Evan Silva

Matchups

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Matchups: The Slump Busters

Friday, October 05, 2012



4:05PM ET Games

Seattle @ Carolina

NFL Films' Greg Cosell has described the Seahawks' kid-gloves treatment of Russell Wilson as "hiding" their rookie QB. While Wilson hasn't played well enough for Seattle to justify otherwise, 25 pass attempts per week is low even for a game manager. Wilson was picked off three times by the Rams in Week 4, and didn't account for a single touchdown in the 19-13 let-down loss. There is increasing chatter that Wilson's leash is shortening, with higher-paid Matt Flynn perhaps poised to soon take over. ... The Seahawks are 2-2. They've been competitive in all four games, though, by playing shutdown defense and leaning on a heavily run-based offense. The wide receivers are essentially down-to-down decoys in an offense like this, which only throws the ball as a change-of-pace play or out of desperation. Golden Tate is averaging 38 yards per start. Sidney Rice is averaging 44. I think Tate is the best Week 5 fantasy bet in Seattle's receiver corps because he consistently plays more snaps than Rice and flashes superior separation skills, but neither would be a strong play. They’re shots in the dark.

We've discussed the poor structure of Carolina's defense in this space before. The Panthers have a bunch of good linebackers. But they have just one good lineman (LE Charles Johnson), and one good defensive back (LCB Gamble), and opposing offenses move the football with ease against them. Most commonly susceptible in run defense, Carolina is permitting 4.86 YPC on the ground and has been lit up by known plodders Andre Brown and Michael Turner for a combined 216 yards on 33 carries (6.55 YPC) and three touchdowns in successive weeks. Physical runners give the Panthers' defense the most trouble, and there might not be a more physical back in the league than NFL rushing leader Marshawn Lynch. For Lynch, this mismatch may lead to a blowup game.

 

Friday Update: Panthers MLB Jon Beason (knee) is listed as doubtful for Week 5, improving Lynch's matchup. Gamble (shoulder) is also listed as doubtful. The Seahawks should have their way against this defense.

Last week I wrote about a trade-off taking place between Greg Olsen and Brandon LaFell, and how I'd like to see one emerge from the weekly "competition" for No. 2 pass-catching duties behind Steve Smith. Olsen has done that and then some. The Panthers' leader in targets on the season, Olsen has outproduced LaFell in 3-of-4 games. LaFell was held catch-less last week and is being exposed as a mediocre talent. Expect Olsen to be the guy OC Rob Chudzinski looks to get the ball to when he's not running plays for Smith the rest of the way. Ranked 10th in tight end scoring through the season's first month, Olsen is a quality TE1 start against a Seahawks defense more vulnerable down the seam than outside. ... LaFell will do a lot of route running against Seahawks LCB Richard Sherman, which can be a very difficult task. One of the NFL's most proficient route disruptors, Sherman could render LaFell a fantasy non-factor for his third straight game. ... Smith will deal with RCB Brandon Browner in this one. Browner is another big, physical cornerback who will try to jam him at the line. If Smitty blows by him, however, -- and here's guessing he will a couple of times on Sunday -- stiff-hipped Browner will struggle to turn and run with Carolina's best wide receiver. Trot out Steve Smith with confidence in this fantasy matchup.

Similar to their Week 2 strategy against the Saints, the Panthers scaled back the volume of their passing offense in Week 4 at Atlanta and resumed generating consistent ball movement. Passing bonanzas make more highlight reels, but this can be among the league's most dynamic offenses -- and Cam Newton one of the NFL's most dominant players -- when the read-option run game is the foundation of Chudzinski's play calling. Newton has fewer than 25 pass attempts in six games so far in his career. His combined stats in them are 84-of-128 (65.6 percent) for 1,248 yards (9.75 YPA), and a 10:0 TD-to-INT ratio. Cam has also rushed 59 times for 390 yards (6.61 YPC) and seven more touchdowns in those six games. The Panthers will have to throw more than that on occasion due to unforeseeable game flow and their sieve of a defense, but, clearly, they are at their best leaning on the running game. While Seattle plays run-tough defense, Pete Carroll's group has yet to encounter an offense quite like this. ... Jonathan Stewart returned from his balky ankle in Week 4 to touch the football 11 times, gaining 48 total yards. DeAngelo Williams gained 51 yards on 12 touches and scored on a 13-yard run. Because they halve the weekly workload, neither Stewart nor Williams will be a strong fantasy option unless the other one gets injured. And in Williams’ case, that may not even be enough.

Score Prediction: Panthers 20, Seahawks 17

Chicago @ Jacksonville

Outside of Maurice Jones-Drew's running and RCB Derek Cox's one-side-of-the-field coverage, the Jaguars are doing little well as a team. Their pass defense got lit up by Andy Dalton in Week 4. They abandoned the run and rendered their best offensive player a non-factor. They can't put heat on the quarterback. Their run defense has been obliterated. The O-Line can't protect Blaine Gabbert. On paper, at least, the Bears should control this game from start to finish, with Matt Forte at the forefront. Missing dynamite SLB Daryl Smith (groin) for the first month, Jacksonville ranks 30th in run defense and has allowed six rushing touchdowns through four games. Although he wasn't quite himself during last Monday night's win over Dallas, Forte emerged from the game with only routine ankle soreness and will start this week. He's a top-ten running back play again. ... Rumored to be playing through a significant shoulder injury, Michael Bush was ineffective on 11 touches against the Cowboys, gaining 37 yards. Perhaps he'll replace Forte if the Bears get deep in scoring position, but Bush is a low-end flex option against the Jags. ... Jay Cutler's target distribution on the year: Brandon Marshall 39, Alshon Jeffery 19, Earl Bennett and Kellen Davis 14, Forte 12, Devin Hester 9, Bush 3. ... After publicly whining about his role leading up to Week 4, the Bears appeased Hester with three touches at Dallas, also freeing him up for a 34-yard touchdown catch. Hester has seven offensive touches on the year and isn't on the fantasy radar.

Cutler can carve up a defense with time to throw, and he should have plenty of it at Jacksonville. A pathetic Jaguars pass rush has two sacks on the season. DC Mel Tucker's Cover-2 scheme won't work without front-four pressure, and he's not getting any. Cutler is worth a long look as a matchup play. ... The Bears move Marshall all around the formation, while Cox sticks to one side. Coming off his 7-138-1 evisceration of Cowboys CB Brandon Carr, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know Marshall is a strong fantasy start. ... Davis is averaging 26 yards per game. Although Tucker's defense can be susceptible down the middle, Davis is not even a big enough part of Chicago's passing offense to be a viable TE2. ... Jeffery's 74.1-percent snap rate in Week 4 was the highest it's been all season, but he was targeted just five times, reeling in three for 32 yards. While Jeffery may have a bright future playing opposite Marshall, he's not to the point of bye-week WR3 yet. ... Bennett has a hand injury and didn't play last Monday. He was serving a bit role before the scratch, with six catches for 82 scoreless yards in Chicago's first three games.

In perhaps the biggest on-paper mismatch of Sunday's slate, the Jags' 30th-ranked offense will take aim at a Bears defense that ranks third against the run, is one off the league lead in sacks, and leads the NFL in interceptions. Jaguars top pass catcher Laurent Robinson will not play due to a concussion. While Justin Blackmon put himself back on the radar with six catches for 48 yards in Week 4, Jacksonville's passing offense is destined to struggle in this matchup. ... Look for Marcedes Lewis to spend a ton of time on the line helping the Jaguars' tackles block Julius Peppers. ... Chad Henne isn't the answer to the Jaguars' passing-game woes, but it will be interesting to see whether Mike Mularkey & Co. consider turning to him at the Week 6 bye. There is little reason for optimism on Blaine Gabbert, who hasn't moved the offense since Week 1. ... Mularkey's post-game admission that he underutilized Jones-Drew in Week 4 against the Bengals does bode promisingly for MJD's Week 5 workload. To even be competitive, Jacksonville must get Jones-Drew the rock early and often. The matchup is really difficult, but workload should not be a problem. Keep your expectations within reason and start Jones-Drew as a borderline RB1.

Score Prediction: Bears 24, Jaguars 10

4:25PM ET Games

Denver @ New England

The 52-point over-under on Broncos-Pats is second highest of Week 5. When Peyton Manning and Tom Brady go toe to toe shootouts typically result, so fire up your guys. ... I re-watched Raiders-Broncos this week and thought Willis McGahee was the most explosive runner on the same field as Darren McFadden. McGahee made unblocked defenders miss and was terrific on cutbacks, spotting holes where plays weren't necessarily designed to flow and accelerating into them. On his last 62 carries, McGahee has 307 yards (4.95 YPC) and three TDs. He's also consistently gotten better late in games. The Pats are defending the run well, but McGahee is a stud RB2. ... Ronnie Hillman is quietly ascending the depth chart and showed impressive burst in a change-up role against Oakland. Hillman would need a McGahee injury to be start-able, but he's a player to monitor. ... Manning's 2012 target distribution: Eric Decker 36, Demaryius Thomas 35, Jacob Tamme 25, Brandon Stokley 17, Joel Dreessen 12, McGahee 11. ... Peyton has ultimately had one bad quarter this season. Throw out that three-interception first frame in Week 2 against Atlanta, and Manning has completed 92-of-143 passes (64.3 percent) for 1,117 yards (7.81 YPA), and an 8:0 TD-to-INT ratio through four games. Silencing the doubters, Manning is a QB1 again.

The ball isn't going to Tamme enough to get him on the TE1 radar. He's a low-end fantasy backup averaging 31 yards per game. I don't think the fact that New England's defense has given up a bunch of touchdowns to tight ends means much for Tamme. Over the Broncos' last three games, he's played 127-of-239 snaps (53.1 percent). ... As Chris Wesseling noted, Demaryius Thomas is doing his damage with run-after-catch dominance on wide receiver screens. If he can cut down on the mistakes -- Thomas has lost two fumbles and dropped five balls -- he might surpass Decker as Peyton's favorite target. Even amid error-prone play, Thomas has at least 100 yards and/or a touchdown in three of the first four games and is top 12 in fantasy receiver scoring. His physicality will give Patriots RCBs Kyle Arrington and Sterling Moore trouble down the left sideline. ... Decker will match up with LCB Devin McCourty in this game. McCourty has rediscovered rookie-year form as a cover man and tackler, and poses a difficult matchup for Denver's hottest receiver. Decker remains a quality fantasy start, but I like Thomas to lead the Broncos in Week 5 receiving stats.

Aaron Hernandez (ankle) has returned to limited practice, but won't resume game play until Week 6. Tom Brady's target distribution since Hernandez left in the first quarter of Week 2: Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker 32, Rob Gronkowski 23, Danny Woodhead and Stevan Ridley 5, Shane Vereen 2, Brandon Bolden 1. ... The Pats have a voluminous, efficient passing attack capable of supporting three fantasy-viable pass catchers. Lloyd, Gronk, and Welker can all get "theirs" on a weekly basis, so there are no real consistency issues, at least until Hernandez reenters the picture. ... I'm not worried about Champ Bailey "shadowing" Lloyd because they play on opposite sides of the formation. Per Mike Clay of Pro Football Focus and Rotoworld, Lloyd has played 56 percent of his snaps at LWR, 39 percent at RWR, and five percent in the slot. Bailey has played 79.6 percent of his snaps at LCB. Bailey sticks to one side of the field and Lloyd goes more often against the other. Look for Lloyd to spend most of Sunday playing in more burnable RCB Tracy Porter's coverage. PFF has charted Porter with 268 yards and three touchdowns allowed in the first four games. ... The Broncos have allowed 22 receptions for 239 yards and three TDs to tight ends, roughly equating to a 6/60/1 weekly stat line. And they haven't faced any tight end remotely as good as Gronkowski. Comfortably expect another big game from the beastly talent.

Surgical his last two times out, Brady has completed 53 of his last 81 passes (65.4 percent) for 705 yards (8.7 YPA), a 5:0 TD-to-INT ratio, and scrambled in a sixth score. The Broncos rank a respectable 13th against the pass, but have an 8:2 TD-to-INT ratio against. It's not an imposing group. ... Welker is on a roll with Hernandez gone, making himself impossible to pull off the field when Hernandez gets back. Across the NFL, only Brian Hartline has more receiving yards over the past three weeks. Ride Welker. ... Bolden's increased Week 4 role seemed to be game-plan based. The undrafted rookie finished with a 16-137-1 line and was involved from start to finish; Bolden wasn't just getting garbage-time carries. While he possesses better straight-line speed than Stevan Ridley, Bolden is much less proficient at making guys miss and lacks Ridley's power. My best guess is Bolden was so heavily involved because playcaller Josh McDaniels set out to attack Buffalo's defense with the run game. I also wouldn't be surprised if Bolden doesn't get that many carries for the rest of the season. ... Stevan Ridley is the No. 8 overall fantasy back and should be locked into lineups against a Denver defense that ranks ninth against the run but won't finish the season nearly that high. One situation to look out for, though, is a late-game fumble by Ridley out of bounds against Buffalo. Ball security woes got Ridley benched late last season.

Score Prediction: Patriots 30, Broncos 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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