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Top 5 Passing Matchups
Minnesota vs Detroit
The Vikings fell into a letdown trap Monday night, following up their big Opening Day win with an ugly loss to the Eagles. There were plenty of culprits, but Kirk Cousins and the passing game probably land atop the list. Cousins dipped to a pitiful 27-46-221 line, with a touchdown and 3 interceptions. Much of that can be chalked up to Justin Jefferson’s duel with Eagles shutdown cornerback Darius Slay, who put on a dazzling display. On most weeks, the ultra-talented Jefferson will face more pedestrian matchups and produce more than 4.0 yards per target. And on most weeks, Cousins will get real support from Dalvin Cook and the ground game, making everyone’s jobs easier. That kicks off Sunday, with the Lions’ porous secondary coming to town. Cousins, Jefferson, and Adam Thielen project to the highest ends of their spectrums this weekend.
The Lions look to be a team on the rise in many respects. That’s even true on defense, where they’ve been little more than a turnstile for the past decade or so. Rookie Aidan Hutchinson led the pass rush last Sunday, notching three sacks on Carson Wentz. And there’s optimism over former No. 3 pick Jeff Okudah, who’s back from a 2021 Achilles tear and could well keep developing into a shutdown cornerback. Still, there’s a long way to go for this unit, which still lacks talent throughout the secondary. Even if Okudah were to stay healthy and dominate, there would still be massive holes elsewhere to exploit. Slot cornerback Mike Hughes kicked outside Sunday in place of typical starter Amani Oruwariye, who looks likely to return this week, but neither grades well in coverage. They get little help from the safeties, mostly a carryover group that’s been picked on since last year. Simply put, there are gaps all over this unit, and even mediocre air attacks can find success against it. A talented group like the Vikings should have little trouble.
Philadelphia at Washington
The Eagles shook their run-dominant, small-ball approach Monday night in thrashing the unprepared Vikings. Simply put, Jalen Hurts was a man possessed in both phases of the offense. It was no surprise to see Hurts run for 57 yards and 2 touchdowns. But his 26 of 31, 333-yard showing through the air ranked as his best individual game on several levels. Most impressively, Hurts excelled without force-feeding No. 1 receiver A.J. Brown the ball. Brown drew 41% of the team’s targets in Week 1 but a reasonable 26% Monday night as Hurts insisted on getting everyone involved. He may never again be as laser-sharp as he was that night, but it was encouraging to see Brown (69 yards), Dallas Goedert (82), DeVonta Smith (80), and even Quez Watkins (69) produce simultaneously. Watkins added a 53-yard touchdown through a blown Vikings coverage; he’s not a fantasy asset yet, but the others surely are. Goedert and Smith are still easy fantasy starters, while Brown carries as much week-to-week WR1 upside as anyone not named Kupp or Jefferson.
The Commanders have spent the past few years deeply frustrated by a talented (and pricey) pass defense that couldn’t stop anyone. Last year this group finished bottom-five in both yardage and touchdown rates allowed, and 2022 isn’t shaping up much better. Both Trevor Lawrence and Jared Goff have topped expectations in this matchup, averaging 266 yards and throwing 5 touchdowns. Last Sunday, Goff pointed out the Commanders’ holes by making big throws to all levels of the field. Seven different Lions receivers caught passes, while the secondary simply had no answer for Amon-Ra St. Brown (184 scrimmage yards and 2 touchdowns). It mirrored the opener, in which new Jaguar Christian Kirk erupted himself (6 catches for 117 yards). That’s concerning on its own; with A.J. Brown and the Eagles’ weapons coming to town, it’s downright terrifying. Once-great cornerbacks William Jackson III and Kendall Fuller have regressed here in 2022, and there’s no real depth to speak of. The Commanders could those efforts by pushing the pocket, but that’s yet to show up – through two weeks, they sit 31st in hurry rate and 18th in sack rate. It’s a gifted pass-rush group, led by three recent first-rounders along the line. But even on their better days, this leaky unit can be beaten a number of ways. There’s a chance Jalen Hurts and the Eagles suffer a letdown after Monday’s huge win, but that’s just narrative talk. The matchups look squarely in the Eagle’s favor.
New England vs Baltimore
The Patriots offer no one’s idea of a dynamic offense. Still, last week brought noticeable improvement from young quarterback Mac Jones, who hit on 21 of 35 throws for 252 yards, with a touchdown and an interception, in a road win. Possession receiver Jakobi Meyers was ultra-dependable for Jones, catching 9 of 13 targets for 95 chain-moving yards. But it was disappearing veteran Nelson Agholor, who made the headlines, bouncing from just 3-28 in the season opener to 6-110-1 against the Steelers. Agholor made several splash plays, including an impressive 44-yard touchdown. Just as importantly, the Patriots' front line rose to the challenge, keeping Jones mostly upright and free from sacks. That was no small task against the aggressive Steelers, even with T.J. Watt on the bench. Overall, in a vacuum, this is definitely not one of fantasy’s more enticing groups. But a date with the banged-up Ravens should at least power them to the upper range of their possibilities.
The Ravens are loaded with talent in their secondary, which makes games like last Sunday’s loss even more painful to watch. Year after year, this team is decimated by early-season injuries, and 2022 has been no exception. Baltimore went into last week already down cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Brandon Stephens and with Marcus Peters easing back from ACL surgery. Then, All-Pro Marlon Humphrey hit the injury report late in the week and managed only 56 of 71 snaps. The Ravens struggled all day to keep up with the Miami receivers, then broke down completely in the fourth quarter, where they allowed 199 of Tua Tagovailoa’s 469 yards and four of his six touchdowns. This unit functions much better when Humphrey is at 100% sliding in and out of the formation and locking down top wideouts when asked to. But even with Humphrey on the field, there are definite holes here to exploit. After all, this group gave up more yards through the air than anyone last year. Dating back to Week 15, in fact, they’ve allowed averages of 354 yards and 2.8 touchdowns. That’s bad, and if the team is forced to lean any more on beatable journeyman Daryl Worley, it’ll shift into full-on disaster mode. Nobody wants to start Mac Jones or the New England receivers in fantasy, but they’ll likely project to their highest ends for Sunday.
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