Once Week 4 has concluded, every single NFL team will have completed one quarter of their schedule. Boy, does the NFL season move along at a rapid clip.
This specific week of action provides us with a ton of top-end individual matchups in an important slate of action. Can Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly help his team overcome last week’s blowout loss and contend with Rob Gronkowski in New England? How will a revamped Buffalo Bills secondary plan to contain Julio Jones and the Atlanta Falcons?
Over in the NFC, the Dallas Cowboys look to provide more protection for Dak Prescott against Aaron Donald and an elite Los Angeles Rams defense line. Meanwhile, Janoris Jenkins and Mike Evans go up against one another in what promises to be a great duel.
These are among the top matchups for each Week 4 NFL game.
Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers: Charles Leno vs Nick Perry
Perry, not Clay Matthews, has been the Packers’ best pass rusher since the start of last season. The former first-round pick missed Week 3’s win over Cincinnati after undergoing surgery on an injured hand. Though, Perry was back at practice on Tuesday and should be good to go. That’s big news for Green Bay given that he’s put up 12.5 sacks over the course of his past 16 games, including a 1.5-sack performance against Seattle in Week 1.
If near 100 percent healthy on Thursday, Perry should absolutely eat against a tackle in Leno who allowed two sacks last week and ranks in the bottom half of the NFL in pass protection among tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. On the other hand, if Leno can live up to his recent extension, it could help Mike Glennon take advantage of a poor Packers pass defense. That might be the only way Chicago pulls off the upset here.
New Orleans Saints at Miami Dolphins: Cameron Jordan vs Ja’Wuan James
Jordan turned in a tremendous performance against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers in Week 3. The two-time Pro Bowler recorded seven tackles, three quarterback hurries and a sack in a surprising 34-13 win. This is the type of production an otherwise talent-stricken Saints defense needs if the team hopes to return to the playoffs after a three-year hiatus.
This week, Jordan will be tasked with taking on a much better offensive line. Sure the focus in Miami has been on former first-round pick Laremy Tunsil, but James has been splendid. According to Pro Football Focus, he ranks fourth among tackles this season in pass protection. It will be key for him to keep Jay Cutler upright against a potentially dominating player in Jordan on Sunday.
Carolina Panthers at New England Patriots: Luke Kuechly vs Rob Gronkowski
We will definitely see fellow linebacker Thomas Davis and safety Kurt Coleman take turns on Gronkowski this week. But the primary duty will be left up to Kuechly. Given that Gronk has put up 14 receptions for 205 yards and two scores over the past two weeks, it’s not going to be an easy task for the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Though, Kuechly has continued to prove himself as one of the best pure coverage backers in the game. From 2014-16, he recorded 29 passes defended and six interceptions. His instincts in providing help underneath could potentially force Tom Brady into a rare interception when targeting his best pass catcher. That will be key if Carolina is to pull a road upset in Week 4.
Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Jets: Leonard Fournette vs Jets run defense
New York’s defense was torched to the tune of 370 rushing yards at an average of 5.3 yards per attempt in its first two games this season. Potentially due to Jay Ajayi being a tad banged up on Sunday, the Jets’ defense responded by giving up just 30 yards on 15 attempts in a surprising win over the Miami Dolphins last week.
Obviously, the Jets’ defense stands somewhere in between these two extremes. And in reality, we’ll find out where when Sunday comes calling. Over the course of his first three NFL games, Fournette has put up 199 yards at a clip of just 3.5 yards per rush. But those numbers don’t tell us the whole story. He wasn’t really needed in Week 3’s blowout 44-7 win over Baltimore and fell victim to Blake Bortles’ struggles the week prior.
Look for a heavy dose of Fournette against the Jets. How this matchup turns out could dictate whether Jacksonville goes to 3-1 on the season or the Jets even their record at 2-2.
Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans: Jack Conklin vs J.J. Watt
Watt was downright dominating in his team’s first two games of the season. Unfortunately, the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year was unable to record a sack during that span. While he still didn’t get on the board in a narrow loss to New England in Week 3, Watt was a difference maker for the Texans. Pro Football Focus graded Watt out as the best Texans’ player, noting that he put up multiple pressures on Tom Brady.
It’s just a matter of time before Watt breaks through with a multi-sack game. Though, it could be a difficult task against a Titans offensive line that has allowed Marcus Mariota to get sacked just twice in three games. It’s in this, that Watt will have to continue his domination against one of the best young tackles in the NFL.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens: Antonio Brown vs Jimmy Smith
The splits we have seen from Ben Roethlisberger this season are absolutely amazing. He’s completing 72 percent of his passes with a 112.5 quarterback rating when throwing in Antonio Brown’s direction. In passes thrown to other Steelers pass catchers, Big Ben boasts a 63.5 completion mark and 94.7 rating. Brown is also accounting for 48 percent of the quarterback’s passing yards. Needless to say, Roethlisberger relies a great deal on his No. 1 receiver.
Sunday against Smith and the Ravens, these two will be looking to take advantage of a defense that yielded four touchdown passes to Blake Bortles in London last week. Though, it’s hard to blame Smith for this performance. Three of those scores went to tight end Marcedes Lewis. Thus far this season, Smith has yielded just five catches for 52 yards for a 20.1 quarterback rating in three games. This should be fun.
Cincinnati Bengals vs Cleveland Browns: A.J. Green vs Jason McCourty
With a struggling Andy Dalton tossing him the rock, Green finally broke out with a huge performance Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. The Pro Bowler caught 10-of-13 targets for 111 yards and a score. This came after he tallied a grand total of 10 catches in his first two games of the season. If the Bengals are going to somehow overcome their 0-3 start and be competitive in the AFC North moving forward, Green will have to continue stepping up.
Fortunately here, Sunday’s game comes against a Browns defense that has given up a 70.2 completion percentage and 102.2 rating to opposing quarterbacks in three games. That hasn’t been for a lack of effort from McCourty, who is shining in his first season with the Browns. Over the course of the past two weeks, the veteran has forced two fumbles and put up an interception. Even if he’s not able to contain Green here, the Browns are hoping McCourty will take advantage of a turnover-prone Andy Dalton.
Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings: Darius Slay vs Stefon Diggs
There’s very little question that Diggs has taken his game to the next level as a third-year pro. He’s caught 17-of-25 passes for 293 yards to go with a league-leading four touchdowns through three games. What’s amazing about this is that Diggs’ best performance of the season came with Case Keenum tossing him the rock in a blowout win over Tampa Bay in Week 3. He caught 8-of-11 passes for 173 yards and two scores. Needless to say, the guy can be productive no matter who is under center.
It will be especially difficult to come close to this performance against a Lions corner in Darius Slay who intercepted two Matt Ryan passes this past weekend and ranks as one of the top-five cover corners in the NFL through Week 3. In a game that could have wide-ranging implications on the NFC North race moving forward, this one matchup could tell us everything we need to know.
Los Angeles Rams vs Dallas Cowboys: Aaron Donald vs Cowboys offensive line
For what had been a dominating offensive line over the past couple seasons, this unit has failed the Cowboys big time through the first three games of the 2017 campaign. Dak Prescott found himself hit seven times in a Week 2 blowout loss to the Denver Broncos. Then, this past Monday night, Prescott was hit another four times. It has not been a good start to the season for a group that’s headlined by three Pro Bowlers.
This will have to change in Week 4 if the Cowboys are going to have success against Los Angeles. After holding out throughout training camp and the preseason, Donald got his mojo back against the 49ers last week. He’s among the most-dominating defensive players in the game and could cause major issues for a struggling Cowboys offensive line. It will definitely be interesting to watch.
Buffalo Bills at Atlanta Falcons: E.J. Gaines vs Julio Jones
With Buffalo playing corner coverage and not utilizing their defensive backs to shade opposing receivers, Gaines will be lined up against Jones in Week 4. It’s an interesting thing to look at, especially considering rookie first-round pick Tre’Davious White has been among the top cover guys in the NFL through three games. For his part, Gaines — recently acquired from the Los Angeles Rams — has also performed well early in his Bills career. He’s yielding a sub 60 quarterback rating when targeted on the season.
It definitely goes without saying that Gaines will be in for a difficult matchup against a Falcons receiver in Jones who has put up 265 receiving yards in three games this season. If Gaines is able to contain Jones here, it will go a long way in Buffalo pulling off the upset and finding itself at a surprising 3-1 on the season. If not, Atlanta will win going away.
Philadelphia Eagles at Los Angeles Chargers: Jason Peters vs Melvin Ingram
Ingram has been a man possessed for Los Angeles through three weeks. Including a three-sack performance this past Sunday against Alex Smith and the Chiefs, he leads the AFC with 5.5 quarterback take downs. He also ranks third among edge players with 16 pressures and third with five tackles for loss. Talk about pure domination.
Ont the other hand, Philadelphia has surprisingly struggled protecting Carson Wentz through three weeks. The second-year quarterback was sacked 11 times in the first three games and has been hit on 25 percent of his drop backs this season. That has to change moving forward. And it starts in Week 3 with a future Hall of Famer in Jason Peters who needs to step up and anchor this unit. Period.
San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals: Pierre Garcon vs Patrick Peterson
This promises to be a nice little matchup in a game between two struggling teams. Despite Arizona’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 2, Peterson did not allow a single catch. Now, through three games, the six-time Pro Bowler is on pace to yield less than 125 receiving yards on the season. That’s about as absurd as it gets.
For his part, Garcon is coming off a tremendous Week 3 performance against the Los Angeles Rams. Not only did he catch seven passes for 142 yards, the veteran made this one highlight-reel catch for his new team. How this one matchup plays out could dictate who is sitting in last place in the NFC West through the quarter point of the season.
New York Giants at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Janoris Jenkins vs Mike Evans
After missing Week 2’s outing against the Detroit Lions, Jenkins was back up to his old tricks this past Sunday in a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. He allowed just 38 yards on six targets, breaking up two passes in the process. This comes on the heels of Jenkins holding Dez Bryant to two catches for 43 yards on seven targets in Week 1. It goes without saying that Jenkins continues to prove himself as a shutdown corner for the Giants.
That will be put to the test against a Buccaneers receiver in Mike Evans who has tallied 14 catches for 160 yards in two games this season. Acting as a much more consistent weapon for an otherwise struggling Jameis Winston, Evans has also caught 67 percent of the passes thrown in his direction. If the Buccaneers are going to rebound from last week’s humiliating effort against Minnesota and send the Giants to an 0-4 mark on the season, Evans will have to keep up this level of production.
Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos: Raiders offensive line vs Broncos defensive line
Normally an example of perfection, the Raiders’ offensive line has been somewhat disastrous in two of the team’s first three games, yielding six sacks during that span. Last week against an onslaught of a Redskins pass rush, Carr was sacked four times and hit a total of five times. That’s just not going to get it done.
The good news here is that Carr isn’t being pressured at a ridiculous clip. In fact, he’s only been hit on 9.3 percent of his drop backs. This tells us a story of a quarterback that might be holding on to the ball too long.
This must change in Week 4 against a Broncos defense that has put pressure on the quarterback at a 20-plus percent clip through three games. It starts with Donald Penn and Marshall Newhouse at tackle against the likes of Von Miller and the surprising Shaquil Barrett. Even then, we’re going to want to see Carr get into rhythm from a timing standpoint. Should that not happen, even solid pass protection won’t help Oakland overcome last week’s disastrous showing.
Indianapolis Colts at Seattle Seahawks: T.Y. Hilton vs Richard Sherman
First off, it’s high time we call out Sherman for his antics on the field against the Tennessee Titans last week. No matter how good a player might be, that level of immaturity is not acceptable in today’s NFL. And in reality, it could lead to a serious injury for the opposing team.
Sherman heads into Week 4 ranked 79th of 108 eligible corners in coverage, according to Pro Football Focus metrics. He’s regressing a great deal right in front of our eyes, and it had an impact on Seattle’s defensive performance last week. The team yielded 33 points and 420 yards in a loss to the Titans.
He’s now going to have an opportunity to perform at a higher level against a greenish quarterback in Jacoby Brissett at home on Sunday night. With that said, Hilton himself is also coming off a seven-catch, 153-yard performance in Week 2. Should he play at a high level here, Seattle could be primed for an upset after a 1-2 start to the season.
Washington Redskins at Kansas City Chiefs: Josh Norman vs Tyreek Hill
Hill continues to prove himself to be one of the most-electric players in the game. Through three games this season, the second-year receiver has caught 16 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns. He’s also tallied a splendid 15.8 yards per catch to go with a 72.7 percent reception rate. Those are elite numbers right there.
Despite taking on an All-Pro caliber corner in Norman that allowed seven yards to the Oakland Raiders last week, Hill offers up a different level of competition. His speediness and elusiveness is something Norman has struggled with to an extent in his career. If Hill can take advantage of that, it would not be a surprise to see Kansas City finish the first quarter of its schedule with a perfect 4-0 mark.