NFL Early Games Preview: Players to Watch

After digging into the numbers from STATS, Inc. this week,'s Ed Thompson points out some of the interesting players you should keep an eye on during the early slate of NFL games on Sunday.

Colts (0-1) at Vikings (0-1)

Joseph Addai:  He was stuffed for a loss on 3 of 12 attempts (25 percent) against the Bears and finished with just 44 rushing yards.

Reggie Wayne:  The Colts wide receiver caught ten passes out of 17 balls thrown in his direction last week. Ten of those attempts were on first down. Wayne had more passes thrown to him than any other receiver in the NFL last week.

Dwight Freeney: In addition to a sack, the speedy Colts defensive end was credited with four knockdowns.

Keiwan Ratliff:  The Colts' punt returner called for a fair catch on three out of four punt return opportunities.

Charles Gordon:  The Vikings cornerback will be looking to put together a stronger performance this week as he allowed the receivers he covered last week to catch all five pass attempts thrown in his area, ripping the Vikings for 101 yards.

Chris Kluwe:  The Vikings punter had the worst net punting average in the NFL last week at 27.8 yards on 5 punts.

Tarvaris Jackson: Just 20 percent of his pass attempts resulted in a first down for his team, third-worst in the league last week. But he averaged 7.2 yards per carry on his nine rushing attempts, moving the chains five times. Jackson converted all three third-down rushing attempts into a new set of downs for his team, averaging an 11-yard gain each time he took off. 

Adrian Peterson: The Vikings' talented running back struggled a bit on third-down attempts last week, converting just one of four third-down attempts while averaging 2.0 yards per carry on those plays.

Bears (1-0) at Panthers (1-0)

Adewale Ogunleye: The Bears DE leads the NFL with 2.5 stuffs, including a safety. The last time he played the Panthers, Ogunleye sacked the quarterback three times.

RB Matt Forte
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Matt Forte:  The first rookie running back to start in a season opener since Walter Payton back in 1975, the former Tulane star rushed for 123 yards and 5.3 yards per carry against the Colts. He converted four of six third-down opportunities to boot. His 23 carries were the most by a rookie running back last week, and that total put him in a tie for third-most carries by a back heading into Week 2.

Muhsin Muhammad:  Carolina QB Jake Delhomme threw 15 passes in Muhammad's direction last week. League-wide, only one other receiver had more opportunities than Muhammad. 

John Kasay: The Panthers kicker was 4 for 4 on field goals, with two of them 40-plus yard efforts.

Rhys Lloyd: The Panthers' other kicker, Lloyd booted all six of his kickoffs into the opponents' end zone last weekend, including four for touchbacks.

Jonathan Stewart:  While Panthers starter DeAngelo Williams rushed for 86 yards last week, first-round draft pick Jonathan Stewart carried the ball ten times and averaged 5.3 yards per carry.

Titans (1-0) at Bengals (0-1)

Albert Haynesworth: In addition to his two sacks, the Titans defensive tackle was also credited with a total of four knockdowns and one hurry.

RB Chris Johnson
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Chris Johnson:  One of the league's most exciting rookie running backs, Chris Johnson rushed for 93 yards in his season opener, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. He also caught three passes, including one for a touchdown. The former East Carolina runner broke four runs for 10-plus yards in his NFL debut.

Cortland Finnegan:  The Titans cornerback was the only player in the NFL last weekend to intercept a pair of passes.

Bo Scaife: Scaife was the only tight end in the league to post a pair of 25-plus-yard receptions last week. His six total catches helped him reach a career-high 105 yards receiving.

Carson Palmer: The Bengals quarterback had a dismal day against Baltimore last weekend. His 37.5 percent completion rate, 32.3 passer rating and 3.92 yards per attempt were the worst marks in those categories among starters last weekend. Palmer has a career 73.8 completion percentage against Tennessee.

Chris Perry: It wasn't a banner day for Perry either. The Bengals running back was stuffed four times on 19 attempts and finished the day with an average of just 2.2 yards per carry.

Chad Johnson: The Bengals wide receiver enters Sunday's game with a two-game streak of 100-plus receiving yards against the Titans.

Keith Rivers:  The first-round draft pick and former USC linebacker led the team with ten tackles in his first NFL start last week.

Packers (1-0) at Lions (0-1)

Mason Crosby:  The Packers kicker put all five of his kickoffs into the Vikings' end zone last week, including two for touchbacks.

QB Aaron Rodgers
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Aaron Rodgers: The Packers' new starting quarterback posted an 81.8-percent completion rate in his debut and is currently second in the league in that category.

Will Blackmon:  He led the league in punt return average with 26.0 yards on three returns, including one for a 76-yard touchdown for Green Bay.

Aaron Kampman: From his defensive end position, Kampman has posted two-plus sacks in the last two contests against Detroit.

Kevin Smith:  The Lions' rookie running back posted just 48 yards rushing in his debut, and was stuffed for a loss on four of his sixteen attempts. His resulting 25-percent stuff ratio put him in a tie with the Colts' Joseph Addai for worst in the league among backs with at least ten rushing attempts.

Calvin Johnson:  The Lions receiver accumulated a career-high 107 receiving yards and tied his career-best 7 receptions in a single game.

Nick Harris: Detroit's punter averaged 4.69 seconds hang time on his six punt attempts last weekend, second-best in the NFL.

Kalvin Pearson:  The Lions safety leads the league in solo special teams tackles with four after Week 1.

Bills (1-0) at Jaguars (0-1)

Terrence McGee:  The Bills cornerback allowed just four completions last week, even though he had 13 passes thrown his way.

KR Roscoe Parrish
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Roscoe Parrish:  He was the only punt returner in the league last week to break a tackle on three different punt returns. Parrish didn't call for a fair catch on any of his six attempts and the Bills' specialist averaged 20 yards per return, including one for a career-best 63-yard touchdown.

Chris Kelsay:  The Buffalo defensive end didn't get a sack, but he had four quarterback knockdowns and a hurry last weekend.

Robert Royal:  The Bills' tight end caught a career-high six receptions for 52 yards and a score against the Seahawks last week.

David Garrard:  After throwing just two interceptions last season, the Jaguars' quarterback threw a pair in his season opener against the Titans. He was sacked seven times, more than any other quarterback in the league.

Brian Witherspoon:  He led the NFL in kickoff return average last weekend with 41.3 yards on three returns for Jacksonville. Two of the three returns were for 40-plus yards.

Matt Jones:  The Jaguars wide receiver led the team in catches with six last week for 80 yards.

Derrick Harvey:  Jacksonville's young defensive end grabbed an interception in his NFL debut after being selected in the first round this past April.

Giants (1-0) at Rams (0-1)

Plaxico Burress:  He was one of three receivers to catch 10 balls in his season opener along with Houston's Andre Johnson and the Colts' Reggie Wayne. But Burress had the most yardage of the three with 133. His ten catches tied a regular-season personal record for receptions.

RB Brandon Jacobs
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Brandon Jacobs:  The Giants running back was one of just five backs to average better than five yards per carry in Week 1 action. Jacobs' 5.52-yard average helped him post a 116-yard game, his fourth-best total of his career.

Aaron Ross:  The Giants cornerback struggled in his opening game, allowing 8 of 10 passes he was defending to be completed. 

Eli Manning:  Manning is currently ranked third in the league in average passing yards at the point of the catch (9.9).

Tye Hill:  The Rams cornerback allowed eight of nine passes thrown his direction to be completed last weekend for a league-worst 154 yards and a TD.

Steven Jackson:  He scored two touchdowns against the Giants, one rushing and one receiving, the last time the two teams met.

Randy McMichael:  The Rams tight end was their leading receiver last week with five catches for 77 yards.

Saints (1-0) at Redskins (0-1)

Reggie Bush: The second-year player was the only running back to log a pair of 25-plus-yard catches in Week 1. In total, he caught eight balls for 112 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 51 yards.

QB Drew Brees
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Drew Brees: The Saints' quarterback heads into Week 2 with the second-highest passing yardage total with 343, but he got plenty of help from his receivers who averaged 9.5 yards after the catch, second-highest in the league. He completed five passes for 25-plus yards in his season opener, putting him in a tie for first place in that category.

Devery Henderson:  The Saints wide receiver had a career-long 84-yard touchdown catch last week.

Jason Campbell: Only 18.5 percent of his pass attempts resulted in a first down for his team last week, second-worst in the league.

Clinton Portis: He ran the ball 23 times last week, putting him in a tie for third-most among all backs. But the Redskins runner was also one of just three running backs to get stuffed for a loss four times in Week 1 action.

London Fletcher: The linebacker led the league with 17 total tackles for Washington last week.

Antwaan Randle-El:  The Redskins receiver caught six of seven passes thrown to him in the fourth quarter during the team's season opener.

Raiders (0-1) at Chiefs (0-1)

Justin Fargas:  Almost half of his 97 rushing yards during Monday night's game were earned in the fourth quarter, when Denver was more than happy to let Oakland keep the clock running. Fargas rushed for 139 yards against the Chiefs the last time they met.

WR-KR Johnnie Lee Higgins
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Johnnie Lee Higgins:  The Raiders' wide receiver and return specialist rang up a career-high 154 yards on his six kickoff returns last week.

Darren McFadden:  The number four pick overall in this year's NFL Draft only gained 46 yards on the ground in his debut, but he averaged 5.1 yards per carry.

Dwayne Bowe:  The Chiefs targeted their young wide receiver three times in the red zone during Week 1 action, and he grabbed one of those for a score.

Larry Johnson:  The Kansas City running back has rushed for 100-plus yards in his last four outings against the Raiders.

Donnie Edwards:  The Chiefs linebackers has five career sacks against Oakland and is the current NFL leader among active linebackers with 28 career interception.

A member of the Pro Football Writers of America, Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the network and at You can contact him by email through this link.

Most of the statistics referenced in this article are provided by STATS, LLC. Copyright 2008 by STATS, LLC. Any use or distribution of such Licensed Materials without the express written consent of STATS is strictly prohibited. 

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