Football can be reduced to a series of individual battles. In that spirit, our resident numbers cruncher Chris Trapasso is here each week to break down intriguing individual matchups for every game of the current NFL slate — and more importantly, give us a clue as to who will win those matchups. Here's our breakdown for Week 4. *Pro Football Focus was our source for grades and advanced stats.
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1. Giants at Bills: Charles Clay vs. Giants' ability to stop tight ends
Through three weeks, the Giants have allowed opposing tight ends to catch 20 of 26 targets for 243 yards and three touchdowns. A week ago, Buffalo's Clay had seven grabs for 82 yards with a touchdown. He's caught 12 of 17 targets on the season for 144 yards with two scores. At 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds with surprisingly good agility for a tight end, expect Clay to be heavily involved in the Bills' pass game — especially off play-action — and exploit New York's troubles against tight ends at all levels of the field en route to another big performance.
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2. Panthers at Buccaneers: Panthers run defense vs Buccaneers running backs
The Buccaneers are 26th in the NFL with a 3.6 yards-per-carry average and Doug Martin has the team's only 20-plus-yard run. But we can't fully blame Tampa Bay's running backs. The club's -50.1 run-blocking grade is last in football. All that doesn't bode well for the Buccaneers' ground game against the Panthers' brick-wall defensive front seven. Carolina's collective run-stopping grade is +7.1 and four defensive linemen, Kawann Short (+3.5) Kyle Love (+3.4), Wes Horton (+1.7) and Kony Ealy (+1.1), all have run-stopping ratings of +1.0 or higher. Even without Luke Kuechly manning the middle, the Panthers defense will stymie the Buccaneers run game in this intradivision contest.
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3. Browns at Chargers: Joe Haden vs. Keenan Allen
Allen has been Chargers QB Philip Rivers' favorite target this season. The third-year wideout has seen 39 targets through three games, with an astounding 35 of them coming in Weeks 1 and 3. In those two games, Allen caught a total of 27 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns. In the loss to the Vikings last Sunday, he racked up 12 catches for 133 yards with those two scores. Allen will square off against Haden, the Browns' star corner who's gotten off to a shockingly bad start to 2015. His -5.9 coverage grade is 96th out of 100 qualifying cornerbacks, and he's allowed a QB rating of 137 on the 21 passes thrown his way. Rivers will target Allen 10-plus times again, and the underrated wideout will have a field day.
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4. Eagles at Redskins: Eagles secondary vs. Kirk Cousins
Despite Byron Maxwell's well-documented, early-season struggles, the Eagles secondary has been surprisingly stingy heading into Week 4. Nolan Carroll (+3.0), Walter Thurmond (+1.7), Eric Rowe (+1.3) and Malcolm Jenkins (+1.3) all have positive pass-coverage grades, and the highest QB rating allowed by that foursome is Carroll's 86.5. Meanwhile, Cousins has been maddeningly inconsistent in 2015. While he's completed more than 69 percent of his passes, he's thrown three touchdowns to four interceptions and his 6.7 yards-per-attempt average ranks 27th out of 38 qualifying quarterbacks. The Redskins quarterback will have another rough outing.
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5. Jaguars at Colts: Jeremy Parnell vs. Erik Walden
Through three games, Jaguars RT Parnell has been a sturdy run-blocker. His +2.8 ground-game rating is the 11th-highest among 74 qualifying tackles. As a team, Jacksonville's RBs have carried the football directly behind Parnell on 10 occasions and have churned out 50 yards. The former Dallas Cowboys starter, fresh off a +1.3 pass-blocking grade in Week 3, will see plenty of Colts left OLB Walden, whose -6.0 overall grade is the lowest on Indy's D. He's actually registered a +2.0 rating against the run; however, he's accounted for only four QB pressures (no sacks) in 57 pass-rushing snaps this season. This isn't a super-glaring mismatch, but Parnell should be able to control Walden in this AFC South showdown.
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6. Texans at Falcons: Alfred Blue vs. Falcons linebackers
After a pair of disappointing efforts to begin the 2015 regular season, Blue exploded in Week 3 against the Buccaneers for 139 yards on 31 carries in place of Arian Foster. The former LSU Tiger forced six missed tackles on the groud last Sunday, a number outdone only by Adrian Peterson's nine. Falcons starting linebackers Paul Worrilow and Justin Durant have received respective run-stopping grades of -6.8 and -3.3. Foster could return soon, but Blue will feast on another soft run defense.
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7. Chiefs at Bengals: Justin Houston vs. Andre Smith
Houston is arguably the finest edge defender in the NFL and he's only 26 years old. His +15.1 overall grade after three games is the best among 3-4 outside linebackers, and the Chiefs star is almost as stout against the run as he is getting to the quarterback. From his left outside linebacker spot, Houston will primarily see Bengals right tackle Smith, the weak link on Cincinnati's stellar offensive line. Heading into this battle, Smith's overall grade of -7.6 is 60th out of 74 qualifying tackles, and he's allowed eight QB pressures on 99 pass-blocking snaps. Andy Dalton will be pressured often from the strong side in this one.
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8. Jets at Dolphins: Muhammad Wilkerson vs. Jason Fox or Branden Albert
Regardless of which left tackle takes the field for the Dolphins in London, he'll be at a major disadvantage against Wilkerson. Though Wilkerson takes many of his snaps on the defensive interior, from time to time he'll be asked to rush from the right end spot. The former first-round pick has amassed a whopping 15 QB pressures through three games, which is the most among down linemen. Left tackle Fox has a -5.0 pass-blocking grade on the season, and Albert (pictured) was given a -1.1 pass-block rating for his efforts in the first two Dolphins games.
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9. Raiders at Bears: Amari Cooper vs. Alan Ball
Cooper is making his early case for the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. In his first NFL game, he was held to five catches and 47 yards. Since then, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2015 draft has 15 snags on 20 targets for 243 yards and a touchdown. From his typical left wide receiver spot, Cooper will face the Bears right cornerback Ball, a guy who has allowed 13 catches, 187 yards and two touchdowns on 17 targets this season. Cooper's Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign will continue will another huge performance.
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10. Vikings at Broncos: Everson Griffen vs. Ty Sambrailo
Griffen is one of the NFL's most underrated pass-rushing defensive ends. He registered 64 QB pressures a season ago, the fifth-most among 4-3 defensive ends, and no defensive end has more QB pressures than his 16 to start the year. The USC product will square off against Sambrailo, the Broncos' rookie left tackle. In his first three professional games, Sambrailo has surrendered nine QB pressures en route to a -4.0 pass-blocking grade. Griffen vs. Sambrailo ... huge mismatch in the Vikings' favor.
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11. Packers vs. 49ers: Mike Daniels vs. Erik Pears
Many wondered where the Packers pass-rush would come from this season ... through three games, the majority of it has come from left defensive end Daniels. He's forced 12 QB pressures on just 83 pass-rushing snaps from his spot en route to a strong +6.1 pass-rushing grade. Daniels will lock arms with 49ers right tackle Pears for most of this NFC clash, a blocker who's allowed nine QB pressure so far, and his -7.6 overall grade is 60th out of 74 offensive tackles. San Francisco will have issues running toward Daniels, and the productive left end will leak through the line of scrimmage frequently to disrupt Colin Kaepernick in the pocket.
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12. Cowboys at Saints: Zack Martin vs. John Jenkins
Cowboys right guard Martin has picked off right where he left off as a rookie, as his +7.5 grade ranks fourth among 75 qualifying guards. He'll see a lot of mammoth left defensive nose tackle Jenkins. While the 6-foot-3, 355-pounder hasn't been terrible to begin the year, he has only three QB pressures and has received a mediocre +0.1 run-stopping grade. As usual, the Cowboys will dominate up front, especially when Martin and Jenkins battle for position.
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13. Rams at Cardinals: Rams rushing attack vs. Cardinals run defense
The Cardinals are sixth in run defense, allowing 3.6 yards per carry. Safety Deone Bucannon has the team's worst run-stopping grade at -4.1, but impressively, of the 20 Arizona defenders who've been on the field this season, from Calais Campbell at +3.2 to Lamar Woodley at -1.4, there aren't many weak spots in the Cardinals' run-stopping units. St. Louis' ground game has struggled mightily, averaging only 3.8 yards per rush. Actually, 24 of the team's 214 rushing yards came on an end-around by WR Chris Givens. Nick Foles must piece together an effective outing to give the Rams offense a legitimate chance to move the football and consistently score points against this division rival.