Week five has a very intriguing slate of games spread out across the weekend. Early games like Pittsburgh hosting Philadelphia have the potential to have some fireworks, and late games like Seattle at Carolina feature two of the games most interesting young quarterbacks. Sunday night will showcase Drew Brees as he tries to make history, and Monday night could be Mark Sanchez's last stand as the Jets' starting quarterback.
What are the best match-ups to watch this weekend? Where will rookies be trying to make a name for themselves in week five?
Match-ups to Watch
Washington OLB Ryan Kerrigan vs. Atlanta RT Tyson Clabo
Heading into the season, the Redskins felt very optimistic about their young and talented pass rushing group, but now that Washington’s defense has been decimated by injury all of their hopes rest squarely on the shoulders of Ryan Kerrigan. On Sunday, he’ll be matched up against one of the better right tackles in the league, Tyson Clabo.
Clabo has been solid over the past several seasons, but the start of the 2012 season has been very tough for him. He gave up two sacks against Denver and last week he gave up three sacks and several more hurries against Carolina. Now he’s facing one of the best 3-4 pass rushers in the game in Kerrigan, so he’ll need to drastically step up his game if the Falcons are going to put up the types of numbers they’ll be hoping to.
Tennessee’s OL vs. Minnesota’s Front Seven
Chris Johnson by far had his best effort of the season last week against Houston, recording 141 yards rushing, and it was in no small part due to much better scheming on the Titans’ offensive line. They took advantage of Houston’s aggressive defense and made a concerted effort to get blockers to the second level, which Johnson still can make plays.
With the injuries to Jake Locker and Kenny Britt, the Titans will need another big day from Johnson if they want to have any chance to avoid a 1-4 start. It won’t be easy. Minnesota’s front seven is outstanding against the run. Kevin Williams will make it difficult for the Titans to ever get to the second level, and if they’re ever able to they’ll be greeted by the likes of Erin Henderson and Chad Greenway. It’s likely to be one of the best run defenses Tennessee faces all season, and the timing couldn’t be any worse.
New Orleans QB Drew Brees vs. San Diego’s Defense
Drew Brees is just one game away from breaking Johnny Unitas’ record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass. With suspended coach Sean Payton watching from somewhere in the stadium, Brees will have the chance to make NFL history against the team that cast him out of San Diego years ago in favor of Phillip Rivers.
For the Saints, the stakes are much higher than just sticking it to Brees’ old team. They’re on the verge of starting the season 0-5, much worse than anyone would have anticipated. The defense has looked atrocious and for the Saints to pull off a win on the road, Brees will have to throw for more than just one touchdown. San Deigo’s secondary hasn’t looked great, but their front seven has played with plenty of energy and won’t make Brees’ attempt at history – or a win – easy.
Trouble in Seattle?
Russell Wilson’s progression during training camp was one of the best stories of the summer. He won both his coaches and team mates over with his work ethic and leadership skills, and strong performances in the preseason locked him in as the week one starter.
Things haven’t gone quite as well for Wilson since the regular season has started. He has yet to throw for over 160 yards, and against St. Louis he threw three interceptions and no touchdowns. That week four performance was a big step backwards. Prior to that outing, Wilson had been pretty solid game manager. He wasn’t making big plays, but he wasn’t letting the team down either. However, those three turnovers arguably cost the Seahawks a key divisional win.
Also concerning is his lack of play making on the ground. In the preseason Wilson made several big plays with his feet, and looked like a player who could add another dimension to Seattle’s ground game. That hasn’t been the case in the regular season, however. Wilson is averaging only 3.5 yards on 22 carries through four weeks.
In fairness, the lack of production isn’t entirely Wilson’s fault. Seattle’s coaching staff has been extremely conservative, choosing to rely on Marshawn Lynch instead of airing it out. It’s been a reasonable strategy, and to an extent it’s worked. Seattle is 2-2 and they’ve been a competitive team for the most part.
It’s tough to really get behind the play calling entirely, however. It’s reasonable to be careful when calling plays for a young quarterback. But the Seahawks don’t have to even have Wilson on the field right now. They signed Matt Flynn during the offseason, and he’s more than capable of being a game manager.
Instead, they’ve elected to play Wilson, even though their play calling shows they don’t feel he’s totally ready. Instead of spending 2012 developing in practice, Wilson has been thrown into action and now has to field questions about whether or not he’ll be losing the starting role less than two months into his first professional season.
As Seattle faces off against Carolina, Wilson may have his last chance to prove he’s worthy of being a starter at this point in his career. Carolina has both the 22nd ranked pass defense and the ranked run defense. It’s a great opportunity for the young quarterback to bounce back from his rough outing against St. Louis. But if he’s unable (or not allowed) to put up big numbers, the questions about his status will only grow louder.
Philadelphia CB Brandon Boykin
Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown called out the Eagles’ rookie nickel back Brandon Boykin earlier this week, calling him the “candy bar” of Philadelphia’s secondary. I’m not sure of Brown had actually watched any tape on the Eagles when he made that comment, however. Boykin clearly isn’t the biggest name on Philadelphia’s defense, but he’s played pretty darn well in his first four games.
He will face a big test against the Steelers, however. Rashard Mendenhall is back in the lineup but it’s too early to expect that he’ll be a big factor in this match up, meaning that Mike Wallace and Brown will be the key players in the offense. Brown typically plays outside so he and Boykin may not be matched up much one on one, but the Steelers will certainly make sure to test the rookie in as many ways as possible.
Jacksonville WR Justin Blackmon
The Jaguars were hoping that Justin Blackmon would help bring some life to an offense that was lack luster in 2011. Unfortunately, Blackmon’s career hasn’t gotten off to quite the start that the Jags would have liked.
Jacksonville is facing Chicago’s third ranked run defense, which means even a player of MJD’s caliber is going to have a tough time. The Jaguars will have to pass the ball if they want a shot at upsetting the Bears, and Blackmon is going to have to contribute to that. There is some hope for Jags’ fans, as Blackmon is coming off a career high six catches for 48 yards last week.
Fantasy Quick Hits
- Norv Turner seems to be doing his best Mike Shanahan impression by listing Jackie Battle over Ryan Matthews on the depth chart. But if you’ve spent a high draft pick on Matthews, fear not. The talent disparity between Matthews and Battle is just too drastic to justify Battle getting reps over Matthews. Start Matthews confidently in week five, and make a move for him in your league where Matthew’s owner is getting antsy.
- Both the Rams and fantasy teams across the country took a crushing blow when Danny Amendola likely broke his collarbone Thursday night. Steve Smith will likely take Amendola’s role in the slot, but don’t expect Smith to put up numbers similar to what Amendola was.
- Hakeem Nicks owners shouldn’t be looking forward to a return from his knee injury anytime soon. He was ruled out for week five on Thursday, meaning it’s not likely that he’ll be back in week six.
- In better injury news, it sounds like Aaron Hernandez is nearly ready to return to the line up in New England. A week five return is still too optimistic, but week six is now a real possibility.
- Kendall Hunter is a great flex option this week. The 49ers should handle the Bills with little problem, and Hunter could see the majority of the touches out of the backfield in the second half.