As the NFL season enters its 11th week, pretty much every team around the league is banged up. It’s a time of the year when men are separated from boys, contenders are separated from pretenders.
This specific week offers us a bunch of intriguing individual matchups. Thursday’s game between the Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers is absolutely huge. Pittsburgh is tied for the best record in the AFC at 7-2 and boasts one of the best pass defenses in the NFL.
At 6-3, Tennessee is tied for first in the AFC South and still has a chance for a first-round playoff bye. How will Marcus Mariota perform against Pittsburgh’s elite pass defense?
In the NFC, the Los Angeles Rams and Minnesota Vikings take on one another in a battle between two surprising 7-2 teams. Can Jared Goff continue his excellent play against a tremendous Vikings defense?
These are among the top matchups for Week 11 of the NFL season.
Marcus Mariota vs Steelers pass defense
Mariota continues to find himself banged up during what has been an injury-plagued season for the quarterback. Despite this, he has his Tennessee Titans at 6-3 and tied for first place in the AFC South on the season.
For Mariota individually, it won’t be an easy task going up against the Pittsburgh Steelers on a short week. Not only are the Steelers 7-2 on the season, they rank second in the NFL against the pass and have yielded an obscenely low 76.5 quarterback rating. The good news is that Mariota has tossed six touchdowns compared to three interceptions and is 4-0 against top-10 pass defenses thus far this season. Something has to give here.
Robert Woods vs Xavier Rhodes
Woods had yet another breakout performance for his new Los Angeles Rams team in Week 10. The former USC standout put up eight receptions for 171 yards and two scores in a blowout win over Houston. That included a career-long 94-yard touchdown catch from Jared Goff. Now through nine games, Woods has caught 66 percent of the passes thrown in his direction and is on pace for north of 1,000 yards.
It should be a bit more difficult this week against a Vikings defense that has given up just 10 passing touchdowns compared to eight interceptions in nine games. That’s led by a corner in Xavier Rhodes who is yielding a sub 80 passer rating when targeted on the season.
Cam Robinson vs Myles Garrett
Two of the better rookies from the 2017 NFL Draft class going up against one another here in a game that pits the first-place Jacksonville Jaguars against the winless Cleveland Browns. If Cleveland is going to have any chance to pull off the upset, it will need consistent disruption from Garrett in the pass rush. He was held in check last week against Detroit after putting up four sacks in his first three NFL games.
On the other hand, Robinson has been a godsend for the Jaguars as Blake Bortles’ blindside protector. He anchors an offensive line that’s yielded just 14 sacks in nearly 300 drop backs on the season. If Robinson can control the line against Garrett, Bortles should be able to rebound from last week’s two interception performance.
Jordy Nelson vs Jimmy Smith
Nelson has been thrown off his game considerably with Brett Hundley under center. Since Aaron Rodgers went down to injury in Week 6, Nelson has caught 8-of-15 targets for just 68 yards. This goes to show us just how important Rodgers has been to his success.
In order for Green Bay to remain alive in the NFC Playoff race and upset Baltimore in Week 11, Nelson will have to up his performance. That’s a tall task against a Ravens pass defense, led by Jimmy Smith, that has given up the third-fewest yards through the air and is yielding a sub 70 passer rating on the season.
Jared Goff vs Vikings pass defense
Goff has just been absolutely tremendous for the first-place Rams recently. Over the course of the past two games, he’s thrown seven touchdowns compared to zero picks for a 144 passer rating. Los Angeles has scored 84 total points during this span.
On the other end of the spectrum, Minnesota has yielded 161 passing yards or less in five of the past six games and boasts the fifth-best scoring defense in the NFL. In a battle between two surprising NFC heavyweights, how Goff performs here will likely dictate the outcome of the game.
Jordan Mills vs Joey Bosa
In order for the Buffalo Bills to end their two-game losing streak and remain in the AFC Playoff race, they’re going to have to perform better on both sides of the ball. Last week’s 47-10 home loss to the New Orleans Saints was an unmitigated team-wide disaster. Buffalo put up less than 200 total yards of offense and saw Tyrod Taylor benched when the game was out of hand late.
Now with rookie Nathan Peterman set to start this week, that’s magnified even further. He’s much less mobile than Taylor. The onus this week will be on an offensive line that saw their quarterbacks pressured on 30 percent of their drop backs last week. It starts with right tackle Jordan Mills going up against a Los Angeles Chargers pass rusher in Joey Bosa who has recorded 9.5 sacks in nine games this season.
Ereck Flowers vs Justin Houston
Eli Manning has been hit on 12 percent of his drop backs this season. He’s also been sacked more times (22) in nine games this season than he was in 16 games last year (21). There’s a lot wrong with the one-win Giants, especially after a blowout loss at the hands of the previously winless San Francisco 49ers last week. But it really starts in the trenches here.
Flowers, a former first-round pick from Miami, has legitimately been one of the worst pass-protecting offensive tackles in the game this season. He must find a way to slow down Justin Houston if New York is going to have any real opportunity to hang with the Kansas City Chiefs this week. It’s an unlikely scenario, but one head coach Ben McAdoo might need to save his job.
Doug Baldwin vs Desmond Trufant
Baldwin continues to play a huge role in the success of the Seattle Seahawks’ offense. He’s caught 68 percent of the team-high 79 passes thrown in his direction on the season. Baldwin is also on pace for his third consecutive 1,000-yard season. Not too shabby for someone every single team passed up on in the 2011 NFL Draft.
With Richard Sherman now sidelined for the remainder of the season, it’s vital Seattle’s offense steps it up even more moving forward. That starts with the Russell Wilson to Baldwin connection through the air. Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, this duo will be tested by a Pro Bowl corner in Desmond Trufant who allowed just one catch on four targets against the Dallas Cowboys last week.
DeAndre Hopkins vs Patrick Peterson
Interestingly enough, Hopkins has not necessarily been de-nuked since Deshaun Watson went down to injury. In the two games that Tom Savage has started for the Texans, this Pro Bowler has caught 13 passes for 197 yards and a score. Though, he’s also been targeted a whopping 30 times during that span.
This week against the Arizona Cardinals, we can’t expect Hopkins to be targeted at that same rate. Patrick Peterson has allowed a grand total of 12 catches in nine games this season. Either Savage is going to go right ahead and target Hopkins a great deal (not ideal) or the receiver will have to take advantage of what opportunities he is given. In a game between two teams battling for some sort of relevancy, this one matchup is rather huge.
Kirk Cousins vs Saints pass defense
It hasn’t gone great for the Redskins as a whole this season. They’re 4-5 and hovering around the possibility of falling completely out of playoff contention. It’s in this that Washington’s Week 11 game against a red-hot New Orleans Saints team is so vital.
Despite Washington’s overall struggles, Cousins continues to get water from a rock. Without any real reliable wide receivers, he’s still put up 14 touchdowns compared to five interceptions while completing 67 percent of his passes. The onus will be on Cousins to put up a huge performance against a Saints pass defense that dominated Buffalo last week and has yielded 11 passing touchdowns compared to 10 picks on the season.
Cowboys offensive line vs Eagles pass rush
Without Ezekiel Elliott (suspended) in the mix last week, the Cowboys’ offensive line was an unmitigated disaster. Maybe Atlanta didn’t respect Dallas’ running game. The injury to Tyron Smith was huge. But there’s absolutely no reason this unit should have been dominated to the tune of eight sacks on quarterback Dak Prescott.
It most definitely won’t get easier this weekend against an 8-1 Eagles team that’s cranking on all cylinders right now. Philly ranks in the top 10 in quarterback sacks on the season and is top-five in pressure rate. Short of the Cowboys’ offensive line ramping it up here, Jason Garrett and Co. can kiss any hope of an NFC East title goodbye.