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Top Passing Matchups Week 2
Tampa Bay vs Atlanta
The Buccaneers quickly abandoned their toothless run game early in Thursday’s opener and chose to simply dazzle through the air. Tom Brady consistently beat the shaky Dallas secondary down the field for 379 yards and 4 touchdowns. Mike Evans was held in check, but Brady’s other main targets went off, scorching the overmatched Cowboys with just enough separation over the middle and up the seams. Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski combined to turn their 29 targets into 316 yards and 4 touchdowns. Godwin led the way; he was a consistent producer despite a few mental miscues. Brown didn’t play much in two-wideout sets but was targeted heavily when on the field (7 targets across 42 snaps). Evans will always be a mismatch, though his big-play game doesn’t have quite as much dimension as the others’ do. His production will be sporadic and hard to project in this diverse offense. There will even be weeks when auxiliary guys like O.J. Howard and Scott Miller pop up and overachieve. Luckily, Brady and his crew will be facing an undermanned Falcons defense healthy and on 10 days’ rest, so the sky will be the limit Sunday.
The Falcons opened the season by allowing the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts to throw for 264 yards and 3 touchdowns, which isn’t a huge surprise. But it was alarming how easily Hurts carved this group apart underneath, hitting on 77% of his throws as part of a smart, ball-control attack that just about always worked. Hurts didn’t challenge deep much, but he took what the Falcons’ cautious secondary gave him and won decisively with it. It’s a fair bet Tom Brady and his weapons can find similar success. On the plus side, the outside cornerbacks kept most of the action contained underneath and limited huge plays. But reaction times and tackling remain a problem, with Eagles receivers generating gobs of yardage after the catch. At best, this is a timid, low-risk Falcons secondary, but even that wasn’t really tested in Week 1. Brady won’t hesitate to attack second-year linchpin A.J. Terrell and company downfield with his bevy of mismatch-makers. It’s hard to imagine who aligns well with the big-bodied Mike Evans or Chris Godwin on the inside, or Antonio Brown down the field. The Falcons lack talent at cornerback and are breaking in a pair of new safeties; they’re sitting ducks against a dialed-in Brady.
LA Chargers vs Dallas
The Chargers were expected to live by the pass in the season opener and didn’t disappoint. Phenom passer Justin Herbert hit on 31 of his 47 throws for 337 yards against a strong Washington secondary. Unsurprisingly, he focused most heavily on wideouts Keenan Allen (100 yards on 13 targets) and Mike Williams (82 on 12). Allen was his reliable self in the slots and the screen game, while Williams proved a major cog both down the field and underneath, catching one touchdown and very nearly another. What did surprise was Austin Ekeler’s lack of involvement – he didn’t draw a single target after seeing 7.1 per game from Herbert last year. That should reverse, at least somewhat, but likely wouldn’t cut much into the workload of the dynamic wideouts. Camp reports of big-bodied Donald Parham cutting his own way into the tight end work looked premature Sunday. Veteran Jared Cook drew 8 targets as the clear No. 3 option behind Allen and Williams.
The Cowboys showed Sunday that their defensive issues of 2020 have almost surely followed them into 2021. Opening against Tom Brady and his slew of weapons is no easy task, but Brady had little trouble finding openings downfield, to the tune of 379 yards and 4 touchdowns throwing the air. There would’ve been even more if not for a bevy of Tampa Bay drops. The Cowboys were beaten both down the field and in the slot, where Chris Godwin consistently won over Anthony Brown and the overmatched safeties. We did see further glimpses of Trevon Diggs’ potential as a shadow man as he made life difficult for Mike Evans (just 24 yards on his 6 targets). But beyond that, there was little to brag about, and it’s safe to project this unit near the bottom of the league again. With only one difference-making pass-rusher (DeMarcus Lawrence) among a thinned-out front seven, too much is asked of a young and mistake-prone coverage group. Justin Herbert and his playmakers shouldn’t struggle to find openings.
Denver at Jacksonville
The Broncos didn’t wow anyone with efficiency or splash plays Sunday, which was to be expected with Teddy Bridgewater under center. But Bridgewater was effective at quick-hitting slot and seam routes, taking advantage of talented playmakers Jerry Jeudy and Noah Fant. Jeudy was lost to a high ankle sprain and won’t suit up for a while, but the Broncos have grown deep on talented pass-catchers, with Fant, Tim Patrick, and the speedy K.J. Hamler in play for those reps. That says nothing of what Courtland Sutton can bring to the offense after returning successfully from ACL surgery in Week 1. Sutton is a downfield-oriented guy who wins with athleticism and ball skills, which doesn’t make for a perfect match with Bridgewater. But he’s gifted enough to adapt, and if he’s incorporated more underneath during Jeudy’s absence, he’ll boast a WR2 outlook in fantasy. Patrick and Hamler both have roles as well – Patrick, for his part, is much appreciated for his prowess near the goal line. It’s most likely all of these guys see a prorated boost while Jeudy sits. If there’s a volume winner, it should be Fant, the oversized slot specialist who makes for a dazzling matchup against a rookie slot cornerback.
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