The opening week of the 2012 regular season was one to remember. We did an installment on a couple key matchups to look forward to, but we also missed a few marquee one-on-ones that deserved recognition. In America’s game of the week between the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers, Charles Woodson had a tough transition to safety in his first game, as Vernon Davis was constantly getting open and beating Woodson on routes that he so prides himself on intercepting.
Now that Week 2 is underway, lets focus in on some matchups that viewers all around the world should pay attention to.
Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers: Tramon Williams vs Brandon Marshall
-With Woodson getting up there in age and finally making the transition from cornerback to safety, Williams has been penciled in as the No. 1 cornerback on the depth chart, which is not an easy task. Tramon Williams played phenomenal in 2010 during the Packers’ Super Bowl year, but has struggled since. He is an above average cornerback, but takes the Asante Samuel route on several occasions and jumps on double moves, leaving him beat and the receiver running up the field for a touchdown. He is most comfortable playing 5-7 yards off the wide receiver, but depending on which Jay Cutler shows up Thursday night, he’ll be sure to make hot routes and turn what may have been a post for Brandon Marshall into a quick hitch or bubble screen, with Williams playing so far off. The Packers are one team who may start the season off 0-2, but they remain a Super Bowl favorite to many spectators. This matchup may or may not determine which direction the game goes. Either way, it’ll be one to pay attention to.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Buffalo Bills: Stevie Johnson vs The Chiefs Secondary
-The Chiefs have had a difficult season opener over the past two seasons, as Buffalo put up a 40 burger on them in 2011 and Atlanta did last week as well. Their secondary obviously misses star cornerback Brandon Flowers, and they could use him Sunday to defend Stevie Johnson. Johnson had a stellar outing last year on both of the Chiefs’ starting cornerbacks. He caught two touchdowns against Flowers last year and had almost 100 receiving yards and a touchdown against Stanford Routt last year when he was with the Oakland Raiders. The Chiefs do have a healthy Eric Berry back, who they desperately missed last year, and having him back should help them out significantly, especially in the run game. But without Flowers, teams can air it out on the Chiefs all day. Julio Jones and Roddy White took turns on both Stanford Routt and Jacques Reeves last week. Johnson might do the same thing. Flowers is their best chance at stopping him.
Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals: T.J. Ward vs Jermaine Gresham
-With Joe Haden suspended for four games, expect Andy Dalton to go to A.J Green early and often Sunday. No one in the Browns’ secondary is more familiar with Green than Haden, so Green might have a field day with Haden not playing. In terms of tight end Jermaine Gresham, he’ll have another rough week, as last week he had to deal with Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard and will have to see hard-hitting Safety T.J. Ward this week. Ward is heavily praised for how hard he hits, as he anchors an underrated defense that was ranked tenth in the NFL last season. But his coverage skills are slept on. He will be smothering Jermaine Gresham come Sunday. After being drafted in the first round a couple years ago, we have been expecting a top tight end caliber season from Gresham, which we have yet to see. This may be the year, but Sunday will be no walk in the park for him.
Minnesota Vikings vs. Indianapolis Colts: Harrison Smith vs Coby Fleener
-Two rookies with huge upside who had an impressive debut that was overlooked face each other this Sunday. Harrison Smith was all over the field last week against Jacksonville and finished the game with 7 tackles. Fleener, who was teammates with Andrew Luck in college, is early on proving that he is one of, if not, Luck’s favorite target. Fleener had six receptions for 82 yards last week against a ball hawking Chicago Bears defense. These two rookies will be around for a long time and it will be interesting seeing them perform this week; even more interesting to see Smith defending Fleener.
Houston Texans vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: Johnathan Joseph vs Laurent Robinson
-The Texans’ secondary is disrespectful to all receivers and tight ends in the NFL. This Sunday, star cornerback Johnathan Joseph will go against Laurent Robinson, who was heavily sought after during free agency after a huge year with the Dallas Cowboys last year. Joseph is one of the three best cornerbacks in the NFL in my opinion and even though he doesn’t always shadow the best wide receiver on every team they go against, he does his job with whomever wishes to line up in front of him. When Robinson isn’t lined up on Joseph’s side, he’ll face another good cornerback in Kareem Jackson. Jacksonville also has an impressive rookie in Justin Blackmon. Blackmon may occasionally face Joseph or Jackson, but from the preseason, whenever Blackmon lines up in the slot, he seemed impossible to stop. It may be possible this week, as the Texans have an impressive nickel cornerback in Brandon Harris. When Blackmon and Robinson are lined up on the outside to face Jackson and Joseph, Harris might see Mike Thomas who is Jacksonville’s slot receiver. All six players are impressive. Be sure to keep an eye on the play of the wide receivers and cornerbacks this week.
Arizona Cardinals vs. New England Patriots: Bill Belichick vs Larry Fitzgerald
-In preparing to face Larry Fitzgerald, Bill Belichick addressed the media and highly praised Fitzgerald, stating that he will go down as one of, if not, the best wide receiver ever. With that being said, it will be interesting to see how Belichick decides to defend Fitzgerald. The best cornerback on New England’s depth chart is Devin McCourty, who had a stellar rookie season picking off eight passes. He struggled a bit in his second year, but looked impressive in the Week 1 matchup against the Tennessee Titans this year. It wouldn’t surprise me if McCourty shadows Fitzgerald. As seen last week, Fitzgerald was having a hard time on the outside with Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks defending him. However, Sherman didn’t follow Fitzgerald when he lined up in the slot. While there, Fitzgerald caught three balls that were vital and probably the cause of Seattle losing late to Arizona, after an impressive performance by Sherman. The Patriots do however have a decent nickel cornerback in Sterling Moore, who can also at times line up on the outside. They may double-team him also with Patrick Chung hovering over the top at safety, especially when Ras-I Dowling is defending Fitzgerald. The Patriots can do several things to show Fitzgerald many different looks, as he is their best and probably only weapon at wide receiver. The genius of Belichick will be put to test with stopping Fitzgerald and I can’t wait to see how he plans on doing such a difficult task.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Philadelphia Eagles: Ray Lewis vs Michael Vick
-Sugar Ray Lewis lost a significant amount of weight this offseason so he could still be effective in his 17th NFL season and compete with the best of them. He looked fairly impressive and like the Lewis of old on Monday against Cincinnati. This week, however, he has to shadow one of the most elusive quarterbacks in NFL history in Michael Vick. Vick looked horrible last week against that stingy Cleveland defense and this week he faces three future Hall Of Famers in Lewis, Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata. It will be interesting to see if Vick can bounce back against an even better defense.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Philadelphia Eagles: Nnamdi Asomugha vs Anquan Boldin
-This may sound harsh, but Nnamdi Asomugha is a one-trick pony; he is one of (if not) the very best cornerbacks in the NFL when lined up in press-man coverage. We saw it for more than half a decade when he was in Oakland. Since signing with Philadelphia, who doesn’t run a base defense like in Oakland, Asomugha has been assigned the task to prove he can be an all-around effective cornerback. He hasn’t proved that yet. Philly lines him up at nickel, which he isn’t very good at. And they run a lot of zone, as well as loose man coverage, with the cornerback giving the wide 5-7 yards of breathing room. That isn’t Asomugha’s forte. Put him in Anquan Boldin’s grill and I’ll put my money on Asomugha to get the best out of that matchup.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Philadelphia Eagles: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie vs Torrey Smith
-I know it was only the preseason and one game into the regular season, but Torrey Smith has showed us constant signs that he can do more than run a go route. He has caught almost everything thrown his way as they have asked him to run the entire receiver route tree and catch those balls. He has done so. Dominique Rogers-Cromartie will have a difficult task at not only stopping Torrey Smith from burning him deep, but beating him on out routes, slants, curls, post corners, etc. This will be another intriguing matchup to be aware of.
Dallas Cowboys vs. Seattle Seahawks: Richard Sherman vs Dez Bryant
-Hands down, this is the matchup that I will be looking forward to more than any other one-on-one matchup. Both of these players show tremendous talent with only signs of getting better and not slowing down. As mentioned earlier, Sherman had a fairly impressive start to the 2012 season defending arguably the best wide in the NFL and getting the best out of the matchup. Dez Bryant is not better than Larry Fitzgerald, but he has the potential if he just stays healthy and out of trouble. He can easily slip in all of our top-5 wide lists. He got the best out of Corey Webster last week as he flat out obliterated him. Sherman however, is younger, faster, stronger and bigger than Webster. Dez will have his hands full all night. As will Sherman. I hope both of them sleep well Saturday night and are prepared for one of their toughest tasks of the 2012 season.
San Francisco 49ers vs. Detroit Lions: Calvin Johnson vs The 49ers Secondary
-No team is a fool. You don’t leave Calvin Johnson on an Island with your cornerback unless you have Darrelle Revis or someone similar. The 49ers did a fantastic job bracketing Johnson last year and beating the Lions, but Johnson said this game is one he circled on his calendar. He averaged well over 100 yards receiving a game last year, but SF held him short of that, showing him different matchups with Carlos Rogers, Chris Culliver, Terrell Brown and their safeties Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson. This is America’s game of the week, so America, please tune in and enjoy the fireworks. Will the 49ers stop Megatron again?
Denver Broncos vs. Atlanta Falcons: Champ Bailey and Tracy Porter vs Julio Jones and Roddy White
-The addition of Tracy Porter was one of the best free agent acquisitions of any team around the NFL. Bailey is getting old, but his game isn’t. The future Hall of Famer had a great game against Pittsburgh last week and his new partner in crime Tracy Porter, also named defensive player of the week, shut Mike Wallace down, and had a pick-6. As for the Falcons, Julio Jones is going to be a great player in the NFL. This is only his second season in the NFL and he has already surpassed teammate Roddy White (to me) on the depth chart, who was regarded as one of the five best receivers in the NFL to several outsiders not too long ago. They can motion White and Jones or line them up on opposite sides. Either way, Bailey and Porter will be right there in their face. It's going to be an all-around great Monday night game and these matchups specifically will catch the naked eye.