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. Last week we focused on St. Louis Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin, who had 6 catches for 48 yards and 2 Td’s against the Atlanta Falcons. We also highlighted Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and how his presence could effect the Buffalo Bills running game.
Justin Pugh – Right Tackle, New York Giants
The New York Giants enter Sunday’s game in Carolina against the Panthers at 0-2 and desperate for a win. The Panthers are in the exact same situation after last weeks loss to the Buffalo Bills, also looking for their first victory of the season. The Panthers defense has been much improved this season and much of their success is due to their powerful defensive front. If the Giants have any hopes of establishing a running game or getting Eli Manning and the passing game going, the Giants are going to have to protect their star quarterback. Rookie right tackle Justin Pugh will be matched up with defensive ends Charles Johnson, Greg Hardy, and situational pass rusher Frank Alexander throughout Sundays game and he is sure to have his hands full. Pugh has been solid at times this season but frankly has struggled at the point of attack in the running game. Despite his struggles in run blocking, Pugh is a technician with excellent feet in pass protection but he could have trouble with the Panthers physical and athletic edge rushers. Pugh struggled while at Syracuse to consistently anchor against a bull rush, something that Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy do very well. Sacks and penalties will kill drives and keep momentum on the other side of the field, which makes Pugh’s playing a strong game vital to the Giants success. If the Giants can keep Eli Manning clean, he will be able to pick apart a struggling Carolina secondary which is giving up over 290 yards per game against the pass. The Giants have one of the more dangerous 3 receiver sets in the NFL and the Panthers know how important pressuring Manning will be for the defense. While the Panthers have struggled offensively thus far in 2013, they have a strong running game and quarterback Cam Newton is one of the league’s most exciting playmakers, always capable of lighting up the scoreboard. Manning and the Giants offense will need to score early and try to take the running game out of the equation and let Perry Fewell and the defense focus their attention on containing Newton.
Jarvis Jones – LB, Pittsburgh Steelers
This weeks Sunday night football match-up features two teams seemingly headed in opposite directions. The Chicago Bears are off to a fast start at 2-0 and clicking on both sides of the ball. The Pittsburgh Steelers on the other hand have stumbled out of the gate and struggled to generate anything offensively thus wasting the strong early showing of the Steelers defense. The Bears have a balanced offensive attack under new head coach Mark Trestman and have done a good job keeping Jay Cutler upright and the offense has flourished as a result. One of the keys for the Steelers on Sunday night will be slowing Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, and the passing game. In order to do that, the Steelers are going to have to dial up the pressure and try and make Jay Cutler as uncomfortable in the pocket as possible. When he has time, Jay Cutler is as good as there is at the NFL level. But when pressured, Cutler gets happy feet, will try to force the ball into tight windows, lose his composure, and eventually turn the ball over. Steelers outside linebacker Jarvis Jones will play a big role in the Pittsburgh pass rush and will be matched up against the Bears prize free agent signing, left tackle Jermon Bushrod. Jones has made strides in the Steelers defense and has begun pushing current starter Jason Worilds for his spot in the line-up, but will still get a majority of the reps. Steelers defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau will have to get creative in his blitz packages in order keep Cutler uncomfortable and showcase the rare playmaking ability of last years NCAA leader in sacks, tackles for loss, and forced fumbles. If Bushrod and the Bears offensive line are able to stifle the Steelers “blitzburgh” defensive attack, then the Bears fast and physical passing attack will run up and down the field on the Steelers aging secondary.