Here are four of the most one-sided matchups in Week 4 of the NFL season:
Jaguars’ defense vs. Jets’ offense
After exceeding expectations in his NFL debut against the Detroit Lions, Sam Darnold and the New York Jets have come back to earth, scoring just 39 points in the last two weeks after putting up 48 in Week 1.
The Jets travel to Jacksonville this week to face the best defense in the NFL, which is loaded with blue-chip talent at every level.
The Jaguars are loaded with stars on the defensive line who can effectively get after the quarterback. Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue generate a ton of pressure rushing the passer while Malik Jackson and Marcell Dareus dominate against the run.
At linebacker, Telvin Smith and Myles Jack have the speed and instincts to make plays from sideline to sideline, and both are equally adept against the run and pass.
In the secondary, Jalen Ramsey continues to back up his big talk with excellent play, and though A.J. Bouye doesn’t receive the attention Ramsey gets, he’s a great cornerback in his own right. D.J. Hayden is an underrated slot cornerback while Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson make up one of the better safety duos in the NFL.
If it wasn’t tough enough for a rookie quarterback to face the most fearsome defense in the NFL, Darnold must do it on the road without a single thing working in New York’s favor.
It’s almost impossible to run the ball against the Jaguars, as opposing teams have a measly 38 percent success rate on the ground, per Sharp Football Stats. With Dareus and Jackson between the B-gaps, it’s almost impossible to find room to run up the middle. If a team tries to run it to the edge, Smith and Jack will likely meet the running back at the line of scrimmage.
It doesn’t get any easier via the pass, as opposing teams have a 43 percent success rate through the air against Jacksonville, per Sharp Football Stats. While teams have had some success targeting running backs in the passing game, that is largely by design, as the Jags rely on their athletes to rally and tackle near the line of scrimmage.
Simply put, the Jaguars’ defense is so effective because it limits the options of opposing offenses.
Unless Darnold is content to frequently dump the ball to the running back on Sunday, he’s going to have to force it to his key weapons with tight-window throws, which is a recipe for disaster against the Jaguars.
The Jets’ offensive line will be overmatched in pass protection, and the team lacks the weapons on the outside to get open before the pressure arrives.
Jacksonville’s defense is at its best on third down – allowing just a 32.5 third-down conversion percentage – when it can rely on its elite secondary to hold up in coverage as defensive coordinator Todd Wash dials up a myriad of blitzes to create one-on-one matchups for his best pass-rushers. Here’s an example:
Here, the Jaguars are in their nickel defense (four defensive linemen, two linebackers, five defensive backs) against Tennessee’s 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers). It’s third-and-8, and the Jaguars are using a six-man pressure to get to Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota.
In a perfect world, this blitz would cause miscommunication for the Tennessee offensive line, leading to an unblocked rusher, but the Titans actually do an excellent job of picking up the blitz. However, the real benefit of this blitz is it allowed Campbell to get matched up with Titans center Ben Jones.
Advantage: Campbell, who uses a powerful bull rush into an arm-over technique to beat Jones on his way to Mariota for the sack.
That’s the problem a team faces when it plays Jacksonville. Even when one does everything right schematically, it’s still not enough.
While Darnold appears to have a bright future ahead of him, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Expect the Jaguars’ defense to suffocate the Jets all day as Jacksonville bounces back from its disappointing loss a week ago to the Titans.
Myles Garrett vs. Kolton Miller
Take a look at the league leaders in sacks through three games and you won’t be surprised by the names at the top: Von Miller, Khalil Mack, and Cameron Jordan are all tied with four sacks apiece. Each of those players has a proven track record of getting after the passer.
The fourth name tied atop the NFL’s sack leaderboard doesn’t have the resume of the previous three, but he may be the most talented of the bunch.
Listed at 6-foot-4 and 272 lbs, with 35 1/4-inch arms and 4.6 speed, Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett is one of the most impressive athletes in the NFL. Despite his hulking frame, he possesses incredible lower-body flexibility, which allows him to dip and bend around the edge, morphing his body to unusual angles to get around a blocker.
On this play, Garrett is aligned to the outside edge of Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who is one of the better left tackles in the NFL. After the ball is snapped, Garrett engages Villanueva as if he’s defending the run, honoring the play-action fake by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Once it becomes clear the Steelers are passing, Garrett disengages and starts to shuffle laterally up the arc.
Once Roethlisberger reaches the apex of the pocket, Garrett drops his pad level and reduces his inside shoulder, using his hand to maintain his balance as he bends around the edge and continues his path toward the QB.
Villanueva doesn’t do anything wrong, as he makes an admirable effort to push Garret beyond the quarterback, but the defensive is such an athletic freak that it doesn’t matter. As Roethlisberger looks to step up in the pocket, Garrett closes and finishes the quarterback for the sack.
Oakland Raiders rookie left tackle Kolton Miller will have the unenviable task of blocking Garrett for most of Sunday’s action. Thus far, the 15th overall pick in the 2018 draft has held up well in pass protection, giving up just four total pressures in three games.
But Miller has yet to face someone with the rare combination of size and athleticism that Garrett possesses, so the rookie will likely have a long day at the office against Cleveland.
Texans’ front seven vs. Colts’ offensive line
For the second consecutive week, the Houston Texans’ defensive line has a favorable matchup against a patchwork offensive line.
Last week, the Texans – and specifically J.J. Watt – took advantage of the New York Giants’ offensive line, but it wasn’t enough to get the victory. This week, Houston hopes to exploit its matchup with the Colts’ beleaguered O-line and get a much-needed division win.
The Colts’ line is reeling coming into the game, as neither right tackle Joe Haeg nor left tackle Anthony Castonzo will play.
Moreover, the Colts have struggled mightily in pass protection this season, allowing 46 total pressures, fourth most in the NFL.
Facing a front seven with Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus, and D.J. Reader, that’s not a great recipe for success.
The Texans will have an opportunity to take advantage of some huge mismatches on the edge.
Whether he replaces Castonzo or Haeg on Sunday, Colts swing tackle Denzelle Good has no business blocking this guy:
Or this guy:
Or even this guy:
Watt, Clowney, and Mercilus are all athletic rushers who understand how and when to use their hands. Good, who struggles with his footwork and hand timing in pass protection, is going to need a lot of help from Indianapolis tight ends and running backs to ensure Andrew Luck doesn’t take too much punishment Sunday.
All in all, this game looks ripe for a low-scoring defensive battle, as both quarterbacks do their best to not get decimated behind their shoddy offensive lines. Expect Watson to hold up better as Luck is forced to run for his life all game long.
Antonio Brown vs. Brandon Carr
By his standards, Antonio Brown has had a slow start to season, as he hasn’t had a single game with at least 10 catches or 100 receiving yards. Expect that to change this week as the Steelers face the division-rival Baltimore Ravens.
The last time Brown faced the Ravens, he finished with 11 catches for 213 yards. On that fateful day, Brown did most of his work opposite veteran cornerback Brandon Carr, against whom he had five catches and 117 receiving yards. Here was Brown’s longest play of the game:
Brown is aligned across from Carr with a plus split to the wide side of the field. The wide split forces the deep middle safety to cover a ton of ground if he wants to affect the pass, which Eric Weddle is unable to do here.
After the snap, Brown runs a simple go route down the right sideline, using his speed and quickness to create separation from Carr, who lacks deep speed. The result is a 43-yard catch for Brown.
Carr isn’t a below-average cornerback. He’s just at his best when he can be physical in press-man coverage, which plays right into the strength of Brown, who had a 78.5 percent success rate against man coverage in 2017, per Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception work.
Brown is too precise of a route runner and too quick in and out of his cuts for any cornerback to defend him one-on-one, let alone the 32-year-old Carr.
The Steelers should test Carr’s deep speed frequently this week when he is matched up with Brown on the outside. Expect Brown to finally get over the 100 yards receiving mark as he puts the NFL on notice that he is still the preeminent receiver in the league.
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.