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Top 5 Passing Matchups Week 3
Arizona at Jacksonville
The Cardinals’ all-in push on Kyler Murray’s frenetic game has paid dividends, particularly in fantasy terms. Through the first two weeks he’s looked erratic at times, but has completed 74% of his throws for 689 yards and 7 touchdowns. His ability to extend a play indefinitely allows his talented receivers to work their way open down the field. And Murray is spreading the ball around well, with each of his top four wideouts having drawn nine targets or more through two weeks. DeAndre Hopkins has yet to dominate the ball, though he’s played well and already found the end zone three times. Christian Kirk and A.J. Green have rotated across the field, and each has made his share of big catches. The team has found a gem in rookie Rondale Moore, a slot specialist capable of exploding down the field as well. There’s enough firepower here to blow a hole in the Jaguars’ bottom-of-the-barrel defense.
The Jaguars continue to field one of the game’s weakest pass defenses. It’s nothing new to see them shredded through the air, and they’ve opened the year as punching bags to Tyrod Taylor (291 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Teddy Bridgewater (328 and 2). Bridgewater would’ve even had another 40 yards or more if not for an egregious pass interference in Sunday’s fourth quarter. At this point, the Jaguars simply don’t possess a strong cover cornerback at any spot, with C.J. Henderson still proving his mettle as last year’s first-round pick. He’s gotten no support from new teammate Shaquill Griffin or rookie Tyson Campbell, while Chris Claybrooks has long been one of the game’s weakest cover men. And without a strong coverage safety on board, they can be exploited on all levels of the field. They’ve already given up huge lines to the two prominent big-play threats they’ve faced, Brandin Cooks (5 for 132) and Courtland Sutton (9 for 159). The Cardinals’ ability to space the field and deliver tough throws downfield makes this matchup virtually unfair. Barring the unforeseen, Kyler Murray will be able to pick and choose his spots as his receivers win all over the field.
Baltimore at Detroit
The Ravens aren’t complaining about what Lamar Jackson brings to the table as a generational dual-threat weapon. But fantasy players have all but given up on big air numbers. The Ravens can score the ball, but they tend to do it with spontaneous chunk plays, not with volume. The best bets for fantasy production are Marquise Brown and tight end Mark Andrews, who have historically dominated the target share. Brown is often dinged in fantasy circles for a lack of consistency, though he’s averaged 95 yards over his last 4 games (playoffs included) and cleared 69 in each one. Sammy Watkins is a name to watch for as long as he stays healthy. The new No. 2 man has opened the year with 8 catches for 140 yards, drawing 50% more looks than Andrews. Those playmakers, or at least two or three of them on a given week, are all the Ravens’ pass volume can support in fantasy. They need to strike downfield to make any real noise through the air; thankfully, they could hardly be staring down a better matchup for that than this one.
The Lions pass defense entered the 2021 season with all the hallmarks of serious trouble, and things have only grown worse in the two weeks since. While allowing the 49ers to turn 26 throws into 319 yards and 2 touchdowns in the opener, they lost Jeffrey Okudah, their only piece of young secondary talent, to a turn Achilles. Okudah was struggling mightily as a pro, but without him this group is even shallower and makes for one of fantasy’s prime targets. It certainly didn’t help to lose rookie starter Ifeatu Melifonwu, likely for multiple weeks, in Monday night’s loss to the Packers. It’s hard to piece together the secondary crew they’ll now be forced to play, but it will be some combination of Amani Oruwariye, Bobby Price, and Jerry Jacobs on the outside, with rookie A.J. Parker manning the slot. The safeties have also struggled; Tracy Walker and Will Harris are little more than replacement-level talents in coverage, providing little help downfield. That’s bad news against a Ravens team that looks to operate through its speedy deep threat (Marquise Brown) and dynamic tight end (Mark Andrews). Simply put, this remains one of the worst pass defenses in football, and it’s fair to project Lamar Jackson and company to their first 2021 breakout. They should have their way for as long as they feel the need to throw the ball in this game.
Indianapolis at Tennessee
The Colts may not have Carson Wentz Sunday after he managed to sprain both ankles last week. It’s hard to imagine him suiting up seven days later, but the decision may come down to the wire. Any lost time would halt his budding connection with Michael Pittman after their 8-catch, 123-yard eruption from last week. Of course, it would be fair to project a downturn if Jacob Eason were pressed into action. Eason has yet to start an NFL game, and the offense would skew even further to the run if he’s under center. Beyond Pittman, there wouldn’t be much to throw to downfield, with most of the attention focused on the tight ends and slot men. Zach Pascal looks like the most projectable part of this attack right now, and he’s also developed as a red-zone weapon. Luckily, they’ll be a thrown a lifeline in the form of the Titans defense, which has allowed 10.0 yards per attempt thus far.
The Titans have had the misfortune of opening the year against the red-hot attacks of Arizona and Seattle. But misfortune or no, they’ve been beaten badly, giving up 632 yards and 6 touchdowns through the air. Last Sunday, Russell Wilson connected on three deep-ball completions of 50+ yards, with no answer for Tyler Lockett (8 for 178 and 1 touchdown) anywhere to be found. Titans defenders took turns chasing after Lockett on his long catches, while the whole secondary broke down on Freddie Swain’s 68-yard jog-in touchdown. The team brought on Janoris Jenkins to serve as a shutdown man of sorts, but he’s miscast at this point in his career, and the rest of the group is prone to such breakdowns. Kristian Fulton has flashed promise but was badly at fault on Swain’s too-easy touchdown. There’s not enough safety support to plug those leaks, so chunk plays are common down the field, and opposing passers can feast when a shootout pops up. More push from up front would help, but the pass rush has run hot and cold. They’ve yet to reap anything from new addition Bud Dupree, who’s been charted with just a single pressure through his first two games as a Titan.
Philadelphia at Dallas
The Eagles have to be happy with what they got from Jalen Hurts in Week 1 (27 for 35 for 264 yards and 3 touchdowns), and they can likely forgive what he brought in Week 2 (12 of 23 for 190 yards). Hurts was erratic against the 49ers, and he failed to capitalize on several big-play opportunities, but he’s at a decent point of his learning curve. Besides, San Francisco‘s beastly front seven played a big role, and Hurts won’t face anything nearly as frightening Monday night. He’ll also likely see more separation from his receivers, as DeVonta Smith and Quez Watkins should find far more cracks in the secondary to squeeze through. Watkins certainly made the most of things Sunday, catching both his targets for 117 yards, including a spectacular 91-yarder on a rainbow of a throw from Hurts. The ball is being spread around quite a bit, keeping tight ends Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz (a combined 106 yards on their 9 targets) from establishing big roles for the downfield-looking Hurts.
The Cowboys continue to trot out a shaky, mistake-prone pass defense in serious need of a talent infusion. The snaps are dominated largely by the same ineffective batch of players that was roasted through most of last season. They do have to like the progression they’re seeing in Trevon Diggs, last year’s second-round pick, though he’s run extremely hot and cold. He played a big role in erasing Mike Evans from Week 1, but gave up a handful of splash plays against the Chargers. This unit needs consistent growth from him with so many vulnerabilities elsewhere. Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis, the other regular cornerbacks in the lineup, have graded poorly in coverage just about every moment they’ve been Cowboys. The team is hoping newcomers like Micah Parsons can sustain their hot starts as splash-play creators. The rookie Parsons was wildly disruptive off the edge Sunday, repeatedly harassing Justin Herbert into rushed throws. He’s needed badly while Demarcus Lawrence, the only noteworthy edge man on roster, recovers from foot surgery. Still, with little proven coverage talent on the outside, opponents can still target this group freely. When they faced Hurts in Week 16 of last year, with similar personnel, they allowed 342 yards on just 21 completions.
Seattle at Minnesota
The Seahawks continue to yo-yo from a run-heavy offense to a pass-heavy offense. New coordinator Shane Waldron has sped up the offense and pushed Russell Wilson to throw plenty, resulting in relatively high volume and a handful of huge plays. Wilson has completed 40 of his 54 throws, with 8 of them covering 20+ yards and 6 finding the end zone. DK Metcalf has yet to truly uncork, though he’s been productive (10 catches for 113 yards and 1 touchdown) while watching Tyler Lockett (12 for 278 and 3) play pitch-and-catch with Wilson. Lockett continues to use his wiles and deceptive second gear to scorch his way around and past defenders, and when he and his quarterback are on the same page, these explosions happen. It’s worth noting that the Seahawks have opened the year in two shootouts, which may have inflated their volume a bit. But it’s still encouraging to see Wilson throwing on instinct and pushing the ball deep, where his gifted receivers can feast. Metcalf and Lockett dominate this attack, so it’s no surprise to see them both erupt in the same week.
The Vikings pass defense isn’t necessarily in shambles, but it’s clearly working through some transition. Kyler Murray picked them apart in Week 2, completing 29 of his 36 throws for 400 yards and 3 touchdowns against a unit still finding its identity. They can rush the passer, with Danielle Hunter leading a strong group up front. But the secondary is still looking for cohesiveness and giving up too many splash plays through the air. The team has prioritized the cornerback spot in recent years, but with little to show for it. This past Sunday saw Bashaud Breeland, Patrick Peterson, and Mackensie Alexander sitting on their heels and allowing lots of uncontested throws underneath. Harrison Smith remains a ballhawking safety, but can only do so much when opponents keep slipping through cracks elsewhere. Peterson may be in line for a shift to safety himself, as his declining athleticism has been apparent early on. Another weak spot may have cropped up Sunday, with the Cardinals’ blocking tight end, Maxx Williams, recording 7 catches for 94 yards up the seams. The Vikings split themselves so thin against Kliff Kingsbury’s spread attack that Williams repeatedly snuck out of the flats for easy catches.
Bottom 5 Passing Matchups Week 3
Washington at Buffalo
The Football Team have to be encouraged by what they saw last Thursday from new quarterback Taylor Heinicke. In just his third NFL start, Heinicke kept up a toe-to-toe pace in a shootout, hitting on 34 of his 46 throws for 336 yards and 2 touchdowns, with an interception. Job security is no longer a real knock on Heinicke, who at this point may be in the driver’s seat to keep the starting job through the season. His upside may be limited as a checkdown-oriented passer, but Heinicke will have a deceptive group off pass-catchers to feed underneath and up the seams. Terry McLaurin has dominated this attack with a 27% target share (and 36% of the team’s passing yardage), rendering everyone else all but irrelevant. Logan Thomas and Adam Humphries are low-risk, low-reward checkdown options who mean more to the team than to the fantasy world. McLaurin always boasts blow-up potential as a downfield dominator, making him more and more valuable as the Washington offense gradually opens up.
The Bills’ rebuild of a once-shoddy pass defense has paid off in the season’s early going. They’ve allowed their first 2 opponents just 370 yards through the air, and at a meager 4.1 per attempt. The Steelers’ and Dolphins’ dysfunctional attacks have posed little threat, but credit is due to a Buffalo defense now packed with playmakers. The front line can push the pocket, and the linebackers are trained and adept at playing the pass. Still, the most crucial point of the unit is cornerback Tre’Davious White, who sets the tone as a consistent shutdown guy. White tends to funnel the action away from the opponent’s top wideout and often over the middle, where big-play safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer can attack the ball. It’s a bend-don’t-break approach that has looked fantastic through two weeks, and it may be too much for the inexperienced Taylor Heinicke to sort through effectively.
New Orleans at New England
The Saints rode high in their Week 1 romp of the Packers, with Jameis Winston completing 70% of his throws while tossing 5 touchdowns. They got the polar opposite last Sunday, though, in a similar defeat to the Panthers. Winston was nothing short of dreadful, hitting on just 11 of 22 throws for 111 scoreless yards. He took four sacks and threw two picks, looking nothing like an heir to Drew Brees, and the interceptions will do nothing to shake the public’s perception of him. The game also didn't clue in the fantasy world as to what to expect from his receivers right now. Preseason sensation Marquez Callaway is the presumed No. 1, but he's registered all of 3 catches for 22 yards thus far. Teammates Alvin Kamara, Adam Trautman, and Juwan Johnson, all expected to help pick up the slack with Michael Thomas and Tre'Quan Smith out, have been similarly invisible (a combined 15 for 95). The Saints boast a strong front line and a few electric playmakers, but appear rudderless right now in many ways, particularly in the passing game. Simply put, it's a rough transitional period for Winston and coach Sean Payton, and it’s here at a terrible time to face a Bill Belichick defense.
The Patriots have opened the year with two dominant performances against the pass. As usual, Bill Belichick has assembled a unit that’s deep, versatile, and able to stay afloat while Stephon Gilmore is out. They haven’t exactly faced strong air attacks, but neither Tua Tagovailoa nor Zach Wilson was even able to clear 210 yards. J.C. Jackson is a rising star as a baiting ballhawk, and he put on another clinic against Corey Davis in Week 2. Jackson is not only a pesky cover man, he attacks the ball with a fury: his 2 interceptions off Wilson put him up to 19 career picks (through just 47 games). Jalen Mills and Jonathan Jones are playmakers as well, making for something of a black hole on the edges of this secondary. Any real success in this matchup will likely have to come in the slots, on quick-hitting throws forced through the Patriots’ imposing pass rush. Matt Judon continues to look like one of the offseason’s most shrewd additions; he and second-year man Josh Uche have terrorized the Dolphins and Jets, helping force errant throws and short possessions. For fantasy purposes, this has been a matchup to avoid for quite some time now, and it seems not even major injuries can shake that.
Houston vs Carolina
The Texans opened the year in impressive fashion, but their spoiler hopes may already be dashed as Tyrod Taylor sits for multiple weeks. Third-round rookie Davis Mills will draw the start in his place, and he’ll be thrown into a daunting matchup with limited weaponry. Mills didn’t inspire much hope in his debut, and he didn’t show himself ready to do more than buy time and check down. This attack goes through top wideout Brandin Cooks, whose stranglehold on team targets (34%) is among the league’s heftiest. Cooks remains a strong weekly fantasy play on opportunity alone, but he’s also a renowned deep-ball threat who can maximize any workload. The cupboard, however, is bare behind him. Cooks drew 14 targets in last weeks’ loss to the Bengals, and no one else saw more than two. The rest of the depth chart is mostly journeymen and training camp castoffs, which can actually present a problem for Cooks. Without another big-play threat on the field, Cooks may struggle to turn that volume into big efficiency. Last Sunday, those 14 targets netted him a mediocre 78 yards.
The Panthers defense has been much discussed after erasing the air attacks of their first two opponents. It’s important to note that this unit has yet to face a strong, stable passing game, and that regression is likely coming. But the Panthers have assembled a fast, frightening pass rush that looks capable of taking over games, making this a dynamic matchup to avoid. And the plucky Texans don’t project as a threat to buck the trend, especially with erratic rookie Davis Mills under center. Mills will contend with a rush that features Brian Burns, Haason Reddick, and a handful of versatile defensive backs adept at deep blitzing and creating havoc. The dominant rush makes life easier for the secondary, which shouldn’t have trouble keeping its focus on Brandin Cooks. Cornerbacks Donte Jackson and Juston Burris have been up-and-down in isolation coverage, but they get ample support on all levels of the field. It would be a true upset to see Mills work his way through his smothering group to post any meaningful production.
Jacksonville vs Arizona
The Jaguars could hardly look worse right now, in all phases of the game. But the most disappointing is their pass game, which was expected to at least show signs of growth and excitement under Trevor Lawrence. Instead, the blue-chip rookie has been one of 2021's worst passers through two weeks. Some of the blame can be laid on the dysfunctional organization itself, which has suffocated more than one franchise quarterback already. But Lawrence has been wildly inaccurate as a passer, missing his receivers frequently and struggling just to keep drives alive. This team has miles and miles to go, but as a fantasy prospect, Lawrence needs to make real improvements to merit consideration. In the meantime, at least wideout Marvin Jones has shown up for 2021, recording 11 catches for 132 yards and 2 touchdowns through 2 weeks. Jones, D.J. Chark, and Laviska Shenault certainly boast the physical talent to win matchups and produce for Lawrence. But even they've had their lapses – particularly Shenault, who's used mostly as a gadget guy underneath but was truly horrid last week (2 drops and minus-3 yards on 7 targets). Unfortunately, it's hard to just expect anything positive from this group until they show they're up to it. Their best-case fantasy scenario is a high-octane shootout that results in high volume.
The Cardinals entered 2021 with loud questions about their defense, but have worked toward silencing them x. They’ve faced a pair of relatively high-efficiency passers in Ryan Tannehill and Kirk Cousins but given up just 456 yards (6.8 per attempt). Perhaps more importantly, they’ve done fine work on the outside against star wideouts. A.J. Brown, Julio Jones, Justin Jefferson, and Adam Thielen have combined to produce a meager 5.9 yards per target in this matchup. Much of the credit has gone to the pass rush, and rightfully so, as Tannehill in particular struggled just to see his receivers through the mess. Coordinator Vance Joseph has assembled a potent front seven led by J.J. Watt and Chandler Jones, who bring 7 All-Pro nods and 203 sacks to the table. Jones has been particularly dominant, with nine hits on the quarterback and a pair of forced fumbles through the first two weeks. His five-sack romp over Tannehill and the Titans in Week 1 altered that game almost singlehandedly, which can help paper over a shaky secondary. The coverage unit may run hot-and-cold, but they’ve been given a terrific hard start to open the season.
NY Jets at Denver
The Jets are in the process of rebuilding the offense from scratch, with an emphasis on “process.” Over two starts, Zach Wilson has certainly flashed top-level talent, particularly in the late-game rally against the Panthers. But forces are conspiring against his start, from scheduling to a porous front line that’s kept him scrambling and checking down. He’s still a mystery at this point, as is the overall breakdown of the Jets attack. Corey Davis dominated the show in the opener, but was erased last week, continuing a pattern of week-to-week inconsistency that dates back to his Tennessee days. The New England defense smothered Wilson and his receivers, funneling most of the attention into the low-upside slots. That means the Jets’ best chance at a fantasy-worthy receiver is likely a slot specialist, either Braxton Berrios or Elijah Moore, churning out raw numbers on sheer volume. Neither inspires much confidence, though, and the team is hoping to get Jamison Crowder back soon.
The Broncos have assembled a truly dominant secondary, so it’s no surprise they’ve opened the year as a top-five unit against the pass. The competition hasn’t been strong, but this defense has passed every eyeball test. There’s plenty of depth to hold down the fort for Bradley Chubb (ankle), and Von Miller has launched back into form at age 32. The future Hall-of-Famer has collapsed both the Giants and Jaguars front lines and played a big role in their meager 5.5 yards per attempt. On the back end, few teams can claim the Broncos’ talent riches. They lost Ronald Darby to injury in the opener, but rookie Patrick Surtain put up a shutdown-quality debut in his place. Kyle Fuller is a shutdown guy himself on the other side, while Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons are playmaking safeties more than capable of giving support. It’s hard to find vulnerable spots to pick through in this unit, so fantasy players are best served avoiding them in most lineup decisions. The infantile Jets certainly don’t fit the profile to test them in any way.
|Week 3 Passing Chart|
|LA Rams||vs Tampa Bay||Good|
|Atlanta||at NY Giants||Good|
|LA Chargers||at Kansas City||Good|
|Green Bay||at San Francisco||Neutral|
|Miami||at Las Vegas||Neutral|
|NY Giants||vs Atlanta||Neutral|
|Kansas City||vs LA Chargers||Tough|
|New England||vs New Orleans||Tough|
|Las Vegas||vs Miami||Tough|
|Tampa Bay||at LA Rams||Tough|
|San Francisco||vs Green Bay||Tough|
|Denver||vs NY Jets||Tough|
|New Orleans||at New England||Bad|
|NY Jets||at Denver||Bad|