The second week of the NFL season features a handful of one-sided in-game matchups that could decide the outcomes of those games. Here’s a look at the four biggest mismatches of Week 2:
Philip Rivers vs. Bills’ defense
Even in a loss to the Chiefs, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers put together a masterful performance, recording 424 passing yards, three touchdowns, and an interception at home. However, his receivers dropping four passes (tied for the most team drops in Week 1) prevented him from having an even better day.
In Week 2, Rivers faces the Buffalo Bills, who are coming off a 47-3 beatdown from Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens. Unfortunately for Buffalo, Rivers is a much better quarterback than Flacco, and the Chargers have many more offensive weapons.
Rivers’ favorite target is the perennially underrated Keenan Allen, who finished with eight catches for 108 yards and a touchdown last week. Rivers prefers to target him on crossing routes in the short-to-intermediate areas of the field, where Allen’s quickness and ability to beat man coverage stand out:
From the moment the ball is snapped, Rivers knows where he’s throwing. The Chiefs’ defense is in Cover 1 (man coverage across the board with a safety guarding the deep middle). That means Allen, who is aligned in the slot to Rivers’ left, will face single coverage with the whole field to work with.
After the snap, Allen uses a quick stutter step to create early separation from Chiefs cornerback Steven Nelson. Then his burst takes over as he simply runs away from Nelson, giving Rivers an easy target for the completion.
When he’s not targeting Allen in the short-to-intermediate zones, Rivers loves taking deep shots to Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams. Against Kansas City, Rivers looked to hit both Benjamin and Williams deep, but each receiver had a bad case of the drops even after accurate passes:
Judging by their recent luck, the Bills probably won’t be as fortunate this week. Buffalo has some talent on defense, particularly from defensive backs Tre’Davious White and Jordan Poyer. But the unit struggles to stay disciplined and work cohesively.
The weakest area on the Bills’ defense is its linebacker corps. Tremaine Edmunds is a young blue-chipper, but savvy quarterbacks like Rivers – who has been manipulating second-level defenders since he became a starter in 2006 – can take advantage of his inexperience.
Furthermore, the Bills’ defense can’t expect to get much help from the offense, as Buffalo might be the most talent-deprived team offensively in the NFL. The Ravens had four different drives start inside Buffalo territory in Week 1, which is almost impossible to overcome on defense. After a game when the Chargers’ offense left a lot of meat on the bone, expect the unit to be efficient and effective against the Bills.
On top of that, Rivers dominates teams outside of his division. From 2015 to 2017 against divisional opponents, Rivers had a 28:21 touchdown-to-interception ratio and averaged 5.82 adjusted net yards per pass attempt (the passing statistic most correlated with winning). Against non-divisional opponents over that same time span, Rivers had a 62:23 TD-to-INT ratio while averaging 7.35 adjusted net yards per pass attempt.
Look for Rivers to go off against the Bills’ defense.
Khalil Mack vs. Seahawks’ offensive line
After being traded from the Oakland Raiders, it didn’t take long for Khalil Mack to make an impact on the Chicago Bears’ defense, finishing with three tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, and an interception in Week 1. And that was against the Packers’ David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, the best offensive tackle duo in the NFL.
Mack will have a much easier assignment this week against Seahawks offensive tackles Duane Brown and Germain Ifedi for most of the game.
Mack is one of the most difficult defenders to block regardless of the play call because he can win in so many ways. He has a unique mix of athleticism, power, and technique, making it tough for offensive linemen to find a rhythm throughout a game.
He can win with speed, using his burst, lower body pliability, and well-timed techniques to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks:
And he can win with power, using his raw strength and leverage to physically dominate foes at the point of attack. That happened below against a top-three offensive tackle:
Against the Broncos, another team with an elite pass-rusher, Brown and Ifedi were part of an offensive line that All-Pro Von Miller roasted for three sacks on his way to winning best defensive lineman of Week 1.
Don’t be surprised if Mack puts together a similar performance when the Seahawks visit Chicago on Sunday night.
Damon Harrison vs. Joe Looney/Connor Williams
Since joining the New York Giants in 2016, Damon Harrison has been a thorn in the Dallas Cowboys’ side. Blessed with three All-Pros leading a dominant offensive line, the Cowboys never have an answer for New York’s 6-foot-3 and 355-pound nose tackle, even when Travis Frederick is healthy.
Now, as Frederick deals with the effects of Guillain-Barre syndrome, the test Harrison presents is much more difficult.
Here, the Cowboys are looking to use their bread-and-butter run play: an outside zone run.
Harrison is aligned with a slight outside shade over Frederick. After the ball is snapped, he gains superior hand positioning, using it to control Frederick while also identifying the running back’s path. As Harrison re-leverages his right hand to Frederick’s chest in an attempt to get the center off balance so that he can easily shed the block, he peaks his head into the play-side A-gap (the space between Frederick and left guard Zack Martin).
That forces Alfred Morris, who’s reading the defensive line to determine which gap he should run through, to cut back to the back-side A-gap and right at Harrison, who effortlessly sheds Frederick’s block and makes the tackle.
Joe Looney, a six-year veteran and Frederick’s replacement, will likely be on the receiving end of Harrison’s powerful attack throughout the game on Sunday. However, don’t be surprised if New York lines Harrison up over rookie left guard Connor Williams when the Giants move to their nickel defense.
Neither matchup favors Dallas, as Harrison’s effective hand use and raw power will be too much for Looney and Williams. Unless Dallas becomes much more creative with its blocking schemes, Harrison is going to blow up any runs inside the tackle box.
Don’t be surprised if the Cowboys’ rushing attack struggles for the second week in a row.
Julio Jones vs. Panthers’ secondary
Coming off a disappointing loss to the Carson Wentz-less Philadelphia Eagles, Julio Jones and the Atlanta Falcons’ offense will be looking for revenge against the Carolina Panthers, the team that Jones scorched for 12 catches and 300 yards in 2016.
It may seem weird to put the Panthers’ secondary on the wrong side of a mismatches column, especially after the unit gave up just 170 passing yards in Week 1. However, the Cowboys, Carolina’s Week 1 opponent, don’t have a wide receiver who comes close to matching Jones’ talent, and Dak Prescott isn’t on the same level as Matt Ryan as a pure passer.
The Falcons also do an excellent job of moving Jones around the formation to manufacture big-play opportunities, making it challenging for defenses to double-team him.
Here, the Falcons are using a trips left formation with Jones lined up in the slot:
The Eagles are in a Cover 3 variant, meaning there are three deep defenders. After the snap, the two receivers aligned outside of Jones run quick-breaking routes to prevent the cornerback from dropping deep into his zone. That allows Jones to sneak behind the outside cornerback on the deep out route for a big gain.
Jones is easily capable of producing without being schemed open, too, as his elite route-running ability allows him to create a ton of separation. Here’s an example:
Jones runs another deep out route, but against man coverage this time.
After the ball is snapped, he bursts forward and eats up the cushion between him and Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby. Once Jones crosses the 40-yard line, he straightens his route to mimic a “go” route. That forces Darby to transition out of his backpedal and into a sprint.
Then Jones stealthily runs into Darby’s blind spot. Once he reaches that, he breaks off his route to create a lot of space before making the easy 22-yard grab.
Panthers cornerbacks James Bradberry and Donte Jackson will have the unenviable task of trying to slow down Jones. Neither offers much of a challenge, so don’t be surprised if Jones tears apart the Carolina secondary.
John Owning is a football writer at theScore. He has written for Bleacher Report and Football Insiders. He was also the lead NFL content editor at FanRag Sports. John provides analysis on the Dallas Cowboys for the Dallas Morning News and edits for The Quant Edge. Find him on Twitter @JohnOwning.