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I am tired of talking about Tyrann Mathieu so I know you all are tired of hearing about him. Even so it is important for those of us who have been counting on him to know that his playing time was unexpectedly slashed in week seven. Apparently Rashad Johnson's limited role in week six was more about his returning from injury than a change in the starting lineup. He was on the field at free safety full time against Seattle while Mathieu played 38 of 70 snaps. Mathieu's ability to be productive as the team's nickel corner makes him a solid DB3 going forward. He should see plenty of action this week against the Falcons.
The Falcons may be short yet another linebacker as Stephen Nicholas left Sunday's game with a thigh injury and may miss some time. The club added former Raiders and Bengals starter Thomas Howard off the street this week. Howard lost his starting job in Cincinnati last year when an injury took him out of action and allowed Vontaze Burfict to get on the field. Howard is a solid veteran addition who could find his way onto the field fairly quickly. He is not going to be a star by any stretch, but has been fairly productive in the past. Keep an eye on him over the next couple of weeks.
There are no every down defensive backs in Buffalo at this point. With the return of Stephon Gilmore the Bills secondary is now close to full strength from a health perspective. Against Miami, seven defensive backs were on the field for at least 36 of 67 snaps with only Jim Leonhard (63) seeing action on more than 54. There are still going to be big games by some of these guys but it is impossible to tell who it will be on any given week. It is a good idea to avoid this mess for a while if possible.
It was expected that Robert Lester would return to action in week seven but the coaching staff gave him another week to rest. He is practicing this week and should be available for week eight. The question is, will he get on the field? An interesting twist to this situation is that Quintin Mikell and Michael Mitchell swapped positions in week seven, with Mikell working at strong and Mitchell at free safety where Lester usually lines up. Both Mikell and Mitchell have played well over the past two games so Lester may be on the sideline even if he is active. We know that Mikell is going to be productive in the strong safety role. Mitchell on the other hand, needs to prove that his sudden box score production can be sustained. Despite their struggles, Tampa Bay has been a surprisingly strong matchup for safeties. I am comfortable with starting Mikell this week and would not hesitate to gamble on Mitchell as well.
The Bears are off this week but injuries at linebacker make them a topic for discussion. Already without D.J. Williams for the rest of the year, Chicago has now lost Lance Briggs for several weeks with a shoulder injury. Jon Bostic replaced Williams and it will be either Blake Costanzo or rookie Khaseem Greene in place of Briggs going forward. Costanzo is a career backup with his fourth team in five seasons. He is mostly a special teams guy with little upside. Greene on the other hand, was the Bears fourth round pick this year and is a player the club is grooming for a starting job in the future. My guess is that the coaching staff will use this opportunity to get the youngster some much needed experience. What we need to see in week eight is who joins James Anderson in the sub packages. That guy is going to have a good deal of value for the rest of the fantasy regular season and possibly beyond. If you are picking someone up, target Bostic first but if he is gone, Greene coule be a sneaky add.
Between injuries and having six teams on bye, owners of Rey Maualuga are likely looking to start him this week. Be aware that he left last week's game late in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injry. Keep an eye on this week's practice reports and look for a backup plan just in case.
The Bengals pass rushers have been hit or miss this season but get them into your lineup this week. The Jets have allowed 25 sacks to date. That is the fifth most in the league.
The Chiefs conservative offense has provided an excellent matchup for linebackers and a pretty solid one for safeties. D'Qwell Jackson is an every week play for most of us anyway, but Craig Robertson deserves strong consideration this week as well. In six games to date we have seen five linebackers put up at least 15 fantasy points with this matchup. It would have been six if not for the injury to Brian Cushing in week six. Cushing and Darryl Sharpton combined for 9 solo tackles and a pass defended.
Last week I talked about how Bruce Carter was back in his every down role and had a great matchup against the Eagles. He rewarded my praise by tanking in week seven with his lowest fantasy total (3 points) of the season. Before you call me an idiot or make the mistake of cutting him, be aware that Carter did indeed see action on 73 of 81 snaps against Philadelphia. His low total was simply a result of the Eagles offensive game plan which either ran away from Carter or accounted for him in the blocking scheme on nearly every snap. This is a risk we run every week with outside linebackers. It is hard to trust a player like Carter in your lineup after such a lousy week but keep this in mind; the Lions have faced three opponents who run a 4-3 scheme. In those three games we have seen weak side linebackers Chad Greenway go 5-3, Lance Briggs 9-4 with a forced fumble and Vontaze Burfict at 8-5 with a couple of passes defended. It was a rough day at the office for Carter but try not to make an emotional decision that you might regret later. I can tell you that he will be in a couple of my lineups again this week.
Last week I talked about the surprising play/production of Lions linebackers Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy. After watching them against my Bengals, it seems obvious that the difference between years past and this year is simply the mind set. I have never before seen either of these guys make such quick and aggressive decisions. It is like they were thinking way to much before and now are free to play by instinct. Levy in particular, has become the player we all thought he would be when he first came to Detroit while Tulloch has suddenly rediscovered the sideline to sideline range he showed when he was in Tennessee.
Green Bay Packers
Jamari Lattimore filled in for the injured Brad Jones and had a huge game against Cleveland. With so many owners scrambling to fill holes this week he is going to be a priority pickup for many. There are a few things to keep in mind here though. Lattimore worked as a two down player against the Browns. He saw action on 54 of 72 snaps, landing a sack on his only pass rush opportunity. In week eight the Packers face a Vikings club that has been hit or miss as a matchup for linebackers. Jon Beason led the Giants at 5-4 last week. In week six Luke Keuchly was 3-4 against Minnesota. Lawrence Timmons, D'Qwell Jackson, Lance Briggs and James Anderson all had pretty good numbers but Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy each put up just 2 solo stops with this matchup (big plays saved the day for their owners). The last and most important factor to consider is that after missing the last two games, Jones has been upgraded to questionable for this week and returned to practice on Wednesday. I am not suggesting that everyone pass on Lattimore all together. Just have realistic expectations and make sure you do not over pay for what is a short term fix at best.
The Texans are another club that enters the bye week with a major injury to deal with. Brian Cushing suffered an ACL injury to the same knee he tore up a couple of years ago. This loss leaves an already reeling Houston defense without its field general. Darryl Sharpton is the next man up at the position and should assume both the play calling duties and a three down role. He has shown flashes of quality production but has struggled with injuries and inconsistency over his three pro seasons. He is no Cushing on the field Sharpton lands in a target rich environment and has the potential to be a top 20 linebacker the rest of the way if he can stay on the field.
The Jaguars have looked like a football team in their last two games and have probably played as well as possible for the talent they have to work with. The schedule makers were not kind to them however. Next up is the 49ers and their rediscovered power running game. It is safe to say that the Jacksonville corners will not be called upon to defend many pass attempts this week, as San Francisco will be content to simply run the ball all day. The silver lining in this game for fantasy owners is that Paul Posluszny is a candidate for IDP player of the week. Both he and strong safety John Cyprien could post their best production of the season in this one. For those stretching to fill holes, Geno Hayes, Russell Allen and maybe even free safety Josh Evans are potential one week answers. I expect decent tackle production and top 24 fantasy totals from Hayes in this one and have him projected at 6-3. With the Jaguars all but certain to be in their base defense most of the day, Allen should post similar if not better numbers.
Kansas City Chiefs
Fantasy owners are getting a lot of production from both Tamba Hali and Justin Houston this season. Those who have been using them at matchup based depth in balanced scoring or tackle heavy leagues, will want to take advantage of this week's matchup. Only Jacksonville has allowed more sacks to date than Cleveland and the Browns quarterback this week will be Jason Campbell who is slightly more mobile than a statue.
Considering that he played on a limited basis before the Dolphins bye, it was expected that Cameron Wake would be close to 100% when the team returned to action in week seven. Wake was in the starting lineup but worked on only a third of the team's defensive snaps. Making things even worse, he was rather ineffective when he did play. Unless you are in a league with exceptionally tight rosters Wake is too good a player to cut, but he should be on your bench unil he he is healthy enough to regain his normal workload.
Jason Trusnik got the start at middle linebacker in place of the injured Dannell Ellerbe in week seven, and finished at a respectable 7-1 in the tackle columns. It is not looking good for Ellerbe again this week but despite the solid outing, I would not get too excited about using Trusnik as the fill in. A closer look reveals that Trusnik played just 36 of 68 snaps and shared the position with Jelani Jenkins.
The Vikings have moved away from their traditional cover-2 scheme this year and the result has been a major upgrade in box score production at the safety positions. Harrison Smith is on the shelf with an injury so the benefactor now becomes Jamarca Sanford. I am shocked at how many leagues this guy is still available in. Sanford has missed a couple of games himself, which is probably why no one has noticed him. All he has done is to post 7 or more solo tackles in each of his four games, including a mark of 10-2 with a forced fumble on Monday night. If that is not enough on its own, add a strong matchup with the Packers this week. Go get this guy if he is still out there. To those of you who play in leagues with me, no need to look. If he was there I have already picked him up.
New England Patriots
Going into week seven we were watching to see how the Patriots would handle the loss of Jerod Mayo. As is often the case with Bill Belichick, he gave us more questions than answers. Brandon Spikes was on the field for 74 of 93 snaps while Donte Hightower saw action on 86. Both guys saw action in some nickel situations against the Jets, and both put up good numbers. There is going to be some risk with starting either of these guys but the upside for both is hard to ignore with options so thin this week.
New Orleans Saints
If you are in a pinch at the safety position this week, take a look at Rafael Bush. Even with Roman Harper out the Saints are continuing to use three safeties in a lot of situations. Bush has played well and racked up an 8-2 mark against the Patriots heading into the bye week. This week's opponent is the Bills who have proven to be a quality matchup for safeties. Call it a hunch if you like. I just have a feeling Bush is going to get it done in the box scores again this week.
The Bills rank sixth in sacks allowed but be careful starting Cameron Jordan this week. He missed practice Wednesday with a sore ankle and is considered questionable as of mid week. Keep an eye on the practice reports later in the week.
New York Giants
It came as no surprise that Jon Beason led the Giants in tackles on Monday night but I am a bit concerned that he was pulled off the field in a few situations. In fact, the Giants had no every down linebacker in that game. Beason played 56 snaps and Spencer Paysinger 54 of a possible 72. It will be interesting to see how the playing time washes out against the Eagles this week. I remain confident that Beason will have the lion's share of the opportunity and will continue to be a quality every week start for us.
There was a shuffle at the Giants safety positions in week seven that is worth mention. After working at free safety early on, Antrel Rolle was shifted over to strong safety against Minnesota. Ryan Mundy moved to free safety with Will Hill continuing to see time in nickel packages. Rolle and corner Prince Amukamara were the only Giants to play every defensive snap against Minnesota. When the Giants faced the Eagles in week five Rolle was the free safety and all but vanished from the box scores. In that game Ryan Mundy was the strong safety and blew up for a 10-5 mark. New York lost that first meeting so hopefully they will elect to leave their safeties as they were in last week's win. Rolle has posted quality numbers in three straight games and should be in our lineups this week.
New York Jets
Late last week the Jets let slip their intent to have safety Antonio Allen shadow Rob Gronkowski. On the last projections/rankings update I jumped Allen way up the list based on that news, and he came through with a monster game. The question is, did he earn a bigger/starting role in the base defense with his quality play? Jaiquan Jarrett has been starting opposite Dawan Landry and received praise from Rex Ryan on a couple of occasions early on. If you are desperate enough to go with a high potential long shot this week, Allen could be your guy. At the least he is clearly someone to keep an eye on against Cincinnati.
Kevin Burnett has been a little inconsistent and is coming off a 4 solo tackle game that was his second worst production of the season heading into last week's bye. There are a couple of good reasons to put him in your lineup this week. First of all he has double digit fantasy points in three of his last four games including double digit solo tackle in weeks three and five. Then there is the matchup. The Steelers have faced four teams that run a 4-3 base scheme so far. In those games all four weak side linebackers (Vontaze Burfict, Chad Greenway, Lance Briggs and Zach Brown) have posted double digit fantasy points and they averaged 18.5 between them.
League wide the corner position has been so eratic this year that it is hard to pick out many trends. One that has shown up however, is Eli Manning's overwhelming tendency to find the wrong color jersey. Granted he is coming off his first turnover free game of the season on Monday night, but is that the beginning of an upward trend or is he over due for a multi pick game? Either way I really like the chances that Carey Williams and/or Bradley Fletcher are in for a big game this week. At worst the Giants are going to be throwing a lot so these guys should have plenty of tackle opportunity.
No running game to lean on, no standouts at receiver and Kellen Clemens at quarterback back. All signs point to a long day for the Rams offense. That translates to limited tackle opportunity for Seattle defenders. On most NFL weeks the advice would be to avoid any Seahawks defender that does not rush the passer. This week however, I would have to give serious consideration to both Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman. St. Loius is going to be playing from behind and will have to start throwing early. It may not lead to tackles but the potential for passes defended and interceptions make the Seahawks corners a worthy risk on this week of limited options.
St. Louis Rams
Both Alec Ogletree and Jo-Lonn Dunbar spent a little time watching from the sideling on sub package snaps in week six. In week seven the Rams seemed to settle their outside linebackers into the roles that were expected of them. Ogletree joined James Laurinaitis in all the nickel subpackages against Carolina. If this week's contest goes as most everyone expects, all three of the Rams linebackers as well as strong safety Darian Stewart are in line for big tackle numbers.
One of the players on our watch list last week was Titans middle backer Colin McCarthy. The results were mixed. At times he looked good, played off blocks and made some solid tackles. At other times he seemed to hesitate a split second before reacting and was caught up in the wash. Mccarthy looked pretty good in coverage, was the only Tennessee defender to play every snap, and came through the game healthy. All in all I thought it was a positive showing for McCarthy who seemed to knock some of the rust off as the game progressed. All we need to know now is if he will get another start next week when the team returns from the bye. It is unlikely that we will hear anything about the situation from the Titans this week.
With Brandon Meriweather serving his one game suspension and Reed Doughty going through the concussion process, Washington is going to be short handed at safety when they go to Denver. If Doughty is not cleared the coaching staff will have to go with some combination of rookie Bacarri Rambo, converted corner E.J. Biggers and unknown second year pro Jose Gumbs out of Monmouth. Gumbs is mostly a special teams player and Biggers has worked mostly at free safety, which means there is a good chance Rambo will get a second shot at the strong safety job. His earlier opportunity ended due to mental errors and missed tackles but he was able to produce good numbers for fantasy owners. Watch the late week reports on Doughty and keep an eye out for any word out of Washington on the situation. This is an excellent matchup if we can figure out who is going to get the opportunity.
That is going to do it for week eight. Best of luck to you as we begin the stretch run to the playoffs.