Welcome to Footballguys' Weekly Top 10. Since Week 4, the Top 10 has been free to Footballguys Insiders. All you have to do is register with your email and you'll receive access to this in-depth film breakdown (with a fantasy bent) of the weekend's games.
Among this week's topics, we'll evaluate the debut of Lamar Jackson, the return of Keke Coutee, the weakness of Rashaad Penny's game, the Colts' dismantling of the Marcus Mariota bandwagon, the potential of John Ross, the routes of D.J. Moore, and a few other items before finishing with some fresh fish.
1. Lamar Jackson's Debut
In his debut against the Bengals, Lamar Jackson ran the ball more than any quarterback in decades. He made defenders miss in the middle of the field with quarterback draws. He spun off hits and continued forward with option plays, and he found the edges and outran the linebacker, safety, and cornerback angles to the boundary for gains of 7-10 yards at a clip.
The Bengals could not anticipate Jackson's speed and he made the most of each opportunity, en route to a 100-yard rushing performance. His work on the ground also opened strong creases up the middle for Gus Edwards, a free agent runner that the Ravens tabbed as this week's bell cow because the team liked his downhill style as a match for the option-oriented adjustments Baltimore made to its scheme for Jackson.
Jackson's legs and the yardage that came from them were the most exciting and productive element of his game for fantasy players. However, it's not what will make him a sustainable quarterback long-term. So we're ignoring this aspect of Jackson's performance to examine his efforts as a passer. In non-fantasy terms, Jackson performed well for his first game and it should have been expected — unless you equated him to Michael Vick or less promising than Vick — then otherwise, you're probably a little surprised or finding reasons to justify a misinformed bias.
Jackson displayed mature pass placement, pocket management, and poise throughout this game.
Lamar Jackson with another good throw. Hits the dig in rhythm off the drop and hitch, holding the S and placing it to the back shoulder so Willie Snead IV isn't led too much into the oncoming S #Ravens pic.twitter.com/hBhPWVfvPK— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 19, 2018
As my twitter friend @JoeGoodberry mentioned earlier today, Lamar Jackson made a throw that Andy Dalton couldn't.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 19, 2018
Granted Dalton has to throw to his left and Jackson is going to his right but you get the idea... pic.twitter.com/1bBO1QlMYW
My favorite play of the half by Lamar Jackson.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 19, 2018
-Efficient movement until truly threatened.
-Sees pocket advantage and returns to being a thrower.
-More ball security.
-Finds open man and accurate throw.
-23-yard gain, FG range, 50-yarder. pic.twitter.com/4clk8SuHxd
In fact, Matt Ryan made more reckless throws this weekend with similar or less pressure on him than Jackson did against the Bengals. Jackson made two questionable decisions. The first was a typical rookie mistake of knowing where his receiver would be but not anticipating the shallow coverage reading his eyes and peeling off its responsibility to attack the ball.
A common mistake by just about every young NFL QB:— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 19, 2018
-Knows where he wants to go,
-Knows where the WR will be
-Underestimates the ancillary coverage underneath the target. pic.twitter.com/ObPb5w79Ha
The other throw was a completed pass to Chris Moore where Moore makes an excellent catch of a target placed behind him. Jackson's decision was more daring than reckless based on the position of the coverage.
As with every rookie quarterback in existence, Jackson will face defenses that force him to think more than play and second-guess his actions to the point of his game falling apart. However, based on this weekend, the Ravens have created an offense that should allow Jackson to thrive. With Oakland, Atlanta, Kansas City, and Tampa Bay ahead, Jackson could deliver low-end starter production as his fantasy baseline.
Don't get caught up in what he can or can't do based on the Aaron Rodgers-Peyton Manning template of quarterbacking. Jackson is playing in an option-style offense that uses a smaller number of looks to gauge how an opponent will adjust and then makes its own changes to force opponents to guess wrong. It's working for Patrick Mahomes II II and Jared Goff — even if they don't have a significant run component that Jackson has. The option game works in the NFL as long as the offense isn't a series of one-off gadget plays — see Deshaun Watson.
Jackson may not lead your fantasy teams to a championship solely on his shoulders, but he could be an upgrade to those who failed on their late-round quarterback choices in August.
2. Rashaad Penny Won't be STarting IN December
After watching Rashaad Penny for a couple of weeks, it's clear that it will take a pair of injuries to Chris Carson and Mike Davis for Penny to earn anything more than a boom-bust fantasy role in the Seahawks offense this year. He's unfamiliar with running inside zone — an important staple of the Seattle ground game from shotgun alignments — and it became painfully clear on Thursday night against the Packers.
The vast majority of Penny's work at San Diego State came as a gap runner — power, trap, ISO, and counter — plays where the runner is given one choice behind a pulling lineman and/or lead blocker working across the formation as the runner accelerates downhill and hits the area with maximum acceleration and minimal manipulation of potential cutbacks or bounce-outs. There are few opportunities of this type on these plays.
In contrast, zone plays require greater patience and manipulation, asking the runner to take a slower or more roundabout path to the crease, setting it up with greater changes of direction and alterations of footwork that places the runner closer to the line of scrimmage before he accelerates through an open hole. Gap and zone running require opposite mindsets for the runner and it's not uncommon for players who only worked in one style to struggle to learn the other.
Penny is not yet a refined zone runner and even on this highlight-worthy reversal of field that Penny turns into a big play, the process is lacking despite a good result.
Here's a bad process, bad result on a similar play design.
In contrast, here's a good press and cut on an inside zone from Mike Davis, who baits the backside contain of the defense more effectively than Penny.
Here's a good inside zone press by Mike Davis on a similar play as the one from Penny in the red zone. This is a deeper press despite angles form DTs— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 18, 2018
Results in 10+ yards. Good process, good result. pic.twitter.com/phneotnsz4
The Packers defense is now anticipating a Penny bounce and doesn't believe he'll go inside because Penny abandons the press too early.
Here's another inside zone from Penny where the Packers anticipate the cutback and Penny rewards them with a run that's not patient enough to dissuade the backside defenders. #Seahawks— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 18, 2018
Give Penny an off season and he should address this. pic.twitter.com/FPJvy0nyOm
Penny isn't doomed to being a one-dimensional gap runner, but he'll need to work on mastering inside zone during the offseason if he wants to challenge for a full-time spot in the backfield. However, it's unlikely that he'll master this skill during the final eight weeks and it means Davis and Carson will keep their roles. Seattle runs a lot of gap plays that are a match for Penny but this inside zone play isn't going away this year and Penny's response to it is becoming predictable to opponents.
3. The Ups And Downs of Kenny Golladay
There's no doubt that Kenny Golladay is an emerging star. Unfortunately, the loss of Marvin Jones Jr and Golden Tate has placed more responsibility on Golladay than he typically handled with these two veterans on the field. The cush job Golladay had in this offense as the third receiver earning a high volume of easier responsibilities has been a glossed-over point in some quarters of this industry but that came to an end Sunday.
Golladay drew the ire of Matthew Stafford twice in this game for not recognizing route adjustments based on the pre-snap coverage in front of him. These are plays that Jones and Tate made routinely that weren't as necessary for Golladay to do his job before this weekend.
Kenny Golladay has tremendous physical ability and ball tracking. He is improving as a route runner.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 19, 2018
He still has work to do with adjustments. This is the difference between a continued drive and a FG attempt at the end of the half. pic.twitter.com/pAPj7qSzPs
The first play stalled a drive that could have made this an easier victory for the Lions. There's no reason to conclude from these plays that Golladay lacks the mental skills to become a primary receiver in role and volume; this is the first opportunity he's had to assume the role in name and game. However, expect some mistakes during the final half of the season as he takes on this role.
The upshot is that Golladay overcame those mistakes and made a clutch play in this contest — one of the best catches of the season for any receiver.
If you're going to note Kenny Golladay's miscommunications with Stafford, you have to give credit for this clutch catch.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 19, 2018
Great retraction and pull-down turn while having his back parallel with the ground and defender going for the ball. #Lions pic.twitter.com/zh9r6qWwRs
The ride may have bumpy moments, but don't disembark from the Golladay bandwagon.
A quick side note, if you're in a deep league and need to consider a receiver who could earn some of Tate and Jones' volume, Bruce Ellington is the name to watch in Detroit.
Ellington earned red zone targets, intermediate looks, and some plays where he could run after the catch. He hasn't panned out at his two different stops but he's talented enough to contribute and the Lions need him.
D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel both had strong performances this weekend against the Lions. Both made leaping touchdown grabs in the right corner of the end zone and also demonstrated sudden route skills on pattens breaking back to the quarterback.
Moore had the better day statistically and he also ran a route that demonstrates why he's a little more advanced as a technician than the gifted Samuel.
Here's Curtis Samuel on the same route D.J. Moore runs but the break isn't flat enough and he's stopped at the catch point.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 19, 2018
Then watch Moore's break afterwards...you'll see the production difference. #Panthers pic.twitter.com/kwpxXQ05nH
The details of a receiver's craft impact the outcome of a play as often — if not more often — than athletic ability. Both Moore and Samuel possess excellent acceleration. The difference between these two plays is the angle of the break that sets up one player's acceleration better than the other.
Samuel and Moore are must-starts against weaker pass defenses. Moore is the better start of the two. His routes and his combination of power and acceleration after the catch make him especially dangerous.
When Moore improves his skill against press coverage — especially as a perimeter receiver — he could become Carolina's primary option and one of the 12-15 best receivers in football. Expect more top-15 fantasy weeks from Moore during the second half of this year.
5. What John Ross Could Be
John Ross entered this game dealing with a groin injury that has limited him to a pair of games between Weeks 5 and 10. A track star with a tightly-wound frame and a voluminous injury history, we forget that Ross is a promising wide receiver. It's too disappointing to invest in his services as a fantasy player without feeling like Charlie Brown trusting Lucy with the football.
Still, there are plays like is touchdown reception against the Ravens that reminds what Ross could become if he stays healthy.
There are big receivers drafted to make this kind of play who don't. Ross is the type of player who needs a nutrition specialist and a lot of high-maintenance, year-round preparation to keep his body right. If he embraces this type of regimen, he has a chance to fulfill his vast promise.
Don't count on it as pleasurable of a tease at is can sometimes be.
6. The Colts Foiling of Marcus Mariota
The Colts-Titans tilt was one of the most anticipated games of the week until the teams hit the field. Indianapolis dominated Tennesse on both sides of the ball, building an insurmountable lead by halftime — especially in lieu of Marcus Mariota aggravating his elbow injury.
The Colts dismantled Mariota's string of good performances, blitzing more than its tendency and forcing Mariota into difficult targets.
#Colts sack Mariota, disguising its pressure with pre-snap sugaring that at different points shows between 7-10 defenders potentially blitzing. Mariota's late-presnap plan isn't efficient enough here for the #Titans. FG range is gone. pic.twitter.com/2sf58H1vt5— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 19, 2018
#Colts stop Mariota on second drive on 3rd down with rare pressure. This time A-gap. Then note the great play by the defensive triangle. The LB drives up to Mariota and the two DBs drop deep and force an off-platform throw across body into tough window. pic.twitter.com/IYfAYIkp6j— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 19, 2018
This is why I haven't been willing to crown Mariota the next big thing. He's a good young quarterback, but he doesn't have an elite command of the game in the late pre-snap, early post-snap phase of the game that separates Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Tom Brady from the pack. Mariota is still developing his craft as an off-platform thrower.
The #Titans steal a play from the #Colts playbook against the #Jaguars last week but Marcus Mariota does not get his feet set to deliver this throw with the velocity to drop it to Stocker in stride.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 19, 2018
Missed opportunity. pic.twitter.com/guHqUOq2sv
Fans conflate Mariota's athletic ability with a lot of skills he lacks in and outside the pocket. The Colts exploited these weaknesses, testing Mariota's creativity outside structure and in the face of less predictable conditions. Mariota failed this week. Hopefully, he'll be healthy enough to work through it down the stretch.
7. Keke Coutee's Return
It's too bad that a hamstring injury has prevented us from seeing the real Keke Coutee since August. The rookie from Texas Tech has a viable deep game in his arsenal when his hamstring is 100 percent, but we haven't seen it on a professional field.
Coutee wasn't completely healed when he made his regular-season debut and he aggravated the injury a few weeks ago. He told the media that he wouldn't return to the lineup until he was 100 percent. It was a naive statement from a rookie because the Texans need him from the slot — even if a limited Coutee prevents us from seeing what he can do as a vertical receiver this year.
After watching Coutee's return against Washington, fantasy players who held onto Coutee or have the rookie available on their waiver wires should add him. He's healthy enough to produce.
This pair of plays demonstrates Coutee's short-area burst is good enough on the hamstring that he can run demanding shallow routes and explode past a cornerback in the open field. It's enough to start him with confidence as long as there isn't another aggravation.
8. Condensing The Field
This is The Top 10's third week with a segment on the Colts' offense. Indianapolis deserves the attention because the offensive line is a young and talented unit that has dramatically reduced the pressure Andrew Luck is seeing while generating a competent rushing attack, and Frank Reich's offensive scheme is doing creative work by NFL standards. Last week, we examined the Colts' use of three tight ends and explained why it wasn't a one-game strategy.
Although Jack Doyle was the only Colts tight end with a significant fantasy outing, this multiple scheme with three tight ends remained a big part of the game plan. A better throw from Luck on this corner route, could have led to a bigger day for Mo Alie-Cox. It's also a play that illustrates why condensing offensive players into tight sets against a zone can create open areas in the vertical game.
Just as there is an advantage to spreading a defense to find receivers inside, the #Colts condense its 3 TEs to constrict the #Titans zone and then fan out late to earn open space horizontally and vertically. pic.twitter.com/Ls8y9fpR26— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 19, 2018
The NFL game lacks the same level of creativity as the college game, but its influx of new coaches and schemes is making the product more diverse and entertaining than it has been in several years. When teams begin molding schemes around its talents, we see there are many ways to play winning football — and it highlights that the league has often misused available talent in an attempt to copy blindly rather than truly evaluate existing gifts.
9. Throws of the Week: Aaron Rodgers, Ever heard of him?
Some Packers fans are a little loopy right now because they're losing this year and Aaron Rodgers is healthy enough to be playing at a high level. Even so, they can't help but point the finger at Rodgers for his play.
Like every quarterback, he's probably missed a read or two or decided to ignore an open man in favor of a bigger play. However, there's also half-baked analysis that Rodgers missed wide open guys who weren't remotely a part of his progression plan and would require Rodgers to have a third eye with 20/10 vision located at his helmet's earhole to spot the teammate.
C'mon people...Aaron Rodgers is playing with one excellent receiver, an aging move tight end who can't block, and three third-day rookie picks who need weekly on-field tutelage to prevent even more mistakes with options, hots, and route depths than they'd otherwise make without it. Equanimeous St. Brown and J'Mon Moore are not steals — they were overrated college players who fit the old-school and out-dated draft analyst mentality of what a good receiver looked like in a uniform (but not on the field). Marques Valdes-Scantling is a developmental project with upside who shouldn't even be playing this year if the Packers weren't desperate.
All this is to say that you should appreciate what you have, Packers fans. In addition to playing on-field babysitter to these premature receiver prospects, Rodgers still creates in ways that few, if any, can.
I can't think of a quarterback I'd rather have in the league....— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 18, 2018
Even so, this first play is the exception, not the rule of QB play.
The next play? It's pushing the envelope because it's a 65-yard throw with pressure in his face and is perfect placement. pic.twitter.com/qacexN9hZ8
In contrast, here's Matthew Stafford with a terrific throw in a similar situation and it only covers 40 yards (use this as perspective for what you have, Packers fans).
These are insane throws. The distance alone makes them special. The accuracy on the move and under pressure makes them next-level. Appreciate what you have, Green Bay because it will be gone soon and odds are unlikely that you'll ever have quarterbacks remotely as good as Rodgers or Brett Favre again.
Somewhere in Austin, Texas, Sigmund Bloom is smirking at that thought.
10. Fresh Fish
Fantasy football is a cruel place. We're always searching for that weakest link. While we don't want anyone facing the wrath of Hadley, we'd love nothing more than having our players face an opponent whose game has come unglued on the field.
In the spirit of "The Shawshank Redemption," here is my short list of players and/or units that could have you chanting "fresh fish" when your roster draws the match-up.
Catch of the Week: Matt Ryan
I know I'm picking on the Atlanta Falcons but they're ripe for this feature. Last week, I mentioned that Ryan was dangerously closed to getting David Carr-ed a few years ago. Although he's statistically among the best against pressure this year, the on-field context reveals there are deeper issues than the pretty numbers show.
Click the link to this Tweet below to see a thread of plays against Dallas where Ryan nearly threw three interceptions in this game (Ironically, the one interception Ryan threw wasn't his fault). It also shows how the Falcons adjusted Ryan's drops so it could minimize his work against pressure.
Matt Ryan - statistically one of the best under pressure this year.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 19, 2018
Good NFL quarterback, no doubt. #Falcons are aware though that Ryan under pressure has some erratic/reckless moments.
Ryan got away with it against #Dallas today. Falcons also made some nice adjustments. pic.twitter.com/7SpLF9XTSn
Onto the fish case:
- Devin Funchess: This was a homecoming game for the Farmington Hills native. Unfortunately, he dropped five passes in this game.
- Bengals Defense: Marvin Lewis took over the play calling. Considering it was his first turn at the headphones since his tenure in Washington during the early 2000s, the results showed as much during the first half of the game. Cincinnati played Lamar Jackson too cautiously in the read option game.
- Philadelphia's Wounded Secondary: This crew gave up 48 points to the Saints through the air and on the ground. Supporting cast members of the Saints offense looked like compelling fantasy options.
- Chargers Defense: Case Keenum's teammates tried to fail him on the final drive but the Chargers defense wouldn't let them, giving up the lead and a victory in the waning seconds.
Good luck to your teams next week and may your players stay away from the fishmonger.