Evan Silva


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Matchups: The Antidote

Friday, September 20, 2013

1:00PM ET Games

Houston @ Baltimore

The Texans opened the season with back-to-back shootout-style games. They rallied from a 28-7 deficit in Week 1 to upend San Diego, 31-28. In Week 2, Houston trailed the division-rival Titans by eight points in the fourth quarter, again rallying to take the game to overtime and win 30-24. While it's certainly conceivable the defense simply isn't as good as expected, I struggle to believe a Texans team philosophically constructed around the run game and Wade Phillips' side of the ball is going to keep spraying opponents with passing-game points, and allowing them. So I find it hard to trust the Weeks 1-2 box scores when attempting to project Texans fantasy players. Matt Schaub ended Week 2 second in the NFL in pass attempts (93), fourth in touchdown passes (6), and eighth in yards (644). Start him if you think he'll keep it up. I don't. ... Owen Daniels is fifth in tight end scoring, albeit 17th in targets (12). You can see the regression coming. Sell high now, or immediately after Daniels faces a Ravens defense that coughed up 5-110-2 to Julius Thomas in Week 1, and 5-95 to Jordan Cameron in Week 2. Reeling at safety, Baltimore has already benched FS Michael Huff for rookie Matt Elam and will apparently continue to play SS James Ihedigbo, who is best suited to special teams. ... Through two weeks, Texans No. 2 TE Garrett Graham has played 64.4% of the snaps with back-to-back touchdowns inside opponents' ten-yard lines. Despite the early-season TDs, Graham is a clear TE2 in fantasy. He's also listed as questionable for Week 3 with injuries to his groin and hip.

A pressing concern for Schaub's outlook against a Ravens defense that ranks top-five in the NFL in sacks is the questionable status of LT Duane Brown (turf toe). Brown is one of the best three left tackles in football, and Terrell Suggs plays on his side. Pro Football Focus grades Suggs as a top-six 3-4 outside linebacker through two games. ... Andre Johnson's league-high 29 targets will regress, but he remains an every-week WR1. The Ravens are struggling at outside cornerback, shuffling RCB Jimmy Smith and LCB Corey Graham back and forth on the first team. Johnson's last three stat lines against Baltimore: 8-111, 9-140-2, 9-86. ... People will be excited about DeAndre Hopkins' breakout Week 2, but I think he's destined for inconsistency due to the nature of Houston's run-first offense. Already skewed by pass-happy comeback mode, 24% of Hopkins' 117 yards and his touchdown all came with Johnson out of the game due to a concussion. A.J. is back this week. Hopkins' outlook has not changed; he's a somewhat shaky WR3. ... Baltimore's revamped defensive front seven has shut down the Denver and Cleveland run games in back-to-back weeks, permitting a combined 130 scoreless yards on 43 carries (3.02 YPC). It's not a great week to flex Ben Tate. Arian Foster is averaging 22 touches per game and is a high-end RB2.

Despite an impressive combination of up-front and secondary talent, the Texans have sprung pass defense leaks. Philip Rivers and Jake Locker have combined for a 6:1 TD-to-INT ratio on Houston, although peripheral stats like yards per attempt and completion rate allowed suggest the Texans are playing better than the touchdowns indicate. Still, I wouldn't view this as a prohibitive matchup for Torrey Smith, even with FS Ed Reed (hip) tentatively expected back. With Jacoby Jones shelved for Week 2, Smith's routes were noticeably different. He was peppered with targets -- 13, tying a career high -- and ran higher-percentage patterns designed to get Smith the football in Joe Haden's shadow. Smith plays on both sides of the formation, and should split time equally between LCB Kareem Jackson and RCB Johnathan Joseph's coverage. Joseph has been the weak link in Houston's secondary to this point. Consider Smith an every-week WR2/3. ... Marlon Brown is a big, lanky, smooth-moving receiver who's posted stat lines of 4-65-1 and 4-45-1 to open the season, seeing six targets in each game. It's worth noting Brown had CB Chris Owens beaten for a would-be 32-yard score in the first quarter last week, but dropped the pass and finished with just the 45 yards and one TD. He is an interesting, if back-end fantasy WR3.

Joe Flacco's target distribution through two weeks: Smith 21, Brandon Stokley 15, Ray Rice 14, Dallas Clark 13, Brown 12, Ed Dickson and Vonta Leach 6. ... Despite Stokley's high target total -- he's got more than No. 3 overall fantasy receiver Eddie Royal -- Baltimore's 37-year-old slot man has eight catches for 70 scoreless yards and isn't a realistic fantasy option. ... Clark and Dickson are ineffective real-life and fantasy players. Clark tallied 37.5% of the snaps in Week 2 and was a non-factor after an early-game shot to the head. He finished with eight yards. ... Despite an NFL-most 95 pass attempts, Flacco ranks 17th in fantasy quarterback scoring. He's a two-QB league option only. ... Nursing a strained hip flexor, Rice will be a game-time decision whose Week 3 availability may be determined during a pre-game workout. The Texans' run defense has been more-or-less stout, ranking 18th in rushing yards allowed but only dishing out 3.75 yards per carry. You know the drill if Rice is active; he's an every-week fantasy starter. If Rice is declared out Sunday morning, power back Bernard Pierce will get the nod and be a safe bet to approach 20 rushing attempts. Here's an offseason tape study I did on Pierce following his rookie season.


Friday Update: Rice is listed as doubtful on the injury report, which essentially means he's out. Look for Pierce to carry the mail as a high-volume workhorse. The matchup is less than ideal, but the Ravens are desperate for a run game because their pass-game personnel is very limited. OC Jim Caldwell won't hesitate to ride Pierce.

Score Prediction: Ravens 23, Texans 21

Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-week $25,000 Fantasy Football league for Week 3. It's $25 to join and first prize is $5,000. Starts Sunday at 1pm ET. Here's the link.


Detroit @ Washington

Robert Griffin III owners must stay the course, and at the same time consider themselves lucky back-to-back comeback modes have buoyed RG3's stats to the point he's eighth in fantasy QB scoring through two games. Still recovering from January's knee reconstruction, Griffin did take a noticeable step forward in Washington's Week 2 loss to Green Bay, delivering passes with more consistent location and velocity. Footwork and mechanics have limited RG3's on-field play, but they're fixable. While Detroit's front four is fearsome, expect another high-production game from Griffin against the Lions' work-in-progress secondary. Rookie RCB Darius Slay has been benched in consecutive games for 33-year-old Rashean Mathis. RG3 is playing well enough to exploit that matchup. ... And Griffin is most likely to exploit it with Pierre Garcon. Of Garcon's 24 targets, 22 have come versus right cornerbacks and over the middle. The Redskins' best offensive player through two weeks, Garcon is flirting with WR1 fantasy value. ... In nine career games with RG3, Fred Davis has 27 catches for 350 scoreless yards. Outplayed by rookie Jordan Reed in each of Washington's first two games, Davis can be dropped in 12-team leagues. OC Kyle Shanahan benched Davis last week for missed assignments. He's dropped two of his six targets so far.

RG3's target distribution: Garcon 24, Santana Moss 14, Josh Morgan 11, Leonard Hankerson 10, Reed 9, Davis 6, Aldrick Robinson 4, Alfred Morris and Roy Helu 3. ... Fourth receiver Hankerson predictably crashed back to Earth after his two-touchdown opener, catching 3-of-3 targets for 35 yards on 49% of the snaps at Green Bay. He's behind blocking receiver Morgan on the depth chart. ... Slot man Moss, passing-down rookie TE Reed, and streak-route specialist Robinson are rotational players and can't be trusted in fantasy lineups. ... Morris has the sieve-like Redskins defense to blame for his slightly slow start, although he scored a touchdown in the opener and topped 100 rushing yards in Week 2. Playing as well as ever, Alf is averaging 6.08 yards per carry and on Sunday faces a Lions defense that plays the run worse than its up-front talent suggests. Detroit ranks 15th against the run through two games, after finishing 2012 17th in that category. Morris is an RB1. ... Helu's ball-handling involvement has been surprisingly scant despite the Redskins' penchant for falling behind. He is Washington's passing-down back. Helu is getting a lot of field time, however -- 46% of the snaps -- primarily as a pass-protection specialist. He’s worth owning in all fantasy leagues as a potential every-down back if Morris ever missed time.

Based on Washington's sheer defensive ineptitude, Matthew Stafford is justifiable as a top-five fantasy quarterback start in Week 3. The Redskins are getting shelled. Jim Haslett's group ranks dead last in total defense and 23rd versus the pass, with a league-high 135.4 quarterback rating permitted to enemy passers, and 6:0 TD-to-INT ratio against. Fire up Stafford. ... Same goes for Calvin Johnson, who tattooed Patrick Peterson for 116 yards and two touchdowns in Week 2. In his last meeting with Washington (October 2010), Megatron dropped a 9/101/3 line, dismantling DeAngelo Hall. ... Lions OC Scott Linehan has understandably taken steps to weed tight ends out of his passing game after Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler's abominable 2012s. Scheffler played four Week 2 snaps and is catch-less on the year. Pettigrew gets a lot of playing time still because he's a fairly effective blocker, but he's a little-used safety valve as a receiver. He has ten targets through two games, securing five for 40 yards with a lost fumble. Drop him. ... UDFA Joseph Fauria doesn't warrant a re-draft roster spot, though it's worth noting he played ahead of Scheffler last week and merits a look in Dynasty leagues. He's coming off a Week 2 goose egg.

Keep a close eye on Ryan Broyles this week. Temporary third receiver Patrick Edwards has a potentially severe ankle injury, which forced the Lions to give special teamer Kris Durham 40 Week 2 offensive snaps. Durham went catch-less on two targets. Edwards' injury could be the Lions' impetus to reinvolve Broyles. A dynamic and highly efficient slot receiver pre-injury, Broyles is worth stashing as a wait-and-see WR4/5. The Lions' website hinted Broyles will be active in D.C. ... Nate Burleson is what he is -- an upside-lacking 32-year-old possession receiver -- but he couldn't ask for a better Week 3 matchup. Redskins slot corner Josh Wilson is struggling mightily. Burleson is still for WR3 desperados only. ... Per ESPN Stats & Info, the Redskins have allowed the most yards after contact (208) in football through two games. Pro Football Focus has charted Haslett's defense with a mind-blowing 30 missed tackles. They made a star out of plodding James Starks in Week 2. Although he's a game-time decision, Reggie Bush (knee) will be an obvious must-start RB1 if he's active against the NFL's worst run defense. If not, versatile Joique Bell will be a top-15 fantasy running back play. Over his last 14 games, Bell has rushed 83 times for 392 yards (4.72 YPC) with 50 catches. He's one of the most underrated backs in the league.


Friday Update: Bush returned to practice Friday, looking sharp. The Detroit Free Press expects him to start against the Redskins. I still wouldn't write off Bell as a fantasy option, as the two shared first-team snaps in Friday's session and Sunday's backfield could be closer to an even split. Confidently start Bush as a high-ceiling RB2. In a relatively desperate flex spot, you could do much worse than Bell.

Score Prediction: Redskins 30, Lions 27

San Diego @ Tennessee

On Tuesday, I went back and looked at every throw Philip Rivers has made to this point in the year. Mike McCoy and Ken Whisenhunt have done a fabulous job of scheming an offense that gets the ball out of Rivers' hands quickly, compensating for a weak line and restoring his comfort zone. Rivers' arm has not regained velocity, but receivers are getting open in their short-depth routes. I still highly doubt Rivers will sustain his to-date production with such a talent-deprived supporting cast. Now minus RT D.J. Fluker due to an in-practice concussion, Tennessee's defense poses a fine litmus test. The Titans are bringing heavy pressure under blitz-happy senior assistant Gregg Williams, whose mark is indelible despite Jerry Gray's "coordinator" title. Consider Rivers a high-end QB2 until defenses begin clamping down on this offense. San Diego's lone vertical threat, Malcom Floyd, is out indefinitely with a neck injury. ... I also watched all of early-season sensation Eddie Royal and slow-starter Vincent Brown's targets. It's clear Brown is struggling because he's being asked to win outside the numbers. With 4.7 speed, Brown will be a statistical non-factor until the Chargers begin sending him on higher-percentage patterns. He's a fantasy WR4/5.

Royal has been San Diego's featured receiver through two games. His TD production is obviously unsustainable -- I wouldn't be shocked if he didn't score again all year -- but McCoy is calling plays designed to get him the ball. In the quick-out offense, Royal is being fed on screens and routes close to the line, where withered-arm Rivers can easily connect. I still think Royal maxes out as a WR3/flex -- he isn't an explosive or spectacular player by any stretch; he's the same old Eddie Royal -- but he's got a realistic chance to catch 75 balls in the revised attack. Royal is being used as the guy I thought before the season Brown would be. ... Keenan Allen will fill in for Floyd at X receiver. Allen has three targets on the year, catching two for 24 yards. He's not worth a 12-team league roster spot. ... Antonio Gates remains more likely to wear down than stay hot at age 33 1/2, but his 8-124 Week 2 line wasn't necessarily a fluke. Gates is moving well, and the offense suits him. He's a legit TE1 facing Tennessee's coverage-liability safeties. ... The Chargers are using Ryan Mathews in a rotation for two reasons: 1. They don't trust their line. 2. They don't trust Mathews in pass pro. So because Ronnie Brown and Danny Woodhead are superior blockers, San Diego's backfield timeshare isn't going away. Through two weeks, Mathews has played 47 snaps while Brown has played 40 and Danny Woodhead 52. It's a value-sapping RBBC.

Intent on minimizing Jake Locker's impact on games, the Titans lead the NFL in rushing attempts (75) through two weeks despite ranking 26th in yards per carry. In Week 3, they get an above-average matchup versus a San Diego defense that's surrendered 209 yards and a touchdown on 48 runs (4.35 YPC). Chris Johnson remains a largely boom-or-bust back dependent on long runs to pay fantasy dividends, but he's "due" after managing a long gain of 16 yards through the first two games. I like Johnson as a mid-range to low-end RB2 against San Diego. ... The Titans have stripped Johnson of goal-line work -- even with Shonn Greene (knee scope) sidelined -- which puts a lid on CJ?K's scoring upside. Fill-in vulture Jackie Battle scored a three-yard touchdown in Week 1 and had six more "big back" change-of-pace carries last week. Battle is still not worth a fantasy roster spot. ... Even when OC Dowell Loggains does let Locker make dropbacks, the Titans are not challenging deep or encouraging Locker to run. His YPA rests at a dink-and-dunkish 5.46 through two games, and Locker has scrambled only seven times for 13 yards. Consider Locker a low-end two-quarterback league option, even against San Diego's porous pass defense.

Last week's Titans box score was impacted by a shootout and overtime, and Loggains does not want to play that way. So to draw going-forward conclusions from the 30-24 loss to Houston would be impractical. Kendall Wright caught seven balls and scored his first TD since last November, but only played 33-of-72 snaps (46%) and benefited from Damian Williams' (hamstring) inactivity. With Williams back this week, Wright is a shaky WR3. ... Loggains benched Britt in Week 2 for poor blocking. He's committed three penalties and dropped a pass, seeing 11 targets through two weeks. Britt has cleared 70 receiving yards in one of his last 17 games. Britt is obviously not worth starting, but I'd hang onto him in fantasy in hopes of a pre-deadline trade, perhaps to a team like Baltimore. The Titans' coaching staff seems to be souring on Britt. ... Locker's targets in Weeks 1-2: Wright 15, Nate Washington 12, Britt 11, Delanie Walker 6, Craig Stevens and Williams 2, Johnson 1. ... Washington is a serviceable real-life player, but lacks fantasy value in Tennessee's run-heavy offense quarterbacked by a low-percentage passer not taking chances downfield. Just drop him.

Score Prediction: Titans 20, Chargers 17

NY Giants @ Carolina

The 0-2 Giants are entering a four-week stretch of three road games and the high-flying Eagles offense at home. Their quarterback leads the NFL in interceptions. Their defense has five sacks in its past seven games, and can't stop anyone because it is schematically reliant on up-front pressure to mask secondary deficiencies. Their offensive line is struggling to create room. There is one antidote and one antidote only to the Giants' woes: A foundation run game spearheaded by a space-creating running back. That back is David Wilson, in a perfect match of player and team. It's only a matter of time before the Giants recommit to their 2012 first-round pick as an offensive focal point, and Wilson cleared his first hurdle by displaying Week 2 ball security one Sunday after losing two fumbles. Carolina's talented but heavyweight defensive front had trouble containing a similarly skilled and elusive runner last week, allowing C.J. Spiller to pop off 129 total yards at a 6.44 per-carry clip. Wilson is the best buy-low in fantasy football. Get him before it's too late. ... The rest of New York's backfield is essentially unworthy of fantasy discussion. Pushing 270 pounds, Brandon Jacobs runs like a dad and is at best a goal-line vulture. Straight-linish scatback Da'Rel Scott is averaging 2.5 yards per carry on 10 runs. He's at 2.4 yards per carry in his career.

The Panthers' secondary was a MASH unit in Week 2. FS Charles Godfrey is gone for the year with a torn Achilles'. Nickel and dime backs Josh Norman and D.J. Moore each sprained MCLs. SS Quintin Mikell suffered a high ankle sprain, and LCB Josh Thomas was concussed. Eli Manning's seven picks look bad on paper, but he's still second in the NFL in passing yards (812), fifth in touchdowns (5), and second in 20-plus-yard completions (12). He's squarely on the QB1 radar this week. ... Hakeem Nicks has produced like a WR2 through two weeks, and Victor Cruz a WR1. Facing a Carolina defense that was short on talent even before injuries, both Giants first-team wideouts have favorable matchups and are recommended plays. ... After his 101-yard opener, Rueben Randle managed three catches for 14 yards in the Week 2 loss to Denver. Randle has a ton of talent, but he's a lock for inconsistency behind Nicks and Cruz. He'll be a better WR3 fill-in when the bye weeks arrive. ... Brandon Myers took a ton of big shots in Week 2 and was spotted in the Giants' dressing room Monday with his "ribs and abdominals heavily bandaged." Despite impressive Weeks 1-2 combined production, Myers will be a dicey TE1.

It's not necessarily two weeks of mediocre fantasy stats that is worrisome with Cam Newton. It's the fact that the Panthers seem intent on making him a conventional pocket passer. First-year OC Mike Shula has all but eliminated zone-read plays and discouraged Cam from running. Carolina's offense has done a full 180 from old OC Rob Chudzinski, who essentially ran read option on every snap. Newton had 18 scrambles after Week 2 as a rookie, and 18 at this time last season. He's rushed nine times for 53 yards this year. Newton certainly has a plus Week 3 matchup -- the Giants can’t get to the passer and are pass-coverage deficient -- but perhaps his 2013 fantasy expectations need to be reset. Newton will not dominate the stat sheet without rushing for yards and scores. ... Newton's target distribution so far in '13: Steve Smith 19, Greg Olsen 18, Ted Ginn 9, Brandon LaFell 6, Mike Tolbert 4, DeAngelo Williams 3. So at least we know where the balls are going. ... LaFell went catch-less in the opener and had 13 scoreless yards in Week 2. Far behind Olsen and Smith, LaFell can safely be ignored in fantasy leagues.

Perennially among the NFL's leakiest defenses in tight end coverage, the Giants coughed up nine catches for 77 yards and two touchdowns to Dallas tight ends on Opening Day before Denver tight ends dropped a combined 7-52-1 line on them in Week 2. Only five defenses have allowed more fantasy points to tight ends through two weeks. This is a plus matchup for Olsen, who not coincidentally led Carolina in receiving when these two teams squared off early last year. ... The Giants' defense has been generous to ground games as well, allowing Broncos and Cowboys backs to combine for 200 yards and two TDs on 47 carries (4.26 YPC), including Knowshon Moreno's Week 2 breakout game. Fantasy owners should still be looking to sell high on Williams at their first opportunity. The Panthers' offensive line is a mess, and Williams lacks difference-making talent at this stage of his career. 30 1/2 years old and averaging over 20 touches a week, Williams is more likely to wear down than regain his early-career explosiveness. Up to this point, Tolbert (13 touches, 47 total yards) has only been a change-of-pace back.

Score Prediction: Giants 27, Panthers 23

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