Each week of the NFL season brings a new set of matchups, and with it, a new subset of positional groups and players going at each other. Even divisional rematches will often take slightly different form throughout the season due to injuries and ongoing team positional turnover. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the NFL Week 3 matchups and see if we can find any mismatches to potentially exploit.
Matchups might come at the player, unit, or even coaching levels. Note that this list is far from exhaustive. You can surely find many more mismatches across the league.
NFL Week 3 Matchups And Mismatches To Watch
Carolina Defense Versus Davis Mills
Someone break up the Panthers defense. Carolina is a popular NFL teaser leg this week, as the D gets more attention.
Entering the season, few regarded this group as one of the best, much less the most efficient in the entire league. But, according to Football Outsiders, that’s exactly where they rank after two weeks. Their -52% DVOA is off the charts.
Of course, playing the inept Jets and a QB prone to blow-ups in Jameis Winston boosts their rankings greatly. They won’t likely wind up as the best defense or even in the top five.
But, a close look at this roster reveals more talent than many may have assumed. Recent early-round picks adorn the depth chart — Brian Burns, Derrick Brown, Jeremy Chinn, Jaycee Horn, and Donte Jackson. This unit always had potential and might be fulfilling it under defensive coordinator Phil Snow following a season in which many survived a trial by fire.
Davis Mills will take snaps across from them. The third-round pick gets pressed into service far earlier than most anticipated following an injury to Tyrod Taylor serious enough to land him on Injured Reserve. Mills earned a fifth-round draft grade from PFF.
His first live action did not portend good things as he went just 8-for-18 with a QBR of 10.1.
Taylor played well enough to elevate a Texans squad that many considered the league’s worst entering the season, but his steady veteran hand (and legs) will be sorely missed here.
Bengals Run Defense Versus Steelers Offensive Line
Another one of the surprises of the early season has been the quality of the Cincinnati Bengals defense.
Football Outsiders rates them as the seventh-most efficient unit in the league thus far. They have allowed just 4.5 yards per play, good for fourth in the league. Unlike the Panthers, they’ve actually faced a competent offense in the early going in Minnesota.
Particularly up front, the Bengals have excelled, which counts as something of a surprise since they aren’t exactly loaded with talent. They pressure Kirk Cousins a ton in Week 1, and they have been excellent against the run, where FO ranks them second.
It’s the latter skill that may allow them to turn the Steelers into a one-dimensional group. Pittsburgh entered the season with PFF’s 31st-ranked offensive line.
They’ve done little to dispel that idea. Despite handing to Najee Harris plenty, the first-rounder has managed just 3.2 YPA. And that came against the Bills and Raiders, two units not known for their stout run defenses.
Expect Harris to continue running into a wall of frustration, and the Steelers to turn to the passing game early and often.
49ers Pass Protection Versus Packers Pass Rush
The 49ers only managed 17 points last week, but the offense stalling a bit hasn’t been the line’s fault. They’ve played very well so far, allowing just one sack and the fourth-lowest adjusted sack rate according to Football Outsiders.
Sure, they faced the Lions in Week 1, but the Eagles have a pretty competent group of pass rushers. Guys like Fletcher Cox and Derek Barnett can ruin your offense’s day in a hurry if you don’t properly account for them. Pro Football Reference only credited their defense with two pressures the entire game.
Jimmy Garoppolo might not be the most talented or efficient QB in the league, but he gets some time to work, he’s perfectly capable of picking your defense apart. And it seems likely he’ll have that time, particularly against this Packers pass rush.
That group has been poor in the early going. They’re dead last in sack percentage, bringing down the QB on only 1.72% of opposing dropbacks. They made Jared Goff look like a dangerous opponent on Monday night as they let him fire away from clean pockets for more than half of the game.
An injury to Za’Darius Smith, their most talented pass rusher, doesn’t help matters.
If the Lions can handle this pass rush, the 49ers and top offensive schemer Kyle Shanahan might have a field day.
Broncos Defensive Scheme Versus Zach Wilson
Last week in this space, we highlighted how Jets QB Zach Wilson was likely in for a tough week. He had to face off with a Bill Belichick defense famously brutal on rookie quarterbacks. In just his second NFL start, no less.
Sure enough, a beleaguered Wilson hurled an incredible four INTs in a mere 37 passing attempts.
Not to be outdone, Broncos Head Coach Vic Fangio will bring his own strong defense to bear in Week 3.
The key here comes from Fangio’s zone-heavy scheme. Fangio prefers to eschew heavy blitzes and let his defensive backs keep their eyes in the backfield. That figures to play awfully well against a quarterback who has struggled to get his processing speed up to snuff and make quality decisions against NFL defenses.
Even with Ronald Darby lost to injury, the Denver defense still features ballhawks like Kareem Jackson, Justin Simmons and the newly drafted Patrick Surtain II, who snagged his first pick last week. They’ll have watchful eyes on Wilson to see if he can’t reign in his looseness with the football.