Evan Silva


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Matchups: Guessing Game Plans

Thursday, October 07, 2010

I've dabbled with hypothesizing NFL teams' weekly approaches in this space before, but we'll go heavy on the concept this week. With a quarter of the season in the books, we can formulate a pretty good idea as to the soft spots in defenses, as well as offensive strengths. We've seen surprises -- the Panthers own a legitimately tough run defense and the Broncos have among the most pass-happy offenses in the league -- while an unflagging passing attack remains in Indianapolis and the Steelers' defense still gives up chicken feed to opposing ground games.

Let's kick it off with a matchup that Vegas projects to be the highest scoring of Week 5.

1:00PM ET Games

NY Giants @ Houston

Injuries to Andre Johnson and Jacoby Jones leave Houston no choice but to take a balanced-to-run-heavy plan of attack. Kevin Walter is the team's only oft-used, healthy wideout, and just so happens to be their best run-blocking receiver. Arian Foster's brief Week 4 benching was a well-timed kick in the rear. The Texans' line really showed its dominance, meanwhile, by allowing Derrick Ward and Steve Slaton to pile up 97 rushing yards and a touchdown in just over a quarter before Foster entered. Foster has already beaten up on a strong run defense, dumping 126 total yards on Dallas' top-eight unit in Week 3. He's also the NFL rushing leader by a 126-yard margin.

Johnson (ankle) will be a true game-time decision. You can't bench the NFL's best receiver if he plays, even with a run-heavy approach likely on Houston's side. The Giants took a huge leap up the pass defense rankings (they're now No. 2) during their sack-happy Week 4 domination of Chicago, but they're not really that good. … Texans fill-in LT Rashad Butler, who served up three sacks to DeMarcus Ware two games ago, will have to receive constant "help" blocks from Owen Daniels and/or Joel Dreessen in his matchup with Osi Umenyiora. Don't look for much deep passing from the Texans. Matt Schaub will be in trouble if he has to throw 35 or more passes. He's just a low-end QB1.

The Giants-Texans over-under is 47.5. (Saints-Cardinals, at 45.5, is the second highest of Week 5). New York's old-school coaching staff typically enters games with a smash-mouth approach, but that wouldn't be a good idea this week, particularly with Ahmad Bradshaw's ankle at less than 100 percent. Houston hasn't let an opposing rusher top 55 yards, ranks second in run defense, and has the fourth fewest rushing attempts against in the league. The Texans rank dead last in pass defense and completion rate allowed (70.1), and their eight passing scores against are the third most in football. Get Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith going, and don't be shy about Mario Manningham as a WR3 in spite of his catch-less Week 4. Eli Manning is a quality bye-week QB1.

Bradshaw claims he's healthy despite missing Thursday's practice, but in-season musical chairs on the line might be a bigger roadblock in the prohibitive matchup. The Giants played them in practice this week, with Shawn Andrews installed at left tackle, LT David Diehl kicking to guard, and usual LG Rich Seubert moving to center. Both of New York's top centers (Adam Koets, Shaun O'Hara) are banged up. Bradshaw flashed matchup-proof ability in a 143-yard effort against a Bears team that entered Week 4 ranked No. 1 in run defense, so he's hard to bench. Just consider him a low-end RB2 as opposed to the RB1 he's played like. The G-Men will struggle to run the ball Sunday.

Denver @ Baltimore

Baltimore's is an especially difficult game plan to guess. The Broncos have been stout against the run (4.1 YPC, one rushing TD allowed) and susceptible to the pass (8 passing TDs against, tons of big plays allowed), but their best talent is in the secondary. Despite Denver's Week 4 stifling of Chris Johnson (64 total yards), I'd be hard pressed to bench a healthy Ray Rice, who might be the best buy-low target in all of fantasy. Willis McGahee suffered a stinger in last week's surprise appearance as Baltimore's lead back, a stint sure to be short-lived. Coordinator Cam Cameron is a longtime proponent of balanced offense, and even if he went pass heavy, Rice would be the go-to back. Rice isn't just the Ravens' best pass-catching RB. He's their top pass protector.

Week 4 might prove the turning point for Joe Flacco. He was a marksman against a Pittsburgh team playing the best defense in football. Flacco has a 4:1 TD-to-INT ratio in his last two games, with at least 256 yards in each and a 67.6 completion rate. Denver is tied for second-to-last in sacks (four in four games), so Flacco won't be sweating any pass rush. ... The Broncos use Champ Bailey to shadow No. 1 receivers, and the shutdown corner has answered the bell. No "Number One" has topped 65 yards or four catches against Denver yet. On pace for a 108-1,420-13.1-12 line, Anquan Boldin can't be benched. But expectations should be checked. ... Derrick Mason could be the beneficiary. No. 2 receivers are averaging seven catches for 84 yards with three TDs in four games against Denver. ... Todd Heap still hasn't found the end zone this season.

The Broncos lead the NFL in passing, have a banged-up running back, and play the Ravens, so their approach seems pretty cut-and-dry. Kyle Orton is averaging 44 attempts per game with at least 300 yards in three straight. Unfortunately, Baltimore leads the league in pass defense and yards allowed per throw (5.2). The Ravens have surrendered one passing score in four games. Assuming Baltimore doesn't dominate time of possession with Ray Rice (quite possible), the pass attempts will be there for Orton. It's just a matchup to avoid. ... Also avoid the Broncos' running game. Knowshon Moreno (hamstring) is practicing on a limited basis, but reporters on hand observed that he's "definitely not close" to full strength. He didn't play well before the injury, either.

UPDATE: Moreno has been ruled out. Laurence Maroney and Correll Buckhalter will share the backfield again, making Denver's backfield completely hands off for Week 5.

With Orton firing away, his receivers are trading off monster games. In Week 1 it was Brandon Lloyd (5-117), Week 2 the Age of Demaryius Thomas (8-97-1), Week 3 featured Lloyd (6-169-1) and Jabar Gaffney (12-140), and Eddie Royal emerged last Sunday for an 8-113-1 line against the Titans. ... With a difficult matchup, it's a tossup if you're trying to guess between Gaffney and Royal. Gaffney is playing more snaps, but Royal is a more dynamic talent. ... Lloyd is the NFL's second-leading receiver. He's an every-week starter until proven otherwise. ... The only Broncos wideout definitely worth benching is Thomas. The first-round pick is playing the fewest snaps by a wide margin, and caught just one pass for nine yards in Week 4. Thomas is now returning kicks.

Kansas City @ Indianapolis

The Colts lead the league in passing TDs, rank third in pass attempts, are averaging the second most passing yards per game, and have been picked off once this year. Their game plan is sure to be pass heavy beneath the friendly confines of Lucas Oil Stadium's retractable roof. And if a rejuvenated Chiefs defense is leaky anywhere, it's in the back. K.C. ranks 26th in pass defense despite having faced passing "attacks" led by Seneca Wallace and Alex Smith in two of their first three games. Kansas City's rank might fall into the 30s after this one. You're starting Peyton Manning (No. 1 fantasy QB), Dallas Clark (No. 3 TE), and Reggie Wayne (No. 2 WR) anyway.

Austin Collie's "decreased role" in Week 4 (5-39-1) resulted from Peyton picking apart the Wayne-David Jones duel opposite him. Collie drew Rashean Mathis, so Manning exploited the easier matchup. Most teams won't assign their top CB to Collie, but the Jags never did adjust. The most productive receiver in fantasy at the quarter mark, Collie isn't a good sell high. The Colts won't stop winging it, and he won't fall out of the top-ten wideouts. ... Pierre Garcon is expected to return after two missed games, but owners must wait to see something. He was a non-factor when healthy, and will come off the bench. ... Joseph Addai doesn't have a great matchup against K.C.'s No. 5 run defense, but can never be benched because he's always a threat for multiple touchdowns.

UPDATE: ESPN's John Clayton reports that Collie (foot) is unlikely to play. If Clayton's report is right, Garcon would draw the start.

Coming off a bye, the Chiefs have a league-low 42 pass attempts compared to an AFC-high 34.7 rushes per game. It's no secret that a fresh K.C. team wants to run the ball. Despite their fluky 3-0 start, there's just no way the Chiefs can keep up with the NFL's third highest-scoring offense without throwing. Jamaal Charles, of course, is the primary back when Kansas City goes to pass. His matchup bolstered by a date with an Indy club that ranks 29th in run defense, allows 5.0 yards per carry, and just lost run-stopping safety Melvin Bullitt for the season, Charles is setup to break out. Todd Haley's staff also had time over the bye to watch extensive early-season film. Charles' 8.46 yards-a-touch average compared to Thomas Jones' 4.13 couldn't have helped but stand out.

When the Chiefs are forced to pass, they'll find a familiar face in Indy's lineup. With Bullitt and Bob Sanders (tricep) out, Herm Edwards/Carl Peterson third-round pick DaJuan Morgan is the Colts' starting strong safety. A special teamer, Morgan doesn't cover or support the run well, and was released by Haley's staff early in training camp. Haley could attack Morgan with rookie TE Tony Moeaki, whose 19 targets lead the Chiefs. ... Dwayne Bowe, second on the team in targets, is Kansas City's strong-side receiver, so he'll square off with Morgan's side more often than not. Despite a slow start, Bowe is a strong WR3 after the off week. The Chiefs need to get him the ball, and they know it. ... After signing a three-year, $12 million contract in the offseason, Chris Chambers appears to have called it a career. The 32-year-old is averaging 17.7 yards per game.

Green Bay @ Washington

It's deja vu all over again, with Ryan Torain reappearing as the flavor of the week. The brittle, if ideal zone-blocking back, is receiving all kinds of kudos from his coach and avid film watcher Brian Baldinger of NFL Network. Mike Shanahan described Torain as having "a lot of upside," going so far as to call him "a top back in the National Football League." Baldinger cited Torain's "one-step quickness and vision" when predicting he'd become "Shanahan's next great find." Torain showed his muscle on a Week 4 touchdown run, lowering his shoulder to de-cleat sure-tackling Eagles SS Quintin Mikell. Torain began celebrating the score ten yards away just as gravity had pulled Mikell back down to Earth. With Clinton Portis all but done for the year with a third-degree groin tear and separation, Torain has next to no competition for carries. The Packers are surrendering an NFC-high 5.2 yards per tote, and will be without top run-stopping LB Nick Barnett (dislocated wrist).

Based on his praise of Torain, Shanahan's game plan figures to be balanced. Quietly, however, this matchup has high-scoring potential, with everyone getting a piece of the pie. LT Trent Williams' (knee, toe) return is great news for the Skins' passing attack. ... As noted by Pro Football Focus, Green Bay was incredibly vulnerable over the middle in Week 4, allowing Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler to crank out a combined 154 yards on 14 grabs. Susceptibility underneath -- only exacerbated by Barnett's loss -- is nothing new for the Packers, who gave up Greg Olsen's best game of the season (5-64-1) the week before. Chris Cooley will feast on fill-in SS Charlie Peprah with Morgan Burnett out for the year. ... Santana Moss is coming off a catch-less clunker, as McNabb needed to complete only eight passes to beat the Eagles. Expect lots more throwing Sunday. The Skins are moving Moss around enough to keep him off Charles Woodson.

The Packers are a scuffling 3-1, with Aaron Rodgers yet to truly find his rhythm. Washington's pass defense was made to look good by an ill-prepared Kevin Kolb in Week 4, but this isn't a strong unit. Rodgers also called out the coaching staff after last Sunday's near-loss to Detroit, begging for more spread formations. He's likely to get his wish, as Brandon Jackson proved in a best-case matchup with the Lions that he's incapable of being a difference-making back. Expect plenty of passing. The Redskins rank 31st in the league in pass defense and boast a mediocre-at-best pass rush. Emerging as one of the better guards in football, Packers RG Josh Sitton is capable of neutralizing Albert Haynesworth when the Redskins employ a four-man line (which they do often).

Washington has allowed a tight end to score in back-to-back games (Daniel Fells in Week 3, Brent Celek in Week 4), and Jermichael Finley is on pace for 1,204 yards on 84 receptions. This is only the beginning. ... Before Kolb's check down-filled Week 4, the Skins were among the most burnable teams in football in the deep passing game. Don't sit Packers top vertical receiver Greg Jennings, who's stayed alive with touchdowns in 3-of-4 games despite weak yardage totals. ... Donald Driver has settled in as Green Bay's primary slot receiver, and it's a great position for him at this stage of his career. He'll fade as the year progresses like last season, but you could do worse as a WR3. Driver is often open. ... Avoid Jackson and John Kuhn, who are sharing time equally. Washington surrenders a measly 3.7 yards per carry and has allowed just one 20-plus yard run in four games.

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Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
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