|Despite a 13-year age difference, Ravens LB Ray Lewis (left) must keep up with elusive Eagles RB LeSean McCoy.|
Football is a team sport, but there are fascinating individual matchups to enjoy on a weekly basis. For instance, this week, we will see a 37-year-old future Hall of Fame linebacker battle a 24-year-old All-Pro running back. We will also get to watch a rookie quarterback match wits with a mad-scientist defensive coordinator.
There were dozens of enticing matchups to highlight, but I've narrowed the list down to the cream of the crop. Here are five key battles to follow in Week 2:
1) Ray Lewis vs. LeSean McCoy
Baltimore Ravens at Philadelphia Eagles is arguably the top contest of the weekend. Both rosters feature a bevy of star players, but I believe the winner of the matchup between Lewis and McCoy will be the deciding factor in this game. Both players were impressive in Week 1. Against the Cincinnati Bengals, Lewis racked up a league-high 14 total tackles while also notching a sack and a forced fumble. Meanwhile, McCoy ran for 110 yards on 20 carries in the Eagles' narrow victory over the Cleveland Browns.
McCoy is the most elusive runner in the NFL. Lewis is still one of the league's best open-field tacklers. In this battle of strength vs. strength, something will have to give. These two will also be matched up in the passing game. Lewis has outstanding instincts in coverage, but at age 37, he will have a hard time mirroring the 24-year old McCoy.
2) Russell Wilson vs. Rob Ryan
After tearing up the preseason, Wilson struggled during his regular-season debut for the Seattle Seahawks. Throughout the game, he was harassed by the Arizona Cardinals' defensive front, and his numbers suffered as a result. Wilson was held to 153 passing yards and a touchdown, while getting picked off once, losing a fumble and taking three sacks. Things don't get any easier this week, as Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and his resurgent unit head out to Seattle.
During the offseason, the Cowboys addressed their glaring need at cornerback by adding Brandon Carr via free agency and trading up in the draft to select Morris Claiborne. Both of these additions paid off nicely last week, as the Cowboys held Eli Manning and the New York Giants' potent passing attack in check. Now that he has cornerbacks who can lock up in man coverage, Rob Ryan can be as creative as his brother Rex and send an assortment of defenders after Wilson.
3) Steelers wide receivers vs. Jets cornerbacks (sans Revis)
Looking at this matchup earlier in the week, I was struck by an enticing showdown featuring four players with Pro Bowl credentials. The Pittsburgh Steelers' receiving duo of Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown is one of the most explosive in the league, while Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie form what is arguably the NFL's top cornerback tandem for the New York Jets. Obviously, things changed on Friday, when Revis was ruled out of the game due to a concussion suffered in Week 1.
With Revis out, third-year corner Kyle Wilson must pick up the slack. Fortunately for the Jets, it appears the light might have finally come on for the former first-round draft pick, as evidenced by a diving interception in the first quarter of last week's drubbing of the Buffalo Bills. Opposite Wilson, Cromartie is a physical freak who showed he is dialed in for the 2012 season by recording a pick-six during the opener. Without Revis, though, these two will have their hands full. Wallace and Brown are highly dangerous vertical threats, both capable of scoring from anywhere on the field. Can a Revis-less Jets secondary slow down Pittsburgh's aerial acrobatics? Huge challenge for Rex Ryan's defense.
4) San Francisco's offensive line vs. Detroit's defensive line
This is going to be a slugfest. The battle in the trenches between the San Francisco 49ers' offensive line and the Detroit Lions' defensive line promises to be very intense and physical. Both units play with a chip on their shoulder and can take over in games. The Niners love to pound the ball behind their offensive line, while the Lions' D-line is obsessed with getting after the passer.
San Francisco's offensive line outplayed Detroit's front four in last year's early-season matchup. Frank Gore rushed for 141 yards and the 49ers controlled the line of scrimmage during the second half of the game. The Lions' defensive line will be out for revenge on Sunday night. The group should be confident after helping to hold Steven Jackson to 53 yards on 21 carries in the Lions' season-opening win over the St. Louis Rams. Detroit also put a lot of pressure on Sam Bradford, piling up four sacks.
5) Peyton Manning vs. Matt Ryan
OK, I'm cheating a little bit on this one. Obviously, Manning and Ryan won't be on the field at the same time, but I still think this is a must-see "matchup." Both of these quarterbacks put on a show in their opening games last week. Manning changed his uniform, but everything about his play looked the same. The four-time MVP directed traffic at the line of scrimmage and proceeded to carve up the Steelers secondary for 253 yards and two touchdowns in the Denver Broncos' Sunday-night win. Ryan was just as good -- if not better -- for the Atlanta Falcons. He accounted for 299 yards and three touchdowns in the air and also ran for a score, as the Falcons demolished the Kansas City Chiefs.
Both quarterbacks have plenty of options in the passing attack. Ryan has the better-known receiving tandem in Roddy White and Julio Jones, but Manning is capable of putting up big numbers with his young combination of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. The atmosphere for this Monday-night clash should be outstanding. I can't wait to see these two quarterbacks air it out.
Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.