clock in the opposing quarterback's head.

Wesley Woodyard, Broncos, OLB: The challenge of slowing down the Titans' Chris Johnson will require exceptional play from the Broncos' front seven at the point of attack. Woodyard leads the unit in tackles and possesses the athleticism to close gaps on the backside.

Dexter McCluster, Chiefs, RB: The loss of Jamaal Charles puts the onus on McCluster to take on a bigger role as a playmaker. The second-year pro has been an all-purpose threat in the past, but he needs to give the Chiefs a boost in the running game against the Chargers.

Quintin Mikell, St. Louis Rams, S: The Ravens' combination of Joe Flacco and Ray Rice poses problems for the Rams' defense, but Mikell's versatility gives them an effective counter. His ability to thrive as a multi-dimensional defender could slow down the Ravens' potent running game while also forcing Flacco into critical mistakes.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks

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