Evan Silva


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Matchups: Worth Pondering

Sunday, September 30, 2012

4:25PM ET Games

Washington @ Tampa Bay

Ninth in the NFL in rushing and fourth in carries, Alfred Morris is locked in as Shanahan & Son's feature back for the foreseeable future. Third-down back Roy Helu is out for the year with turf toe, while Evan Royster strained his patellar tendon in Week 3. The injuries may give Morris' Week 4 fantasy outlook a shot in the arm if he sees more work in passing situations. Morris does not have a catch through three games. That will likely change at Tampa. Overlook the Bucs’ unsustainable No. 1 run-defense ranking and get Morris in your lineup. ... Save their Week 2 passing-game destruction by Eli Manning, the Bucs have played better defense under Greg Schiano than anyone could have guessed. RE Adrian Clayborn's year-ending knee injury may be a hit from which the unit doesn't recover. Clayborn was an every-down player and the Bucs' lone true edge presence, ranking top-12 in Pro Football Focus' 2011 4-3 defensive end pass-rusher ratings. He’ll be replaced by former Eagles third-round bust Daniel Te’o-Nesheim. Reduced outside rush will make red-hot DT Gerald McCoy easier to double team and leave an already hit-or-miss secondary more vulnerable to exposure. Robert Griffin III is the No. 1 fantasy quarterback on the season and an every-week starter.

Signed off the street this week, Ryan Grant looks like a mere insurance policy in D.C. Although the Shanahans have done crazier things in backfields past, Grant doesn't appear to be a serious threat for more than 4-6 Week 4 touches. The Skins tried to re-sign Tim Hightower first. Grant was a fallback option when Hightower's health didn't pass the sniff test. ... Leonard Hankerson generated a lot of late-week fantasy hype leading into Washington's 38-31 loss to Cincy. I like Hankerson for a post-hype rebound game. Pierre Garcon (foot) is likely to miss another week, and Hankerson drew coaching staff praise for his blocking against the Bengals while securing 4-of-7 targets for 56 yards. I think the Shannies will try to get HankTime the ball in burnable RCB Eric Wright's coverage. Aqib Talib mans the opposite side of the field, and may go to waste matching up with Josh Morgan. ... Slot receiver Santana Moss has 64 yards combined in three games, and his box-score production has slipped each week. Move on. ... Fred Davis got back on track in Week 3 by securing each of his seven targets for 90 yards. Perhaps this is a sign Davis will be Washington's go-to guy until Garcon returns, or perhaps not. I'd still back off relying on Davis as a Week 4 starter. We should have a better read on Davis following this week.

The Redskins' pass defense got shredded by Sam Bradford in Week 2 and Andy Dalton in Week 3. Bradford and Dalton combined to complete 45-of-62 passes (72.6 percent) for 638 yards (10.3 YPA), and a 6:2 TD-to-INT ratio. While Josh Freeman has been too inconsistent for serious QB1 consideration, Washington's inability to even be competitive against the pass bodes extremely well for Vincent Jackson's Week 4 fantasy prospects. Washington is on pace to allow 85 pass plays of 20-plus yards -- up 27 from last year -- and V-Jax is the Buccaneers' go-to guy in the intermediate and deep sections. Starting "No. 1" receivers against the Redskins is a no-brainer move going forward. Lock in Jackson as a borderline WR1. ... Without pass pressure to mask their horrendous secondary, the Skins' back end is so vulnerable that even Bucs No. 2 receiver Mike Williams is worth a look as a WR3. Williams is coming off a two-catch, 33-yard game. He has just 14 targets on the season. But Williams is a virtual lock to be open regularly on Sunday.

Doug Martin ranks 20th in fantasy running back scoring, but is tied with LeSean McCoy for fourth in touches. I think the former stat will begin catching up to the latter, and Martin's ascension will begin this week. He just needs some touchdowns. Tampa should have no trouble generating ball movement against Washington's sieve-ish pass defense, setting up scoring chances for the feature back. With a 45-percent touch rate, no player in the league has been a bigger part of his offense than Martin. The monstrous workloads raise Martin's weekly floor, and he continues to offer plenty of upside. I'm not buying for a second talk that LeGarrette Blount might be "more involved." Blount is not the answer. ... Freeman's target distribution on the season: V-Jax 27, Williams 14, Martin 10, Dallas Clark 10, Erik Lorig 5, Arrelious Benn 1. ... Fantasy non-factor Clark is averaging 22 yards per game. ... Benn's role was supposed to increase after Preston Parker's release, but he was targeted once at Dallas. (He caught it for eight yards.) Patience is running thin on the former second-round pick.

Score Prediction: Redskins 24, Bucs 20

New Orleans @ Green Bay

This won't shock you: At 53, Saints-Packers has the highest over-under of Week 4. Expect lots of points, yards, and slump-busting at Lambeau. ... Although Jay Glazer has reported that Marques Colston's plantar fasciitis cleared up, the Saints' actions suggest lingering worry. Colston played just 34-of-61 snaps (55.7 percent) in Week 3. He hasn't seen that low a snap rate since Week 4 of 2011; the first game back from a broken collarbone. Colston needs to be in fantasy lineups in this projected shootout, but I'll keep an eye on his field time going forward. Colston again came up just short of a red-zone score last week, only to see it go to Lance Moore a play later. Bad luck has cost Colston a ton of early-season fantasy points. ... I won't waste words on Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham, or Darren Sproles. They're guys you start every week and set the rest of your lineup around. ... Tramon Williams has been a legit shutdown corner for Green Bay's defense, suffocating Brandon Marshall (2-24) and Sidney Rice (1-22) the past two games. Colston is a slot receiver and Williams plays outside, so New Orleans' top wideout should not have to worry about the Packers' best cornerback for most of Sunday's game. Moore and Devery Henderson should be concerned. I'd expect Henderson, in particular, to line up against Williams early and often.

Brees' target distribution so far: Graham 31, Sproles 25, Moore 22, Colston 19, Pierre Thomas 13, Henderson 9, Joseph Morgan 5, Mark Ingram 1. ... With Colston struggling a bit, Moore has been the guy to step up in terms of playing time, targets, and production. Moore has two strong fantasy games out of three, and he's worth a long look as a WR3/flex in this shootout. ... After watching Chiefs-Saints on Tuesday and pondering the situation, I think it's time to consider dropping Ingram in 10-team leagues. I didn't think Ingram is running as poorly as some have suggested, but his mere presence on the field is a "tell" to the defense that a run is coming. Ingram rarely plays in passing situations, and among the four instances he did against K.C., he blew two blitz pickups, nearly getting Brees sacked. Ingram has played 43 snaps this year. He's carried the ball on 27 of them (63 percent). For comparison, Thomas has played 76 snaps and rushed on 19 (25 percent). Sproles has 111 snaps and seven runs (6.3 percent). When Ingram enters the game, the offense becomes easier to defend, including Ingram himself. He's averaging 2.93 yards per carry. ... I've also noticed Thomas cutting significantly into Ingram's red-zone work. Thomas has yet to score a touchdown on the season, but he's another worthwhile flex option on the Saints' side in this game.

Want to know the surefire antidote for a scuffling passing offense? A pass rush-devoid defense. Which brings us to the Saints. While New Orleans' similarly pathetic run defense has drawn more recognition as an immediate fallout of Jamaal Charles' mammoth Week 3, the Saints' inability to affect quarterbacks is their biggest defensive problem. This game will get 23rd-ranked fantasy passer Aaron Rodgers off the schneid. ... Even though he's been throttled by pass games, the Saints continue to stubbornly trot out rookie Corey White as their slot corner. Fantasy owners can capitalize on Steve Spagnuolo's refusal to adjust by starting Greg Jennings on Sunday. Jennings still plays outside on occasion, but he's primarily a slot weapon nowadays. Start him. ... Rodgers' target distribution through three weeks: Jermichael Finley 21, Jennings and Jordy Nelson 19, James Jones 17, Randall Cobb 13, Cedric Benson 9, John Kuhn 7. ... Keep in mind Jennings missed a full game. He's still Rodgers' No. 1 passing option. ... Finley is an obvious mental case, but he's getting enough balls to be considered an elite TE1 option in a matchup like this. We're still waiting for Finley's production to catch up to his raw ability. He is a classic underachiever.

Nelson has had a slow enough start to the season that I've seen many people consider benching him against the Saints. I think you'll be kicking yourself if you do. Not only is Green Bay in store for its first offensive bonanza, but Nelson has a terrific matchup against a Saints defense that ranks 25th against the pass and is surrendering over nine yards per pass attempt. With poor safety play, New Orleans is also highly susceptible to the intermediate-to-deep strike, which is Nelson's bread and butter. Start him if you have him and try to trade for him before Sunday if you don't. Jordy will be unavailable by Monday. ... Cobb and Jones are really nice talents, but hard to trust even in a game like this because their track records are so spotty. They both offer upside because of the high-scoring setup, but are just dice-roll flex plays. ... New Orleans' defense will bust your team's run game slump. They did it for the Panthers in Week 2 and Chiefs in Week 3 after generously welcoming Redskins rookies Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris to the NFL in the season opener. This is a legitimately bad defense. Benson won't experience a more favorable matchup all year.

Score Prediction: Packers 33, Saints 27

Sunday Night Football

NY Giants @ Philadelphia

LeSean McCoy's 16 touches against Arizona were a personal low when healthy since Week 12 last season. Coach Andy Reid acknowledged afterwards that he was mistaken to limit his top skill-position player's involvement. Following the aforementioned Week 12 game, Reid gave McCoy 21 touches, which he took for 133 total yards and two touchdowns. I'd be willing to bet that McCoy's usage won't be a Week 4 issue, and his historical stats against the Giants suggest McCoy is set up for a bounce-back game. In six career meetings with the G-Men, McCoy has rushed 92 times for 526 yards (5.72 YPC) and three TDs. He's chipped in an average of four receptions per game. With Michael Vick leading the NFL in turnovers, it'd make sense for Reid to hitch his wagon to McCoy. At least until Vick gets his act together. ... Brent Celek's 8/157 Week 2 game turned fantasy heads, before he snapped back to reality with 36 yards on two grabs against the Cards. Celek is an in-line tight end who doesn't play in the slot, so he can get stuck on the line when Philadelphia needs "help" blocks for a struggling offensive tackle. The Giants have been tough on tight ends early this season, failing to surrender a touchdown to the position through three games.

While he could fast change minds with an efficient, productive effort on a big stage like this, it's time to be concerned about Vick's fantasy prospects. Playing as out of control as ever and having already absorbed 27 QB hits -- many of which are on him -- Vick failed to receive a ringing job-security endorsement from Reid on Monday. Reid later stated on his radio show that Vick remains the Eagles' starter, "period," but fantasy owners must waste no time in securing the strongest QB2 they possibly can. Nick Foles is in the on-deck circle in Philly. ... The return of Jeremy Maclin will be a huge help to Vick and fantasy owners alike, though. As noted by Wesseling, Philadelphia is 7-0 when Maclin plays and 0-3 when he doesn't over its past ten games. Those numbers aren't fluky. Maclin is the Eagles' most complete wide receiver, and the offense doesn't run nearly as smoothly without him. Start Maclin, and his return should increase the confidence level fantasy owners have in Vick, too. ... DeSean Jackson is already beginning to shape up as an inconsistent fantasy player, which should surprise no one. That's pretty much the way it's always been. Jackson is a high-upside fantasy play against a weak Giants secondary, but could just as easily lay an egg. He’ll likely always be boom or bust.

Though more of a workmanlike back lacking make-you-miss ability, Andre Brown brings a power element to New York's offense that Ahmad Bradshaw can't. Brown also holds his own as a pass protector and receiver, and doesn't need to leave the field on critical downs. In other words, the Giants can ride Brown if he shows a "hot hand" early in games. Despite being re-announced as the starter, Bradshaw's fantasy value is in the gutter. While Brown may not suddenly become the feature back, he's earned a timeshare with a 5.58 YPC average, balanced running in traffic, and ball security. Brown has zero career fumbles; putting the ball on the ground has been an issue for both Bradshaw and rookie David Wilson. Wilson remains an RB5 stash. Bradshaw is an RB3 with plummeting stock. Brown is a low-end flex against an Eagles defense that has allowed 234 yards and one touchdown on 68 carries (3.44 YPC) to opposing tailbacks. Dating back to 2011, Philly has surrendered just the one rushing score in its last seven games. ... Ramses Barden did well to capitalize on his Week 3 opportunity after Hakeem Nicks (foot) missed the team flight, exploiting pathetic Panthers pass coverage that routinely left him wide open. Barden's career stats before last Thursday: 16/198/0 in 19 games. His stats at Carolina: 9/138/0. The effort may have vaulted Barden ahead of Domenik Hixon for the third receiver job.


Friday Update: The Giants announced Friday that Nicks' status for Week 4 is doubtful after his knee swelled up following Thursday's practice. Either Barden or Hixon is going to start at split end against the Eagles, squaring off with Asomugha. We should know the starter by Sunday morning.

Eli Manning's last 17 regular season games: 401-of-645 (62.2 percent) for 5,453 yards (8.5 YPA), and a 32:17 TD-to-INT ratio. Pretty good. The Eagles' third-ranked pass defense presents a tough challenge, but Eli is still an acceptable back-end QB1. ... If Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, and Vernon Davis are fantasy's top three tight ends, Martellus Bennett is a close No. 4. Bennett leads the NFL in red-zone targets and is on pace for 80 catches and 987 yards. Get him in your lineup each week, regardless of matchup. ... Manning's target distribution so far: Victor Cruz 36, Bennett 23, Nicks 21, Barden 12, Brown 7, Hixon 6, Wilson and Rueben Randle 3, Bradshaw 2. ... Look for Nicks to face RCB Nnamdi Asomugha for most of this game down the left-hand side, while Cruz deals with LCB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Rodgers-Cromartie has quietly overtaken Asomugha as Philly's top cover corner. Cruz can still get viable production in the slot, where he'll square off with rookie Brandon Boykin on passing downs. Both Giants wideouts need to be in fantasy lineups. Nicks' foot should benefit from his 12-day layoff. He had a career-high 199 yards the last time he played.


Friday Update: Eli's Week 4 outlook takes a hit due to Nicks' expected absence. Downgrade Manning from back-end QB1 to QB2 in a difficult matchup for any passing game. While the Giants will probably choose between Barden and Hixon just before game time, Cruz and Bennett figure to be the two biggest beneficiaries in terms of targets and fantasy-viable production.

Score Prediction: Eagles 23, Giants 21

Monday Night Football

Chicago @ Dallas

Tony Romo's box-score production has been torpedoed by shaky line play the past two games, particularly on the interior. He won't be getting a break from the Bears, who lead the NFL in sacks and play tight coverage in the back end. Lovie Smith's opportunistic Cover 2 is off to a borderline shutdown start, having allowed just three touchdown passes while intercepting six throws through three games. Until Romo and his protection pick it up, I'm viewing him as a back-end fantasy starter, and I'm weighing other options in Week 4. ... Miles Austin has quietly locked himself in as an every-week WR1. He's sixth among fantasy wideouts in points so far, and has the best matchup of Dallas' receivers on Monday night, facing off with feisty but gambling Bears slot CB D.J. Moore. ... Chicago has played stout run defense as well early in the year, surrendering under four yards per carry to opposing ground attacks and just one touchdown through three games. DeMarco Murray's workhorse role should still lock him into lineups as an RB2 at the very least.

While much of fantasy land is down on Dez Bryant after a slow start -- Dez ranks a lowly 60th in receiver points -- I'm not quite as concerned. Bryant topped 80 yards in Week 1 against a Giants defense clearly trying to take him away, was shut down with the rest of Dallas' offense in Week 2, and topped 60 yards while nearly scoring on a 44-yard punt return last Sunday against the Bucs. Bryant doesn't have a particularly friendly Monday night matchup against Bears CB Charles Tillman, so he may be cheaper than ever to "buy low" after this week. ... Kevin Ogletree plays Z receiver in three-wide sets and will line up across from red-hot CB Tim Jennings on the majority of Monday's snaps. Per Pro Football Focus, Jennings has permitted just nine of the 27 passes thrown in his direction this season (33.3 percent) to be completed for 95 yards (3.52 YPA) and no touchdowns. Jennings also has a league-high four interceptions, so it's reasonable to think Jason Garrett might scheme to throw to the receiver playing opposite him. That projects to be Bryant. Predictably slumping after his fluky opener, Ogletree is not a fantasy option in this game. ... Jason Witten has been a drop machine early in the year and seen few targets down the seam. He could get stuck on the line helping block Julius Peppers on Monday night and is a poor TE1 bet.

Dallas missed both safeties in Week 3 as SS Barry Church tore his Achilles' and FS Gerald Sensabaugh was inactive with a right calf strain. Against the Bucs, DC Rob Ryan designed a masterful plan to eliminate Vincent Jackson, jamming him at the line with RCB Mike Jenkins and slot CB Orlando Scandrick while usual LCB Brandon Carr operated as a safety "over the top." Jackson came away with one catch for 29 yards on seven targets. I wouldn't tell you to bench Brandon Marshall because he's an every-week starter, but it's fair to wonder if Ryan will take a similar approach against the Bears' top wideout. Ryan is using Morris Claiborne and especially Carr as "movable chess pieces" to shut down passing games. The Cowboys rank first in the NFL in team defense and second against the pass. ... Here's guessing Jay Cutler wouldn't have so many perceived in-game meltdowns if his offensive line could pass protect. It's going to be tough sledding yet again on the road against DeMarcus Ware & Co. The Cowboys' pass defense is so effective that it will begin to account for increased "coverage" sacks as well. Cutler is just a QB2.

While there are numerous big-name skill players on both sides, I expect a relatively low-scoring Monday night affair because each club's defensive strength is capable of exploiting its opponent's most glaring offensive weaknesses. Aside from Marshall, no Bears pass catcher has stepped up enough to warrant a Week 4 fantasy start. Rookie Alshon Jeffery seems to be getting closer, but he's not there yet, and this isn't the matchup to gamble that he is. ... Due to the "late" start, lack of clarity in terms of both touch distribution and health, and an imposing matchup with the league's No. 1 defense, I might hold off on starting both Matt Forte (ankle) and Michael Bush (shoulder) in Week 4. Bush is healthiest of the two, but this remains Forte's job if he's capable of playing. Will they form an even committee on Monday night? Will Forte be a surprise, last-minute scratch? I'd rather invest in Sunday's games for my Week 4 running back plays. If I sit Forte at Dallas and he plays well, I can consider it a plus. I will know for sure to start him in Week 5 at Jacksonville.

Score Prediction: Cowboys 20, Bears 17

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

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