If the New England Patriots are going to slow down the talented Las Vegas Raiders offense on Sunday afternoon, limiting the effectiveness of tight end Darren Waller is a good place to start.
It's a task much easier said than done, though.
Waller is one of the league's top tight ends and a matchup problem for defenses. He has the hands, speed and route running ability of a wide receiver. But he also has the size (6-foot-6, 225 pounds), blocking skill and physicality often seen in tight ends.
The Patriots will play against many of the best tight ends in football this season, including Waller, Travis Kelce, Noah Fant, George Kittle, Mark Andrews and Hunter Henry. These matchups likely will play a pivotal role in determining the outcome of the toughest games on the Patriots' regular season schedule.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is pretty impressed with what he's seen on film of Waller.
“He’s really, really tough. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a guy like this," Belichick said in his Tuesday press conference. "He’s really got great receiver skills. He played receiver and he's got a lot of length like a big receiver does, but he’s got very good quickness. He blocks very competitively. He’s not afraid to mix it up. He's definitely more than a receiver playing tight end. He’s got all the skills that can come inside. He’s a very good inside receiver, which sometimes the wideouts have trouble making that move in there.
"He's really been impressive to watch. You just see him doing everything -- playing wide, playing in the backfield, playing tight end, running deep, catch and run plays, blocking, flash plays, point of attack plays. He's a very versatile player. Pretty unique guy in the league. There’s some other good tight ends but nobody really does more than this guy does. And he does it very well. He’s got excellent hands and makes a lot of tough catches. He’s definitely a matchup problem.”
One of the reasons why the Raiders are 2-0 to begin the season is the play of Waller. He was especially dominant in Monday night's Week 2 win over the Saints. New Orleans' defense had no answers for Waller, who tallied 12 receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown on 16 targets.
Waller isn't the only player the Patriots defense must focus on.
Second-year running back Josh Jacobs has ran for 181 yards and three touchdowns through two games. The former Alabama star finished second in the voting for last year's NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has opened the 2020 campaign strong, too. He's completing 73.5 percent of his passes for 521 yards with four touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Oddsmakers have pegged the Patriots as 6-point favorites for their Week 3 matchup against the Raiders. The Patriots are more talented and have more experience than the Raiders, but this game isn't likely to be a blowout.
Las Vegas should not be taken lightly, especially with an offense that can put up a lot of points with a balanced attack.