Evan Silva


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Matchups: The Slump Busters

Friday, October 05, 2012

1:00PM ET Games

Philadelphia @ Pittsburgh

Michael Vick scored a relatively modest 18.54 standard-league fantasy points in Week 4 against the Giants, but it was his best on-field performance to date. He avoided turnovers for the first time in 2012, played under control, made big-time throws into tight windows, and kept Philly's offense moving en route to a key division win. On the heels of an extremely rocky start, I feel better about Vick's year-long fantasy outlook after that game. If he turns in another slow fantasy effort against the Steelers' No. 3 pass defense, buy low on Vick before Week 6. He's got passer-friendly shootouts coming up against Detroit, Atlanta, and New Orleans. ... Jeremy Maclin returned from his hip injury against the G-Men to play 64-of-69 snaps, but struggled to create separation against CB Prince Amukamara and was targeted on just three occasions, securing one for seven yards. I still like Maclin over the course of the season, but am worried he'll struggle again this week against Steelers RCB Ike Taylor. Consider Maclin a WR3 option until he picks up his box-score production. A healthy Maclin can still be a top 15-20 fantasy wide receiver in the final 11 games.

DeSean Jackson has been an inconsistent scorer and will likely always be because he's a limited route runner who relies on vertical shots. But Jackson has a better on-paper matchup than Maclin in this game, squaring off with scuffling Steelers LCB Keenan Lewis. D-Jax leads the Eagles in targets and is a high-upside WR2 in Week 5. ... In-line tight end Brent Celek is a viable TE2, but comes up short of fantasy starter without a touchdown through four weeks and just one game over 65 yards. With Steelers OLB James Harrison back from his knee injury, Celek may be an integral part of Philly's Week 5 pass-protection schemes. ... While Pittsburgh annually puts the brakes on opposing ground games, LeSean McCoy has eight touchdowns in his last six matchups with top-ten run defenses and may be on the overdue verge of establishing himself as the Eagles' offensive centerpiece. Typically pass-happy head coach Andy Reid turned his offense over to McCoy in the second half of Week 4 against the Giants, even using an I-formation with a lead blocker out in front. Running off FB Stanley Havili's back, McCoy racked up 121 yards on 17 second-half carries (7.12 YPC). 73 percent of his yardage was gained with Havili in the game.

After a Week 4 bye, the Steelers are the NFL's healthiest team entering a home date with Philly. And their bellcow is back. Pittsburgh ranks 31st in rushing offense, so Rashard Mendenhall will need no time to retake the lead running job. Because Mendenhall missed the entire preseason and first month, there's no way to tell how much juice is left in his legs following last January's ACL tear. He's also got a difficult matchup in his first game back. The Eagles rank 12th against the run, permit just 3.81 yards per carry, and have allowed one rushing touchdown through four games. With a much more fantasy-friendly matchup at Tennessee on deck, this would be a good "wait-and-see" week for Mendenhall owners to bench him and consider it a plus if he runs well. You'll have a confident idea of whether to start him in Week 6. ... Isaac Redman figures to handle third-down duties with Mendenhall back, while the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette anticipates Jonathan Dwyer getting "squeezed out" of the offense. ... Ben Roethlisberger's target distribution on the season: Antonio Brown 29, Mike Wallace 22, Heath Miller 20, Emmanuel Sanders 16.

Miller is a bigger part of 2012 Pittsburgh's passing offense, but he won't keep up his scoring pace. He's averaging 43 yards per game and will hurt you if he doesn't find pay dirt in a given week. The Eagles have not been kind to tight ends. They held Martellus Bennett to one catch for two yards in Week 4, and the biggest tight end performance against Philly was Dennis Pitta's scoreless 65-yard Week 2 game. ... The Eagles' corners have played well this season, but I don't think RCB Nnamdi Asomugha is the same cover guy he once was, and LCB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie got schooled by Domenik Hixon last week. Brown and Wallace are hitting on all cylinders early this season; Wallace is fourth in fantasy receiver points per game, while Brown is 17th. They are both every-week starters. Brown is a WR2/flex. Wallace is a WR1. ... Be it due either to a pathetic early-season run game or a philosophically pass-first approach by unpredictable playcaller Todd Haley, Roethlisberger was airing it out before the bye. He averaged 40 attempts across three games, and emerged from them ranked No. 4 among fantasy quarterbacks in per-week scoring, behind only Robert Griffin III, Drew Brees, and Matt Ryan. Time will tell whether Haley keeps it up with Mendenhall back. I'd lean toward treating Big Ben as a QB2 against Philadelphia's top-seven pass defense, but he has a chance to prove a late-round fantasy steal when all is said and done.

Score Prediction: Eagles 21, Steelers 20

Green Bay @ Indianapolis

Ran out of Pittsburgh despite engineering four playoff offenses in five seasons, Colts OC-turned-interim coach Bruce Arians is an aggressive, up-tempo mind whose approach may veer from the power-running, smashmouth guidelines encouraged by Chuck Pagano (leukemia). Arians is a sling-it-around-the-yard type; a former college quarterback who believes throwing the ball is the best way to generate yardage and points. Andrew Luck ranks fourth in the NFL in pass attempts per game already, so Arians' presence has been felt in the box score. Particularly due to major run-game deficiencies, I'd look for this to remain a decidedly pass-first team the rest of the way. ... Arians moves his receivers around the formation, although Reggie Wayne runs the majority of his routes down the left sideline, whereas Donnie Avery operates mostly down the right. If the Packers try to take Wayne away by shadowing him with CB Tramon Williams on perimeter patterns, Avery can be a sneaky WR3 in a possible shootout indoors at Lucas Oil Stadium. Packers RCB Sam Shields got toasted on Saints No. 4 receiver Joseph Morgan's third-quarter 80-yard touchdown bomb last week, and gave up a ton of cushion en route to several short catches by Lance Moore.

Avery is a sleeper to lead the Colts in Week 5 receiving, but Wayne has established himself as an every-week starter. He was leading the NFL in targets before Indy's bye. ... An increase in reliance on passing formations could kick start Coby Fleener, but he has 16 yards in his past two games and went catch-less last time out. ... While T.Y. Hilton is an explosive third receiver, his 4-113-1 blowup game in Week 3 will be difficult to build on without a significant bump in field time. He's played fewer than 50 snaps this year. ... Since getting throttled by the 49ers in Week 1, Green Bay's defense has suddenly looked an awful lot stouter. Over their last three games, the Packers have held Bears, Seahawks, and Saints tailbacks to a combined 236 yards and no touchdowns on 67 carries (3.52 YPC). Donald Brown is easier to defend than the Chicago, Seattle, and New Orleans runners, and a safe bet to struggle on Sunday. I wouldn't be surprised if Luck led Indy in Week 5 rushing. ... Rookie back Vick Ballard has underwhelmed on 15 early-season carries, but Brown hasn't lit the world ablaze either with his 3.60 YPC average. It's fair to wonder if Arians will emerge from the bye week giving Ballard the football more. Ballard is worth stashing as an RB5.

With an upcoming four-game stretch that includes dates with Indy, St. Louis, and Jacksonville, the Packers' offensive juggernaut is just beginning to hit its stride. Dating back to the fourth quarter of Week 3's Monday night loss* to Seattle, Aaron Rodgers has completed 37 of his last 49 passes (75.5 percent) for 380 yards (7.76 YPA), four touchdowns, and one pick. Indianapolis is allowing the sixth-highest YPA to opposing passers (8.1), and the fifth highest QB rating (102.5) to go with a 5:1 TD-to-INT ratio against. The Packers won't struggle to move the ball on Greg Manusky's unit, so look for Rodgers to stay hot. ... Indianapolis is similarly weak versus the run, ranking 23rd in rush defense. Cedric Benson fell short of expectations against New Orleans last week, but still totaled over 100 all-purpose yards and would have had a goal-line score if Graham Harrell hadn't slipped and fumbled at the one-yard line when Rodgers left for a single play due to a poke in the eye. Quietly on pace for a career-high 48 receptions, Benson is involved in every facet of Green Bay's offense, playing 74 percent of the snaps over the past three games. A lack of big-play ability caps Benson's weekly fantasy ceiling, but he's a solid RB2 and excellent flex in this matchup.

Greg Jennings (groin) is week to week and will not play on Sunday. Rodgers' target distribution when Jennings has been sidelined this season: Jordy Nelson 18, James Jones 10, Randall Cobb 9, Benson 7, Jermichael Finley 6, Donald Driver 4, John Kuhn 3. ... Nelson got off the schneid with an 8-93-1 line against New Orleans and is back on pace for an 84-catch, 1,040-yard season, which will rise the more time Jennings misses. Nelson needs to be locked into lineups as a WR1. ... We've discussed Jones in this space, and he's a maddening fantasy player to try to predict. He seems to produce whenever we expect him not to, and tank when we envision big games. The bottom line is that Jones is now a full-time player in perhaps the league's premier passing offense. I'd be hard pressed to sit him. ... Aside from Jones, no player sees a greater increase in snaps when Jennings misses action than Cobb, who was earning more field time already. Jennings has primarily been playing in the slot. Cobb is a slot receiver and situational passing-down back, often aligning alongside Rodgers in the shotgun. Cobb is worth a look as a flex in this game, particularly in PPR and return-yardage leagues. ... It's time to start viewing Finley as a back-end TE1, along with the likes of Dennis Pitta and Brandon Pettigrew, and behind guys like Kyle Rudolph and Martellus Bennett. Finley hasn't exceeded 60 yards all season and he's gone 23 games without hitting 90. In all likelihood, Finley needs a TD to help you in any given week. He's also dropping passes again. There is increasing speculation that the Packers will cut Finley after the season.

Score Prediction: Packers 30, Colts 23

Cleveland @ NY Giants

The risk of falling behind early at New York, leading to a reduction in touches, is the only Week 5 fantasy worry Trent Richardson owners might face. Although the stats are just now beginning to catch up, Richardson has been downright nasty with the ball in his hands. Able to create space for himself with explosive lateral movement and finishing his runs with ferocious power, Richardson is quietly on pace for 16 all-purpose touchdowns and has 300 total yards over the past three weeks. While the G-Men get after the passer, they are less imposing as a run-defending group. Ranked 21st against the run, the Giants are surrendering 4.55 yards per carry and present a favorable matchup for Cleveland's feature back. Think long and hard about trading for Richardson if you can still get him on the relative cheap. Over the course of their next nine games, the Browns face just one opponent ranked higher than 13th in run defense. Cleveland deals with the Steelers' annually impenetrable unit only once in fantasy season. (The other is in Week 17.) Richardson's legs are fresh after a ten-day layoff following last Thursday's game, and he is poised for a very hot stretch.

Weeden entered the NFL unprepared for a guy who turns 29 in October. He's handled pressure as if this were his first time experiencing it, and consistently locked onto his first read like he's still at Oklahoma State with Justin Blackmon. But Weeden spins the football with accuracy and velocity, and has quietly had Cleveland's offense on the move for the last three weeks. While he won't be mistaken for a fantasy option anytime soon, I do think the tangible signs of competency, in addition to CB Joe Haden's Week 6 return, bode well for the Browns' chances of staying competitive in games. They won't win many, but Richardson can rack up attempts if they stay close. It's another reason to buy T-Rich while he's still affordable on the fantasy trade market. ... It's hard to imagine starting any Browns wideout in a fantasy league considering how bad they are -- Cleveland leads the NFL in drops and top receiver Greg Little averages under 40 yards a game -- but they can have some collective success at New York if Weeden gets any time to throw. The Giants' corners have largely struggled, and top safety Kenny Phillips is out with an MCL sprain.

Eli Manning's target distribution in Hakeem Nicks' two missed games this season: Victor Cruz 21, Ramses Barden 14, Domenik Hixon 11, Martellus Bennett 10, Andre Brown 6, Rueben Randle and Ahmad Bradshaw 4. ... Cruz is the No. 6 receiver in all of fantasy over the past three weeks. On pace for an incredible stat line of 132-1,552-8, Cruz will have no trouble torching the Browns' back end without Haden. ... Cleveland's pass defense has been throttled minus its top cover guy. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Andy Dalton, and Joe Flacco have combined to light up the Browns for 74-of-112 passing (66.1 percent), 882 yards (7.88 YPA), and a 7:2 TD-to-INT ratio, not including a rushing touchdown from Flacco. Keep Eli rolling in this one. ... Bennett's one-catch, two-yard Week 4 game appears to be an anomaly. He remained an every-down player and ran a high volume of pass routes. Manning simply threw the football to Hixon, Cruz, and Barden on the perimeter. Look for Bennett to rebound against Cleveland. The Browns often use SS T.J. Ward to shadow tight ends, and he'll play this game with his hand in a club after undergoing thumb surgery on Monday.

Brown played nine snaps in Bradshaw's Week 4 return, handling the ball on all nine. Bradshaw essentially operated as the Giants' every-down back against the Eagles, struggling en route to 77 scoreless yards on 16 touches. The play-time and touch distribution suggests Bradshaw is a worthwhile Week 5 flex play, even if he's lost an alarming amount of running ability off his prime. Cleveland's rush defense has played better than its No. 19 ranking (4.04 YPC, one rushing TD allowed), though, and Brown is an RB4 at this point. Over the course of the season, the Giants' backfield is likely to cause fantasy headaches more often than not. Sell Bradshaw immediately after this week if he has a decent game. ... David Wilson dominated Philly's kickoff coverage last week, averaging 36.2 yards per return. Unfortunately, he played one offensive snap, was targeted by Eli, and dropped the pass. No playing-time bump appears imminent, but the Giants will need Wilson's speed and elusiveness in the backfield before season's end. ... Barden (concussion) and Nicks (foot, knee) are both out, so Hixon will operate as an every-down receiver lining up across from Cruz. Randle will enter in three-wide sets. Coming off a six-catch, 114-yard performance, Hixon will spend the majority of his Week 5 snaps in Browns RCB Sheldon Brown's coverage. Brown has been Cleveland's top corner with Haden on suspension, but is 33 years old and will struggle to stay with Hixon on vertical routes. This is a good-looking matchup for Hixon.

Score Prediction: Giants 30, Browns 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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