Below is your weekly breakdown of news, notes and injuries from the previous week to help with tough lineup decisions on the defensive side of the ball.
Bye Weeks: Atlanta, Denver, New York (Jets), San Diego
New Orleans @ Carolina
Studs: Cameron Jordan, Luke Kuechly
Starts: Craig Robertson (LB2), Dannell Ellerbe (LB3/4), Kenny Vaccarro (DB2), Vonn Bell (DB3), Thomas Davis (LB3), Kawann Short (DT1/2), Charles Johnson (DL3)
The big IDP news out of New Orleans last week was the reported possible four-game suspension for Saints strong safety Kenny Vaccarro and while he did play last week, it is possible an official ruling will be made any moment so plan accordingly. The Saints may lose Vaccarro but Dannell Ellerbe returned after missing Week 9 to play 65 of the 83 defensive snaps at the expense of Nathan Stupar. Ellerbe has had a terrible struggle both this year and over his entire career at staying healthy but when he is on the field he looks impressive. Ellerbe’s return not only cut into Stupar’s playing time but also decreased the amount of three-safety packages that put veteran Jarius Byrd, not rookie Von Bell, on the sidelines which solidifies Bell as a solid IDP play going forward.
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Pittsburgh @ Cleveland
Studs: Chris Kirksey
Starts: Stephon Tuitt (DL3) Ryan Shazier (LB2/3), Lawrence Timmons (LB4), Danny Shelton (DT1-DL3), Chris Kirskey (LB2), Jamie Collins (LB2/3), Ed Reynolds (DB4)
Veteran leader and anchor for the defense Cameron Heyward announced on Tuesday that he would miss the rest of the season due to injury which is a huge blow to a defense that was already struggling to stop opposing offenses. While it may not look pretty, both Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons continue to play every snap and will be on the field a ton so expect very solid tackles numbers from here on out, well, except this week. The Browns showed us all once again that they do not provide enough opportunities to opponents for IDP purposes so while the Steelers’ ILBs are still viable starts, temper expectations a bit.
Jamie Collins had a very solid Week 10 performance with nine total tackles and one sack, however my worries concerning his usage in the Browns’ scheme were confirmed. Collins came out of the gates blazing with a five tackle/one sack first quarter followed up with two more tackles in the second, yet was quiet as a mouse in the second half. Looking deeper, the breakdown of his first half tackles were three takedowns after short receptions, three versus the run and a sack via an ILB blitz. The tackles in the run game were extremely interesting because one was on a failed assignment where the Ravens simply forgot to block him and the other two were stretch runs that are designed to leave the backside edge player unblocked but Collins had too much speed and chased it down for a minimal gain. After halftime, Baltimore made adjustments and executed a power run game to perfection, while never leaving Collins unblocked. The Ravens handled the ball off 24 times and completed 13 passes in the 2nd half yet it only led to two tackles for Jamie Collins (both of which came in the nickel package versus 3-WR set where he was aligned at ILB). To summarize, Collins is a fantastic NFL player and a very valuable IDP, LB but if opponents decide to run the rock (which happens a lot since the Browns are rarely leading) the Browns will be forced to play base defense which means Collins can be easily neutralized in the stat sheet. Collins is still going to put up big numbers some weeks but his weekly output has a much lower floor than top tier IDP linebackers should have. All the reasons above are why I prefer teammate Chris Kirskey to Collins since he is put into a better position to make a consistent impact in the box score.
Baltimore @ Dallas
Studs: Zachary Orr, CJ Mosley, Sean Lee
Starts: Timmy Jernigan (DL3), Eric Weddle (DB3), Demarcus Lawrence (DL3), Byron Jones (DB2/3)
Take the IDP performances of all your Ravens last week and just throw them out of the window as the Browns once again left an opposing defense with no tackle opportunities.
Byron Jones followed his single tackle Week 9 dud with a huge 12-tackle Week 10 but neither are likely outcomes here on out. Jones made a lot of tackles after receptions as he was asked to play all over the field and ended up covering nearly every Steeler at some point including Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. It was a prime matchup for IDP and he came through but somewhere in the middle of his last two week is a reasonable expectation. Until Barry Church returns, expect 4-6 tackle performances and you should not be disappointed.
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Jacksonville @ Detroit
Studs: Telvin Smith (if active), Paul Posluszny, Johnathan Cyprien, Tahir Whitehead
Starts: Ezekiel Ansah (boom/bust DL2), Kerry Hyder (boom/bust DL2), Glover Quinn (DB3), Malik Jackson (DT2), Jalen Ramsey (CB1-DB3/4)
Not much new for IDP purposes for any Jaguars except keep your eyes peeled on the status of Telvin Smith in the next few days. He left the team earlier this week to return home due to the unfortunate passing of his brother. As of Tuesday night it is unclear if he will play or not.
The Lions are coming off a bye and have an extremely tough IDP matchup versus the erratic Blake Bortles who has been downright awful this year. The Jaguars have struggled to run the ball all season so while the tackle floor may not be there, both Ezekiel Ansah and Kerry Hyder make intriguing big play starts as Bortles could drop back a lot in obvious passing situations. A lack of running game is usually a downfall for IDP linebackers but I would still fire up Tahir Whitehead this weekend in all formats. The young middle linebacker never leaves the field and has been picked on through the air this season which provides tackle opportunities and that make be the case again this week.
Tennessee @ Indianapolis
Studs: Clayton Geathers
Starts: Jurrell Casey (DL2), Avery Williamson (LB3/4), Brian Orakpo (LB4 in big play), Derrick Morgan (LB4 in big play) Jason McCourty (CB1-DB3), Kevin Byard (DB3/4), D’Qwell Jackson (LB2)
Green-dot linebacker Avery Williamson continues to lose snaps as he was only on the first 2/3 of the time in Week 10. I like Williamson in general and he has potential to improve but his current short term situation has been severely dampened with the poor performance that has led to loss of playing time. For the Colts, Mike Adams has returned to practice so expect T.J. Green to return to being a part-time player.
Buffalo @ Cincinnati
Studs: Zach Brown, Jerry Hughes (If DE eligible), Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins (In DT required), Vontaze Burfict
Starts: Kyle Williams (DL2), Preston Brown (LB2/3), Robert Blanton (DB2/3), Corey Graham (DB3/4), Shawn Williams (DB2)
Zach Brown had a dud Week 9 but do not expect it to happen again this week against a Bengals team that likes to run the ball. I’m not a fan of the playstyle of Vontaze Burfict but I cannot deny how impressive he was last week. He was a flat-out stud in all aspects and was always around the ball. George Iloka has put together three nice games in a row, however don’t be fooled into starting him. Iloka is a very good NFL free safety but has always been and will likely continue to be a disappointing start. He has had 24 tackles the last three games, yet over his career as a starter, he has averaged just over four total tackles per game. Also, in the first six games of this season he never had more than four tackles, so do not chase stats from the last few weeks. His role has not changed, he’s still a free safety that offers very little support in the run game.
Tampa Bay @ Kansas City
Studs: Kwon Alexander
Starts: Robert Ayers (DL2), Gerald McCoy (DT1-DL3), William Gholston (DL3), Clinton McDonald (DT2-DL4), Noah Spence (boom/bust DL4), Lavonte David (LB4) Bradley McDougald (DB3/4), Vernon Hargreaves (CB1-DB3), Derrick Johnson (LB2), Dee Ford (LB2 in big play), Ramik Wilson (LB3/4), Eric Berry (DB4/5)
The Buccaneers’ defensive line is finally healthy and has shown how effective they can be. The Chiefs have been good at keeping Alex Smith upright the last month, only surrendering five sacks in the last four games combined, however this unit was struggling mightily earlier in the season allowing 13 QB takedowns in the four previous games.
Ramik Wilson continues to show the Chiefs it was a mistake for releasing him before Week 1 but also rewarding them for picking him back up a month ago. Wilson continues to be an absolute force in the run game while being surprisingly effective in coverage as well. His performance has not gone unnoticed as he was rewarded with every-down playing time in Week 10. Derrick Johnson entered the game with a questionable tag due to a sore hamstring but was active and did not look hampered, however what was shocking was that Johnson, not Wilson, was subbed out in pass situations for backup strong safety Daniel Sorenson. Logically, this was done to ease Johnson back and use him as little as possible dropping deep in coverage but it still bodes well for Wilson’s usage in the future. It’s obvious that Kansas City trusts Wilson, and given how he has played this past month, they have every reason to. It was clear that the Chiefs’ plan on defense was to limit Greg Olsen by having Eric Berry shadow him and it worked to perfection. Olsen was held to only 39 yards and Berry was also extremely effective in run support while being lined up at the line of scrimmage above Olsen. The Chiefs’ strong safety has been disappointing in IDP this year as he has already had four games of three or less tackles so hopefully this scheme change could continue but it isn’t likely. This was the first week all year that Berry shadowed the opposing tight end and it likely has everything to do with Olsen being the Panthers’ best weapon in the pass game. It’s something to monitor but looking at the remaining schedule, no opponents possess a TE threat worthy of using Berry’s services (except Delanie Walker in Week 15. He also plays Antonio Gates/Hunter Henry in Week 17, yet most fantasy football leagues end in Week 16). Also, Justin Houston may play this week but keep him on your bench until he starts looking like his old self. Another side note is Dee Ford continues to stay hot as he had another sack, and had one more taken away due to a penalty in the secondary.