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1. The real Lethal Weapon: Martellus Bennett and Rob Gronkowski
I spent the summer touting the value of Martellus Bennett. I kicked off the season with a prediction that by Week 7, fantasy owners would be lamenting "Why did I drop Bennett/Chris Hogan before Brady returned?" But this week, there was little mention of Bennett and an obsession with Edelman, White, and to some degree, Hogan.
Do you get what we've (Sigmund Bloom and I) been trying to tell you now?
For those of you on the executive summary plan, Bennett and Gronkowski are about even as fantasy options with that edge slightly going to Gronkowski if his health doesn't backslide. Edelman and Hogan are also about even and less consistent than the tight ends.
For those of you who want the "why?" Read on.
The Pats' primary reason for adding Bennett wasn't depth for the oft-injured Rob Gronkowski—it was an ancillary bonus. Bennett, who was tops in the league last year among tight ends with yards after the catch, was brought to New England to reprise the Aaron Hernandez role for Bill Belichick.
Since Hernandez's arrest, the Patriots abandoned the two-tight end, multiple offense and tried giving Tom Brady a traditional primary option on the perimeter. The list of failures includes Chad Ocho Cinco, Brandon Loyd, Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, and a slew of other draft day and free agent additions.
Bennett is one of those rare tight ends who can block, catch, and run with the highest level of skill and versatility. Pair Bennett with an equally versatile Gronkowski and the strategic minds of Brady and Belichick and this multiple offense can dictate, trick, and adjust to most defenses.
Cleveland has to respect the potential for a run with this alignment with Bennett and Gronkowski paired to the same side. Bennett's touchdown is the result of the Browns expecting/respecting the run to the right, especially with Gronkowski acting out a reach block before releasing on a route. The cornerback gets sucked into run support and Bennett blows by him.
Gronkowski looks better than he has the past two weeks and it shows with his comfort level to twist, turn, and make athletic movements that require more than straight-line running.
He's not running with the explosion or reckless abandon that we've seen in the past, but the fact that he can change direction effectively in the open field is another good sign.
Looking better but still a bit limited...poor tackling, too.
Even when New England lines Bennett and Gronkowski to the same side of the line and doesn't use play-action trickery, it's still a guessing game for the defense. This time, the inside guy gets the love and Gronkowski 's healthy enough to separate up the seam.
Even if this play below isn't a perfect example, the tandem of Gronkowski and Bennett and be split outside and the stress it creates for a defense can provide great matchup advantages to players like Edelman and Hogan. Here's an empty set where Hogan is the beneficiary.
Start 'em all every week. The tight ends are top-3 fantasy options at their position every week. The receivers have WR1 upside based on the big-play element but they are consistent options as baseline WR3s.
With this Lethal Weapon of an offense, you might even have weeks where the Danny Amendola-as-Joe Pesci cameo is entertaining.
2. Kyle Shanahan's Continued creativity With Tevin Coleman
The tough Broncos defense has a soft underbelly right now and the top story from this weekend's game is how the Falcons exploited it this weekend with Tevin Coleman. I'm writing about it because it's another chapter in the season-long story of Kyle Shanahan's excellent work to create offense with a dangerous running back that has a unique combination of scary strengths and limiting weaknesses.
I've profiled Tevin Coleman's weaknesses as a zone runner a lot. Some questioned my analysis because Coleman ran an outside zone at Indiana but they missed how much of a boom-bust runner he was in that scheme.
It didn't matter as much at the college level because he had dominant speed and pro-caliber strength. But when one accurately projects to the professional game, Coleman's gait, change of direction, pacing, and patience were clear issues that needed to be addressed or he'd be an inconsistent runner in a zone scheme in the NFL. The fact that Shanahan changed up last year and ran Coleman almost exclusively behind gap blocks is a clear indication that the Falcons recognized the same problem.
Coleman has been better as a zone runner this year and it's because he has become more patient but for the reasons mentioned above, he still needs more work to approach what Devonta Freeman is between the tackles. This year, Coleman has had only limited success on short-yardage runs despite the Falcons making a concerted effort to give him the ball in these situations.
Far and away, Coleman's best work has come from the passing game and it's where the offense has been it's most creative. We saw wide receiver screens, flat routes, play action releases to the outside, and fade routes to Coleman heading into Week 5.
This weekend, the Falcons added crossing routes and seam routes to Coleman from alignments that the offense hasn't used this year. The changes caught Denver off guard and Coleman authored 97 yards on two catches alone, not including a touchdown up the seam—all against the Broncos' inside linebackers.
With the variety that Shanahan and the offense are targeting Coleman, both Falcons backs are top-10 threats, but it's a testament to Shanahan's scheming and Coleman's receiving that the second-year back has out-pointed Freeman by 7 despite Freeman having 30 more touches.
I'd still prefer Freeman long-term because of those touches and the dirty work he does that doesn't need to be as schemed for his success. But the Denver game is a convincing chapter of a compelling five-week argument that Coleman's role in the offense will remain consistent and productive.
3. The Downside of Paxton Lynch
There were three things mentioned during the Broncos-Falcons broadcast that confirmed what Cecil Lammey and I mentioned last week:
- Lynch's greatest obstacle to the starting lineup has been learning the language of the play calls.
- Lynch's arm strength allows the receivers to run deeper routes on three and five-step drops.
- Lynche's arm also widens the range fo the field that the defense must cover compared to Trevor Siemian.
What didn't happen last week in Tampa was Lynch's proclivity to hold onto the ball too long. When managed well, Lynch can buy time and create downfield. When not, Lynch has a four-course feast on pig's skin with the turf as his table cloth.
There's no argument from me that Atlanta's defense exploited the injuries to the Broncos' tackles, but the play above was mostly on Lynch and it is an issue I've seen from him before.
After the sack above, the Broncos coached around this issue with a designed play that forced Lynch to dish the ball fast and to its best open-field player on the perimeter.
If there are reasons the Lynch experiment ends as soon as Trevor Siemian is healthy it will be the play-calling lingo and Lynch holding onto the ball too long. If the Broncos' line gets healthy soon, Lynch's chances of remaining the starter improve. If Seimian's health outpaces the line, look for Siemian to return because he's better at getting rid of the ball fast.
4. Friday's Stafford Prediction, Beating the Eagles, and the Fantasy fallout
In Friday's Best Of Week 5, I went against the grain and sided with Maurile Tremblay on Matt Stafford having a better day than expected against an Eagles defense that earned a ton of buzz that past few weeks. My rationale was the strength of Marvin Jones' route running, the weakness of the Eagles' corners, the relative weakness of the offenses that Philadelphia faced (excluding Pittsburgh), and Stafford's 5-TD game last year against much of the same personnel.
If you have the luxury of playing the matchups and benching Stafford for Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Wentz, Philip Rivers, and Derek Carr, I'd consider it. Otherwise, I would not overreact to one bad game from the Lions against a division rival and throw Stafford off your bandwagon.
I still remember Stafford and the Lions at home pasting the Eagles defense for 337 yards and 5 touchdowns on Thanksgiving Day last year. Although that Eagles defense had to deal with the blowback of a Chip Kelly offense that kept it on the field a lot and it was playing a 3-4 that put Brandon Graham out of position at outside linebacker, the base personnel is still similar to last year's version.
Some teams match up better than others and at the risk of drastically overthinking this one, I think the Lions match up better than it appears on paper. If Stafford has been your best starter and you are considering a lesser player with a better matchup, I'd consider sticking with the Lions quarterback despite the advice of many that I respect who see otherwise.
Three of the five passers listed above outscored Stafford and the two that didn't—Rodgers and Wentz—were only two points behind the Lions quarterback. The underlying reason behind my points is in that third paragraph above: strategy has its place, but sometimes physical matchups matter more. I thought the Eagles athletes didn't match up well physically and/or technically with key athletes on the Lions.
Detroit avoided the Eagles' dangerous pass rush by running to the perimeter and varying its runs with end-arounds and pitches to Golden Tate—even shifting him to the backfield. The Lions also threw short passes, beginning with quick slants to Jones and screens to Theo Riddick and Zach Zenner.
These plays slowed the Eagles pass rush and kept the defense off balance. Carson Wentz kept the game close, despite showing some of his vulnerabilities for the first time as a pro.
The Eagles had this game in hand until Ryan Mathews decided to carry it in the wrong arm on a run to the right side.
As a general fan of the game, it was a fun matchup. It was also a broadcast that featured Chris Spielman. Last week, I mentioned how the former Wheaties cover boy delivered one of those soft-spoken Wonka-esque, "don't mess with the machines you spoiled brat," zingers during the intro of the Falcons-Panthers game, pointing out Kelvin Benjamin's difficulty with press coverage after Spielman's partner praised the Carolina passing game.
This week, Charles Davis and Dick Stockton praised the Eagles defense and the soft-spoken Spielman delivered another one: Through four weeks, the Eagles defense only played 52 snaps per game so the jury should be out on how good they really are. By halftime of this game, the Eagles' unit was on the field for 32 snaps and down 21-10.
Chris Spielman, football whisperer.
There's a lot to ponder for fantasy football beyond the obvious: Matt Stafford and Marvin Jones do not belong on your bench in any given week—even against Minnesota. Theo Riddick remains a must-start and there are similarities between him and Tevin Coleman. The Falcons' utility back is faster, stronger, and a bigger threat in the intermediate passing game but Riddick is shiftier, more creative between the tackles, and a more determined runner at the point of attack. I'm sold on Riddick's value for at least the next month and I wouldn't be surprised if he's as consistent as Coleman, if not more.
The biggest fantasy loser is Ryan Mathews. He was good for most of the day as a runner and receiver after returning from injury. If the praise for Wendell Smallwood is not just meant as a confidence booster for the rookie, Mathews might have let that stranglehold on the starting gig slip away. I'm not making this conclusion but it's something to monitor.
The Eagles receivers did not match up well against tight coverage. Wentz made excellent throws of veteran difficult to complete passes to the likes of Nelson Agholor and Jordan Mathews but they could not earn separation. Unless the Eagles begin running more bunch sets and different "man-beater" concepts, they aren't a good matchup for defenses that are adept at press coverage.
Despite suffering his first loss, his first interception, and the game creating moments where his impatience got the best of his accuracy, Wentz continues to impress me.
5. Brock Osweiler perceiving pressure
Graphic and emotionally disturbing content below. Children should only watch the following clips with the permission of a parent or guardian. It is suggested that all viewers should only watch this content in the light of day because studies have shown that night viewing can lead to night terrors. If you have been diagnosed with anxiety, a cardiovascular condition, or you're a Texans fan, consult your physician and/or therapist before viewing.
The Texans' quarterback faced the best defense in the NFL this weekend but I heard that he was perceiving pressure before Sunday's game with the Vikings. When a quarterback anticipates pressure well before it arrives, the erratic behavior leads numerous bad results:
- Generating pressure that wasn't there.
- Hastening the end of plays.
- Missing open routes.
- Inaccurate throws.
I still like Fuller, but he's not a primary receiver and he'll never be until he can improve his hands because his current play is reminding me a lot of Robert Meachem who made catching the ball look like a middle school kid doing Trigonometry.
Jerry Rice had this problem as a rookie, especially once he became self-conscious about his drops. But Rice wasn't known for dropping the ball as a collegian. Fuller—and Contestant No.10 in this week's Top 10—were known for suspect hand-eye coordination. Fuller's was the lesser of the two.
Fuller is a No.3-No.4 fantasy option moving forward. It all depends on Brock Osweiler's ability to calm down. I'm concerned Houston are doing what many NFL teams do: fall for a quarterback leading a strong team who needs more development and flash fry him in their system at high temperatures until he's a charred piece of meat.
7. Terrance West-Kenneth Dixon Soap Opera
The Kenneth Dixon Bandwagon fired up two weeks ago with bunting, music, and refreshments. I saw lots of fantasy analysts there ready to welcome him. Then Dixon warmed up for the Washington game wearing a gigantic knee brace.
I heard gasps and then hushed whispers from the crowd. When the game began, Dixon earned a target in the flat.
When that cut wasn't sharp, I thought I heard a plate drop. I know I heard Jason Wood gasp, "Kenny!" and I saw Matt Harmon pull out his hair brush and do a pre-gloating primp session as best he could in the reflection of the punch bowl.
Dixon didn't look anywhere ready to challenge Terrance West for playing time. Maybe another week will make a big difference, but the fact that he strapped on a brace to play tells me that it may be 3-4 weeks before we see him return to his preseason form. Even then, it doesn't mean he'll take the job from West.
The former Brown has played disciplined football and he's avoided the bouts of immaturity that I saw from him prior to this stint with the Ravens. West benefitted this week from Washington front dealing with injuries and easy enough on the run that he earned big creases off the left side. West had over 50 yards on three runs up the left side by the first quarter and the vast majority of his gains came on that side fo the Washington front.
Even so, the Ravens weren't known for having success running to the left this year. The staff shuffled this offensive line heading into Week 5 and only center Jeremy Zuttah was in the same spot he had prior to the Washington game.
With Marc Trestman fired and Marty Mornhinweg taking over the offense, some expect Dixon to see more time because he's a better receiver than West. From what I've noticed the past two years, fullback Kyle Juszczyk earns a lot of looks in the two-minute offense and the passing game. While I like what Dixon offers long-term as a pass receiver, we might be too enthusiastic about Dixon as a game-changer this year.
If you have the luxury to hold onto him, by all means, do so. If you're 1-4 or 0-5 and you don't hear far more optimistic news about his healthy by mid-week (and I doubt you will), trading him or dumping him for a far more helpful option on the waiver wire might be a better course.
8-9. 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 Day Courtesy of Jonathan Joseph, the Texas Fishmonger
Before exiting this game with a concussion, Jonathan Joseph gave up play after play to Vikings receivers Adam Thielen and Cordarrelle Patterson. What puzzled me most was the Texans' decision to play off coverage on both options—especially Patterson, who everyone knows can't beat press.
J. Joseph: Fresh Fish Pt II
J. Joseph Fresh Fish Pt III - The Reckoning
I liked Adam Thielen and I mentioned him as a worthwhile option on Sunday morning's Audible pre-game show but I expected far more resistance from a veteran cornerback than this. Thielen is a worker and strong route runner with good hands. Pair him with the timing quarterback of Sam Bradford's skill and it's a nice match. He could finish the year as a sneaky-good WR3.
The Rest of Week 5's Fresh Fish
- Raiders CB Sean Smith continues to be the gift that keeps on giving. Tyrell Willams ran one of the worst stutter routes I've seen in the NFL this year and still froze Smith, who is better at press coverage than the off-man that the Raiders are having him perform. Although he intercepted Philip Rivers, Rivers was 0-for-3 against Smith on wide-open deep shots to Travis Benjamin and two of them were due to poor placement.
- Eagles CB Nolan Carroll took the bait this week against the Lions. Marvin Jones beat him twice on slants in one drive. Anquan Boldin beat Carroll a third time during the Lions' second drive and he drew a defensive pass interference call. Carroll also had poor run support on a sweep that got Theo Riddick to midfield on a big play.
- Lions linebackers continue to play poor run fits and give up plays to tight ends.
- The Jets secondary has allowed multiple plays over 40 yards this year and Marcus Williams let Sammie Coates Jr run by him like a bewildered parent watching an 8-year-old chase an ice cream truck.
- Raiders linebackers are still a winning slot machine for opposing tight ends.
- Broncos inside linebackers, who I bet woke up in the middle of the night screaming after dreaming that Tevin Coleman was shifted to their side and they had to follow.
10. Sammie Coates Jr' best, Worst day
From the department of The Box Score Doesn't Tell You Enough, Sammie Coates Jr had the best and worst day of his professional career. The Steelers receiver earned 139 yards and 2 touchdowns on 6 receptions. Over 50 percent of his fantasy production came on the 72-yard touchdown reception against Marcus Williams that I described earlier.
What was equally notable were the plays you won't see that show a side of Coates that has always been an issue: tracking the football and hand-eye coordination. Coates has a laceration on the webbing of a finger on his left hand but unless it's so deep that anything touching his hands creates a massive pain response, I doubt it had anything to do with the display I'm about to show you.
When I watched this display, I had the following thoughts:
- If Martavis Bryant can mature as an adult and he wants to play professional football bad enough to follow the rules, he's a significantly better receiver than Coates, despite the fact that Coates is a superior athlete.
- Coates is fortunate that Antonio Brown and LeVeon Bell are so good that he can be a high-maintenance luxury item for the Steelers offense at this time.
- Coates is everything I thought he was good—big, fast, strong, and a good runner—and bad—unable to track the ball, clumsy at the catch point, and lacking consistent, sound technique with his hands. He's early-career Darrius Heyward-Bey with a better quarterback and better technique that's agonizingly close to being good enough.
- As long as the Steelers are willing to target him 8-12 times a game and live with a huge drop rate, I'll start him as my WR3. If not, he's a boom-bust matchup play.
The biggest lesson: no player is perfect and some productive players can have massive flaws that teams work around or work through. Don't let it be the reason you dismiss them if the environment is supportive for their strengths and weaknesses.