Week 11 NFL Preview: What will be the deciding factor in this week's games?
The playoffs are a little over six weeks away and the contenders and pretenders are seperating themselves. In our Week 11 preview, we break down five NFL games with huge playoff implications.
Tennessee Titans @ Baltimore Ravens
With neither the Titans nor the Ravens being the dominant forces they were at the end of last season, both need to get a win before they find themselves too far behind the pace. Baltimore have struggled through key injuries on offense, and will need to alter their run game after losing TE Nick Boyle in Week 10. Instead, they will increase their 2RB formations, or utilise FB Patrick Ricard more than they have been, in order to disguise their runs up the middle and to the outside, as well as which player is carrying the ball.
The Ravens will also need to improve their passing game, although their preference for quick underneath throws should help them take advantage of a Titans’ defense that has had difficulty covering quick slants and shorter routes over the middle. Tennessee’s defense has been below average against the run and the pass in 2020, so Baltimore may be able to get one aspect of their offence going and lean on that a little more.
Tennessee may be able to generate pressure against a struggling Ravens’ OL, but it hasn’t done much yet this season, with the equal-second fewest sacks this season. The Titans, however, will want to lean on their run game with RB Derrick Henry, and will aim to have him lined up against rookie LB Patrick Queen, who has struggled diagnosing run plays at times.
Tennessee will try to take their shots deep, but the Ravens are unlikely to leave themselves exposed in this way, after the Titans were able to get an early lead in the playoffs last season in this manner. Instead, Tennessee needs to ensure they keep QB Ryan Tannehill upright against the Ravens’ frequent blitzing, and shorter out routes to WR Corey Davis and TE Jonnu Smith could be more effective. The Ravens have been the better defense this season, but their offense is struggling so much that the Titans should hang around for most of the game.
Philadelphia Eagles @ Cleveland Browns
While Philadelphia are struggling to stay atop their division, the Browns are essentially fighting for a wildcard spot only at this point. The Eagles need to find a way to move the ball more consistently, and although their run game has been sufficient, the Browns have been better against the run than the pass.
Cleveland’s DL should cause problems all game long for Philadelphia’s RBs, as well as QB Carson Wentz. With Wentz struggling with his reads, decision-making and ball placement, the Eagles need to run more often, but too often find themselves behind, and against the Browns are not the team to try and increase the amount of rushing plays.
Philadelphia could have a pass-friendly situation against Cleveland’s secondary, especially deeper sideline throws, but it needs to withstand the Browns’ pass rush. Cleveland, meanwhile, will be a run-first team as they should welcome back RB Nick Chubb, giving them their 1-2 punch of Chubb and Kareem Hunt. With Hunt providing more of an option as a receiver than Chubb, Cleveland should use him often in this capacity to get him against the LBs on the outside, as the Eagles have struggled to cover players with their LBs every week.
Although the Browns also need to get their passing game going more consistently, their offense will be funnelled through the RBs in this game. Philadelphia’s pass rush has had some good games, but if they can’t do enough against Chubb and Hunt, it won’t be enough to win the game.
Green Bay Packers @ Indianapolis Colts
Although the Packers have been one of the best offenses in the league most weeks this season, the Colts’ defense has also been consistently strong. With their CBs improving, LBs tackling well and covering RBs effectively, and the DL getting pressure on QBs, teams have struggled to move the ball often.
However, the Colts also haven’t faced a WR like Davante Adams often this season, and his ability to separate over the middle and on vertical deep routes will test the abilities of Indy’s secondary. With Adams drawing extra attention, fellow WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling could see targets on intermediate routes over the middle, or down the sideline when he has single coverage. QB Aaron Rodgers won’t be able to throw to his TEs on short out and curl routes, or RBs on swings and screens, and will need to find other players further downfield instead, as Indianapolis’ LBs will mostly take away these shorter options.
Green Bay’s own defense shouldn’t have much of a problem closing down an inconsistent and mediocre Colts’ passing attack, and will use their Safety depth to match up against the 2TE sets the Colts frequently use. Indianapolis needs to continue using their full complement of RBs, as they each offer different skill sets, and the Packers have had struggles against the run the last few games.
RB Nyheim Hines is a shiftier, more agile back who is more of a receiver, while Jonathan Taylor is a more physical runner who draws extra defenders. By continuing to fake handoffs to Taylor, and getting Hines into space up the middle, Indianapolis can move the ball throughout the game, but might not find the end zone enough. Both teams sit atop their division currently, but this game will ultimately be a test of whether they will be competitive in the playoffs.
Kansas City Chiefs @ Las Vegas Raiders
When these teams last met, the Raiders walked away the surprise victors, earning recognition as a contender. Las Vegas will hope they can run similar defensive schemes this time, but Kansas City are unlikely to make zero changes themselves. Instead of constantly pressuring QB Patrick Mahomes, the Raiders dropped players in coverage, cluttering the middle of the field, taking away throwing lanes, and had Safety help over the top for the CBs.
The Chiefs will use more TE and WR screens, as well as WR motion/handoff plays, instead of attacking vertically. Although Kansas City will have to settle for small gains at a time, after doing this for a while, especially if they can score in this way, the Raiders will need to open up space somewhere and bring extra defenders up to the line of scrimmage.
The Chiefs have better weapons on offense than Raiders on defense, but unless the Chiefs can get the ball to those weapons, the offense will be ineffective. While Kansas City wants to run the ball at times, they have been an inconsistent and overall average rushing offense this season, while the Raiders have been an average run defense too.
The Raiders’ own rushing attack is much better, as they are currently seventh in the league in total rushing yards, although their yards per carry is closer to the league average. This is the blueprint for the Raiders to win again, as Kansas City are currently allowing 4.8 yards per carry, which is equal-fourth worst in the league.
Although the Chiefs’ LBs struggle in coverage, and at times over pursue, leaving the backside exposed to counters and play action/fake handoffs, they can use their nickel Safety to help defend against the 22 and 21 personnel sets frequently used by Las Vegas. The Raiders will have mixed success with their WRs, but really rely on RB Josh Jacobs more than anything else. Kansas City won’t want to be swept by a divisional rival, but motivation may not be enough if the Raiders have another good game plan in store.
Los Angeles Rams @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With the Buccaneers yo-yoing back into form in Week 10, the question remains if they can stay effective against a Rams team that has been equally up and down at times in 2020. Tampa Bay finally managed to get the ball to WR Mike Evans, and are getting their pieces in place on offense. Although QB Tom Brady continues to target the inside/slot receiver and his TEs more than the outside, with WR Chris Godwin back, defenses need to decide between giving extra help against him or the outside receivers in Evans and Antonio Brown.
Tampa Bay needs to remain balanced on offense though, as the Rams’ CB will be tasked with eliminating either Evans or Brown, and the pass rush led by DL Aaron Donald will frequently penetrate the pocket. By continuing to run the ball, it gives Donald and co. pause, as well as provides extra short yardage on second and third down. The Rams’ defensive front hasn’t been as strong against the run, and with a TE up the middle and a RB sprung to the outside, their Safety Taylor Rapp will be exposed by one or the other. Tampa Bay’s pass game is their strength, but it only works when they run the ball too.
Los Angeles, however, are generally a pass-first team, and are expanding their own WR corps as Josh Reynolds and Van Jefferson are seeing more snaps alongside Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods. While the Buccaneers’ passing defense has been strong this season, their CB depth isn’t, and 3 and 4 WR sets will push them to their limit, especially with Jefferson, Kupp or Reynolds running an intermediate in route or slants patterns.
The Rams will also rotate through their RBs, and by mixing up their combinations of these 4WRs, their 2TEs and 3RBs, the Buccaneers will struggle to get into a rhythm and diagnose plays quickly. The physical run styles of Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson will open up holes through the middle, slowing down the pass rush, as well as keeping LBs Lavonte David and Devin White from using their speed to get to the outside and breaking up passes quickly.
Despite their offensive versatility, the Rams’ defense may not be able to get enough stops of their own, unlike Tampa Bay’s much more aggressive defense. With injuries along the OL for Los Angeles as well, the heavy blitz approach used by Tampa Bay could be even more dangerous than usual.