Evan Silva


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Matchups: Guessing Game Plans

Thursday, October 07, 2010

St. Louis @ Detroit

Much is being made of Sam Bradford as a fantasy fill-in for Tom Brady, Michael Vick, and Ben Roethlisberger owners. It's not a bad idea, but this is more likely to be the Steven Jackson show. Especially against a Lions team that ranks fifth in sacks, the Rams won't risk their future by letting Bradford drop back 40 times if they can help it. Detroit ranks 25th against the run, is letting up 4.8 YPC, and has yielded the third most rushing scores in the NFL. S-Jax confirmed his previously injured groin is behind him by racking up 25 touches in Week 4, and subsequently not appearing on the Rams' post-game injury list. Perhaps most promisingly, Jackson got stronger as the game went on, rushing 10 times for 28 yards in the first three quarters and 12-for-42 in the final frame.

Bradford is still a worthwhile play. His yardage totals have jumped in three straight weeks, putting him on pace for one of the greatest rookie QB seasons in history. Across the NFL, only the Jags allow more yards per pass attempt than the Lions, so Bradford doesn't require 40 throws for a big game. ... Mark Clayton is a top-nine fantasy wideout at the quarter point. His 41 targets are 10 more than the next Ram (Danny Amendola) and sixth in all of football. He's a high-end WR2 at Detroit. ... Amendola is playing 51.2 percent of St. Louis' offensive snaps. Brandon Gibson is at 87.8 percent since Week 2. Going for 50 yards and a touchdown compared to Amendola's scoreless 46 yards in Week 4, Gibson is the better sleeper if Laurent Robinson (foot) doesn't start.

Shaun Hill has racked up yards in Detroit's pass-first offense, topping 330 in 2-of-3 starts. He now faces a Rams team that hasn't allowed more than 17 points yet, with the pass defense emerging as a strength. It's allowed three passing TDs in four games, letting up just 6.8 yards per throw. Bradford and Kevin Kolb are preferable plays. ... Jahvid Best is more likely to be the game plan's focus. The Rams' glaring weakness is still on the ground (4.6 YPC, NFC-most six 20-plus yard rushes allowed). Best is also noticeably faster on turf, and the stats support it. He's averaged 7.74 yards-per on 35 touches in games at Ford Field and the Metrodome, but just 3.33 yards on 36 touches at Soldier and Lambeau Fields. Best returns to the home turf -- literally -- on Sunday.

Calvin Johnson catapulted himself to 11th in the fantasy receiver ranks with a dominant, two-TD effort against the Packers in Week 4. Megatron roasted 2009 Defensive POY Charles Woodson all over the field, and his outlook further improves with Nate Burleson (ankle) due back. Johnson will now be harder to double team. ... Holding John Carlson to one catch for 15 yards last Sunday, the Rams have been stingy against tight ends. No TE has scored on them, and only Chris Cooley has topped 50 yards (he had 53 in Week 3). Feel free to use Tony Scheffler (concussion) if he plays, but don't chase Brandon Pettigrew's fluky receptions run. Burleson's return lessens Pettigrew's passing-game role, and he'll be on the line blocking if Best is leaned on heavily, as expected.

Chicago @ Carolina

Jay Cutler's (concussion) first career missed start is a death knell for Bears skill players. 39-year-old Todd Collins will start his first game since 2007, and just his fourth in the last nine years. Behind an offensive line that surrendered 10 Week 4 sacks, Collins won't get the ball downfield to Johnny Knox. It's not a bad idea to insert Carolina's fantasy defense if you're into week-to-week streaming. Collins, a weak-armed game manager, is a statue in the pocket and egg-beater pass waiting to happen. ... Panthers top CB Chris Gamble will likely be assigned to Devin Hester for most of Sunday. Having topped 17 yards in 1-of-4 games this season and three catches once since Week 11 of 2009, Hester belongs on fantasy benches. The receiver experiment needs to end soon.

Greg Olsen is similarly struggling, having topped 39 yards once this season. Like any Martz tight end, Olsen is totally dependent on touchdowns to make fantasy noise. He won't make any with Collins at quarterback. ... Thanks to superb play from thumping MLB Dan Connor and always-awesome WLB Jon Beason, Carolina is allowing the fifth fewest yards per carry (3.3) in football. The Panthers' run defense turnaround is for real. Matt Forte has yet to top 3.0 yards per carry in a single game this year, so he'll have to catch lots of check-downs from Collins for a productive day.

The Panthers' game plan is easy to guess, because there's only one thing they do well -- run. As noted by Pro Football Focus, RT Geoff Schwartz was particularly dominant in a Week 4 game that saw DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart total 176 yards and two TDs, mauling Saints LE Alex Brown all day. Bears LE Israel Idonije has played the run better than Brown, but not by a ton. Look for Williams to be the focal point as Chicago's run defense rank continues to fall. It was No. 1 entering Week 4, and is now No. 6. ... Stewart is an awesome talent, but his 55-yard touchdown reception last Sunday was fluky, coming on a blown coverage. It was also just his third catch in four weeks. J-Stew hasn't topped 10 touches yet, and needs more work to be used with confidence.

Outside of dump-offs to Williams -- and extremely rare ones to Stewart -- the Panthers' passing game is a fantasy dump with Steve Smith (high ankle sprain) out through the Week 6 bye. Not only will the game plan be run-first, Nos. 2-4 receivers David Gettis, Brandon LaFell, and Dwayne Jarrett combined for eight targets in Week 4, generating 38 yards. Jarrett is now a free agent. ... Jimmy Clausen will get better by the week -- he didn't turn the ball over last Sunday after losing two fumbles and throwing a pick in Week 3 -- but it's a process. He's a weak bet to top 180 yards in any game going forward.

Tampa Bay @ Cincinnati

The Bucs return from their bye planning to use a running back rotation consisting of as many as four players (Cadillac Williams, LeGarrette Blount, Kareem Huggins, Earnest Graham). Three-man (not four) committees have some history of success, but usually only when at least one or two members possess elite talent. No Tampa back fits that description, so frequent substitutions may do more to defeat rushing rhythm than increase productivity. Blount is the best bet for goal-line carries and a more explosive early-down option than Williams, but this is a highly unstable situation until proven otherwise. Cincinnati has an above-average run defense (4.1 YPC allowed, No. 15 overall). Expect quite a few more pass attempts than carries from the Bucs on Sunday.

The Bucs don't seem to apply logic when formulating game plans as a routine, but they'd certainly be smart to rely on Josh Freeman's arm against an injury-riddled Bengals secondary. SS Roy Williams (MCL sprain) is definitely out. LCB Johnathan Joseph is questionable, and may struggle to "jam" receivers at the line of scrimmage due to a deeply bruised forearm even if he does play. Mike Williams is typically Tampa's LWR (going against shutdown RCB Leon Hall), but the Bucs could create a favorable matchup by moving the rookie to RWR (where he did play for the majority of Week 2). It's a lot of hypotheticals to rely on for lineup purposes, but Williams should get plenty of chances regardless. His 22 targets lead the Bucs. Kellen Winslow is next in line with 16.

Cedric Benson hasn't had an especially difficult schedule (@ NE, vs. BAL, @ CAR, @ CLE), yet has bested 3.39 yards per carry once in four games (4.0 against Cleveland last week). According to Pro Football Focus, Benson didn't break a single tackle in Week 4. It's hard to imagine benching him against a Bucs run defense that ranked dead last in the league in 2009 and is 28th this year, but Benson wouldn't be a bad sell high if he turns in a serviceable game. While the Bengals' line deserves much of the blame, keep in mind that Benson was worked hard down last season's stretch. He had 37 carries in Week 7, 34 in Week 8, was injured in Week 9, and returned for workloads of 36, 29, and 21 carries in the Bengals' last five games. It may be catching up to him.

Despite last week's 371-yard, two-touchdown fluke, Carson Palmer continued to struggle. In the losing effort, he took four sacks against a Browns team that entered with four in three games, and continued to float passes in the intermediate and deep zones. If not for Terrell Owens' monster run-after-catch game and a Browns secondary clearly lacking confidence, Palmer would've been much less productive. The Bucs aren't a tough matchup (their No. 10 pass defense ranking is deceptive), but also aren't bad enough to use Palmer. We'd rather start someone like Sam Bradford, Kevin Kolb, or Eli Manning (in the aforementioned matchup). ... Bucs shutdown CB Aqib Talib is likely to take one of the Bengals' receivers out of this game, but which one remains to be seen. T.O. did leapfrog Chad Ochocinco in fantasy points last week. Owens is the No. 8 receiver. Ocho is 21.

Atlanta @ Cleveland

Peyton Hillis has been the biggest workhorse in football over the past two weeks. He ranked third in the NFL in touches in Week 3, and led the NFL with 29 in Week 4. Hillis played all but three offensive snaps last Sunday, and those missed were all game-ending kneel-downs. Without even knowing a matchup, backs used like this are impossible to bench. Hillis is averaging 4.9 yards per carry, has scored a touchdown in 4-of-4 games, and ranks fifth among all tailbacks in receptions. The Browns would be foolish to not pencil in another 25-plus touches for Hillis against a Falcons defense allowing 4.6 yards per carry. Atlanta is also hurting at the second level, with MLB Curtis Lofton (knee) and WLB Sean Weatherspoon (ankle) both missing practice reps this week.

Increasing the likelihood of a Hillis-centric approach is the anticipated return of Jake Delhomme. Though he's expected to start, Delhomme (high ankle sprain) was unable to make it through a full practice week, and injuries like his are highly susceptible to aggravation. Delhomme upgrades the deep passing game (i.e. Mohamed Massaquoi), but it should only be used as a change of pace. According to Pro Football Focus, Hillis has generated 170 of his 246 rushing yards after contact since Week 2. A Browns passing game that has Ben Watson as its leading receiver has to take a backseat to such dominance. Of course, with Eric Mangini at the controls, anything is possible.

Few secondaries have looked worse than Cleveland's over the past two weeks. Joe Flacco and Carson Palmer have struggled against most everyone else, but the Browns let them combine for 317 yards per game, 9.45 yards per attempt, five touchdowns, and a 70.15 completion rate. LCB Eric Wright's confidence appears to be shot heading into a date with Falcons RWR Roddy White, while Browns RCB Sheldon Brown was victimized for 122 yards and a TD by Terrell Owens in Week 4. Matt Ryan is a borderline top-five QB1 (I'd use him over Matt Schaub or Kyle Orton) and you won't find a more recommended WR1 than White. ... After a slow start, Tony Gonzalez has 15 receptions in his last two games. The Falcons are making an obvious effort to get him the ball.

On paper at least, Atlanta can whip Cleveland in the air. But it's not in the Falcons' nature to come out throwing, no matter the opponent. The Falcons have run the ball more than any team in the league through one month, and the second-place Jets aren't even close (37.2 rushing attempts per game compared to 32.8). Though the Browns haven't allowed a touchdown on the ground and are surrendering just 3.8 yards per carry, it's going to be another carry-filled day at the office for Michael Turner. "The Burner" is sitting on a disappointing 3.8 YPC average, but you can't bench a talented running back when he's on the hook for 20-plus carries, in addition to all work in goal-line situations.

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