Evan Silva


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Matchups: A Lot for a Little

Sunday, October 16, 2011

San Francisco @ Detroit

If San Francisco's defense didn't get enough credit during the season's first month, it should after last Sunday's dismantling of the Tampa offense. Routing what is supposed to be a more talented team 48-3, the Niners took Tampa Bay's rushing attack out of the game, rendering the offense one-dimensional. The 49ers have a top-four defense versus the run, and remain the only team that has yet to allow a rushing score. While Jahvid Best did well to catapult his yards-per-carry average from 3.17 to 4.90 with last week's 12-163-1 rushing line against the Bears, Best is unlikely to have near the same kind of success in Week 6. He remains a far better bet in PPR leagues than standard settings. ... If the Lions are going to pour on points like they so often do, it will have to be through the air. Whereas the 49ers rank fourth against the run, they're a vulnerable 23rd in pass defense. Look for Matthew Stafford to get back to his usual 40 pass attempts in this matchup. With multiple TDs in every game so far, Stafford is the No. 5 quarterback in fantasy football. ... Nate Burleson and Titus Young are splitting production as the Nos. 4 and 5 options in Detroit's passing game. Neither receiver has scored or topped 51 receiving yards since Week 2.

Calvin Johnson's streak of two-touchdown games ended against Chicago last Monday night, but Megatron reaffirmed his dominance with a season-high 130 yards. The Bears tried shadowing him with usual RCB Charles Tillman and safety help, but Johnson ripped the lid off Chicago's Cover-2 defense for an early 73-yard scoring bomb and proceeded to whip Tillman for four more catches and 57 yards on comebacks and slants. There's little telling how San Francisco could stop him. In their last four games, the 49ers are allowing an average of six catches for 93 yards with three touchdowns to opposing No. 1 receivers. And none of them was as good as Megatron. ... Brandon Pettigrew has formally passed Burleson as Detroit's No. 2 passing-game option, and that's great news for the tight end's fantasy value. Stafford's target distribution over the past three weeks: Megatron 30, Pettigrew 27, Best 19, Young 17, Burleson 10. Pettigrew is an every-week starter until he slows down, and will likely play an even bigger passing-game role with Tony Scheffler (concussion) out in Week 6. If the target numbers hold, Burleson will quickly become droppable.

The Lions have fielded one of the league's top pass defenses this year, but are incredibly banged up at safety, and it's showing up in the box score. Over the past three weeks, tight ends have averaged seven catches for 68 yards a game against Detroit, with three touchdowns. This is good news for a 49ers offense featuring tight ends without Braylon Edwards (knee) and Josh Morgan (leg). Vernon Davis is sixth in fantasy scoring at his position. ... Executing the turnover-free, game-manager role, Alex Smith has a 5:0 TD-to-INT ratio in his last two games. He benefited from throw-heavy comeback mode in Week 4 and a listless Bucs pass defense last Sunday. But it's a talent issue with Smith, not something good coaching can cure. History shows that Smith promptly tanks whenever he appears to have found a groove. Boasting a dominant front four and aggressive press corners, the Lions have allowed the NFL's fourth fewest yards per pass attempt and the fifth fewest passing touchdowns among teams that have played five games. I'd much prefer to bet against Alex Smith than on him in a road matchup with the Lions.

Frank Gore avoided the injury report for the first time since Week 3, suggesting he's as healthy as he's been all season. You wouldn't know Gore was hampered at all based on his Weeks 4-5 stats. After managing an unsettling 2.51 yards per carry in his first three games, Gore has soared to 7.20 in the last two, including a pair of touchdowns. Detroit's defensive weakness is against the run, ranking 18th in rush defense and permitting 4.78 YPC. While rookie Kendall Hunter will stay involved because he's San Francisco's most productive per-play back (6.27 per-touch average to Gore's 4.48), it will in a limited, change-of-pace role. Gore's carries are on the rise, and he's an RB1 again. ... Michael Crabtree played only 21-of-58 snaps (36.2%) in Week 5, ostensibly because the 49ers opted to manage his foot in a game they led 24-3 at halftime and won 48-3. The Niners used a heavy receiver rotation, but won't have the luxury in what's sure to be a closer affair against the undefeated Lions, and because Josh Morgan was placed on injured reserve this week. Don't hold last week's 2-36-0 stat line against Crabtree. He's a quality bye-week WR3 start.

Score Prediction: Lions 23, 49ers 17

4:05PM ET Games

Cleveland @ Oakland

NFL teams often use byes as evaluation periods; a time to watch tape and investigate personnel usage. During their off week, Browns coaches determined that Greg Little deserves to be a featured player on offense. Pat Shurmur announced Monday that Little has been promoted to an every-down receiver, starting at X on early downs and kicking to the slot in three-wide sets. It's usage similar to Brandon Marshall's in Miami and Vincent Jackson's in San Diego. The Browns rank second in pass attempts per game, yet somehow don't have a single receiver on pace for 800 yards. They're begging for Little to step up, and he has a Week 6 matchup to capitalize. The "X" in Cleveland's offense most often matches up with RCBs, where the Raiders will start lanky, thin-legged rookie Demarcus Van Dyke. Built like a running back at 6'3/231, Little's defining traits are physicality and run-after-catch skills. He'll run through Van Dyke on short grabs, setting up a big play down the seam. ... Shurmur also talked up Evan Moore, but it's a wait-and-see week for the situational tight end. Moore averaged 11.5 snaps in Cleveland's first four games, mostly because he can't block. At least Little has been a factor in the base offense before. Moore never was, and may still not be.

Mohamed Massaquoi is the Browns' Z receiver, most often aligning to the formation's right side. He'll draw Raiders top CB Stanford Routt for the majority of snaps. ... Ben Watson owners need to worry that Moore's increased role will come at the expense of Cleveland's more oft-used tight end. Watson ranks a pedestrian 13th in fantasy tight end points per game, and his targets are likely to decline. ... Shurmur was vehement this week when declaring Peyton Hillis the Browns' feature back, despite a 15:12 timeshare with Montario Hardesty in Week 4, before the bye. "Peyton Hillis is going to get the bulk of the carries," said Shurmur. "I can tell you that.'' After four drops in the pre-off week game, Hardesty is headed back to a complementary role, making him a fantasy non-factor barring injury to the starter. Likely to flirt with 20 touches, Hillis will square off with a Raiders defense that ranks 22nd against the run and permits 5.25 YPC. ... Colt McCoy is a lowly 18th in per-game QB scoring, behind the likes of Jason Campbell and Mark Sanchez. It's a bad long-term sign considering Cleveland's pass-happy offense. McCoy just doesn't have the talent to capitalize.

The Browns opened the season defending the run well, before allowing Chris Johnson's year-best game prior to the bye. Cleveland has a talented front seven, and I suspect this will end up as a league-average run defense at worst. It's just probably not good enough to stop Darren McFadden. Run DMC leads the NFL in rushing, 20-yard runs, and 40-yard runs. Among fantasy backs, only Fred Jackson has more points. ... The Raiders' receiver situation has become a quandary, with box scores deceptively indicating that Darrius Heyward-Bey is the No. 1 option. DHB has preyed on Patriots reserve CB Kyle Arrington and Texans RCB Jason Allen's huge cushion the past two weeks, while Denarius Moore contended with Johnathan Joseph and Devin McCourty. Browns CB Joe Haden's (knee) status could turn the tide this week. Haden has the ability to take receivers out of games, and a Sporting News report Thursday indicated that a knee sprain will keep the shutdown corner out of Week 6. Defenses still clearly view Moore as the most dangerous Oakland wideout, even if Heyward-Bey has better recent numbers. Haden's absence is a big plus for Moore. I'd want to start him this week. ... Jacoby Ford has settled in as a passing down-only slot receiver, playing just 40.5% of the snaps. He isn't a fantasy option on that kind of usage. ... Cleveland is a top-four team in pass defense. While that has a lot to do with Haden's coverage, it's hard to imagine using Jason Campbell in a standard league. He's 17th among quarterbacks in points per game.

Score Prediction: Raiders 24, Browns 23

Houston @ Baltimore

The Raiders sold out to stop the Texans' running game in Week 5, but Arian Foster reconfirmed both his health and difference-making versatility with a 184-total yard effort, 116 coming via the receiving game. While Baltimore leads the AFC in run defense, it's worth remembering that Foster touched up a similar-looking Ravens unit for 125 total yards and 5.0 YPC in Week 14 last season. Foster has taken on a bigger role in the passing game with Andre Johnson (hamstring) sidelined, and it will buoy his fantasy stats even against tough defenses. He is matchup-proof. ... Logically, it makes little sense that Matt Schaub would throw for a season-high 403 yards against Oakland, playing without his top wide receiver. Schaub benefited from a year-most 51 attempts, of course, and ultimately performed poorly in the 25-20 home loss, throwing two interceptions and completing 47.1% of his passes. The Ravens have a top-eight pass defense, have allowed just three passing touchdowns in four games, and their defense will be fresh coming off a bye. Schaub is a desperation fantasy option only this week. He's going to be under heavy duress on Sunday.

Usually a sixth lineman, Joel Dreessen flashed with a 5-112-1 line against the Raiders. Dreessen entered Week 5 without a game over 21 yards, and will likely resume blocking against a superior Baltimore pass rush. .... Shaping up as no more than a straight-line speedster, Jacoby Jones flunked his Week 5 audition to replace Johnson. Despite facing rookie CB Demarcus Van Dyke for the entire game, Jones managed one catch on 11 targets and was also flagged for a false start. Jones couldn't have asked for a more favorable matchup; it was Van Dyke's first career start. Throw the towel in on Jacoby Jones. Tuesday's Derrick Mason trade suggests the Texans are considering it. ... Kevin Walter is at least an efficient player, securing five of his six Week 5 targets for 81 yards and a score. Walter lacks dynamic ability, but beat Raiders top CB Stanford Routt to make a highlight-reel 41-yard reception in the fourth quarter and is more deserving of a fill-in WR3 spot than Jones at this point. ... Owen Daniels was Schaub's go-to guy against Oakland, leading Houston in targets and catches. Daniels had 91 yards in the aforementioned 2010 matchup with Baltimore and is the lone must-start Texans pass catcher. With coverage liability Bernard Pollard starting for Tom Zbikowski (concussion) at strong safety, the Ravens will be vulnerable to Daniels over the middle.

The change in offensive mindset just hasn't been there to support Joe Flacco's elusive breakout season. The Ravens are intent on executing a balanced attack, ranking 17th in pass attempts per game and eighth in runs. Until something changes, Flacco will remain a low-end QB1. He's not very appealing against Houston's No. 6 pass defense. ... The Texans have begun assigning Johnathan Joseph to "shadow" No. 1 wideouts, and he held Denarius Moore catch-less last week after snapping Mike Wallace's consecutive 100-yard games streak in Week 4. It's a concern for Anquan Boldin, who's averaging an unremarkable four catches for 49.3 scoreless yards in his last three games. ... Lee Evans (ankle) is expected to miss Week 6 after a downgrade from limited practice Wednesday to no practice on Thursday and Friday. Torrey Smith now appears likely to draw another start. While this matchup projects as favorable against Texans RCB Jason Allen, Smith didn't exactly inspire confidence with one catch for one yard in his last game. It's a situation to avoid, and further reason to nix Flacco as a bye-week starter if possible.

The Ravens had an early bye, so the best way to tell the story on Ray Rice is by assessing his performance on a per-game basis. Only Fred Jackson has scored more fantasy points per week, and Rice is averaging 20.5 touches for 135 total yards and a touchdown per game. The Texans give up 4.81 yards per carry, so this is a favorable matchup to boot. ... Ed Dickson remains the Ravens' best tight end bet, but Houston has not been generous to the position this season. Jimmy Graham is the only tight end to score on them, and Houston is allowing an average of just 2.4 catches for 32.2 yards to opposing TEs. Dickson and Dennis Pitta are best left on fantasy benches in Week 6.

Score Prediction: Ravens 23, Texans 20

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