Evan Silva


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Matchups: Guessing Game Plans

Thursday, October 07, 2010

4:15PM ET Games

Tennessee @ Dallas

As the winter months approach, it wouldn't be a bad idea to load up on skill players that play in domes. Coupled with the buy-low factor, Dallas' slow-starting offense is an ideal target. The Cowboys' plan to increase Felix Jones' usage bodes well for the entire unit. Throw out a seven-carry, seven-yard Week 2 effort in which Dallas was without two linemen, and Jones is averaging 6.3 yards per touch. Marion Barber is stuck at 3.36. As NFL Network's Mike Lombardi has noted, Dallas' offense simply moves with better tempo when Jones is in the game. This backfield can't be counted on yet for fantasy starts, but its evolution is in the works. During their Week 4 bye, the Cowboys' owner, coaching staff, and scouts reportedly agreed "unanimously" that Jones needs the ball more.

From a game plan standpoint, the Cowboys are still most potent when passing. They spread the field with one of the NFL's finest three-receiver sets, and Jason Witten is recovered from his pre-bye week MCL sprain. Without LCB Jason McCourty (arm), a Titans pass defense that entered Week 4 with a top-five ranking was exposed by Kyle Orton for 341 passing yards and a pair of scores. McCourty is out again, and Tony Romo is better equipped than Orton to attack secondaries. ... Roy Williams' Week 3 line of 5-117-2 stands out as an obvious fluke. He has two 100-yard games in his last 35 starts. Keep him benched. ... Miles Austin took a backseat while Williams exploited Texans rookie CB Kareem Jackson in the aforementioned game, but it'll change. Austin has 90-plus yards in seven of his last nine starts. ... Dez Bryant used the bye to heal his dinged-up ribs and hip. Without McCourty, Tennessee lacks DB depth to slow Dallas' mega-talented third receiver.

The Titans finally let Vince Young throw more than 17 passes in Week 4, and the results weren't good. V.Y. averaged a season-low 6.2 YPA as Tennessee lost for the second time in three games. The Titans' game plan unfailingly features Chris Johnson, but Kenny Britt has the potential to emerge as a No. 2 playmaker. Beginning at the start of the second quarter last week, Young directed three of his first four passes at the 2009 first-round pick, and ultimately a game-high seven. Britt scored for the second time in as many weeks. Britt is expected to start Sunday regardless of Justin Gage's (hamstring) status against a middling Dallas pass defense. The Cowboys are surrendering 7.4 yards per pass attempt and have given up four passing TDs in three games.

Nate Washington will take a backseat with Britt now an every-down player. Since scoring TDs in Weeks 1 and 2, Washington hasn't topped 42 yards. V.Y. simply prefers throwing to Britt. ... The Cowboys have played three games, and haven't allowed a rushing touchdown in any of them. They're letting up 3.9 yards per carry. This isn't a favorable matchup for Chris Johnson, but there's just no way you can put his talent on the bench. A 60-yard touchdown run is immediately 12 fantasy points, and there's no better bet in the league for 60-yard rushing scores than CJ2K. The Titans have too many good offensive linemen and too skilled a line coach (Mike Munchak) for the run-blocking woes to continue. Britt's insertion also should give the entire offense a shot in the arm.

San Diego @ Oakland

Road games can be unpredictable, but there's a blueprint to destroy the Raiders: You gash them on the ground. No team has given up more yards per carry or 20-plus yard runs, and Oakland will be even worse off without run-stopping DT John Henderson (stress fracture) and WLB Quentin Groves (hamstring). Chargers coach Norv Turner stated following last week's win that he's "committed" to Ryan Mathews as his starter. The rookie will resume his role as San Diego's lead horse, but Mike Tolbert is still well worth a flex play because of the matchup. The Chargers could probably run on every single snap and win the game. Tolbert's performance (5.5 YPC) has earned him at least 8-10 weekly touches in games against respectable run defenses. He should flirt with 14-16 in this one.

While Legedu Naanee has settled in as a Michael Jenkins-style run-blocking wideout, Malcom Floyd presents more risk this week. San Diego's split end, Floyd plays the vast majority of his snaps on the offensive left side -- where he'll be across from Raiders RCB Nnamdi Asomugha. The idea has been floated that Asomugha might be assigned to Antonio Gates, but there's very little history of Oakland making such a move. Safely start Gates, but Floyd is a low-end WR3 coming off a scoreless two-catch, 45-yard game. ... The Raiders rank No. 3 against the pass, in part because they're dead last in passing attempts against. Philip Rivers might not throw 30 times, but you can't sit the No. 2 fantasy QB. Only Peyton Manning has been more productive at the position.

Darrius Heyward-Bey (groin) and Louis Murphy (clavicle) are practicing fully, but this is a matchup ripe for Zach Miller to pick. Annually one of the NFL's poorest teams in tight end coverage, the Bolts are now without SS Steve Gregory due to a four-game PEDs suspension. Miller, coming off an 11-catch, 122-yard decimation of the Texans, is meeting expectations as this year's breakout tight end. He's No. 4 in fantasy points at the position. ... Murphy wasn't 100 percent in Week 4, catching one pass for five yards and afterwards telling reporters that he aggravated the injury. It's a bruised collarbone. Set to face Bolts LCB Quentin Jammer, this isn't the week to use Murphy.

Heyward-Bey (one catch, two yards) also turned in a clunker against Houston. Such a raw player with unreliable hands needs to prove consistent before he's used in fantasy. ... Darren McFadden (hamstring) is not expected to play, setting up Michael Bush for a potentially monster workload. Though the Chargers are playing tough run defense (No. 7 overall, 3.8 YPC), Bush could flirt with 30 touches if Oakland stays competitive in time of possession. There isn't another ball-carrying option on the roster. Consider Bush a mid-range RB2. He was more effective than McFadden on the ground in Week 4, averaging 5.7 YPC and vulturing a goal-line score. "D-Mac" managed just 3.91.

Sunday Night Football

Philadelphia @ San Francisco

Kevin Kolb has played roughly 80 snaps this year. The first portion of them came in a Week 1 game dominated by NFL sacks leader Clay Matthews. Kolb wasn't prepared for the second, a check down-filled relief effort resulting in 12 catches for LeSean McCoy but a combined 34 yards for DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. There's a lot to be said for taking a full week of first-team reps and preparing to start, and working in Kolb's favor will be a pass-heavy game plan with Mike Bell expected to replace McCoy (fractured rib). The Eagles showed no hesitancy to let Kolb wing it in two 2009 spot starts, as he averaged 42.5 pass attempts for a whopping 359 yards and accounted for five touchdowns (one rushing). The 49ers own the No. 20 pass defense and have allowed eight passing scores in four games. Kolb is a recommended desperation QB1.

ESPN's Adam Schefter hinted on Friday's SportsCenter that McCoy has a chance to play, but that the Eagles plan to use Bell in an expanded role. Avoid the situation. Bell's ineffective preseason has carried over to real games, generating 20 yards on 12 carries. He was a healthy scratch in Week 4. He's not a good player and doesn't have a good matchup. .... Combined Eagles production in Kolb's 2009 spot starts: Brent Celek: 20 targets, 16-208-1; DeSean Jackson: 19 targets, 10-250-2; Jason Avant: 12 targets, 9-93-1; Jeremy Maclin: 7 targets, 3-21. ... Keep in mind that Maclin was still playing behind Kevin Curtis at this time. ... Do NOT bench Jackson. ... Celek gets the biggest bump in value. He caught Kolb's lone touchdown pass last week.

UPDATE: Eagles coach Andy Reid described McCoy (rib) Friday as "full go" for Sunday's game. Bell is no longer remotely a fantasy option. McCoy is a recommended RB2, especially in PPR leagues.

New playcaller Mike Johnson's offense differed little from displaced OC Jimmy Raye's, at least in Johnson's first game at the helm. Frank Gore remained the game plan's centerpiece, leading the Niners in receiving and rushing and playing 58-of-59 snaps. It's scary to think what he's capable of against an Eagles rush defense that surrendered 156 total yards and a score to a pedestrian-at-best Redskins RB corps in Week 4. Philly is 27th against the run. ... Bad news/good news for Alex Smith/Vernon Davis: Smith "led" the Niners into Atlanta's red zone just once last Sunday, and aside from Gore, Davis was the only player targeted inside the opposing 20. Davis executed with a 12-yard touchdown reception. Davis has one drop all season and is an every-week starter.

Though it won't be to the same extent, the multi-week loss of No. 2 TE Delanie Walker (high ankle sprain) could have a Kevin Faulk-like ripple effect on the 49ers' offense. Walker is a staple in San Francisco's oft-used two-tight end sets, so Johnson (who has extensive background in the spread offense) could turn to three-receiver formations instead. Michael Crabtree moves into the slot in such packages, and becomes significantly harder to double team. The slow-starting breakout candidate did show signs of life last week, hauling in a season-high five balls for 58 yards. The press coverage-happy Eagles are more likely to stick eight in the box than double up on Crabtree anyway. Tentatively expect a breakout game. It isn't like Crabtree has suddenly lost talent.

UPDATE: The Eagles have ruled out LCB Asante Samuel (concussion), increasing Crabtree's chances of enjoying his first truly big game.

Monday Night Football

Minnesota @ NY Jets

Randy Moss' true impact remains to be seen, but he makes Minnesota exponentially better on paper. "Three-wides" improve from Percy Harvin-Bernard Berrian-Greg Camarillo to Moss-Harvin-Berrian, and Moss' double teams make Adrian Peterson even more dangerous. Moss can't fix A.P.'s run blocking, but he definitely can take eight out of the box more consistently. Though the Jets' run defense is one of the league's best, they've got a lot more to game plan for than expected at the start of the week. On the Vikings' side, Peterson is the best bet for a big game. ... Moss is expected to face off with arch-nemesis Darrelle Revis, but indications in New York are that Revis' hamstring still isn't fully healed. Brett Favre will target Moss relentlessly regardless of Revis' availability, so you've got to play the Mossman. He'll start in his Vikings debut.

The Vikings will likely ultimately use Harvin (flanker) and Moss (split end) as their two every-down receivers. Berrian can be dropped in 12-team leagues. He can't play, and Favre knows it. ... Harvin, still primarily a slot receiver, will square off with Kyle Wilson. Wilson is shaping up as the biggest liability in New York's secondary, and Harvin should feast on the rookie. Outside of Berrian and perhaps Visanthe Shiancoe, there's not a Viking worth sitting Monday night. ... Again, time will tell as to Moss' impact, particularly with regard to Favre. Some observers have speculated that Favre has lost arm strength. Moss, at 75 percent of his 2007 self, makes any quarterback better. With Jay Cutler and Michael Vick injured, and Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady on byes, you'd be hard pressed to find 12 better quarterback plays. Favre is a QB1.

Box score watchers might notice Shonn Greene's 22 carries compared to LaDainian Tomlinson's 19 in Week 4, and suspect Greene has retaken his starting job. Not so. L.T. was the primary back until New York grabbed a monster lead, even replacing Greene at the goal line after a near-touchdown run. Tomlinson remains the significantly better fantasy option. Unless he's playing a horrible run defense like the Bills', Greene won't be more than a weak flex until L.T. gets hurt or declines. The Vikings rank ninth in run defense, allow the seventh lowest YPC in football, and have let up one rushing score on the year. Greene is barely usable. Tomlinson is a low-end RB2.

Like the Vikings, the Jets get a talent injection in the form of Santonio Holmes, who returns from four-game suspension. We don't know what position Holmes will play (he has history at both split end and flanker), so trying to guess whether he'll line up against Antoine Winfield, Cedric Griffin, or Asher Allen would be irresponsible. Though the Jets may struggle to move the ball on the ground and therefore need to rely on the pass, it's probably a week to wait on Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery. Holmes is likely to immediately assume the Jets' target lead among wideouts. ... Dustin Keller is currently the No. 2 fantasy tight end. Holmes is an intermediate-to-deep threat, while Keller does most of his work in the underneath-to-intermediate area. Holmes' addition may cost Keller 1-2 targets a week, but certainly not enough to halt his breakout season.

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