Evan Silva


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Matchups: Climb & Ride Hillis

Friday, September 16, 2011

Tampa Bay @ Minnesota

The Vikings' O-Line was painful to watch in the opener. LT Charlie Johnson was predictably one of the culprits after a miserable camp, getting dominated on snap after snap by Shaun Phillips and rookie Corey Liuget. The rest of the front five was pushed back on virtually every play, consistently losing the battle up front while the San Diego back four easily held outside receivers Bernard Berrian and Molasses Michael Jenkins to a combined three catches for 26 yards. Minnesota's offense is easy to defend because there is zero perimeter threat, and the line can't pass protect. Donovan McNabb should top 39 passing yards in most weeks, but jeez, he's nowhere near the fantasy radar. ... The Vikes were forced to keep tight ends in as help blockers, with Kyle Rudolph and Visanthe Shiancoe seeing just one target apiece. It's a nightmare fantasy situation for them.

Vikings OC Bill Musgrave is going to have to do much better than this: His unit only got off 43 Week 1 plays, but Percy Harvin's 27 snaps are a serious problem. Aside from Adrian Peterson, Harvin is Minnesota's lone offensive threat. McNabb can legitimately expect to hover around or even under 100 passing yards if Berrian and Molasses Mike are playing more than the Vikings' best receiver. ... Adrian Peterson hung a 6.14 YPC clip on what will be a solid Chargers run defense last week. He should have his way with the Buccaneers. All Day will square off with a Tampa defense breaking in five new starters in the front seven, including rookies at middle linebacker and right end. There's not a stronger fantasy running back play in the NFL this week.

I devoted a paragraph to the LeGarrette Blount dilemma in last week's Matchups column. The guy doesn't play on passing downs and won't get the ball when the Bucs fall behind. Blount is still a threat for double-digit scores this season, but he's very reliant on his teammates. The good news is that the Bucs should be more competitive against a bad Vikings team that will play without suspended DT Kevin Williams and may also be dealing with a knee injury at middle linebacker after E.J. Henderson came up lame in practice. Consider Blount a better bet for a touchdown in Week 2. ... No player in the league was targeted more than Antonio Gates in the opener, while the Chargers largely ignored Vincent Jackson. Perhaps Norv Turner saw something on tape from the Vikings’ preseason that made him think Minnesota is especially susceptible to tight ends. It could be a bit of good news for Kellen Winslow, who had a solid six catches on eight Week 1 targets.

Mike Williams South finished Week 1 with 50 yards on four catches as a five-yard touchdown saved his fantasy day. I don't think he'll repeat last year's top-11 receiver finish, but he's a playmaker with a good Week 2 matchup. Williams will spend most of his time against Vikings outside CBs Cedric Griffin and Chris Cook because Antoine Winfield covers the slot on pass downs. ... Scratch Earnest Graham off your sleepers list, despite his 14-touch opener. He's a plodding third-down back only. ... Arrelious Benn had an ugly Week 1 with two drops and a pass target that resulted in an interception. He played only 57.5% of the snaps. Dezmon Briscoe played 40.9%, indicating a rotation. ... Josh Freeman struggled against a shaky Lions secondary on Opening Day, finishing with a 6.02 YPA, interception, and two fumbles. He was always more QB2 than fantasy starter.

Score Prediction: Bucs 21, Vikings 17

Jacksonville @ NY Jets

The Jets employed a surprisingly pass-happy game plan in Week 1, attacking an injury-ravaged Dallas secondary rather than the front seven. A whopping 34 of New York's offensive plays came out of the shotgun formation. Rex Ryan is a run-first coach, so Mark Sanchez can't count on this strategy becoming an every-week institution. Sanchez also came out of the game with what the Jets initially believed may have been a concussion, and that alone may scare the offensive staff into reverting to the run. ... Coming off a 10-carry opener, Shonn Greene should be a benefactor, but there is also reason to be concerned. The alleged "bell cow" of the Jets' offense won't play when his team falls behind, or when they install game plans as described above. And, truthfully, Greene isn't that good. He's been a very ordinary runner since his breakout in the 2009 playoffs.

Santonio Holmes has another good matchup with a Jaguars defense that let Kenny Britt get off for 136 yards and two TDs in Week 1. It can't hurt that Jacksonville is without starting RCB Derek Cox (ribs), ushering nickel back Drew Coleman onto the first team. Coleman is a former Jet and didn't play well enough for New York to re-sign him in the offseason. The Jets will pick on him in the slot, with Will Middleton manning the outside corner opposite Rashean Mathis. ... Plaxico Burress can't separate anymore, but remains an effective red-zone target, evidenced by last week's 26-yard touchdown. He's an option in TD-heavy leagues. ... Dustin Keller played a promising 55-of-65 offensive snaps (84.6%) in the opener, which is a big step up from last year. Perhaps it was due to the Jets' pass-heavy approach, but it may also be a sign of things to come, because he played well as a receiver and blocker. I'd trot him out as a low-end TE1 this weekend.


Update: Holmes is listed as questionable on the injury report with quadricep and knee ailments. Keep a close eye on Sunday morning reports on his status. Give Burress a bump in your projections if Holmes is declared inactive Sunday. He and Keller could get a few more targets.


You'll want to avoid Jaguars pass catchers across the board in this matchup. Split end Jason Hill has a balky hip, Mike Thomas is likely to see an awful lot of Darrelle Revis, and Marcedes Lewis (calf) is doubtful to play in the game. ... The Jags aren't asking much of Luke McCown. He was purely a game manager in Week 1, throwing 24 passes compared to Jacksonville's 47 rushing attempts. In the Titans-Jaguars play-by-play on NFL.com, 23 of McCown's 24 attempts were rather hilariously characterized as "pass short." This might be the least vertical offense in football. ... Deji Karim received a career-high 17 touches in the opener because the Jags had Maurice Jones-Drew on a snap count. They won't be able to keep MJD limited against opponents tougher than transitioning Tennessee. Be aware that Jones-Drew has a rough matchup against a Jets defense that confined Dallas rushers to a 2.84 YPC average in Week 1. You just don't have to worry about Jones-Drew's ball-carrying volume. 

Score Prediction: Jets 20, Jaguars 13

Green Bay @ Carolina

Everyone wants to know about Cam Newton: Is he for real? Looking beyond Newton's monster opener, there's something you need to consider. In 2007, a big-armed, inaccurate passer named Derek Anderson threw for 29 touchdowns, led the Browns to a 10-6 record, and made the Pro Bowl. Anderson's offensive coordinator was Rob Chudzinski. Three years later, "Chud" is the coordinator in Carolina and his prized pupil is a rocket-armed, supposedly erratic quarterback with athleticism of which Anderson can only dream. I personally think Green Bay will steamroll the Panthers, but am confident Newton is capable of top-15 quarterback stats this season. In Week 1, he consistently connected with open receivers against eight-man fronts, and he'll be facing them for the foreseeable future. ... One factor working against Newton and the entire Carolina offense this week is the absence of standout RT Jeff Otah (concussion). His replacement in the starting lineup will be undrafted rookie Byron Bell. Clay Matthews plays over the opposing right tackle.

Ride Steve Smith while he's hot. For most of this game, Smith will square off with Packers RCB Tramon Williams, who was burned for a long touchdown in last Thursday's NFL opener and also missed practice this week with a shoulder injury. ... Newton is more likely to hover around 200 passing yards than last week's 422, leaving scraps for the likes of Brandon LaFell and Legedu Naanee. ... Greg Olsen opened the year with 78 yards on four receptions. He moves all around the formation ala Jimmy Graham, who posted four catches for 56 yards and a TD at Green Bay in Week 1. Olsen also blocks less than Graham. ... Despite DeAngelo Williams' big offseason contract, he is a committee back in Carolina. Williams played 42 Week 1 snaps, finishing with 13 touches. Jonathan Stewart outgained Williams by four yards on four fewer touches and 12 fewer snaps. Mike Goodson cleaned up the rest. This backfield has the look of a fantasy headache.


Update: Tramon Williams' shoulder threatens to keep him out of this game entirely. Williams' absence would make Smith's matchup that much more favorable. Smith is a WR2 this week.

Including the 2010 playoffs and 2011 preseason, Aaron Rodgers is 198-of-279 (71.0%) for 2,434 yards (8.72 YPA), 21 touchdowns, and three interceptions since Week 16 last year. He can't miss. ... James Jones played 20-of-67 snaps (29.8%) last Thursday and is a fantasy non-factor barring injury to Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, or Greg Jennings. ... Randall Cobb had a huge rookie debut with two touchdowns, the first on a 32-yard catch-and-run against Saints coverage-deficient SS Roman Harper in the slot, and the second on a 108-yard kick return. Cobb adds a lot to Green Bay, but doesn't play enough to be fantasy viable. He saw seven snaps (10%), later admitting he blew his route on the initial score. ... Fresh off roasting Saints RCB Patrick Robinson for most of his 7-89-1 line in Week 1, Jennings will likely square off with Panthers CB Chris Gamble for the majority of Sunday. In two career meetings with Gamble, Jennings has 15 catches and two TDs. ... Nelson tied Jennings for the team lead with eight Week 1 targets, recording six grabs for 77 yards and a score. With Jones being weeded out of the offense, Nelson is an every-week WR3.

James Starks is a far better option than Ryan Grant, and the Packers know it. Starks played 45 snaps to Grant's 16 in the opener, also emerging as the heavy favorite for red-zone work. Grant received one snap and touch (first-drive five-yard run) inside the Saints' 20. Starks took the field for eight red-zone snaps, including every down the Packers played inside the 10. There is risk involved, but Starks will be tough to sit in matchups like this, when Green Bay can dominate on the ground. Carolina was touched up for 120 yards and a touchdown by Arizona backs last week. ... Jermichael Finley's Week 1 production underwhelmed (3-53-0), mostly because the Saints double teamed him all game. He'll see less loaded coverage as opponents grow more concerned with Starks and the Jennings-Nelson-Driver three-receiver set. You won't want to sit Finley. Ever. ... Driver is still fairly effective in the slot, but he's been bumped to fourth in line for targets behind Jennings, Finley, and Nelson. Driver finished Week 1 with 41 scoreless yards on four catches.

Score Prediction: Packers 31, Panthers 14

4:05PM ET Game

Dallas @ San Francisco

Tony Romo's late-game bad decision making matters not in fantasy. Romo showered 342 yards and two touchdowns on Darrelle Revis' Jets in Week 1, and he's now averaging 314 yards with a 23:10 TD-to-INT ratio in the last 12 games he's played start to finish. Start 'em against a banged-up San Francisco secondary. ... Dez Bryant is a beastly, top-five NFL wideout kind of talent, and you saw it when he blew through New York's defense on a 42-yard catch-and-run, beat Antonio Cromartie for a three-yard score on a fade, and then out-leaped Revis for a 26-yard gain all in the first quarter. Bryant was plagued by leg cramps the rest of the game, but he'll be sure to hydrate for Week 2. You can't ever sit him. ... Miles Austin's per-game averages across Romo's last 13 starts: Seven catches for 96.5 yards. Austin has 90 or more yards in nine of those games.


Update: Bryant's status for Week 2 is now in doubt due to a thigh injury stemming from his cramping in the opener. Kevin Ogletree would likely draw the start if Bryant can't play. Ogletree is not a fantasy option. Austin and Jason Witten project to see more targets if Bryant sits.

It's hard to find a bad stat on the Cowboys' offense, which is one of the reasons we ranked Romo as a preseason top-six fantasy QB. In his last seven games, Jason Witten is averaging over seven catches for 79 yards, and he has six TDs. ... Felix Jones is an every-down back, evidenced by his 74.3-percent Week 1 snap count. Dallas backs combined for 27 touches in the opener, 20 of them going to Felix. Neither DeMarco Murray nor Tashard Choice touched the ball in the red zone. Jones had three red-zone touches, scoring from a yard out in the fourth quarter.

Frank Gore managed 59 yards on 22 runs against Seattle as San Francisco's O-Line struggled mightily to open holes. I put a stat in the Seahawks-Steelers matchup breakdown (Page One) that should make Gore owners feel at least a little bit better. Simply put, Seattle can stop the run. The Cowboys probably can, too, after holding Jets ball carriers to 2.81 YPC last week, but it will be hard to ever sit Gore when he's the clear focal point of his offense. Coach Jim Harbaugh is going very run heavy, maintaining a 32:20 Opening Day run-to-pass ratio and giving Gore 25 touches to Kendall Hunter's two. Anthony Dixon played only on special teams. Gore's performance wasn't at fault in Week 1; the weak per-play production is on the front five. He's still plenty capable of hitting long runs, appearing as quick, decisive, and smooth as ever on the rare occasions holes were opened. Gore got a one-yard touchdown run "vultured" by Alex Smith at the end of the first half. It would've saved his fantasy day. Gore -- not Dixon or Hunter -- was in the backfield on the play.

In the pass game, Harbaugh is asking Smith to take three-step drops and get rid of the ball quickly, probably due to a lack of trust in Smith and his line's ability to pass protect. Vernon Davis' numbers will rise, because even as bad as Smith is, the 49ers will top 124 passing yards far more often than not. Game flow will require it. Davis still led the team in Week 1 targets, catches, and yards. Owners can hang their hats on that, as well as the fact that Dallas served up six catches, 94 yards, and a TD to Jets tight ends in Week 1. ... Michael Crabtree played 13 snaps versus Seattle, but only one in the second half after his twice-surgically repaired foot flared up again. He's one of the bigger in-game injury risks in the league and off the fantasy radar. ... The cornerback picture is messy in Dallas, but it's hard to justify Josh Morgan or Braylon Edwards as fantasy viable because of Harbaugh's offensive philosophy. Edwards is the slightly better bet of the two.

Score Prediction: Cowboys 23, 49ers 16


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

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