Whole Nine Yards: Wild Card Playoff Matchups to Watch
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By Zac Bellman
Adrian Peterson vs. Packer’s run defense:
If the first two meetings this season were any indication, Peterson should run wild again in this wildcard matchup with a Packers defense that allowed 409 of his 2,097 yards this year. The Packers were able to lower his yards per carry in the second meeting from 10 down to 5.9, but the gaping holes and tackling issues in the secondary were evident again. It was as if an occult hand had stopped Peterson a whole nine yards short of the all-time single season rushing record held by Eric Dickerson. He maintained that winning the game was his priority, but coming that close after all he has been through tearing his ACL at the end of last season had to be tough. The commentators will focus on how running the ball keeps Aaron Rodgers and the Packers high powered offense off the field, but Peterson will have to continue to carry the load offensively anyway for an offense that lacks playmakers.
Marshall Newhouse vs. Jared Allen
One of the biggest matchups this week that could have a very large impact on who wins in Lambeau this week can be found in the trenches. Newhouse is part of an offensive line that gave up 51 sacks in 2012, which was second only to the Arizona Cardinals who gave up 58 and injured several of their quarterbacks as a result. Jared Allen accounted for three of those this season, and his edge rush could have a significant impact on the Packers’ ability to throw the ball down the field. The Packers get the majority of their big offensive plays on long throws with as many as four or five receivers out running patterns. In order for these plays to develop, Newhouse will need to hold his ground to give Rodgers time to survey the field. Also look for the Packers to help Newhouse out by chipping Allen with a tight end or halfback to slow him down.
Aaron Rodgers vs. Vikings Secondary
The Vikings will struggle to matchup with the Packers receivers without Antoine Winfield and Harrison Smith, who are both questionable for their Saturday matchup with the Packers. It was overshadowed by Adrian Peterson’s record chase, but Aaron Rodgers had a pretty good game himself last week against the Vikings, throwing for 365 yards and four touchdowns. If the Vikings expect to repeat last week’s result their coverage must improve. One of Rodgers’ touchdowns to Greg Jennings was so wide open it led commentator Joe Buck to quip that most people in the stadium could have completed that pass. Such defensive lapses cannot continue if the Vikings want to move past the first round. Edge: Packers 31-20
Ray Lewis vs. Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck has been a huge part of a Colts team that has outperformed expectations after going 2-14 last year and missing their head coach Chuck Pagano for much of this year as he was being treated for Leukemia. He has proven much earlier than many anticipated why many experts heralded him as a once in a generation player. Another name that comes to mind when you consider once in a generation players is Ray Lewis, who made it known this week that he will retire at the conclusion of this season. This matchup pits an up and comer versus a future Hall of Famer who is looking to polish off his resume with another Super Bowl victory. Both teams will be playing inspired as well, with the Colts playing for Pagano and the Ravens for Lewis. Some of the most interesting moments will be the pre-play adjustments that will no doubt take place as these two field generals adjust and counter adjust to each other.
Colts vs. Ghosts of Coaches and Venues Past
It is worth noting that there is more to this matchup than the casual fan may realize. The Colts organization used to reside in Baltimore before Robert Irsay, father of current Colts owner Jim Irsay, moved the team to Indianapolis in 1984 in a bitter divorce between team and city. If that weren’t enough to create an awkward situation, Jim Caldwell, the coach Indianapolis fired following their 2-14 season last year, is now the offensive coordinator for the Ravens. Along with the regular playoff intensity will be some semblance of revenge amongst Ravens staff, players, and fans. The crowd impact when the Colts are on offense should be measurable and could cause difficulties in communication. Edge: Ravens 24-17
London Fletcher vs. Marshawn Lynch
A classic unstoppable force versus immovable object matchup can be found in the Redskins versus Seahawks game. Lynch carried the load all year for the Seahawks and was able to rush for a career best 1,590 yards and 11 touchdowns. London Fletcher is also having one of his best seasons in his 15th year in the league with 139 tackles, three sacks, and five interceptions. Lynch already has one of the more memorable runs in wildcard history when he ran over and through the Saints’ defense for 67 yards to ice the game in the 2011 playoffs. He will be looking to show his skills once again and lead Seattle to another upset victory this year.
Russell Wilson vs. Robert Griffin III
The other two rookie quarterbacks in the 2013 playoffs are facing off as RG3 and the Redskins take on Russell Wilson and the Seahawks. Both are mobile quarterbacks, both have top five running games supporting them, and both have played mistake free football en route to getting their teams to the playoffs. The only major difference between these two teams is in the defenses. Seattle is sixth in the league in total yards, while the Redskins are 30th. If yards doesn’t tell the whole story, points definitely does as Seattle has given up only 245 points this season to the Redskins’ 388. Young teams can play uncharacteristically in the playoffs, but Russell Wilson should be able to rally his troops and get it done as he has proven throughout the season. Edge: Seahawks 28-14
Arian Foster vs. Cincinnati front seven
The Texans offense is predicated on balance and Arian Foster played a big part in establishing that balance rushing for 1,424 yards this season. The Bengal defense has played the run well this year allowing just over 105 yards a game which is good for 12th in the league. Teams that have been able to stop Arian Foster such as the Patriots, Vikings, and Packers have dominated the Texans in those matchups. The Bengals definitely watched that film and will be focusing in on the run. If they can force the Texans to be one dimensional, they will be able to allow their pass rushers to get after Matt Schaub. If the Bengals are unable to contain the run, the Texans will be able to run play action passes and have the defense guessing as to what they are trying to do.
AJ Green vs. Jonathan Joseph
A pair of 2013 Pro Bowl players will be going head to head as one of the best young receivers in the game AJ Green takes on a shutdown corner in Jonathan Joseph. As is the case with many shutdown corners, Joseph’s impact often can’t be seen on a stat sheet. He only had two interceptions this year but returned one of them 52 yards for a touchdown. Although he doesn’t light up the stat sheet, a shutdown corner like Joseph will play a huge role in taking an opponent’s best receiver out of a game. This forces the quarterback to look for other options and can create opportunities for other defenders. The guy Joseph will liking be guarding in nearly every man coverage opportunity will be AJ Green, a second year player who burst on to the scene this year catching 97 balls for 1,350 yards and eleven touchdowns. Green’s size and speed make him a very difficult assignment for any corner. Despite Joseph’s credentials, expect Grover Quin or Daniel Manning to join him in double covering Green especially on third down. Edge: Texans 35-24