When looking at key matchups in NFL games, one has to understand the different types of matchups to better follow the action. And keep in mind that studying the matchups is much more important to the coaches than it is to you and I.
The Denver-Buffalo game last week provided a classic example of a "key matchup" - though this isn't something people would have thought much about before it happened. Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan, recognizing that Buffalo has one of the most dangerous kick return specialists in the game in Terrence McGee, put Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey on the kick coverage team for this game. Sure enough, McGee broke loose on a 48-yard kickoff return in the second quarter - and it was Bailey who made the tackle. The Bills ended up missing a long field goal try on the ensuing drive, and that probably saved the game for Denver.
Then there are the types of matchups where teams will move their cornerbacks to make sure their best cover guy is on the opponent's best receiver.
Some matchups aren't one-on-one as much as they are overall schemes. Many teams have adopted the Patriots' defensive philosophy of changing the game plan each week in order to take away the opponent's main strength.
Of course, there's always the traditional one-on-one key matchup. In last week's fantasy preview, we noted that Cinciinnati left tackle Andrew Whitworth would have to succeed in his matchup against Baltimore's Terrell Suggs if the Bengals were to win Monday night. Well, Suggs had no sacks and no solo tackles at all, and the final score reflected the outcome of that matchup.
Here are some key matchups to follow in Week 2:
A curveball - not the traditional player matchup, but a key backstory to this week's Dallas-Miami game. For the past three years, Phillips and Cameron coached together in San Diego as coordinators. They know what each other likes to do, so this will be like a chess game between familiar adversaries. As an example, Phillips is certainly well aware that Cameron loves to go play-action pass inside the 20. Will Cameron stick with that here? On the other side, Phillips usually brings four player in on blitzes but will occasionally call for a 5- or 6-man blitz. Does Cameron have a better handle on when those blitzes might be called?
This is Ugoh's first NFL road, and the different between a home game and road game for a rookie offensive lineman can be night and day. The crowd noise could be a factor for the Ugoh, where it wasn't last week. Ugoh did well in his NFL debut against Saints DE Will Smith. He'll face a different test this week -- while Smith is a power rusher, Vanden Bosch is more of an edge rusher.
Despite the fact that Peterson's first NFL touchdown came on a reception, don't expect Minnesota to use him as a receiver too much. In order for Minnesota to be effective, Peterson needs to run well inside, first and foremost. Sims led all NFC rookies in tackles last year with 144. He'll be busy here.
The last time these teams met, Johnson and Houshmandzadeh combined for 14 receptions. Overall last season, they combined for 177 receptions and 16 touchdowns - and they picked up where they left off in the season opener against Baltimore. It's safe to say this will be a major test for a promising rookie cornerback. Wright will be challenged with covering a top-flight speed receiver in Johnson or a top route runner in Houshmandzadeh.
Merriman had one of San Diego's two sacks in last year's playoff game between these teams - but Light won that battle, considering that Tom Brady attempted 51 passes in the game. He'll have to play that well again to slow down Merriman, the NFL's sack leader in 2006.
Can Jammer engage Moss at the line of scrimmage? The key to slowing down Moss has always been tying him up at the line. That's something the Jets obviously failed to do last week - but Jammer is pretty good with press coverage.
I would say that Schaub needs to throw for 225-plus yards and avoid getting sacked more than a couple of times if the Texans are to win this contest. Peppers has to put constant pressure on Schaub and get some sacks. Obviously it is up to the Houston offensive line to protect its quarterback, but it's also up to Schaub to make plays regardless of the pressure. If Schaub can buy time to throw, he'll find Andre Johnson and make some big plays.
Buchanon is the likely starter this week in place of the injured Brian Kelly. It might also be Sammy Davis. Either way, Tampa Bay will miss Kelly here. On the other side, Henderson caught 3 passes for 111 yards and 2 touchdowns the last time these teams played in 2006, and I think the Saints will look to get Henderson the ball again here.