Evan Silva


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Matchups: Vick Will Lick 49ers

Sunday, October 02, 2011

1:00PM ET Games

Detroit @ Dallas

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Calvin Johnson's league-high six receiving touchdowns is the fact that he's truly been "open" on just one of them. (Last week's five-yarder in the back of the end zone.) Megatron has beaten Brandon Flowers and Aqib Talib -- two of the NFL's best young corners -- for four of the scores (two apiece), including two when Flowers and Talib had safety help. His 32-yard TD in Week 3 came in Vikings LCB Chris Cook's sticky man coverage; Megatron simply out-physicaled Cook for a jump ball. Johnson usually faces off with left corners, so he'll see a lot of aging Terence Newman in Dallas. Megatron whipped Newman on a routine post route for a 14-yard score in Week 11 last year and will continue to give the 33-year-old fits. He's the best fantasy receiver going. ... Matthew Stafford has a 15:3 TD-to-INT ratio in his last five games and has opened the year averaging 313 yards a week. He's a top-five fantasy quarterback.

Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew are swapping big games, as Burleson returns from a 12-yard clunker while the burly tight end exposed Minnesota's Cover 2 for career highs in catches (11) and yards (112). Burleson and Pettigrew will remain inconsistent in fantasy as secondary passing-game options who also "compete" for targets with Jahvid Best, Tony Scheffler, and situational deep threat Titus Young. The good news is one of them will be productive this week. The bad news is there's little telling who it will be. ... Dallas' defense was vulnerable to tailback screens and swings last Monday night, as Tim Hightower and Roy Helu combined for 56 yards and a TD on seven Week 3 receptions. Dallas gave up 80 yards on seven grabs to Jets backs in Week 1, so this has become a trend. Through three games, Best ranks in the top five in receptions and receiving yards among running backs. Expect another strong PPR effort. ... Young is playing a respectable 61.6% of the Lions' offensive snaps with 15 targets in the last two games. He's a WR4 in fantasy, but will be worth WR3 consideration when bye weeks set in.

No tight end in the league has been targeted as frequently as Jason Witten so far, and he’ll keep it up until Miles Austin (hamstring) returns in Week 6. There is also growing concern in Dallas about Dez Bryant after his lingering quadriceps strain "stiffened up" when Bryant awoke Thursday morning. Witten is a very good bet to lead the Cowboys in receiving. ... Bryant appears to be a game-time decision for Week 4. At least we'll know his status early because this is a 1ET game. Fantasy owners did not have that luxury in Week 3, with the Cowboys hosting the Redskins on Monday Night Football. ... Confidently avoid Laurent Robinson, Kevin Ogletree, and Jesse Holley regardless of Bryant's availability. Robinson doesn't know the playbook after signing with Dallas just over a week ago. Ogletree should know where to line up because he's been a Cowboy since 2009, but didn't against Washington, alligator-armed a would-be touchdown catch, and also lost a fumble. Ogletree is a terrible player. Holley didn't have a Week 3 reception.

Dallas finally got its run game on track against the Skins, as Felix Jones ripped off second-half gains of 27, 29, and 40 yards. Tashard Choice has been Ogletree-bad and DeMarco Murray is averaging 2.70 YPC, so neither backup is pushing for more work. With Jones finally playing well, having avoided a setback with his shoulder, and the receiver corps all kinds of banged up, a season high in touches may be in store for Dallas' explosive feature back. One of the Lions' stoutest defenders, SLB Justin Durant, will not play due to a concussion. Jones could catch fire in the next month. His next four games come against the Lions (30th in yards-per-carry allowed), Patriots (20th), Rams (31st), and Eagles (29th). Hope that shoulder holds up. ... Owners with an elite backup quarterback can consider sitting Tony Romo in what may be a run-heavy attack on Dallas' side. The tiebreaker should be whether Bryant is active for the game, but it's worth keeping in mind that the Lions rank fourth against the pass and have allowed only two passing scores.

Score Prediction: Lions 24, Cowboys 17

Pittsburgh @ Houston

Losing O-Linemen left and right and getting poor per-play production from Rashard Mendenhall (3.02 season YPC), the Steelers quickly abandoned the run in Week 3, allowing Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis to take over the game for long stretches. It nearly cost Pittsburgh the win, but is OC Bruce Arians really to blame? The Steelers have no front-five cohesiveness due to weekly injuries, and Mendenhall was never an overly elusive back, needing holes to gain yards. Houston is mediocre against the run (No. 17 rank, 4.80 yards per carry allowed), but Indy was supposed to present an even easier matchup. It's hard to recommend buying low on Mendenhall when he's in a bad situation and the coaching staff won't stick with him. Ben Roethlisberger ended up with more than double the pass attempts Mendenhall had carries, as Arians resorted to a spread offense. All fantasy owners can really do is hope it gets better. ... Antonio Brown seems to have moved ahead of Emmanuel Sanders with at least 67 receiving yards in back-to-back games. Sanders has yet to top 44 on the year. According to Pro Football Focus, Brown has played 111 snaps through three games. Sanders has 90. They're both in need of injuries to truly matter.

At 35 after countless surgeries, Hines Ward has clearly lost steam. In his last nine games, Ward is averaging under four catches for 39 yards yet still playing 86.5% of the snaps. The Steelers will need to increase Sanders and/or Brown's involvement at some point, because Ward is holding the passing game hostage. He can't get open, and isn't worth a fantasy roster spot. ... On the flip side, Mike Wallace has at least 102 receiving yards in six consecutive regular season games, with touchdowns in four of them. Dating back to November of 2010 (a 12-game stretch), Wallace is averaging 107.1 total yards per game. "60 Minutes" is currently the No. 3 overall fantasy receiver. Wallace plays on both sides of the field, so he should avoid top Texans CB Johnathan Joseph for plenty of Week 4 downs. ... With his O-Line struggling mightily and Ward failing to get free, Big Ben is 23rd among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring. Houston's defense presents far from a pushover matchup, so Roethlisberger owners can feel comfortable sitting him until he picks it up.

While the Steelers' defense has appeared vulnerable to rushing attacks early this season (No. 12 rank, 4.58 YPC allowed), this is a wait-and-see week for Texans backs. Arian Foster swears up and down that he's over his hamstring injury, but said similar things leading up to Week 2. He'd go on to last just two quarters, averaging 3.3 yards on 10 carries and lacking his usual acceleration. The Texans had to shut Foster down at halftime. Foster has suffered two too many setbacks for confident fantasy usage and is much more high-risk RB2/flex than RB1 this week. Coach Gary Kubiak confirmed Wednesday that Foster will be on a play count. ... Ben Tate remains fantasy football's most valuable handcuff, but the Texans only plan to give him 8-12 touches. He's no longer a worthwhile flex option. ... While Pittsburgh's defense has scuffled against run games, it ranks first against the pass, allowing a league-low 5.02 yards per passing play. In a tough matchup with relatively low projected scoring (45-point over/under), Schaub is back to QB2 status.


Update: Kubiak changed his mind on Friday, after Foster turned in his third straight full practice of the week. Foster is going to get the rock early and often against Pittsburgh. "He looks good," said the Texans' head coach. "We're going to put him back to work full-time and see how he holds up." Foster practiced well enough to convince both the Texans' medical and coaching staffs to give him 25 (roughly) touches against the Steelers. He's a more confident fantasy play now.


Pittsburgh has allowed the fewest 20-yard completions in the league, so look for the Texans to attack over the middle with Andre Johnson, keeping him away from RCB Ike Taylor's side. In Johnson's last meeting with the Steelers, he rang up 10 catches for 112 yards ... Beware Owen Daniels reverting to a block-first role ala Dallas Clark against Pittsburgh last Sunday night. Daniels remains a viable low-end TE1, but the Steelers don't offer nearly as favorable a tight end matchup as Daniels experienced at New Orleans. ... James Casey enjoyed a career game in Week 3, lining up at H-back, tailback, tight end, slot receiver, and out wide en route to a 137-total yard day. While Casey has the athleticism, versatility, and sure hands to be a fantasy asset, owners need to approach this situation with caution. Casey has never been used like that before, and Kubiak conceded afterwards that the Texans specifically game planned for Casey's role to expand with Kevin Walter, Jacoby Jones, and two running backs banged up. Only time can tell whether Casey's use as a legitimate yardage threat will last. His previous career high was 48 yards.

Score Prediction: Steelers 20, Texans 19

San Francisco @ Philadelphia

Medically cleared from his hand injury and exceptionally motivated to prove his doubters wrong -- Michael Vick gave himself a "100 percent chance" to play while vowing "to play the whole game regardless, they will have to cart me off the field" -- there isn't a better Week 4 quarterback start than Philadelphia's so-far scuffling passer. While the 49ers rank 16th in pass defense on paper, they've faced Cincinnati and Seattle, and in between were lit up by Tony Romo for 345 yards and two touchdowns with Romo missing 20 snaps due to a punctured lung. There is a very good chance that this is the week Vick will explode. ... DeSean Jackson is averaging only 52 yards per game because defenses are keeping their safeties deep in order to halt the Eagles' deep threat. But the Niners don't keep their strong safety deep, instead using Donte Whitner "in the box" as a fifth linebacker. Jackson is going to go off in short order, and you don't want to be late to that dance. He's also likely to see more targets because Jeremy Maclin (hamstring) may not be 100 percent.

Maclin is listed as probable for the game after practicing on Thursday and Friday. While the possibility of an in-game aggravation is real, he should be in fantasy lineups as a WR2. With Jackson drawing the deep coverage, Maclin has racked up 19 catches for 260 yards and two touchdowns on the season, ranking 12th among receivers in fantasy points. ... LeSean McCoy continues to make a case for top-five NFL running back consideration. Possessing perhaps the best combination of versatility and explosiveness east of Oakland, Shady is averaging 131.3 total yards per game and is second to only Darren McFadden in fantasy running back scoring. Don't even worry about San Francisco's run defense ranking, because McCoy will juke through and run around it. ... It's the same old story for Brent Celek this year. He's dropped two of his 12 targets on the season, and according to Pro Football Focus has blocked on 62.3% of his snaps. Move along.

The 49ers' putrid passing attack is in for another long day at Philly. Ranked second in sacks and eighth in passing yards allowed, the combination of Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel, and Alex Smith will likely take Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan out of the game. ... Tony Gonzalez found enough seams in Philly's defense to drop seven catches, 83 yards, and two TDs on it in Week 2. The Iggles figure to pay more attention to Vernon Davis, but 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is making sure Davis is Smith's first read on every passing play. The Niners will employ an offense that runs the football to set up Davis. He's led the Niners in targets, catches, and yards in 2-of-3 games. ... Multiple reports indicate that Frank Gore's ankle injury will limit his role on Sunday, and Gore has independently said he doesn't even know if he'll be active. Gore needs to be on fantasy benches. He's banged up, has been thoroughly ineffective (2.51 YPC), and could conceivably do more pass blocking while Kendall Hunter leads the 49ers' backfield in rushes and receptions. ... Hunter led the league in preseason rushing. The Ray Rice clone offers big-play ability and versatility in spades, and would be worth an RB2/flex start should Gore appear on the Sunday inactives list. The Eagles have no continuity at linebacker and rank 30th against the run, yielding 4.93 YPC.

Score Prediction: Eagles 30, 49ers 13

Minnesota @ Kansas City

Vikings DT Kevin Williams' Week 3 return from suspension had its expected effect, rendering the Lions' offense one-dimensional. Minnesota held Detroit rushers to 20 yards on 19 attempts (1.05 YPC) with a long run of five yards. The Lions' ground game is no juggernaut, of course, but nor is Kansas City's. Dead-legged 33-year-old Thomas Jones was predictably ineffective in his first crack at the Chiefs' lead back job, gaining 33 scoreless yards on 15 touches (2.2 average) against a San Diego defense reeling with injuries. Dexter McCluster, in fact, wound up playing six more snaps than Jones and was at least somewhat productive with 62 yards on 14 touches (4.43). The Chiefs will presumably keep the veteran involved simply because they don't believe McCluster can hold up on full workloads, but you don't want Jones anywhere near your fantasy team, let alone in the starting lineup. McCluster is the only valuable back in Kansas City, and he's just a PPR option.

Dwayne Bowe is lucky to have a 100-yard game and a touchdown to his credit three weeks into the season, because the setup around him is devastating for fantasy production. Expect him to begin being taken out of games shortly. Bowe is a double- and triple-team magnet as the lone dangerous player in his offense. His quarterback is an inaccurate passer with awful pocket presence, lacking a running game as protection. Bowe has enough early-year production and big-name value to command something worthwhile in a trade. If Bowe comes up with another solid game, move him quickly. ... Steve Breaston is averaging two catches for 29.3 yards without a touchdown through three games. The Chiefs should have signed a more physical, run-after-catch receiver in the offseason -- someone capable of turning a short Matt Cassel pass into a long gain.

Things are looking up for Percy Harvin, who played all but 13 of the Week 3 snaps (74.5%) after the Vikings' staff pathetically used him 50.9% of the time in the first two games. With Chiefs top CB Brandon Flowers (ankle) hobbled, Harvin needs to be in fantasy lineups after a slow start. He's playing more, looks to have a terrific matchup, and has 14 touches to go with 13 targets in the past two weeks. ... Molasses Michael Jenkins caught a bunch of short passes last Sunday and didn't get very far. Jenkins has no hint of big-play ability. He's yet to exceed 10 yards per reception in a week as a Viking, and has four touchdowns in his last 39 games. ... Out-awfulling even pal Chad Ochocinco, Bernard Berrian is a sorry excuse for an NFL receiver. He has one catch on ten targets this year. Since the beginning of the 2010 season, Berrian and Jenkins have 917 yards, a 10.79 YPR average, and three TDs between them. In 27 combined games played. Donovan McNabb has no chance. ... Adrian Peterson has somehow overcome an easy-to-defend offense and bottom-five O-Line to rank sixth among fantasy backs. He should destroy the Chiefs.

Score Prediction: Vikings 20, Chiefs 10


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