In his weekly Bucky's Best series, former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks highlights the can't-miss matchups to watch.
Most favorable offensive matchup
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The Denver Broncos' passing game didn't skip a beat against the Colts in Week 1, even without perennial Pro Bowler Wes Welker (four-game suspension for PED use) lining up in the slot. Manning efficiently picked apart the Colts' defense, distributing pinpoint passes to six different receivers. Emmanuel Sanders and Julius Thomas accounted for 13 of Manning's 22 completions last Sunday, but Demaryius Thomas could be the focal point against Kansas City in Week 2. With Manning adept at spotting the weak link in coverage, the Broncos could light up the scoreboard against a Chiefs defense that has struggled since the end of last season.
For the Chiefs to stand a chance, they'll have to find a way to disrupt the timing of the Broncos' passing attack. Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has two elite edge rushers in Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, so it's imperative for him to design creative blitzes and stunts that enable the duo to consistently pressure Manning. On the back end of the defense, Kansas City's corners and safeties must be prepared for picks, rub routes and screens, which Denver deploys against man coverage. Last season, Peyton threw five touchdown passes in a Week 13 win at Arrowhead Stadium; if the Chiefs have any hope of obtaining some road retribution, they must limit the Broncos' explosive plays.
Most favorable defensive matchup
It's about time the NFL world recognizes Todd Bowles for the superb job he's done in Arizona, building an elite defense that can go toe to toe with any offense in the league. The wily coordinator has implemented a versatile attack scheme that features a host of exotic pressures and blitzes and also rarely surrenders a big play on the perimeter. Most important, the Cardinals suffocate the running game and force quarterbacks to pass in long-yardage situations, which plays perfectly into the hands of the team's aggressive front and opportunistic secondary.
All of this does not bode well for the Giants, who have struggled to adapt to new coordinator Ben McAdoo's scheme. The former Green Bay Packers assistant has installed a quick-rhythm passing game designed to help Eli Manning become a more efficient playmaker from the pocket, but the veteran has struggled to master the nuances of the system. From the miscommunication with his receivers to the errant throws delivered from a collapsing pocket, Manning has looked nothing like the two-time Super Bowl winner who has carried the Giants' offense for so many seasons. With a weakened supporting cast that features only one proven playmaker (Victor Cruz) and a scattershot running game, New York could have a tough time making plays against one of the league's elite defenses.
Best WR-CB matchup
Saints coach Sean Payton's creative scheming will lead to plenty of opportunities for Colston and Cooks to square off against the Pro Bowl cornerback. Colston poses a challenge as a big-bodied pass catcher with crafty route running ability and strong hands, while Cooks is a speedster with extraordinary stop-start quickness. Payton will rotate both players on the outside to test Haden's physicality, agility and technical skills in coverage. In addition, Payton will attack Haden's side with double-moves to see if he can catch the veteran cornerback napping on a big play over the top. Given Cooks' speed and quickness, it could be the rookie who gets the bulk of the work against the ultra-aggressive corner this week.
Haden, one of the premier cover corners in the game, is the linchpin of the Browns' forceful blitz scheme. He excels at blanketing receivers in one-on-one coverage while using a variety of techniques that keep opponents' guessing. With quarterbacks and receivers unable to decipher his intentions prior to the snap, the Pro Bowl corner routinely snags interceptions due to communication gaffes and misreads. Although Drew Brees is rarely fooled by these maneuvers, Haden's tactics could frustrate Colston and Cooks, disrupting their ability to make big-time plays.
Most intriguing matchup
Rivers quietly played at an MVP-level last season in Mike McCoy's quarterback-friendly system. The veteran became a more efficient passer from the pocket by taking advantage of quick-rhythm throws. Additionally, Rivers avoided forcing passes into tight windows, settling for the checkdown when coverage took away vertical routes. As a result, Rivers makes opponents defend the entire field, which eventually allows him to catch defenses out of position for a big play. Rivers used this methodical approach Monday to move the ball against one of the NFL's top defenses; he will certainly attempt to attack the Seahawks' premier unit in the same way.
The Seahawks' defense -- loaded with speed, athleticism and physicality -- has befuddled some of the game's top quarterbacks. The defenders fly to the ball like a bunch of wild dogs and rarely concede a yard on the perimeter without a fight. The Legion of Boom in particular makes quarterbacks and receivers earn their keep by challenging them at every turn. While the Seahawks' simplistic single-high safety coverage should make it easy for Rivers to make decisive choices in the pocket, the constant harassment of Keenan Allen, Malcom Floyd, Eddie Royal, Ladarius Green and Antonio Gates by Seattle's long, rangy defensive backs could disrupt the timing and rhythm of the Chargers' passing game. Given the lack of success others have found against the LOB, Rivers could be in for a long day on Sunday.
Best coaching matchup
The Bears' offense is clearly one of the most explosive units in football under the tutelage of Trestman. The innovative offensive architect regularly creates mismatches on the perimeter through formation and personnel diversity. Trestman's willingness to think outside the box creates headaches for defensive coordinators who attempt to match up defenders based on offensive formations. With a cupboard loaded with big-bodied pass catchers and a dynamic running back, the Bears can stump even the most astute defensive play-callers in the game.
Fangio has helped the 49ers become an elite defensive unit by featuring a simple system that allows a talented lineup to run and chase all over the field. He will mix in a few stunts and blitzes to complement a traditional pass rush, but the 49ers are one of the few teams in the league that just line up and smash their opponents. Against a Bears offense that will throw out a variety of formations and personnel groupings, Fangio's physical and simple approach could help the 49ers stifle one of the league's most dynamic offenses.
Second-best under-the-radar matchup
The Bills might've uncovered a gem in Henderson. The seventh-rounder has solidified the offensive line while displaying the footwork, agility and body control that leads me to believe he could be a Pro Bowl-caliber player in time. Henderson's ability to generate a push in the running game has created space for the Bills' deep stable of running backs. But it's the rookie's ability to lock down the edge that has enabled quarterback EJ Manuel to throw comfortably from the pocket. Against the Dolphins, Henderson's skills will be tested by an energetic All-Pro with a non-stop motor and a deep bag of tricks.
Wake, a sixth-year pro, is coming off a dominant two-sack performance against Tom Brady and Co. that showcased his rare skills as a pass rusher. He overwhelmed the Patriots' offensive tackles with his first-step quickness and explosion, yet he also displayed the strength and power to run over blockers with a bull rush. Given Henderson's inexperience at the position, Wake could throw the book at the youngster; we'll see if Henderson can handle a polished rusher skilled at getting to the quarterback.
The three-time Pro Bowler showed the NFL world last weekend that he's still a premier back, notching a 100-yard game against Washington. Foster looked energetic and spry running between the tackles while also showing the power to run through contact in the hole. Although he didn't break off a big-gainer in Week 1, he should have plenty of chances to get into the secondary against a Raiders defense that struggled to slow down the New York Jets' rushing attack.
After failing to muster a consistent running game with Bernard Pierce in the first half against Cincinnati in Week 1, Baltimore turned to Forsett and his slithery running style to spark the offense. The seventh-year pro gained 70 yards on 11 rushes, steadying the ship with a solid 6.4 yards per carry. Given Joe Flacco's struggles in a pass-heavy game plan (the Ravens are 7-11 when he throws 40-plus times in a game), it might be wise for coordinator Gary Kubiak to feed the ball to Forsett to alleviate the pressure on his quarterback. If Forsett can top the 100-yard mark as the Ravens' primary runner, Baltimore could get back on track Thursday night.
For the Steelers, Shazier and Timmons must do a better job controlling the middle against the run. The fact that the duo struggled to slow the Browns in Week 1 (183 rushing yards) could spur the Ravens to test the interior with a host of zone runs. If the Steelers can stop the run on early downs, they can unleash a ferocious pass rush to harass and disrupt Flacco's rhythm in the pocket.