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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 Jr 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.
The Jaguars’ fall from grace since the days of Calais Campbell and Jalen Ramsey has been swift and devastating. After their Week 1 flogging at the hands of the Texans, this may have to be regarded as the NFL’s worst unit until further notice. Playing with a stripped-down roster, Tyrod Taylor turned 33 throws into 291 yards and 2 touchdowns, playing pitch-and-catch with his only noteworthy receiver in Brandin Cooks (132 yards on 7 targets). Cooks won downfield with speed and tenacious ball skills, beating the likes of C.J. Henderson, Tyson Campbell, and Shaquill Griffin for a handful of big catches. Campbell in particular was beaten early and often, which is to be expected of a rookie but also makes for a large bullseye the following week. If he remains in the slot, it could be great news for Noah Fant, who should dominate inside snaps with Jerry Jeudy on the shelf. The Jaguars’ rebuilding pass rush showed signs of life, putting legitimate pressure on Taylor for much of the game. But that goes for naught if the secondary can’t keep the receivers close on quick routes and can’t make plays on the deep balls. This unit simply lacks both coverage talent and a ball-hawking mentality, so opposing passers can challenge downfield with confidence.
Green Bay vs Detroit
The Packers must feel shellshocked, if not run over by a truck, after a devastating Week 1 faceplant. The Saints’ aggressive defense swarmed Aaron Rodgers and his receivers, allowing a meager 5.7 yards per throw as a team. But it’s fair to expect some correction against the Lions’ panic-button secondary. They aren’t able to attack Rodgers with as much pass-rush power, nor do they boast anything close to a shutdown cover man. Davante Adams’ size and flawless technique have carved out wins against much better competition than this. and his chemistry and timing with Rodgers makes him a multi-touchdown threat any time they’re on the field. Tight end Robert Tonyan Jr, who caught 10 touchdowns last year, will also pop back into relevance the more they threaten the end zone – and the Packers sport a 30-point Vegas total here. Perhaps the biggest story from the opener was the involvement of Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who was used on all levels of the field and tied Adams for the target lead. There’s optimism that the big-play specialist will emerge as another all-around weapon for Rodgers.
The Lions, to no one’s surprise, were shredded through the air in the season opener. Jimmy Garoppolo used play-action and misdirection to open up one chunk play after another, compiling 314 yards on just 25 throws. Deebo Samuel demonstrated how to simply take yardage from this secondary when he outmuscled and outran the ball into the end zone on his 79-yard touchdown. This Sunday, Davante Adams makes for an even clearer mismatch wherever he lines up against this pitiful unit. Things were bleak for the Lions even before Jeffrey Okudah, last year’s No. 3 pick, was lost in the opener to an Achilles tear. Okudah has disappointed mightily, but he now leaves a true hole in an extremely thin group. Amani Oruwariye is a liability himself on the other side of the field, and the team may add some veteran depth in the short term. They’ll rotate a few bodies in the slot, but Adams and Robert Tonyan Jr match up nicely against all comers. Aaron Rodgers may not need to test this unit much, but if he does, there are mismatches everywhere to exploit. The Lions are timid at best and talent-deprived at worst, making for a juicy fantasy matchup every week until further notice.
Atlanta at Tampa Bay
The Falcons disappointed in Week 1, but weeks like that are to be expected in a transitional phase. Matt Ryan is experiencing life without Julio Jones for the first time in a decade while breaking in another generational talent (Kyle Pitts) at age 36. He’s also working behind a rebuilt front line, ranked 19th by Footballguys’ Matt Bitonti, and which watched him take nine hits and three sacks in the opener. Pitts let fantasy players down against Philadelphia (4 catches for 31 yards), but his volume (23% of Ryan’s targets) was encouraging. Just as encouraging was coordinator Dave Ragone using Pitts all over the field – and running routes on 90% of his snaps. His package of frame and athleticism will sometimes disappoint, but other times turn that kind of volume into week-winning stat lines. The biggest surprise was the disappearance of Russell Gage, projected as the slot specialist and No. 2 wideout, but catch-less on targets in the opener. A moderate talent and marginal starter, Gage may be phased out in favor of the running backs, who combined to catch eight balls of their own.
The Buccaneers defense should eventually be much better against the pass than it was in the opener. Dak Prescott took virtually whatever he pleased last Thursday, completing 42 throws for 403 yards and 3 touchdowns, with an interception. Coordinator Todd Bowles’ defense is heavy on aggressive pressure, which often leaves cornerbacks Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis on their own islands. That’s ideal at times, and both Dean and Davis are talented cover men in spurts. But prolific passers like Prescott can take advantage by identifying hot routes, and dynamic receivers can win on the fly just enough to make fantasy noise. Matt Ryan has had some success against it, and given the suffocating nature of the Tampa Bay run defense, he’ll be given every opportunity to find more Sunday. Ryan should throw early and often, looking to catch Dean, Davis, and the shaky safeties off-balance with play-action. He’ll likely move Calvin Ridley and Kyle Pitts around the formation, looking for mismatches with iffy cover men like Devin White and Antoine Winfield Jr Jr. If those two can be isolated enough, those Falcons will have the opportunity for big statistical days in a potential shootout.
Bottom 5 Passing Matchups Week 2
Indianapolis vs LA Rams
The Colts got a fairly efficient debut out of new franchise quarterback Carson Wentz, who hit on 25 of his 38 attempts and fired 2 touchdowns, in the opener. Wentz didn’t push the ball downfield, with only 4 of those throws traveling 15+ yards. But any forward steps from offseason foot surgery were welcomed, and it appears he came out setback-free. Those expecting Michael Pittman Jr to step into TY Hilton’s shoes as the No. 1 option were disappointed to see Wentz keep things close to the line, sending 15 of his throws (39%) to running backs. Pittman and Parris Campbell were non-factors, and failing to put up numbers against one of the game’s worst secondaries doesn’t inspire confidence. Perhaps the offense will open up more as Wentz mends further from surgery, allowing Pittman to use his Mike Evans-like physicality and Campbell his quickness to make splash plays. The Colts would also love to see the deep tight ends room get more involved. Rookie Kylen Granson drew lots of camp praise and saw a handful of snaps in the opener; an expanded role could be in the cards. Coach Frank Reich is a big believer in two- and three-tight-end sets, and Jack Doyle no longer brings anything to the table through the air.
The Rams’ shutdown pass defense wasn’t given a daunting Week 1 challenge, but they rose to it, allowing the Bears a meager 5.6-yard average over their 40 attempts. Most impressively, Jalen Ramsey and company stifled volume hog Allen Robinson (just 35 yards on his 11 targets) – the only proven threat the Bears could throw at them. This smothering group has built depth at all the secondary spots, with Ramsey leading the way as the game’s premier shadow cover man. He’ll likely spend most of his time on Michael Pittman Jr, the Colts’ biggest mismatch threat, which dings whatever upside the young wideout may have held. It’s hard to find a bright matchup here for the Colts; whatever success they find through the air may have to come by exploiting the young safeties, Jordan Fuller and Taylor Rupp, on shots down the middle. Of course, to make anything happen at all, Carson Wentz will have to dodge Aaron Donald and the powerful pass rush. Donald predictably got off to an All-Pro start to 2021; he’s the biggest reason this unit allows so little production (just 213 yards a game over their last 17).
Jacksonville vs Denver
The Jaguars appear to be in wild disarray coming off one of the worst losses in franchise history. Some normalcy would benefit rookie cornerstone Trevor Lawrence, who flashed both undeniable arm talent and groanworthy inexperience in his debut. There were deer-in-headlights moments and a few giveaways, but the good news is that Lawrence indeed looked like a prototypical modern NFL prospect. He’s able to make plays on the move and attack tight windows, traits that automatically boost the rest of the Jaguars passing game. Garbage time numbers count, too, and Week 1 saw all three of D.J. Chark Jr, Marvin Jones Jr, and Laviska Shenault Jr make their own impacts. Chark led the way in targets (12) and yardage (86); he’s the top option at the moment, while Shenault looks earmarked for the underneath game. There’s no telling where the Jaguars are going, but it’s safe to expect the team to ride Lawrence and this unit through a ton of negative game flow.
The Broncos’ imposing new secondary showed up in a big way to kick off the season. Daniel Jones and the Giants weren’t exactly daunting, but it was impressive to see such a dominant performance across the board. Jones was unable to sustain any momentum; even his proven downfield playmakers, Kenny Golladay and Darius Slayton, combined to catch just seven balls. This secondary is so deep that No. 2 cornerback Ronald Darby’s trip to injured reserve isn’t particularly concerning. Dynamic rookie Patrick Surtain II should fit seamlessly into the lineup as a playmaking man specialist. Kyle Fuller already looks like an All-Pro acquisition on the other side, and the team also boasts a premier slot man in Bryce Callahan. And few teams can claim to match the safety combination of Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson. This unit will be even tougher to deal with Sunday if edge rusher Bradley Chubb can return to the lineup. Von Miller was a terror on opening day, and he hasn’t shared the field with the rising star Chubb in two years. Along with an underrated front line that can push the pocket, this pass rush is capable of hounding anyone, let alone a shaky rookie, into an erratic, mistake-filled day.
Miami vs Buffalo
The Dolphins spent the offseason practicing and talking up an aggressive, deep ball-oriented attack, but it didn’t manifest in Week 1. Tua Tagovailoa threw almost exclusively quick-hitting slants, going downfield (15+ yards) on just 5 of his 27 throws. On the plus side, he did it with solid accuracy, hitting his men in stride and playing the sideline like a veteran. It’s fair to expect at least a little more downfield motion with Will Fuller V making his debut this weekend. Fuller has been one of the game’s most prolific deep threats, posting an elite 10.3 yards per target since teaming with Deshaun Watson in Houston. He’s turned that into an even more impressive 9.1% touchdown rate; simply put, when fed the ball downfield, Fuller finds his way to the end zone. If Tagovailoa can stay upright and expand his horizons, there’s great potential for them. But the “upright” part is a concern of its own behind Matt Bitonti’s 21st-ranked front line. One of Week 1’s bigger surprises was the lack of involvement for tight end Mike Gesicki, and there’s no guarantee he’ll resurface soon with Fuller back.
The Bills pass defense isn’t flawless, but it’s still among the league’s best. It’s a deep unit that tends to funnel their opponents inside, giving up harmless throws underneath instead of open ones down the field. Dating back to the start of 2020, they’ve allowed the NFL’s eighth-fewest net yards per attempt. It all starts with the brilliance of cornerback Tre’Davious White, a shutdown artist who can usually be counted on to stifle opposing No. 1 receivers. White isn’t a traditional shadow cornerback, and he doesn’t move around particularly often. But it’s worth noting he spent some of the AFC Championship Game engaged on Travis Kelce in the slot. White joins with Levi Wallace and Taron Johnson to form one of the league’s premier cornerback groups, and they operate in front of a prototypical free safety in Jordan Poyer. The Bills are still stocking and sorting out their pass rush, which remains inconsistent at providing pressure, though they did hit Ben Roethlisberger six times last week. Still, there’s a lot of margin for error with such a gifted secondary in place. White’s presence alone downgrades the outlook for opposing wideouts, and the Dolphins aren’t at the stage in their development with a go-to No. 1 receiver to feed.
Las Vegas vs Pittsburgh
The Raiders come fresh off a feel-good victory courtesy of several huge plays in the passing game. That can’t be discounted – Derek Carr and his receivers ascended to a new level for the final quarter of that game – but it also can’t be projected going forward. Carr struggled out of the gate, and the unit as a whole failed to make any real noise until the game heated up late. Through three quarters, the checkdown-minded Carr had turned 33 attempts into just 189 yards (5.7 per), relentlessly feeding tight end Darren Waller near the line of scrimmage. Waller continues to prove himself a sure-handed volume king, averaging 6 receptions for 74 yards over his last 33 games. The wideout corps is trickier, with second-year duo Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards battling for a No. 1 tag that doesn’t matter much behind Waller. Edwards came on late against Baltimore, making 4 big catches over a 3:27 span over the fourth quarter and overtime. He was largely a horizontal receiver in school, but shook open deep more than once in the opener, even once beating All-Pro Marlon Humphrey. Ruggs has yet to seize a major role in the offense, though his explosive speed does keep things open in the intermediate. Last week it was slot man Hunter Renfrow taking advantage of all that space, but the ascending name here is Edwards. He could start filling a number of roles in this attack as soon as this weekend.
The Steelers have carried over their stretch of dominant pass defense into 2021, as seen in the chokehold they put on Josh Allen and the Bills in the opener. The catalyst was the pass rush, which lost Bud Dupree to free agency and Stephon Tuitt to injured reserve but remains packed with difference-makers. T.J. Watt is one of the league’s two best defenders, while Cameron Heyward still sits among the elite pocket-pushers along the line. Against Buffalo, the pair combined to rack up 16 pressures on Allen and sack him 3 times. The chaos they all create up front makes life easier for a secondary that lacks star power but typically works well together. Only once did the Bills complete for more than 20 yards, with star wideout Stefon Diggs managing just 69 on his 9 catches. Overall, this group has allowed a meager 221 yards a game dating back to last year, and it’s shown no sign of slowing down for an inconsistent Raiders attack.
NY Jets vs New England
The Jets are starting fresh with a new franchise quarterback in Zach Wilson, and there’s reason for enthusiasm. But in his debut, he suffered the same slings as his predecessor Sam Darnold (and so many others throughout history): a faulty offensive line. The Jets’ rebuilt line is designed more as a power run unit, and it certainly doesn’t help to lose budding superstar tackle Mekhi Becton for the next month or so. Wilson showed nice rhythm and command for spurts of his debut, but if he can’t be kept clean, they won’t matter in the big picture. When upright, he showed an early bond with top wideout Corey Davis, hooking up 5 times for 97 yards and both Jets’ touchdowns. Rookie Elijah Moore followed up a preseason of gushing praise with a disastrous debut of his own, . If Jamison Crowder and/or Keelan Cole can return Sunday, they could immediately claim chunks of Moore’s 86% snap share.
The Patriots are proceeding without Stephon Gilmore, who’s stuck on the PUP list, but still look strong on the back end. Gilmore’s de facto replacement, rising star J.C. Jackson, is an aggressive ballhawk who’s broken up 25 passes and picked off 14 over his last 33 games. He’s not quite the shutdown presence Gilmore was in his prime but is possibly a small upgrade at this point. The secondary gets help from a dynamic pass rush that’s been rebuilt by hand by Bill Belichick over the past three years. Matt Judon and Kyle Van Noy make for a strong duo with their hands off the ground, while Josh Uche and Chase Winovich keep flashing potential as rotational ends. Judon looks like the linchpin here; his signing away from Baltimore may go down as one of the offseason’s most impactful moves. Altogether, it’s hard to imagine a shaky rookie passer finding much success against this swarming unit. The fact that it’s designed and led by Belichick makes the Jets offense a full-on avoid for fantasy purposes.
|LA Chargers||vs Dallas||Great|
|Atlanta||at Tampa Bay||Great|
|Tampa Bay||vs Atlanta||Great|
|Green Bay||vs Detroit||Great|
|New England||at NY Jets||Good|
|Pittsburgh||vs Las Vegas||Good|
|San Francisco||at Philadelphia||Good|
|Kansas City||at Baltimore||Neutral|
|New Orleans||at Carolina||Neutral|
|LA Rams||at Indianapolis||Neutral|
|Washington||vs NY Giants||Neutral|
|Baltimore||vs Kansas City||Neutral|
|Detroit||at Green Bay||Neutral|
|Dallas||at LA Chargers||Neutral|
|Philadelphia||vs San Francisco||Tough|
|Carolina||vs New Orleans||Tough|
|NY Giants||at Washington||Tough|
|Las Vegas||at Pittsburgh||Bad|
|Indianapolis||vs LA Rams||Bad|
|NY Jets||vs New England||Bad|