Evan Silva


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Matchups: Dez's Destiny

Friday, November 11, 2011

Houston @ Tampa Bay

Ben Tate has over 100 yards in two of Houston's last three games, both coming in blowout wins over Tennessee (41-7) and Cleveland (30-12). In each case, the Texans jumped out to a two-score lead and were able to rack up rushing attempts with their backup tailback. Only four of Tate's 12 carries occurred in the first half last week, though he took them for 66 yards and a touchdown against the Browns. As to whether Tate will stay in the rotation when games are still in doubt, offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said Wednesday that it'll be determined based on in-game "feel." Added Gary Kubiak after last week's win, "It's fun to watch right now. It's almost like a competition because they just go back and forth." This still creates a difficult situation for fantasy leaguers, because in all likelihood Tate won't get the ball much unless Houston is spanking its opponent -- an unpredictable scenario. For owners dying to use Tate, this matchup should be as good as any. The Bucs rank 26th against the run and have lost DT Gerald McCoy for the season to a torn bicep. In McCoy's previous two missed games this season, Tampa Bay was dismantled by Saints and Bears running backs for 233 yards and three touchdowns on 31 rushing attempts (7.52 YPC). Arian Foster will obviously burn this defense, and it's conceivable that Tate will, too.

Kubiak is calling Andre Johnson (hamstring) a "weekend decision," but he isn't going to play until after the Week 11 bye. ... Owen Daniels' production has been in the gutter because Houston is destroying defenses with the run. In their last three games -- all wins by two scores or more -- the Texans have compiled a 125:76 run-to-pass ratio. Houston leads the league in rushing attempts, and it's not close. Here is Matt Schaub's updated target distribution with Johnson out for the last five games: Jacoby Jones 31, Daniels 29, Kevin Walter 28, Derrick Mason 8. Daniels, Jones, and Walter are all in the rather awkward position of needing their opponents to play better in order to produce at a worthwhile rate. Make sense? ... Schaub is effectively managing games, turning the ball over just twice with only two sacks taken during Houston's dominant, three-game win streak. The Bucs are 28th against the pass, but the Texans will almost certainly employ another run-dominated game plan Sunday, attempting to impose their will with Foster and possibly Tate. It's been the case all season and has not changed: Schaub is a borderline, low-ceiling fantasy starter.

The Texans rank first in total defense, second against the pass, and fourth against the run. In a game that the Bucs could easily lose the time-of-possession battle in a lopsided manner, there isn't a single confident fantasy starter on Tampa Bay's side. ... Josh Freeman is showing no signs of turning his season around, compiling an 8:10 TD-to-INT ratio with just one 300-yard effort through eight games this season. Freeman has thrown for 300 yards only twice in 33 career starts. ... LeGarrette Blount's every-down back audition failed in Week 9, so he will continue to need the Bucs to stay competitive or have the lead in games to generate substantial fantasy stats. On the season, Blount is averaging 11 touches for 53.3 yards without a touchdown when Tampa loses (three-game sample). In Tampa's three wins with Blount in the lineup, he's scored three touchdowns and is averaging 21 touches for 102 yards. Start Blount if you think the Bucs can get a lead in this game. ... Mike Williams is coming off a thigh injury and a season-low snap percentage. He's also likely to receive the Johnathan Joseph treatment. He's a low-end WR3. ... Preston Parker has struggled against man-coverage defenses this season, and the Texans play a lot of man. ... Arrelious Benn has now been out-produced by Dezmon Briscoe in two games straight. From a fantasy perspective, Benn and Briscoe are canceling each other out.

Score Prediction: Texans 27, Bucs 17

St. Louis @ Cleveland

Rams-Browns has Week 10's lowest over/under, so avoid this game where possible. ... Peyton Hillis (hamstring) and Montario Hardesty's (calf) injuries have forced Chris Ogbonnaya into the starting lineup, and he's promptly overtaken Chris Johnson and Marshawn Lynch as the worst running back in football. Ogbonnaya has 65 yards and two fumbles on 24 carries (2.71 YPC) in his last two games. The Rams' run-defense ranking still looks bad, but they've held the far more skilled backs of Arizona and New Orleans to a combined 32 rushing attempts for 89 yards (2.78 average) over the past two weeks. Ogbonnaya has entered rare must-not-start territory. He’s fantasy trash. ... Greg Little is still being heavily targeted -- he led Cleveland with eight in Week 9 -- but the Browns may soon have to turn away from him. Little has simply failed to capitalize on his opportunity, dropping six passes over the last five games with two drops apiece in Weeks 8 and 9. The Rams' pass defense obviously presents a favorable matchup, but Little is playing far too poorly to be trusted in fantasy leagues. In my own league, I dropped Little last week to stash Kendall Hunter for the stretch run. Even at his peak this year, Little has bobbled WR3/4 value. He's not going to suddenly turn into a legit fantasy starter.

Even in perhaps the best matchup they'll get all year, there isn't another Cleveland pass catcher worthy of Week 10 consideration in standard fantasy leagues. Colt McCoy's target distribution since the Week 5 bye: Little 38, Joshua Cribbs 19, Ben Watson 17, Evan Moore 13, Mohamed Massaquoi 10, Jordan Norwood 7. ... Massaquoi's lingering concussion problems are notable for return-yardage leaguers because Cribbs will get another start. ... Watson is scoreless with a 32.5-yard average since Week 4. ... The Rams have allowed the fourth most passing scores in football with a 15:6 TD-to-INT ratio against. Colt McCoy is still a two-QB league option only with 18-24 MPH winds in the Sunday forecast for Browns Stadium. McCoy's weak arm has held Cleveland's passing offense hostage this season, and it's not going to get better with the weather worsening.

The Browns opened the season playing respectable run defense, but the unit is collapsing with first-round DT Phil Taylor hitting a rookie wall. Pro Football Focus has graded Taylor negatively in back-to-back games. It's no coincidence, then, that 49ers and Texans backs have run rampant on the Browns during that span, piling up three rushing scores and 421 yards on 71 carries (5.93 YPC) in Weeks 8-9. On the other side, Steven Jackson is piping hot with a 133-total yard average, 5.06 yards-per-carry clip, and three touchdowns over the past month. Cleveland will have lots of trouble stopping him. ... Accuracy is Sam Bradford's calling card, but he was clearly out of sync with his receivers in Week 9 after barely getting in any practice time while nursing a two-week high ankle sprain. In charting Bradford's throws at Arizona, I considered 17-of-36 (47.2%) to be inaccurate -- either too far ahead of or behind Bradford's intended target, or off the mark entirely. That percentage will rise on a weekly basis as Bradford gets healthier and practices more with Brandon Lloyd, but he'll be a very low-end QB2 against Cleveland's top-ranked pass defense.

Here is the Rams' target distribution since Lloyd was acquired: Lloyd 38, Greg Salas 17, Brandon Gibson 11, Austin Pettis and Danario Alexander 6, Lance Kendricks 5. ... Bradford targeted Lloyd 13 times in his Week 9 return, just narrowly missing mammoth gains on several play-action bomb attempts. There's no question that playcaller Josh McDaniels has made sure to feature Lloyd in the passing game. Lloyd plays the vast majority of his snaps on the offensive left side, so he'll mostly avoid LCB Joe Haden's coverage if the Browns don't use a shadow technique. I suspect they will, but it's not a guarantee and would consider Lloyd a WR2 regardless. After this game, the Rams don't face a pass defense ranked in the top 17 until Week 15. Lloyd is headed for a hot run. ... Pettis will replace Salas (fractured fibula) as St. Louis' slot receiver the rest of the way and should be owned in all PPR leagues. Bradford loves to check it down to slot receivers, targeting Danny Amendola more than any Rams pass catcher last season and Pettis and Salas a combined 11 times in Week 9. Pettis doesn't have a whole lot of big-play ability, but will be a safe bet for 5-7 weekly receptions. ... Alexander is the Rams' other starter, but has missed the last two games with a hamstring strain. Gibson has filled in with seven receptions for 81 yards and no touchdowns. Gibson struggles to create separation and hasn't found the end zone since Week 3.

Score Prediction: Rams 20, Browns 16

Washington @ Miami

Roy Helu was installed as Washington's every-down tailback in Week 9 (64-of-67 snaps played), and the fourth-round rookie promptly totaled 146 yards on 24 touches while setting the Redskins' franchise record with 14 receptions. Helu can't be counted on for double-digit catches each week, but John Beck has shown enough check-down tendencies for Helu to maintain RB2 status in PPR leagues so long as he keeps the job. 31 of Beck's 131 passes (23.7%) on the year have targeted running backs. The Skins are throwing 37 times a game, so if the percentage holds the backs can expect roughly nine targets per week. Just be aware that Washington may have the league's toughest remaining run defense schedule. Here's a look: @ MIA, vs. DAL, @ SEA, vs. NYJ, vs. NE, @ NYG, vs. MIN (Week 16). Helu is unlikely to have much rushing success, rendering his fantasy value far greater in leagues that award points for receptions. In their last four games, the Dolphins have allowed 359 yards on 102 carries (3.52 YPC) to enemy tailbacks, none of whom has scored. ... Here's the rest of Beck's target distribution among at least somewhat relevant fantasy players: Fred Davis 28, Jabar Gaffney 22, Terrence Austin 15, Leonard Hankerson 10.

Despite the Skins' poor passing attack, the fact that Davis is the clear No. 1 option makes him an every-week fantasy starter. In terms of points per game, Davis is the No. 5 overall fantasy tight end. ... Gaffney complained about his role following last week's four-catch, 40-yard performance, primarily because Beck refuses to even make an attempt at a vertical passing attack. Per Pro Football Focus, just 14 of Beck's 131 throws this season have traveled further than 20 yards downfield. He's completed three. Even as a possession receiver, Gaffney will have a hard time generating worthwhile fantasy production. He's a WR5, and favorable matchups don't make much of a difference. ... Hankerson's role has increased by the week. The third-round rookie played two snaps in Week 7, ten in Week 8, and was promoted into a starting job in Week 9, playing 68-of-69 offensive downs. Hankerson has considerably more big-play ability than Gaffney. If you're dying to use a Redskins wideout against Miami's No. 27 pass defense, Hankerson would be your best bet.

Reggie Bush has done his best to earn Miami's feature back job with 262 total yards and a 6.96 YPC average over the last two games, but he will be difficult to rely on for consistently substantial workloads with Daniel Thomas healthy. Getting wins isn't going to be the organization's priority in the season's second half, and Bush probably won't be a Dolphin in 2012 with $4.75 million due to him in salary and bonuses. The coaches have always preferred Thomas between the tackles, and he has the potential to be the club's long-term bell-cow runner. In all likelihood, this will be a 50:50 carry split going forward. Off the injury report after battling a nagging hamstring pull during the first nine weeks, Thomas is still the better stretch-run fantasy hold. Both are flex options only against Washington's top-12 run defense. ... It's fair to wonder if Davone Bess is in coach Tony Sparano's doghouse. Sparano publicly questioned the slot receiver's study habits leading up to Week 9, and Bess proceeded to play a season-low nine snaps in the 31-3 win. Perhaps Bess' playing time died only because he plays on passing downs and Miami had fewer of them due to the lead, but it's certainly still a concerning situation for fantasy owners. Rookie Clyde Gates played just as much.

Matt Moore played his best game since the end of the 2009 season in Week 9, completing 17-of-23 passes for 244 yards, three touchdowns, and no turnovers. Moore capitalized on near-perfect pass protection from Miami's O-Line, which held Kansas City without a sack. Whereas the Chiefs rank 21st in pass defense and last in the NFL in sacks, the Redskins are third in sacks and 11th in pass defense. This is a significantly tougher matchup, and I'd be far more inclined to chalk up Moore's big game to a fluke than bet it continues. ... Moore resumed peppering Brandon Marshall with footballs against the Chiefs, targeting him a team-high 11 times. Marshall secured eight for 106 yards and a TD. Now on pace for 92 catches and 1,288 yards, Marshall is a top-15 fantasy receiver in standard scoring and 13th in PPR. In their last four games, the Skins are allowing an average of six receptions for 90 yards to opposing No. 1 wide receivers. It doesn't hurt that both of the Redskins' safeties, LaRon Landry (Achilles) and O.J. Atogwe (knee), are questionable to play.

Score Prediction: Redskins 20, Dolphins 17

Arizona @ Philadelphia

Coming off a let-down loss to the Bears, the Eagles' passing game should be quickly remedied by a Cardinals defense that has been destroyed all season by vertical passing attacks. Joe Flacco, Rex Grossman, Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger, and Eli Manning have all dropped 290 or more yards on Arizona, which combines a mediocre pass rush with a secondary that lets wideouts and tight ends run freely through the back end as often as any defense in football. No NFC team has given up more 20-yard pass plays, and the Cards rank in the bottom ten in passing yards, yards per attempt, and passer rating allowed. DeSean Jackson has been quiet more often than not this year, clearing 50 receiving yards in just 5-of-8 games. He couldn't ask for a better slump buster. Jackson has the Eagles' second most targets since their Week 7 bye, so it isn't as if Michael Vick has stopped trying. ... Speaking of targets, Brent Celek leads Philadelphia with 27 in the last three games. He appears to have overtaken slot receiver Jason Avant (12 targets) as Vick's preferred option over the middle, capitalizing on improved pass protection that frees Celek up from blocking. Celek has limited talent and is averaging just 10 yards a catch, but at least based on recent games, it wouldn't be fair to characterize him as the Eagles' No. 4 passing-game option anymore.

Jeremy Maclin is coming off a slow game in the 30-24 loss to Chicago, but is still on pace to finish as a top-ten fantasy receiver. He leads the Eagles in receptions (44), receiving yards (606), and receiving touchdowns (4), all by healthy margins. ... Like Jackson, Maclin, and Celek, Vick has a favorable Week 10 matchup. Arizona is too slow at outside linebacker to contain Vick when he breaks the pocket, and gets burned relentlessly by deep shots. ... The Cardinals eked out a Week 9 win over the Rams, but in the process were gutted by the Steven Jackson-Cadillac Williams running back duo for 147 yards on 32 carries (4.59 YPC). Ray Rice touched up Arizona for three touchdowns the week before. Leading the NFL in rushing yards per game, rushing scores, and non-passing touchdowns, LeSean McCoy is about as confident a Week 10 fantasy play as it gets.

If I'm alive in an Eliminator, there isn't a Week 10 team I'd feel better about than the Eagles. The box score doesn't do justice to how poorly John Skelton played against the Rams. In terms of giving receivers run-after-catch chances, Skelton's ball placement is a major work in progress, even if his pocket poise and arm are upgrades on injured starter Kevin Kolb's. In my Week 9 game review, I charted 17 of Skelton's 35 passes (48.5%) as "inaccurate" -- either too far ahead of or behind his intended target, or totally off the mark. Skelton showed zero awareness on back-to-back third-quarter safeties, nearly fumbling the ball away on a James Hall sack, and standing carelessly in the end zone after a short scramble on the second. Skelton has a long way to go. ... To his credit, somewhat, Skelton peppered Larry Fitzgerald with a team-high 12 targets, of which Fitz secured four for 43 yards and a game-tying touchdown that sent the game to overtime. The Cards are doing a commendable job of keeping Fitzgerald roaming around the formation so that defenses have a tougher time keying up to stop him. He has at least 78 receiving yards and/or a touchdown in six of the last seven games. Fitzgerald should see plenty of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Joselio Hanson in this one to make up for his time against Nnamdi Asomugha.

Andre Roberts has now posted the two highest yardage totals of his career (5-110-1, 5-55) in starts by Skelton. This may be relevant news for deep leaguers. ... The Cardinals are using a shotgun-heavy, four- and five-receiver offense with Skelton at the helm, similar to the system he played in at Fordham. It translated to slot receiver Early Doucet playing 35-of-59 downs in Week 9, his second highest snap rate (59.3%) of the season. Doucet is averaging over five catches for 55 yards with two touchdowns in his last four games and will continue to be the second best bet for receiving production in Arizona. As a slot receiver, he's got a better matchup than both Fitz and Roberts in this game. Doucet won't tangle with Asomugha or Asante Samuel. ... Beanie Wells is dealing with what is believed to be loose cartilage in his right knee, the same knee on which Wells had meniscus surgery last preseason. Still running hard and playing his heart out, Wells showed no ability to get the edge or accelerate through oncoming defenders against St. Louis. The Cardinals would probably do Wells a service by holding him out for a game or two, but coach Ken Whisenhunt has been clear that there are no plans to do that. It leaves fantasy owners in a bind, because Wells is so difficult to bench against terrible run defenses like the Rams and Eagles'.

Score Prediction: Eagles 37, Cardinals 17

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