Evan Silva

Matchups

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Matchups: A Lot for a Little

Sunday, October 16, 2011



St. Louis @ Green Bay

Coach Mike McCarthy's hot-hand approach will continue to make starting Packers running backs a dangerous proposition until one of the top two gets hurt. But this matchup presents an opportunity for the Pack to really lean on the run. In a home game against the lifeless, 0-4 Rams, Green Bay should grab a quick lead and pound St. Louis' last-ranked run defense into submission. James Starks has outplayed Ryan Grant in terms of yards per carry and total yards in all but one game this year, and remains the backfield's heavy favorite for production. Starks averages 14 touches a game and 4.94 yards per play. Grant is at 11 touches with a 4.54-yard average. I'd consider Starks a solid bye-week RB2. Grant is more of a dice-roll flex play because he's less likely to show a hot hand early as the inferior runner. ... Green Bay is dealing with a couple of injuries at tackle, most notably LT Chad Clifton's severely strained hamstring. Not to worry: The Packers scored on five of their final seven possessions after Clifton went down in Week 5, and the Rams rank 29th in the league in sacks. It's not a situation on which St. Louis will be able to capitalize.

The prospect of a run-heavy evolution obviously shouldn't deter owners from trotting out Packers passing-game members. The Rams have lost each of their top three corners to I.R. and already swapped out one starting safety. They have no prayer of stopping Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers leads all QBs in fantasy points and has a 20:2 TD-to-INT ratio in his last five home games, including two rushing scores. ... Greg Jennings has been better than I anticipated entering the season because he's running a more diverse route tree than ever before. He leads Green Bay in targets and is the fifth-ranked fantasy wideout through five weeks. ... Jermichael Finley has just one big game out of five, but you can't sit his week-winning upside. He's the No. 4 fantasy tight end. ... In his last ten games, Jordy Nelson has six touchdowns and is averaging five catches for 76 yards. He also plays on the same side as Rams LCB Justin King, who gave up Ravens rookie Torrey Smith's 5-152-3 line a few weeks back. ... James Jones has scored in back-to-back games, overtaking Donald Driver for the Packers' third receiver role. He's still only played 46.4% of the offensive snaps and ranked fourth on the team in targets during the two-week span. Rodgers will throw to Jones if he's open Sunday, but the numbers say his Week 5 stats are due for major regression.

Josh McDaniels has a proven enough track record that I'm confident the Rams' offense will pick it up in the season's second half. I just don't have any faith that it'll start at Green Bay. The Packers rank third in the league in run defense and fixed their pass defense in Week 5, holding Matt Ryan to season lows in yards (167) and rating (55.1), while picking him off twice. It was just a matter of time before the Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams-led secondary and Clay Matthews-keyed pass rush got things together. Sam Bradford ranks 29th in fantasy quarterback scoring, and St. Louis doesn't have a wideout in the top 50. Lance Kendricks is 40th among tight ends. Avoid this passing game until further notice. ... I've seen some Week 6 hype on Danario Alexander, from whom the Rams are beginning to remove the training wheels. Alexander played 55-of-75 snaps just before the Week 5 bye, good for easily a career-high in snap percentage (73.3%). If there is a St. Louis receiver to use, banking on throw-happy comeback mode, it's Alexander. ... The Rams won't stop Rodgers, but they can try to keep him off the field by saddling up Steven Jackson. S-Jax has shown that there's still some life in his overused legs by averaging 5.39 yards per carry in three appearances this season.

Score Prediction: Packers 42, Rams 17

Jacksonville @ Pittsburgh

Despite essentially signing off the street last week and practicing only three times before starting against the Titans, Steelers LT Max Starks proved game-ready. He played all 66 snaps in Week 5, making an obvious impact in the run game and providing Ben Roethlisberger with the best pass protection Pittsburgh's previously beleaguered quarterback has experienced all year. Big Ben took advantage, throwing for five touchdowns against a Tennessee defense that entered the game as a top-five unit. Jacksonville's pass defense is banged up with RCB Derek Cox nursing a lingering groin strain and every-down SLB Daryl Smith likely out with a concussion. Smith is the Jags' best cover 'backer. In Roethlisberger's last two meetings with Jack Del Rio's defense, he's piled up a 6:1 TD-to-INT ratio, and the Jaguars had better personnel then. A top-11 QB in fantasy scoring again, Big Ben is a quality bye-week starter. ... If you're crunched at tight end and seeking a one-week sleeper, Heath Miller is your man. In the past month, the Jags' Cover 2 has been gutted for four touchdowns by tight ends, in addition to an 8.5-catch, 88-yard average. Miller shouldn't have to block as often as usual, either, because Jacksonville is tied for 29th in the league in sacks.

While an improved passing game can only help Hines Ward, resist chasing his two Week 5 touchdowns. They were Ward's first and second of the season, and second and third in the 35-year-old's last 12 games. Ward is more likely to go back in the tank than rediscover pay dirt this week. ... Mike Wallace is on pace to finish as a top-five fantasy receiver for the second straight season, averaging 108.8 yards a week with three touchdowns in his last four games. The Jags can't contain 60 Minutes. ... Antonio Brown continued to show that he's ahead of Emmanuel Sanders versus Tennessee, seeing four targets to Sanders' three and getting three touches to Sanders' none. Sanders played more snaps than Brown, however, and neither is even a 33% player at this point. They're WR5s until something changes. ... After sitting out Week 5 with a hamstring pull, Rashard Mendenhall is practicing fully and off the injury report. While Mendenhall is likely to lead Pittsburgh's backfield in touches this week, there is buzz in Pittsburgh that he may not immediately return to an every-down back role. The Jaguars' defensive strength is rush defense, ranking 10th in the league and surrendering 3.66 YPC. Think of Mendenhall as more of a low-end RB2 in Week 6. Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer are change-of-pace options only.

The Steelers have struggled on offense and in run defense this season, but their lone constant has been a shutdown pass defense. 2010 Defensive POY Troy Polamalu has remained the NFL's best safety, and RCB Ike Taylor hasn't allowed a reception of longer than 11 yards all year. Per Pro Football Focus, Taylor was targeted seven times by the Titans last week. He gave up one seven-yard catch. ... In other words, all members of the Jags' passing game are hands off against the league's No. 1 pass defense. That includes Mike Thomas, who figures to see lots of Taylor's coverage. ... Marcedes Lewis hasn't scored a touchdown or topped 38 yards in any week. He can safely expect to spend this game on the line blocking OLB LaMarr Woodley and LE Ziggy Hood. ... The lone Jaguar worth Week 6 fantasy consideration is Maurice Jones-Drew, if only because he gets so many touches (20.6 per-game average). MJD does carry risk, though. Pittsburgh held the Tennessee ground game to 66 yards and 3.67 YPC last week, as RE Brett Keisel returned from a knee injury. Jacksonville's offense will struggle to move the ball, and for MJD's sake I'd worry that the Jaguars might fall behind early. They're overmatched in this contest.

Score Prediction: Steelers 23, Jaguars 10

Buffalo @ NY Giants

Entering Week 5, Eli Manning appeared to have his season on track with an 8-1 TD-to-INT ratio and 66.7 completion rate in his previous three games. As is customary whenever Eli appears to turn a corner, a rocky, four-turnover game ensued in a home date with Seattle. Eli still turned in a big fantasy day, of course, throwing for 420 yards and three TDs to give him 11 scores in a month. While a ground-oriented approach is likely against a Bills defense far more susceptible to the run than Seattle's, Eli has statistically "earned" a QB1 start against Buffalo's No. 26 pass defense. Ranked sixth among fantasy passers, Eli is capitalizing on the emergence of playmaking slot man Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks' return to health. ... Speaking of Cruz, the Giants aren't using him as a traditional slot receiver. Whereas most slot men run short, possession routes, Cruz has been green-lighted for goes and flies from the inside receiver spot. It's a way for OC Kevin Gilbride to split the difference. Cruz is a natural in the vertical passing game, and the spot at which he lines up makes him especially deceptive to defenses. With three touchdowns and a 123-yard average since Week 2, Cruz needs to stay in fantasy lineups. He has 20 targets in his last two games, and a skill set that perfectly fits his offense. The Giants butter their bread with downfield shots.

Hakeem Nicks has a team-high 26 targets since Week 2, catching fire with 14 grabs for 227 yards and two touchdowns in his last two games. Nicks runs most of his routes against right corners, so he'll face off with RCB Leodis McKelvin for the majority of Sunday's snaps. McKelvin is the Bills' pass-coverage Achilles' heel. ... Mario Manningham played more Week 5 downs than Cruz, but saw fewer targets and has yet to score a touchdown or top 56 yards in a game. Mario will eventually break out, but is still in "prove-it" mode. He's a good buy-low target. ... Resist chasing TE Jake Ballard's red-zone scores from Weeks 4 and 5. Ballard is essentially a sixth lineman at 6-foot-6, 275, and has blocked on more plays than he's ran pass routes in 4-of-5 games. ... Coach Tom Coughlin expressed regret about his team's pass-happy start to the year, preferring to get back to running the football. “That is philosophically what I hold to and believe in,” Coughlin said Monday. “I understand that you wouldn’t be able to sense it at this point.” The Bills are a good place to start, seeing as they rank 29th against the run, are serving up 5.54 yards per carry, and may be without Pro Bowl NT Kyle Williams (ankle) on Sunday. Brandon Jacobs will likely be a non-factor due to persistent knee swelling, so look for 25 or more touches from Ahmad Bradshaw as a legit RB1.

Just like last year, the Buffalo passing game is screeching to a halt after a fast beginning. No Bills wideout has topped 58 yards in the last two games, and practice squad-type Naaman Roosevelt led the group with 41 yards in Week 5. It's a talent issue. Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn't have the arm power to consistently connect outside the hashes, and it's going to be especially apparent as wind picks up in late October through December. In his last two games, Fitzpatrick has one touchdown, a 189-yard average, and measly 6.20 YPA. Expect another conservative, short passing attack against a Giants defense that leads the NFL in sacks. New York has only allowed five scoring passes in five games. Fitzpatrick is a QB2, but it was fun while it lasted. ... Stevie Johnson should still pick it up because he's one of the league's better route runners, keeping defensive backs on their heels and showing fearlessness over the middle. Use him against the Giants. ... David Nelson is expected to move to X receiver now that deep threat Donald Jones (high ankle sprain) is out 4-6 weeks. Nelson ran a 4.45 forty coming out of Florida, so he's got enough long speed to excel on the perimeter. But Fitzpatrick doesn't have enough arm to consistently get the football out wide, and Nelson hasn't played this position since college. He's a risky, if potentially high-reward WR3 gamble this week.

Roosevelt has poor man's Davone Bess appeal taking over in the slot, but one of the issues that plagued Nelson inside was the "mouths-to-feed" effect. Brad Smith and C.J. Spiller also see snaps at inside receiver, and the members of Buffalo's constant five-wideout sets aren't going to deliver much production when Fitzpatrick can't top 200 passing yards in a game. Five inches shorter and 25 pounds lighter than Nelson, Roosevelt doesn't have the red-zone chops or athleticism of his slot-receiver predecessor. He's a low-ceiling fantasy prospect. ... While the Giants' front four can still get to the quarterback, they've shown major vulnerability in run defense without LE Justin Tuck (neck, groin). With Tuck sidelined since Week 3, the G-Men have been exposed for four rushing touchdowns and 272 yards on 49 carries (5.55 YPC). Tuck won't play Sunday, which is excellent news for No. 1 overall fantasy back Fred Jackson's matchup. If coach Chan Gailey knows what's best for his team -- and he usually does -- he'll lean heavily on Jackson against the Giants.

Score Prediction: Giants 27, Bills 24


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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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