Miami vs. Dallas
In the three consecutive games that the Miami Dolphins have won, opposing teams have rushed the ball 69 times for 218 yards which is a 3.16 yards per carry. The Dolphins last two opponents quickly abandoned the run due to lack of success as shown by a combined 35 attempts.
Dallas Cowboys rookie RB DeMarco Murray averaged only 2.92 yards per carry against the Redskins Sunday, but head coach and play caller Jason Garrett stayed committed to feeding Murray the ball which resulted in 25 rushing attempts and 6 receptions. Murray has tallied at least 25 touches in all but one of his five games as the primary ball carrier, which has alleviated pressure from QB Tony Romo.
Romo faces a Dolphins secondary that has picked off 4 of their 6 team interceptions in the last two games because offenses became reliant only on the passing game. Romo has thrown only one interception since Murray’s ascension to primary back, and it came in the one game in which Murray had only 8 touches.
Detroit vs. Green Bay
The Detroit Lions have an offense completely built around passing the ball. Of their 207 first downs this year, 136 of them were gained by a pass, which is more than all but six other teams. That means that roughly 66% of their first downs have been made passing the ball. Of the 209 first downs that the Green Bay Packers have allowed, 144 of them have been through the air which is more than all but one other team in the NFL. 69% of their allowed first downs were gained by opposing teams passing the ball.
The Packers lead the league with 19 interceptions because they bait quarterbacks into making bad decisions, but that gambling makes them susceptible to getting beat regularly. The Lions might be able to sustain drives as long as QB Matthew Stafford doesn’t continue throwing interceptions as he has 6 times in the last two games after throwing only 4 in the first eight.
Baltimore vs. San Francisco
The Baltimore Ravens’ John Harbaugh is head coach with the rare background of a special teams coach. This season, though, the Ravens have not fared well in Harbaugh’s old discipline. On kickoffs in which opposing teams attempted a return, they have averaged 32.8 yards per runback, which is the most in the league. The 49ers, coached by John’s younger brother Jim, have averaged 28 yards per attempted return which is second best in the NFL. The 49ers also rank 9th in punt return yards with 11.4 per attempt while the Ravens allow an average of 9.8 which ranks 18th.
In a game which is likely to be a defensive struggle, field position could be a huge factor in determining the victors. It might be wise for Ravens K Billy Cundiff to try and kick through the back of the end zone every time, which is more than doable as Cundiff led the league in touchbacks last year before they moved kickoffs.
Atlanta vs. Minnesota
The Atlanta Falcons mortgaged a great deal of their draft in order to move up and select WR Julio Jones in an attempt to make their offense more explosive. Jones certainly has brought an explosive element to the offense; he not only has averaged 16.6 yards per completion but QB Matt Ryan is averaging 9.8 yards for every pass he throws at Jones. That compares favorably to Roddy White’s 13.1 yards per completion and 7.1 yards per pass attempt thrown his way.
On Sunday, the Falcons will host the Minnesota Vikings, which is good news for White and Jones or Harry Douglas, the backup for Jones. The Vikings beleaguered secondary which is now missing their two best corners, Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook, has allowed an average of 15 yards per receptions to all the wide receivers they’ve faced this season. To put that into context, there are only 30 receivers in the league averaging over 15 yards per catch.
Tennessee vs. Tampa Bay
On Sunday, the Tennessee Titans will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Both teams have taken dramatic turns since Week 3. At that point in the season, the Buccaneers had limited their three opponents to an average of 7.3 yards per attempt. In the seven games since then though, the Bucs have allowed the last seven opponents to average 11.8 yards per attempt bringing their season average to 8.5, which is worst in the league.
Conversely, Titans QB Matt Hasselbeck averaged 8.3 yards per attempt through three games, but then WR Kenny Britt was lost for the season. In the eight games since, he has averaged just 6.32 yards per pass which brings his season average to 7.0 yards. Either the Titans passing offense will be resurgent, or the Buccaneers will keep an opponent from throwing all over them.
Houston vs. Jacksonville
Much has been made of the Houston Texans starting QB Matt Leinart in lieu of injured Matt Schaub, who may be out for the season. Despite the Texans having a four game lead on their Sunday opponents the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Texans are only favored by 3 points.
Of the 33 quarterbacks that qualify to be ranked statistically (you must have at least 14 attempts for every game your team has played), here’s how Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert ranks in key passing categories: last in quarterback rating with 64.4, last in yards per attempt with 5.26, last in completion percentage with 48.9%, last in yards per game with 137. Here’s how the Texans defense ranks in key passing categories: 1st in quarterback rating with 63.1, 3rd in yards per attempt with 6.1, 1st in completion percentage with 50.8%, 2nd in passing yards per game, 5th in touchdowns allowed with 11, 3rd in interceptions with 15, and 6th in sacks with 29.
New Orleans vs. NY Giants
New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees has been sacked 19 times this season which is tied for 17th most in the NFL. What is impressive about that is Brees has attempted 422 passes, which is most in the league by 24 attempts. That means that Brees has been sacked on only 4% of his drop backs this year, discounting quarterback scrambles. Only three other quarterbacks in the league have been sacked 4% or less of their drop backs.
On Monday night Brees and the Saints will face the New York Giants. The Giants lead the league in both sacks with 31, and sack yardage with 232. Opposing teams have attempted 352 passed against New York, which means aside from scrambles quarterbacks have been sacked by the Giants on 8% of their drop backs. That is twice as often as Brees has been brought down behind the line of scrimmage.
Either the Giants will slow off their 3.1 sacks per game pace, or the Saints signal caller will find himself dealing with more pressure than he is used to.