Throughout the entire week, coaches have been scheming in order to slow down or eliminate impact players. It appears to work more often than most people would realize come playoff time. As we know, it is all about the entire unit or team as a whole thriving in the ultimate team sport come January.
Unfortunately, COVID has put a tight grip on the Cleveland Browns and their chances this Sunday. Elsewhere, injury news looks more encouraging for players like Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley up in Buffalo. The same cannot be said for a defensive back who was supposed to have lined up across from them, in Rock Ya-Sin. Finally, the most important matchup worth watching in the Ravens-Titans game may not be as obvious. With that in mind, it is now time to list our key matchups for the AFC games on Wild Card weekend. Let’s kick things off with the game from Western New York.
Buffalo Bills vs Indianapolis Colts
Bills Wide Receivers vs Colts Cornerbacks
Diggs and Beasley have been dealing with injuries throughout the week. Beasley (knee) got hurt late in the win against the New England Patriots in Week 16. His status did not look promising for a good while. However, the fact that he has practiced at all this week has to be an encouraging sign. Reports of Diggs (oblique) were even more up in the air. He also practiced in a limited fashion as of Thursday’s injury report. Both will likely fight hard to play, especially considering the season both receivers and the Bills offense has had. In addition, neither Diggs nor Beasley has missed more than one game in any of the past three seasons.
On the other hand, it looks like second year cover man Rock Ya-Sin will miss the game for the Colts (concussion). This means TJ Carrie will step up into his starting role. Xavier Rhodes has surprised with somewhat of a resurgence after joining Indianapolis this season. And, slot corner Kenny Moore II has been one of the more consistent slot cover guys across the league over the last couple of seasons.
Buffalo is not afraid to move both Diggs and Beasley around the formation. With both having silky smooth route running skills and natural hands, it will take a collective effort from the Colts to get the job done. Without the length and physical presence of Ya-Sin, Indianapolis will have to be able to find some sense of physicality, while still staying under control. The Colts run a three safety look better than anyone under defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus. That makes for a compelling challenge for the Bills offense, depending on how much they utilize it. It will be important for the Colts cornerbacks to stay on top of routes.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs Cleveland Browns
Steelers Offensive Line vs Browns Pass Rush
This will be a vital test for many reasons for the Cleveland Browns pass rush. For one, they will need to help out depth players in the back seven. As of now, linebacker Malcolm Smith, cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Kevin Johnson and safety Ronnie Harrison remain on the COVID list and likely won’t be playing on Sunday. Elsewhere, Ben Roethlisberger has struggled against pressure the worst he has in his career.
Led by Myles Garrett, Cleveland amassed 38 sacks on the season. Good for 12th most in the NFL, the Browns have aggravated many quarterbacks throughout the season. Garrett had 12 sacks this season, his third straight with 10 or more. Veteran Olivier Vernon ruptured his Achilles last week, and was having one of his best seasons. He will be deeply missed on that defense. However, Cleveland has quite the ample amount of depth at their disposal. Adrian Clayborn will takeover for Vernon and provides sneaky speed. Breakout player Porter Gustin has become more recognized and praised by opponents. The Browns can also provide interior pressure with studs Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi.
Usually a staple of the Steelers success, the offensive line has been up and down throughout the season. Despite a low number of sacks allowed, veterans Alejandro Villanueva, Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro have begun to decline. The team is due for upgrades soon throughout free agency or the draft. Arguably, their best performing offensive lineman this season has been rookie Kevin Dotson. The rookie fourth round pick out of Louisiana-Lafayette quickly received praise from teammates and coaches since the outset of the season. But, he cannot do it all on his own.
Tennessee Titans vs Baltimore Ravens
Titans Receivers vs Ravens Defensive Backs
As well as the Baltimore Ravens have been playing, this secondary has been streaky at best. Other than intelligent cornerback Marlon Humphrey, it has been hard to rely on the defensive backs if you are Baltimore. And in this upcoming matchup against the Titans, they have proved to struggle against these opposing receivers downfield.
With a quarterback like Ryan Tannehill and the NFL’s best running back in Derrick Henry, Tennessee is able to win with play action passing better than anyone. A lot of credit goes to Tannehill’s accuracy in the intermediate to deep passing game. But after the catch, no one is more physical in making defenders miss than AJ Brown. The Ole Miss product ran through the entire defensive backfield in a score against the Ravens earlier this season.
In that game earlier this season, Brown amassed 15.5 yards per reception and 8.86 yards per target. But what about Corey Davis? The former fifth overall pick out of Western Michigan has put together a career best season. More importantly for him, it has come in a make or break contract year. His 65 receptions, 984 receiving yards, five receiving touchdowns and 15.1 yards per reception in 2020 are all career highs. More importantly his drops have decreased significantly, as his catch percentage this season was a career best 70.7%. Up from 62.3% in 2019, 58% in 2018 and 52.3% in his rookie season of 2017. Tannehill has more trust in him, and his yards after catch ability has finally shined through. Baltimore is looking for inspired performances from Marcus Peters, Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott.
For this weekend’s Wild Card content, be sure to keep locked on to Full Press Coverage.
– Braden Holecek is the Kansas City Chiefs managing editor for Full Press Coverage. He covers the NFL. Like and follow on Follow @ebearcat9//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Follow @FPC_Chiefs//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js and Facebook.