Evan Silva


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Matchups: No-Go for Romo?

Saturday, December 08, 2012

1:00PM ET Games

Tennessee @ Indianapolis

The Titans' offensive coordinator move from Chris Palmer to Dowell Loggains did have an on-field impact in Loggains' 2012 playcalling debut. Kenny Britt (66-of-75 plays) and Jared Cook (64) both experienced season-high snap counts and combined for 20 targets. Streaky quarterback Jake Locker's accuracy was an issue again, though, and both Britt (2-40-1) and Cook (4-51-0) wound up with relatively disappointing stats. Tennessee goes from facing Houston's No. 6 defense to Indy's 21st-ranked group this week, so easier sledding should be in store for Titans offensive skill-position players. ... One obstacle standing in the way of Locker & Co., however, is a decimated offensive line. Tennessee already lost RG Leroy Harris (ACL) and C Eugene Amano (triceps) to I.R. In Week 13, LG Steve Hutchinson (knee) and RT David Stewart (fractured leg) suffered year-ending injuries. Locker has a tendency to play too fast and frenetic under pressure, so the up-front casualties are concerning for his outlook. He's a dicey two-quarterback league option in Week 14. ... The line deterioration is also worrisome for Chris Johnson, although simply running harder has been the real key to his turnaround. Last week's stat line (13-51, 4-20) was attributable to a big early deficit. So long as he continues to hit lanes with purpose and finish off his runs, Johnson should get back on track against a Colts defense that ranks 22nd versus the run and permits 4.78 yards per carry.

No. 1 receiver stats against the Colts over the past five weeks: Brian Hartline 8-107, Cecil Shorts 6-105-1, Wes Welker 7-80, Stevie Johnson 6-106, and Calvin Johnson 13-171-1. Kendall Wright led Tennessee in Week 13 receptions (6-78) and Nate Washington (3-96) had the most yards, but the Titans still fancy Britt as their No. 1 pass option. “He caught the nice touchdown pass today," coach Mike Munchak said of Britt after last week's loss. "That’s hopefully a sign of things to come. You want to see more of that, obviously. ... It’s just a matter of us finding ways to get bigger plays out of him.” Start Britt as a WR3 at Indy, and ignore Wright and Washington, whom Tennessee views as complementary pieces. ... The Colts have been shredded by tight ends in their last three games, with Detroit, Buffalo, and New England TEs combining for 17 receptions, 267 yards, and four TDs against them in Weeks 11-13. There are more stable Week 14 tight end plays out there than Cook, but he should appeal to upside seekers. Loggains wants to get him the ball, and Cook wants to finish fast in his contract year.

Donald Brown's likely multi-week ankle injury locks in Vick Ballard as the Colts' every-down back, and he'll bring 20-touch workhorse potential into Sunday's matchup with Tennessee's bottom-six run defense. "Boy I really like Vick Ballard," NFL Films' Greg Cosell stated on Adam Caplan’s Week 14 Preview Podcast. "I think he's a good back. ... He's a very good receiver, by the way." Although Ballard's lack of big-play run skills limits his upside, the Colts have shown a willingness to lean on him as a chain mover and borderline every-down back, playing him ahead of Brown and Delone Carter in passing situations. The matchup and bellcow role combine to make Ballard a relatively appealing flex play. ... The Titans rank 26th against the pass and have allowed the second most passing touchdowns in the NFL. Meanwhile, Andrew Luck is the No. 2 fantasy quarterback over the past five weeks, behind only Cam Newton. The domed environs of Lucas Oil Stadium, a bad Tennessee defense, and his improving rapport with a rookie-laden supporting cast make Luck a strong QB1 in Week 14. ... Top-eight fantasy receiver Reggie Wayne touched up the Titans for 91 yards on seven catches in these teams' late-October meeting, and Tennessee has shown little or no defensive improvement since. Keep riding Wayne as he quietly racks up career-best stats with a rookie quarterbacking a pass-first attack.

Luck's target distribution over the past five games: Wayne 61, T.Y. Hilton 44, Donnie Avery 40, Dwayne Allen 31, LaVon Brazill 16, Ballard 14, Brown 7, Coby Fleener 2. ... Avery caught a pair of touchdowns last week, but the target numbers accurately reflect that Hilton is Luck's second favorite receiver, even if the rookie plays fewer weekly snaps. "I've been really impressed with Hilton as a route runner," Cosell said. "... I thought he'd be a perfect slot guy, and he obviously has that skill set, but he's lining up wide -- outside the numbers -- and winning. The 60-yarder he caught (last) week against Drayton Florence, he ran an unbelievable route. He looks very, very good." Hilton is the preferred WR3 over Avery going forward. ... Fleener's healthy return muddles Indianapolis' tight end situation in terms of weekly fantasy reliability. Allen is the better player of the two, but experienced a three-week low in targets (5) despite the fact that the Colts were in pass-happy comeback mode for most of last week's game against the Lions. Targeted just twice, Fleener secured his one reception for a 26-yard touchdown. This has become a situation to avoid.

Score Prediction: Colts 28, Titans 20

Dallas @ Cincinnati

The mismatch that stands out when breaking down these two teams is the Bengals' ferocious, aggressive front four versus Dallas' leaky offensive line. All three interior positions and right tackle have been major problem areas for the Cowboys up front. Cincinnati attacks the interior with NFL-best defensive tackle Geno Atkins, and re-charged LE Carlos Dunlap returns from a two-sack, two-forced fumble game to take on turnstile RT Doug Free. Tony Romo has masked Dallas' pass-protection woes in recent weeks, but this game has disaster written all over it. I couldn't bring myself to start Romo in a standard league. ... The overall production of Dallas' passing game may be down in Week 14, but Dez Bryant is on a wicked tear. "Dez is growing before our eyes," coach Jason Garrett said in last Sunday's post-game presser. Indeed. Bryant leads all running backs, receivers, and tight ends in fantasy points over the past three weeks, playing with efficiency and relentlessly ripping off big plays. He's surged to No. 5 in fantasy receiver scoring, behind only A.J. Green, Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, and Demaryius Thomas. Dez is an every-week WR1. ... Romo's target distribution during Dez's team-carrying three-game stretch: Bryant 32, Jason Witten 31, Miles Austin and Cole Beasley 16, Dwayne Harris 11, Felix Jones 8, Kevin Ogletree 5.

Cincinnati has permitted the eighth most fantasy points to tight ends, creating a plus matchup for Witten. On pace for a career-high 118 receptions, Witten is due to hit pay dirt with just one TD on the year. ... If the Bengals "play sides" at cornerback, Bryant will spend most of this game in the coverage of RCB Pacman Jones and 34-year-old LCB Terence Newman on the perimeter. Austin would deal with top CB Leon Hall, whom Cincinnati has used in the slot recently when opponents go three wide. I don't think Austin has a great matchup, I don't think Romo will throw for a ton of yards, and I think Austin has taken a clear backseat in Dallas' passing offense as the No. 3 option behind Bryant and Witten. Austin is a mid-range to low-end WR3 in this game. ... While DeMarco Murray wasn't quite 100 percent in his first game back from a six-week foot injury in Week 13, he still displayed impressive straight-line burst and handled a season-high 27 touches. Consider him a locked-in RB2 going forward. Cincinnati's defensive line gets up field as a pass-rushing group, but it's less stout versus the run. ... Ogletree continues to play ahead Beasley and Harris, but his snaps have been declining for weeks. Avoid Dallas' third receiver committee in fantasy leagues.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis rarely gets much love in this space. He's a volume-dependent, plodding runner lacking big-play ability and a role in the passing game. But Green-Ellis has put together three straight 100-plus-yard games, and he has a favorable Week 14 matchup. The Cowboys are decimated up the middle with both starting inside linebackers on I.R., and NT Jay Ratliff nursing a debilitating groin injury. Washington and Philly's rushing offenses have combined to light up Rob Ryan's defense for 332 yards and three touchdowns on 58 carries (5.72 YPC) the past two weeks. Talent limitations will inevitably catch up to Green-Ellis, but fantasy owners should ride him while he's hot and receiving monster workloads. Complementary back Cedric Peerman's ankle injury ensures the latter will be the case. ... Due to the losses of ILBs Bruce Carter (elbow) and Sean Lee (toe), Dallas is also vulnerable in pass coverage over the middle. It showed up in last week's win over the Eagles, as TE Brent Celek and slot man Jason Avant combined for 152 yards on 11 receptions. Top-ten fantasy tight end Jermaine Gresham figures to stay in to help LT Andrew Whitworth block DeMarcus Ware on a fair number of snaps in Week 14, but Gresham should be open whenever he breaks into a pass route. He's a respectable TE1 play against the Cowboys.

The Cowboys opened the season playing shutdown pass defense, but they've been exposed by rookie quarterbacks the past three weeks. Brandon Weeden, Robert Griffin III, and Nick Foles combined to complete 61-of-96 throws (63.5 percent) for 765 yards (7.97 YPA), and a 7:1 TD-to-INT ratio against Dallas in Weeks 11-13. Andy Dalton is the No. 10 fantasy quarterback, and a viable back-end QB1 in this matchup. ... A.J. Green leads the NFL in receiving TDs and all wide receivers in fantasy scoring. He should lick his chops for a Week 14 date with struggling $50.1 million CB Brandon Carr. ... Rookie Marvin Jones has replaced injured Mohamed Sanu as the Bengals' No. 2 receiver. Jones played 69-of-78 snaps (88.5 percent) in last week's win over San Diego, but was targeted only three times, dropping one and catching two for 20 yards. While Jones is an interesting long-term prospect, he's not on the re-draft radar. ... Returning from a two-week knee injury, slot man Andrew Hawkins was a 72-percent player against the Chargers. He ranked second behind Green on the Bengals in Week 13 targets (8), pulling in five for 47 yards. "Baby Hawk" is a WR5 in PPR. He offers even less in touchdown- and yardage-heavy leagues.

Score Prediction: Bengals 23, Cowboys 20

San Diego @ Pittsburgh

I've discussed the sorry state of the Chargers' offense in this space in each of the past two weeks. It's getting worse. Already having lost LT Jared Gaither (groin) for the season, the Bolts will be minus LG Tyronne Green (hamstring), fill-in LT Mike Harris (ankle), and RT Jeromey Clary (knee) against Pittsburgh's No. 1 defense. The primary cause of Philip Rivers' struggles has been his reaction to pressure, including sensing heat when it isn't even there. And he'll now be playing behind a rag-tag offensive line. With SS Troy Polamalu progressing back into a full-time role, San Diego's pass offense will have a difficult time generating first downs at Heinz Field. Expect little from Rivers, and Malcom Floyd versus improving Steelers LCB Keenan Lewis. ... Rivers' target distribution since Danario Alexander became a starter four games ago: Alexander 36, Floyd 25, Ryan Mathews 22, Antonio Gates 19, Ronnie Brown 18, Eddie Royal 8, Robert Meachem 3. ... Alexander is the lone Chargers skill player worth serious Week 14 start consideration. Locked in as San Diego's go-to receiver, D.X. should benefit from the absence of Steelers RCB Ike Taylor (right fibula). The Ravens picked on fill-in RCB Cortez Allen last week, as Allen was beaten for a 28-yard touchdown by Anquan Boldin and also flagged for a 30-yard pass interference penalty.

Chargers coaches have determined that Mathews is incapable of being the franchise back for their team. His 2012 performance has done nothing to make that notion unwarranted. Even when he's stopped fumbling, Mathews has remained prone to on-field errors. He drew the ire of Rivers last week for blowing a route on a designed halfback screen. Mathews has run tentatively, leaving yards on the field en route to a career-low 4.00 YPC average. He's not trusted in critical situations. This is a great week to sit Mathews in fantasy because Pittsburgh fields a top-five run defense, and his playing time may bottom out if superior pass protector Brown is needed for an increased role due to the O-Line casualties. Mathews is a weak flex option in Week 14. ... Like Mathews, Gates is a fantasy bust. Unlike Mathews, Gates is still an effective football player. Combined with its overall offensive ineptitude, San Diego's lack of a threatening perimeter presence has put a defensive bulls-eye on Gates more often than not. He's failed to get open against double teams and bracket coverage. Rivers targets Gates 4-5 times a game. The Steelers have allowed the fewest fantasy points to tight ends in the AFC this season. So look elsewhere for TE1s this week.

The Steelers figure to ease Ben Roethlisberger back into the lineup after a three-game absence due to rib and shoulder injuries. San Diego is playing top-nine defense, so fantasy owners should be wary of immediately re-anointing Big Ben a fantasy starter. "The (Steelers) have obviously committed a lot more to the run game," NFL Films' Greg Cosell stated this week. "... I think the days of Roethlisberger throwing it 40 times are over, unless the game demands it. And I don't think this game will demand it." Expect a low-scoring, physical affair as Roethlisberger gets back into the swing of things. ... The one factor that could spur Pittsburgh playcaller Todd Haley into pass-first mode would be sheer ineffectiveness from his run game. The Chargers rank sixth against the run and get back edge-setting run-defender OLB Jarret Johnson from a back injury this week. Jonathan Dwyer has taken over as the Steelers' lead back, but he's hardly set the league ablaze with 179 yards on 56 carries (3.20 YPC) over the last four games. He also "lost" nine carries to Isaac Redman in Week 13. Dwyer is a dicey, low-upside flex play in a tough matchup this week.

Even if Roethlisberger doesn't instantaneously resume peppering opponents with pass targets, his return is a big plus for the outlooks of Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, and Heath Miller. Brown showed in last week's win over Baltimore that his midseason high ankle sprain has fully healed, picking up 62 yards on six touches. He also resumed returning punts. Brown is a worthy WR3 roll of the dice in a matchup with Chargers slow-footed, 33-year-old LCB Quentin Jammer. ... Even if he's lost a small dose of playing time to Emmanuel Sanders in recent weeks, Wallace's big-play ability makes him an enticing WR2 because San Diego struggles to defend fast-twitch speed receivers. Torrey Smith is similar to Wallace, and Smith ate up Jammer and RCB Antoine Cason for 144 yards on seven receptions two weeks ago. Wallace will draw Cason for the majority of Sunday's snaps. Cason is the Chargers' weak link in the secondary. ... Miller will be better off with Ben under center going forward, but he does have a difficult Week 14 matchup. Stifling tight ends with FS Eric Weddle, San Diego has permitted the fourth fewest fantasy points in the league to the position. I personally would opt for a Martellus Bennett or Tony Scheffler over Heath this week.

Score Prediction: Steelers 20, Chargers 13

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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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