Football is the ultimate team sport, but it's hard not to watch closely when two top players lock horns.
Whether it's that dynamic edge rusher up against the dominant offensive tackle or the speedy wide receiver threatening to go deep against a team's shutdown cornerback, the one-on-one matchups can sometimes have a tremendous impact on the outcome of a game.
An offensive line may then have to adjust for that pass-rusher constantly getting into the backfield by chipping him with a tight end. A secondary may have to roll coverage to a specific side of the field to account for a receiver's ability to get open and make big plays.
These are some of the games within the games, and one-on-one matchups that will put butts in seats this season. Next
Buccaneers CB Darrelle Revis vs. Patriots WR Danny Amendola
You know you're one of the NFL's best cornerbacks when Tom Brady doesn't even bother throwing in your direction most of the time. That's been the case for Buccaneers cornerback Darrelle Revis, who has contributed to more than one stifling performance against the Patriots offense as a member of the Jets.
Now Revis is with the Buccaneers, so Brady won't have to wait long for a return trip to Revis Island, as the New England hosts Tampa Bay in Week 3.
Revis could be asked to man-up on new Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola, who is the best receiver on the roster, or he could be asked to cover rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, who will likely be lined up on the outside more often than Amendola. Whoever it is, Brady will most likely not target them; he has thrown just 20 passes in Revis' direction of a possible 182 in the past five games between the two. Next
Dolphins DE Cameron Wake vs. Patriots RT Sebastian Vollmer
Seldom does the most intriguing battle of the trenches take place between the left end and the right tackle – the battle between the left tackle and right end is usually the one that gets the spotlight. Cameron Wake, however, was one of the best defensive ends on either side of the line last season. In fact, he was the most productive pass-rushing edge defender in either a 3-4 or a 4-3.
At 6-2 and 241 pounds, Wake is known for his incredible burst off the line of scrimmage and his ability to bend the corner at full-speed. His height and explosiveness make him a tough matchup for the mauling right tackle, Sebastian Vollmer, who stands 6-8 and 320 pounds. Wake got the best of Vollmer in the first meeting between the two teams, logging four hurries, a hit and two sacks on Tom Brady, and the Patriots even had to keep a tight end or running back in pass protection on 20 of 44 passing plays that day.
Vollmer held his own the second time around and allowed Wake to get near Brady just once the entire game.
Much is made of the Dolphins’ new weapons on offense, but it's up to their defense to contain the Patriots offense, as they have done in holding the Patriots to 28 or fewer points in each of the past three games. Next
Patriots DT Vince Wilfork vs. Jets C Nick Mangold
This is perhaps one of the most anticipated one-on-one battles in the NFL on a yearly basis. Vince Wilfork has been called a "war daddy" by NFL writer Chris Brown, but Nick Mangold has gone to war with Wilfork 16 times over the past seven years (14 regular season games, two playoff games).
Wilfork has gone head-to-head with Mangold a bit less since the Patriots switched to a 4-3 look, and it was guard Brandon Moore whose rear end notoriously knocked into quarterback Mark Sanchez on the now-famous "Butt fumble."
It's nearly impossible to quantify who wins and loses this battle based on stats, but Wilfork is the lynchpin for the entire Patriots defense because of the matchup problems he creates on the offensive line. If Wilfork dominates this, the Patriots defense should be making life difficult for the Jets offense as a whole. Next
Patriots DE Chandler Jones vs. Dolphins LT Jonathan Martin
The battle between Chandler Jones and Jonathan Martin could be one of the key battles in the AFC East for a long time.
Both Jones and Martin were lauded for their athleticism on the edge of the line coming out of college, but both men took to improving their overall strength this offseason. It won't be just a speed and quickness game between these two; we'll also see some leverage contests and perhaps some raw showings of strength.
The two did not face each other frequently in 2012 – Jones was out in Week 13 with an ankle injury, and played just 46 snaps in the season finale. Martin, however, was victimized in both meetings with the Patriots last season, allowing a combined 10 pressures and one sack.
It's not just about the passing game, though, and Jones will have to hold his own in run defense, as well. Jones did a great job of shedding blocks last year, but he may have to fight through some double-teams if the Dolphins try to wash him out of a running play. A one-on-one situation would seem to favor Jones, but if Martin can win this matchup, QB Ryan Tannehill could have all the time he needs to find his receivers down field for big plays and the running backs could have enough room to bounce runs to the outside. Next
Texans WR Andre Johnson vs. Jets CB Antonio Cromartie
Andre Johnson stands 6-3 and 230 pounds, and needless to say, there aren't many cornerbacks who can match up with him from a physical standpoint. Count Antonio Cromartie among the "not many," with a 6-2, 210-pound frame that eliminates some of the matchup nightmares caused by Johnson.
The Texans’ No. 1 receiver has long been considered one of the best deep threats in the NFL, but Cromartie has been one of the best corners at limiting deep balls in his direction, allowing just eight receptions of 20 yards or more in his direction in 2012.
Johnson was held to just one reception for 15 yards when these two teams met in 2012, and Cromartie intercepted a pass intended for Johnson. That performance will probably be right in the front of Johnson's mind as he prepares for another trip to Al-Cro-Traz. Next
Bengals DT Geno Atkins vs. Dolphins C Mike Pouncey
On paper, this matchup may not look like much, but defensive tackle Geno Atkins and center Mike Pouncey have developed into two of the best young players at their positions.
Pouncey is regarded for his ability to pull out as a lead blocker in space, a talent not many centers possess. He is stellar in pass protection, and allowed just eight combined pressures (three hurries, two hits and a sack) last season, tying for first in Pro Football Focus' pass-blocking efficiency among centers.
On the other hand, Atkins just signed a five-year, $55 million contract extension as a result of his ability to put constant pressure on quarterbacks (53 hurries, 13 hits, 12.5 sacks), ranking first in Pro Football Focus' pass-rushing productivity among defensive tackles.
Atkins logged two tackles and one sack in the last meeting between these two teams, but was kept away from quarterback Ryan Tannehill for the most part. Of course, Pouncey wasn't going it entirely alone in that meeting and he probably will have some help from other offensive linemen in keeping Atkins at bay. Next
Ravens DT Haloti Ngata vs. Patriots C Ryan Wendell
Patriots fans were pleasantly surprised with Ryan Wendell last year, who took over as the starting center after years as a backup guard. He anchored a line that allowed Tom Brady to be pressured on just 25 percent of his throws, the second-lowest percentage for any starting quarterback last year, a unit that also opened lanes for the NFL's seventh-best rushing attack.
Haloti Ngata, however, has the ability to wreck it all. There are very few NFL defensive tackles that have the ability to eat up blockers like Vince Wilfork, but Ngata is one of those players. Not only is he a big, strong presence as a two-gap defensive tackle occupying two or sometimes three offensive linemen, but he also has underrated quickness and lines up all over the defensive line for the Ravens.
For that reason, this isn't necessarily a one-on-one matchup. Sure, Wendell will have to line up head-to-head with Haloti at times, but Wendell will also be responsible for accounting for where Ngata lines up and adjusting the protection accordingly. Next
Dolphins WR Mike Wallace vs. Bills CB Stephon Gilmore
The Bills are expected to be without cornerback Stephon Gilmore until at least Week 6, but that would put him back in time for the first of their games against the Dolphins. Buffalo will need all the help it can get against Miami's bevy of new offensive weapons, including wide receiver Mike Wallace.
The Dolphins didn't have any receivers that posed a big-play threat last season, and defenses were able to play tighter to the line of scrimmage as a result. However, Mike Wallace hauled in 27 receptions of 20 yards or more over the past two seasons, so the Dolphins are hoping he can at least force defenses to respect the deep ball.
Gilmore has the potential to be a shutdown corner, and he started off solid in allowing completions on 56.3 percent of throws in his direction, allowing only three touchdowns and breaking up eight passes, but he can do even better than that, and he'll need to against Wallace.
The former Steelers receiver has the speed to burn past Gilmore, so the second-year cornerback will have to get a good jam on Wallace to prevent him from streaking right into the deep half of the secondary. While Wallace will win his share of battles, it's up to Gilmore to, at the very least, make it feel like a war. Next
Bills DE Mario Williams vs. Jets LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson
Who knows exactly where Mario Williams will line up in Mike Pettine's new defense? Apparently, not even "Super Mario" himself.
"I don’t know. If I was going to be labeled, I'd probably be labeled defensive end because of my size," he said. "But I don't have a position."
The Bills will move Williams all over the field to maximize his ability to get after the quarterback through confusion on the offensive line, forcing them to constantly be aware of where Williams lines up. That said, he will likely see D'Brickashaw Ferguson on more than one occasion, and will not likely be sent on many A-gap blitzes as a middle linebacker, which would be a wild deviation from Williams' strengths as a hand-in-the-dirt pass-rusher.
Williams should relish the opportunity to finally be multi-dimensional as a pass-rusher, where he wasn't given the opportunity to do so in the vanilla defensive scheme of Dave Wannstedt last year. He couldn't possibly be much worse than he was in two games against the Jets last year, when Williams logged just four tackles and three combined pressures against right tackle Austin Howard, who is undoubtedly not at the level of three-time Pro Bowler Ferguson.
Mark Sanchez, in the middle of a two-season 52-turnover meltdown, helped lead the Jets to a 41-7 third-quarter lead over the Bills in large part because their defensive line got no pressure. Whether it's Ferguson, Howard, or an interior offensive linemen on rare occasions, the Jets will have to do what they did last year and keep Williams at bay. Next
Patriots CB Aqib Talib vs. Bills WR Stevie Johnson
Trash talk keeps the NFL entertaining, and Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson infused some entertainment into the hype for the Bills' Week 1 game against the Patriots.
"I don't think they got nobody that can stop me," Johnson said Monday, according to The Buffalo News. "For real."
Never mind the fact that he hasn't studied much film of the Patriots yet – he thinks safety Patrick Chung is still a member of the Patriots secondary – Johnson has made plays against better cornerbacks than anyone the Patriots currently have on their roster.
Johnson has gotten used to burning the Patriots defense, logging 20 receptions for 243 yards and two touchdowns in his past four meetings with the Patriots, but he has never faced Talib, who made his Patriots debut the week after the second Patriots-Bills game.
Talib matches up well with Johnson in terms of size – the receiver is an inch taller and two pounds heavier than the cornerback – but perhaps the biggest factor in this matchup is the quarterback. Whether it's rookie first-rounder EJ Manuel or undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel throwing the ball, the Bills will be rolling with an unproven quarterback. Back to the beginning
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