For the next 17 weeks of NFL regular season action, I will be previewing both an offensive and defensive rookie who will play a prominent role in his teams weekly match-up. For the opening week of the NFL schedule, we are going to take a closer look at running back Eddie Lacy of the Green Bay Packers who travel to San Francisco to face the vaunted 49ers defense. On the defensive side of the ball, I will be focusing on Miami Dolphins defensive end Dion Jordan and his game in Cleveland against the Browns.
Eddie Lacy - RB, Green Bay Packers
Defensively the San Francisco 49ers have been among the NFL’s elite since Jim Harbaugh took over in 2011. 2013 should be no different as the 49ers are simply loaded on the defensive side of the ball. If the Packers plan on protecting quarterback Aaron Rodgers, they are going to need to get Lacy going early and often in the running game. Lacy is a big bruising back with sneaky athleticism and wonderful feet. He is the type of back who gets better and better as the game wears on with his size and punishing running style and while running room will be hard to come by, he simply needs to keep the 49ers defense honest. If the 49ers can slow Lacy and the running game and make the Packers offense one dimensional, it will allow defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to unleash outside linebacker Aldon Smith and defensive end Justin Smith on Aaron Rodgers whose all important blindside will be protected by rookie 4th round pick left tackle David Bakhtiari. The Packers will look to establish Lacy early and could also take advantage of the 49ers aggressiveness with some draw plays or screen passes in the passing game. All-Pro inside linebacker duo Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman are going to make Lacy earn every inch of running room and if the Packers have any hope of leaving San Francisco with a victory on Sunday, they need their rookie back to run downhill and get after this 49er defense and keep Fangio guessing. If the running game falters, it could be a very long day for Aaron Rodgers, David Bakhtiari, and the entire Green Bay Packer offense.
Dion Jordan – DE, Miami Dolphins
One of the under the radar games of the week feature two of the league’s ascending franchises facing off in Cleveland, Ohio. The Miami Dolphins will face off against the Cleveland Browns in a game which features some high profile offensive players, but could ultimately become a defensive battle. Second year quarterback Brandon Weeden of the Cleveland Browns is coming off of a very strong pre-season in which he threw for over 300 yards and 3 Td’s with a 99.9 passer rating, but he has struggled mightily when he is under pressure in the past. Luckily for Weeden, the Browns have one of the better pass protecting units in the league featuring NFL All-Pro Joe Thomas at left tackle. But Thomas and the Browns offensive line will have their hands full on Sunday with a Miami front 4 featuring Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon, and the 3rd overall selection in the 2013 draft, Dion Jordan. Jordan is the real wild card in this scenario, as the former Oregon Duck is capable of lining up all over the front 7 and rushing the passer from a variety of positions. The Browns know that 2nd year right tackle Mitchell Scwartz is going to need some help containing Dolphins pro bowl defensive end Cameron Wake, but if Jordan is able to take advantage of the one on one match-up he will get with Joe Thomas he could make Brandon Weeden’s life miserable. A strong showing from Jordan could disrupt the flow of the Browns offense, take the crowd out of the game, and help the Dolphins offense eventually wear down the aggressive Cleveland defense. If Jordan and the Dolphins fail to consistently pressure Weeden, the former Oklahoma State star has proven capable of picking apart a defense and with injuries in the Dolphins secondary, the Browns could send the Dolphins back to Miami at 0-1.
Check back early next week for a recap of these match-ups and see if these rookies were able to rise to the occasion. Or, you can grab some tickets to see Lacy and Jordan live in action. The Dolphins begin in Cleveland this week, while the Pack head to San Francisco. You can purchase Green Bay Packers tickets here.