As the 2019 NFL regular season rolls into Week 6, NFL Network analyst and former Super Bowl-winning executive Charley Casserly provides five storylines to watch on Sunday.
1) Teddy's audition to become a high-priced free agent continues.
With Drew Brees reportedly pushing to return by Week 8 -- even though Week 10, after the Saints' bye week, seems like the more likely return date -- Teddy Bridgewater's audition to become a high-priced free agent next offseason might end after another two or three games. Bridgewater has had quite the performance in 2019, leading the Saints to a 3-0 record as a starter by completing 74.7 percent of his pass attempts for 228 pass yards per game, 6-2 TD-INTs and a 108.5 passer rating. It's no secret that Bridgewater's arm strength doesn't top the charts, but he can make all the throws and has improved his downfield accuracy. In a Week 5 win over Tampa Bay, the Saints QB averaged 7.3 air yards per attempt -- up from 5.5 in Weeks 2-4, per Next Gen Stats. Bridgewater was outstanding against the Buccaneers and looked like the quarterback we believed he would become before his major knee injury in 2016.
So what happens next offseason when his one-year contract (worth $7.25 million, fully guaranteed) is up? In my opinion, Bridgewater is better than Nick Foles, who is making more than $20 million per year. If Bridgewater can continue to play at a high level until Brees' return, including in a road game against the Jaguars on Sunday, he will set himself up for a big payday in March. With so many quarterback questions around the league this season, I expect teams to be aggressive in trying to sign Bridgewater. The list of suitors may or may not include the Saints, who must start thinking about the future at the position.
The team whose running backs have the most success will win this rematch of the 2017 NFC Championship Game. When looking at the matchup between Dalvin Cook and the Eagles' top-ranked run defense, it's going to be a grind for Minnesota's RB1. Philly has allowed just 63 rush yards per game this season. Look for Cook to start his runs on the outside then cut back to the inside. He has had a lot of success on one-cut runs, and he has a chance to continue that trend by running inside -- where opponents have had some success against the Eagles -- toward defensive tackle Akeem Spence and linebacker Nigel Bradham. The Vikings must stay patient with the ground game. A four-yard gain is a win against this stout front, but as the game progresses, those small gains will turn into bigger ones.
When looking at the Eagles' three-headed monster in the backfield, it seems that Jordan Howard may be emerging as the team's RB1 with four touchdowns since Week 4. But my focus is on Darren Sproles and Miles Sanders, who can do damage in the pass game. This pair can hurt the Vikings' defense by targeting linebacker Anthony Barr, who is best-known as a blitzer, not a cover linebacker. Doug Pederson should be busy scheming ways to isolate Barr because he'll struggle against the quickness and cuts of Philly's backs, and he's been beaten in zone coverage with crossing routes. This is where Philly has a major edge when its offense is on the field.
The Los Angeles Rams' defense has struggled over the past two games, giving up a season-high 55 points to Tampa Bay in Week 4 and 30 points to Seattle in Week 5. In a second-straight NFC West matchup against the 49ers on Sunday, the Rams' secondary looks most vulnerable. Their recent struggles in coverage stem from a lack of man-to-man cover ability, and a number of wide receivers have taken advantage against Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. (UPDATE: Rams coach Sean McVay said Friday that Talib won't play against the 49ers on Sunday due to a rib injury.) Peters often guesses on routes and quick or double moves will routinely beat him. The 33-year-old Talib isn't a top-speed cornerback anymore and there are times when receivers beat him on sudden moves due to the tightness in his hips. These areas of concern in man coverage force the unit to play more zone defense, leaving big holes for easy completions. This weekend's game presents Jimmy Garoppolo with a big opportunity to improve the 49ers' 24th-ranked passing attack, which features George Kittle, Dante Pettis, Marquise Goodwin and Deebo Samuel.
The 49ers rank in the top five in most defensive categories heading into Week 6, and their ferocious pass rush has a lot to do with it. Nick Bosa and Co. gave Baker Mayfield fits all game long last week, so how can the Rams limit the Niners' strong front? There are a number of things Los Angeles must do, but moving the throwing point of Jared Goff could be a major help. The Rams can do this by running bootlegs or rollouts to get Goff outside the tackles to throw the ball, or use run-pass option plays to slow the defensive ends. Speaking of defensive ends, Bosa must be double-teamed because we saw how quickly he can take over a game last week. His best move is his inside rush, so sliding the protection should prevent him from feasting with that move. Chipping him with a tight end or running back is also a good idea. Rams center Brian Allen, one of the unit's weaker links, will have his work cut out for him against DeForest Buckner and must get help. Otherwise, the former first-rounder will run all over Allen. If the Rams' offensive line can execute in the trenches and give Goff time to throw, he can pick the 49ers' defense apart with some of the best skill position players in the league.
When an interim head coach takes over a struggling team midseason, the first things to address are glaring issues that have kept the club from being successful. In the Washington Redskins' case with the recent firing of Jay Gruden, the feeling around the organization was there was a lack of attention to detail across the board in missed assignments, effort and motivation. Knowing interim head coach Bill Callahan's philosophy, I expect practices to be much more physical and for Callahan to change the culture in the building by demanding more out of his players and the staff. Expect his demand for more physical practices to translate into a big dose of running plays for veteran Adrian Peterson. The approach and effort the Redskins show in this weekend's contest against the Dolphins -- another winless team -- will be very telling about the direction Washington heads going forward.