NFL Late Games Preview: Players to Watch's Ed Thompson took a look at the numbers from STATS, Inc this week and points out the players to watch in the late afternoon slate of games and in Sunday night's big divisional matchup between the Browns and the Steelers.

Patriots (1-0) at Jets (1-0)

Matt Cassel: Stepping in for the injured Tom Brady last week, Cassel completed 72.7 percent of his passes for 152 yards and a score. Out of his 18 pass attempts, just three were made on first-down plays. Oddly enough, he didn't attempt to throw a single pass across the middle.  

Randy Moss:  The Patriots' deep-threat had a huge first half against the Chiefs with 111 yards of receiving on five catches, including a touchdown reception. But he was limited to a total of five yards in the second half, targeted with just one pass during the final 30 minutes of play.

Rodney Harrison:  The veteran safety finished second in the league with 14 total tackles last week.

LB Mike Vrabel: The Patriots linebacker was active as a pass rusher, logging two sacks while being credited with three quarterback knockdowns and a hurry against the Chiefs.

Brett Favre: In his debut as the Jets' quarterback, Favre completed 68.2 percent of his passes. He was very effective on third down when the team needed three to seven yards, converting three out of four chances. Favre was slightly sharper to his left and across the middle than he was throwing to his right. He tossed three pass attempts of 20-plus yards, completing two of them.

Thomas Jones: The Jets running back averaged 4.6 yards per carry while tallying 101 yards for the day against Miami. He was at his best on second down, averaging 6.6 yards per carry. Jones seemed to lose some steam in the fourth quarter, averaging just 2.8 yards per carry on five runs. He had his best success running to the right side behind the guard or tackle, but not wide right.

Ben Graham: He had the worst average hang time of all punters in the NFL in Week 1, averaging just 3.59 seconds on six punts for the Jets.

Wallace Wright:  The Jets wide receiver made three solo special teams tackles against the Dolphins.

49ers (0-1) at Seahawks (0-1)

J.T. O'Sullivan:  The 49ers quarterback completed 70 percent of his passes last week for 195 yards in his first career start, but he averaged just 3.4 yards passing at the point of the catch, third-lowest in the league. His receivers tacked on another 10.5 yards after the catch to boost his overall results. No other quarterback got that much help after the catch last week. O'Sullivan was also the only player in the NFL last week to lose two fumbles.

RB Frank Gore
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Frank Gore: He averaged 6.9 yards per carry on his 14 attempts and scored a touchdown for San Francisco last week, but he earned 41 of his 96 yards on one touchdown run. He got his best results last week running right up the middle, but he was also effective hitting the guard-tackle gaps on both sides.

Bryant Johnson:  The 49ers receiver has caught a touchdown pass in four of the last five contests against Seattle. He caught three passes for 48 yards last week, including a 31-yard strike up the middle on a first-down play.

Parys Haralson:  The third-year linebacker notched two sacks last week, almost matching his output during his first two years when he recorded a total of 2.5 sacks in 23 game appearances. Although he hurt his shoulder in the game, he's expected to play against Seattle.

Matt Hasselbeck:  San Francisco should bring the blitz often during this matchup since the Seahawks quarterback completed just three of 12 pass attempts -- a league worst 25 percent -- against the blitz last weekend against the Bills. Hasselbeck did throw one TD pass under pressure, but was also sacked three times when the Bills executed a blitz. His 40.0-percent completion rate was second-worst in the league last week. He was sacked a total of five times, second-most of any QB in the league.

John Carlson:  The rookie tight end grabbed four passes for 52 yards in his NFL debut last week after being drafted earlier this year in the second round. His biggest catch was a 20-yarder on a first down play to the right side of the field.

Marcus Trufant:  The Seahawks' top cornerback grabbed two interceptions against the 49ers last September. Last week he made five tackles (four solo) and defended two passes.

Chargers (0-1) at Broncos (1-0)

Philip Rivers: The Chargers quarterback was one of just three passers to toss three touchdown passes in Week 1. He was particularly sharp on second-down plays, completing 71.4 percent of his passes.

CB Antoine Cason
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Antoine Cason:  The Chargers' first-round selection had a noteworthy debut, making six tackles (five solo), defending a pass and forcing a fumble.

LaDainian Tomlinson:  The team's primary offensive weapon had 97 yards rushing and a 4.6 yards-per-carry average last week against Carolina. He only had one carry on third down, but he rolled for nine yards on that one opportunity. L.T. averaged 8.8 yards per carry on wide runs up the sidelines. 

Mike Scifres:  He had the best hang time of any punter in the league last week, averaging 4.93 seconds per punt on five attempts for San Diego.

Jay Cutler: The Broncos quarterback leads the league in yards per attempt (12.50) and is second in passer rating (137.5). He also leads the league in average passing yards at the point of the catch (12.1).

Eddie Royal:  A second-round pick in this year's draft out of Virginia Tech, Royal leads all wide receivers in receiving yards after his 146-yard debut last Monday night. And he caught seven passes for first downs, second-most in the league in Week 1.

Michael Pittman:  The Broncos running back scored on two of his five red zone carries.

D.J. Williams:  He made seven stops for Denver against the Raiders, and logged a 9-yard sack to boot.

Falcons (1-0) at Buccaneers (0-1)

Michael Turner:  The Falcons running back, who led the NFL with 220 rushing yards against the Lions last week, continued to pound Detroit's offense during the fourth quarter, averaging almost eight yards per carry on seven touches. Turner finished the day with eight rushes for 10-plus yards while teammate Jerious Norwood broke free for five more. Turner also earned 11 first downs for his team on the ground. 

Jerious Norwood:  Averaged 6.6 yards per carry, second-best in the league while rushing for 93 yards last week. He averaged 8.1 yards per carry on first-down snaps.

DE John Abraham
Marc Serota/Getty Images

John Abraham: The Falcons defensive end got off to a good start with three sacks last week, including a pair in the fourth quarter.

Grady Jackson: Jackson was bullish against the run last week from his defensive tackle position, registering two stuffs for a loss of six yards for Atlanta.

Matt Ryan: He showed good poise for a rookie quarterback and made a splash with a 62-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. But he completed just eight passes for 99 yards the rest of the day, so it'll be interesting to see how he fares this week.

Brian Griese: Stepping in for Jeff Garcia, Griese will make his first start since November 11, 2007 when he was playing for Chicago. In seven games with the Bears last year, he completed 61.5 percent of his passes, threw ten touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. Seven of those interceptions occurred on first-down throws. Keep an eye on how Griese does on throws of 20-plus yards. He completed just one of 15 attempts that were targeted 21 to 30 yards from the line of scrimmage last year.

Ronde Barber: The veteran cornerback didn't turn in one of his stronger performances last week for Tampa Bay. He was burned four out of five times that passes were thrown his direction, giving up 123 yards and a TD.

Earnest Graham:  The Bucs' top running back rushed for 91 yards last week on just 10 carries, with 46 of those yards came on one explosive run. The rest of the day he still averaged a very solid 4.5 yards per run. In two contests last year against Atlanta, Graham had his best success up the middle and to the right side.

Joey Galloway:  The 36-year-old receiver pulled in six balls for 56 yards last week, with two of them resulting in first downs. Galloway was targeted 13 times during the game, with six of those passes tossed his way on third down. He caught all four passes to the left side, except for those thrown wide left. He pulled in just one of four opportunities up the left sideline for a five-yard gain. 

Dolphins (0-1) at Cardinals (1-0)

Edgerrin James: The veteran running back started out his tenth NFL season strong with a 100-yard day. He averaged better than 4.0 yards per carry when he ran anywhere other than between the two guards. When running up the middle of the field, he was limited to just 2.3 yards per touch. He carried the ball 26 times, more than any other back in Week 1.

QB Kurt Warner
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Kurt Warner: The Cardinals quarterback showed his veteran savvy against the 49ers defense last Sunday, completing nine of 11 passes (81.8 percent) against the blitz for 71 yards and a touchdown.

Dirk Johnson:  Arizona's  punter had the second-best net punting average last week at 45.0 yards on four punts.

Chad Pennington:  Even though he had a solid debut for Miami, Pennington wasn't sharp in the red zone last weekend, completing just three out of ten passes. And although two of those three completions resulted in scores, he also tossed an interception in the red zone on the Dolphins' final possession with them trailing by just six points.

Anthony Fasano: The Dolphins tight end stood tall for his team in the fourth quarter, reeling in all six passes thrown his way for 68 yards. He caught eight passes during the day for 84 yards and a touchdown.

Ricky Williams:  Averaged just 2.4 yards per carry on ten carries after an impressive preseason. Williams' longest run of the day was just six yards.

Yeremiah Bell:  The Dolphins safety tied linebacker Channing Crowder for the team lead in tackles last week with ten, including seven solo efforts. He also forced a fumble.

Sunday Night Matchup: Steelers (1-0) at Browns (0-1)

Willie Parker: 
The Steelers running back broke four runs for 10-plus yards last weekend, including one for a score as he rolled up 138 yards, the second-highest rushing total in the league. What was truly noteworthy was that Parker had good success no matter which hole he hit. Other than his 32-yard run up the right sideline, he averaged roughly four yards per carry running to his left, and roughly five yards per carry up the middle or to the right. He had just five carries in the red zone, and he converted three of them into touchdowns for Pittsburgh. Parker carried the ball 25 times, second-most in the league last week.

LB James Harrison
Kevin Terrell/Getty Images

LB James Harrison:  The Steelers linebacker had a huge game last week with three sacks and a forced fumble while being credited with eight tackles.

Ben Roethlisberger:  He was 4-4 in the red zone last weekend, tossing two touchdowns. Hines Ward caught both of those passes, grabbing all three pass attempts thrown his way inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Roethlisberger leads the NFL with a 92.9 completion percentage and a 147.0 passer rating.

Hines Ward:  The veteran receiver snagged all six of the balls thrown to his area for 76 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged 12.7 yards per catch, and four of his receptions resulted in first downs for the Steelers.

Derek Anderson: The Browns quarterback struggled on first down against Dallas, completing just 30 percent of his ten throws for 17 yards. He tried to throw up the left sideline nine times during the game, completing just four passes. And he completed just 38.5 percent of his passes when the team lined up in a three-wide receiver set.

Jamal Lewis:  He averaged 4.8 yards per carry on 13 attempts last week, but didn't get to run the ball on third down. All of his runs were directed between the guards and tackles.

Brandon McDonald:  The Browns cornerback had a tough day against the Cowboys' receivers, allowing six of seven throws to his area to be completed for 93 yards and a touchdown.

Kellen Winslow:  The team's top tight end led the team in catches with five for 47 yards. Anderson targeted him six times during the game, but only once on third down. That catch was Winslow's longest of the day, a 17-yard reception across the middle.

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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