Matt Williamson's Prime Time Preview
Pittsburgh at Cleveland
Offensively, things have not gone to plan for the Browns thus far, but Baker Mayfield played one of his better games of the year in Week 10 and the offensive line doesn’t look to be quite as big of a liability as early in the season. That being said, Pittsburgh’s exceptional defensive front feasts on poor lines and quarterbacks that are not getting a clear picture of the defense. Mayfield is turning the ball over with interceptions and fumbles far too much still and the Steelers defense is causing turnovers at a very impressive clip. The Browns best formula in this game it to really put the offense on Nick Chubb’s shoulders. Chubb is quickly establishing himself as one of the NFL’s best ball carriers. Kareem Hunt returned from suspension last week and if that one game is any indication, it looks like the Browns will utilize both running backs on the field at the same time with Hunt often operating out wide. Cleveland isn’t short of impact receivers of course, but the Steelers secondary doesn’t have a weak link to attack either and Minkah Fitzpatrick is someone Mayfield should fear in the deep middle of the field. When Pittsburgh has the ball, dealing with Myles Garrett will mostly fall on Alejendro Villanueva’s shoulders, but the Steelers would be crazy if they didn’t give their left tackle consistent help in passing situations. It hasn’t always been pretty for Pittsburgh’s offense or Mason Rudolph, but there is slow steady progress being made with their passing game. This is unlikely to be a high scoring game, so like the Browns, Pittsburgh’s most likely approach is to lean heavily on James Conner, who is set to return from injury for this divisional contest. Neither of these team’s seasons has gone as most expected, but this should be a very spirited rivalry game for the nation to witness.
Chicago at Los Angeles Rams
Mitch Trubisky is having a brutal season, but he did show last week that he can still make a few big throws. That win over the Lions was probably his best game of the season, which isn’t saying much. But without question, Chicago’s offense has to go through David Montgomery and this coaching staff clearly recognizes that now. The problem is that every defense Chicago faces also understands this. The Rams are very difficult to run against though and overall, they are playing quite well on this side of the ball. Of course they are led by the game’s best player, Aaron Donald, but they also recently added another superstar in Jalen Ramsey, who is likely to follow Allen Robinson on Sunday night. Donald just creates so many problems. He is nearly unblockable and can wreck a game plan. Donald will make plays no matter what, but the Bears cannot allow him to take over the game. While Chicago’s defense isn’t where it was last year, it is still a very respectable unit that is stouter vs. the pass than run. It sure seems as though Todd Gurley is on some sort of “Pitch count”, but he has shown well when he actually gets the ball. It is somewhat amazing how little Los Angeles is using him in the passing game, especially with their quarterback having a rough season. As we saw last week when the Rams traveled to Pittsburgh, Jared Goff really has a tough time against a heavy pass-rush and Los Angeles has some injuries to their offensive line that has been a liability this year even when healthy. Getting Khalil Mack blocked is going to be a real chore. One of the biggest shocks of Week 10 was the Cooper Kupp ended his day without a catch. There is no way that happens again. Expect Kupp to get back to being a highly productive player on Sunday night. It should be noted that overall, the Bears have excelled on special teams in 2019, but neither of these teams are where they were a year ago.
Kansas City at Los Angeles Chargers
This game is in Mexico City, which is about as much of a home field advantage as the Chargers have for a normal home game. Patrick Mahomes is back and as usual, the Chiefs have one of the NFL’s very best offenses, but their rushing attack isn’t anything special. The Chargers have several excellent players on defense, but the unit as a whole has let this team down throughout the season. Speaking of excellent players, few passing games have a pairing like Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. No one in the NFL terrifies defensive coordinators like Hill while Kelce obviously provides a much different challenge to defend in the middle of the field. And no one schemes up the passing game better than Andy Reid. Philip Rivers is coming off a tough outing in Oakland and he might be in decline. He has been very up and down this year. The Chargers have a lot of very capable mouths to feed in the passing game. Mike Williams’ season has been very enigmatic. He could be set up for a breakout game, but Keenan Allen and Hunter Henry demand targets on a weekly basis. Austin Ekeler could provide a great and safe outlet option for Rivers as usual, but Melvin Gordon is starting to take over as the lead runner. Gordon now looks like his old self after starting slow after reporting from his holdout. Kansas City has been suspect on defense, but it is their run defense that is overwhelmingly more concerning. Keeping Chris Jones somewhat under wraps should prove very difficult for Los Angeles’ suspect offensive line. Immediate interior pressure, Jones’ specialty, could really disrupt Rivers and derail the Chargers passing game. Expect Los Angeles to rely on Gordon more than usual against a terrible Chiefs run defense while trying to keep Mahomes watching from the sidelines.