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1. The resiliency of the Seahawks Defense
If you wanted to know which fantasy owners in your leagues are true football fans, Sunday night's Seattle-Arizona defensive tilt served as a great test. The wild overtime game that ended 6-6 was the first tie game in 44 years where neither team scored a touchdown.
This hard-hitting contest was by far the best game I saw all year and one of the most memorable regular season games I've ever seen. Peter King labeled it "the best really bad game I have ever seen." Read his column if you want reporting and commentary from King's and the participants' points of view.
What stood out most to me was Seattle's defense. Sunday night was another piece of compelling evidence that the unit is one of the all-time great defenses in the history of the game.
Arizona had the ball for more than 46:19—3 quarters, 1 minute, and 19 seconds of a 5-quarter contest. A large part of that offensive ownership included 36 runs for 132 yards—113 of them on 33 carries by David Johnson, one of the better backs in football.
Seattle just missed sacking Palmer on this 3rd and 7 and when it couldn't land that knockout punch of the offense on this drive, I thought Arizona had this game in hand. As a Seahawks' fan, I've seen enough amazing moments of physical and emotional resiliency not to give up completely on this team's ability to rebound.
Russell Wilson's craptastic-turned-sublime performance against the Packers two years ago in the NFC Championship or the numerous slow starts with fantastic finishes are good examples. But this game was different because you had to think the Cardinals were wearing out the Seattle defense physically and this pass to Nelson was that final blow that would transform physical exhaustion to mental exhaustion.
It never happened. Seattle responded with these back-to-back defensive gems that revealed the kind of physical-emotional resilience one rarely sees from a unit.
The Seahawks did everything possible in dire circumstances to keep the game alive until Arizona complied with Seattle's hopes and missed the potential game-winning field goal. There were so many great defensive plays from both teams that I wish I could write solely about this game, but it's the two above within the context of the game's storyline that reveals the greatness of the Seahawks unit that is the top point-limiter in football.
As a fantasy owner, I wouldn't be concerned about this unit being worn out. It was an unusual game where Seattle's offense faced a strong enough defense to create this scenario. I don't anticipate it happening again, especially with Russell Wilson and Michael Bennett emerging unscathed and Kam Chancellor still out—the same Chancellor who stripped Calvin Johnson on the goal line to win the game.
If you can get Seattle's unit as part of a package deal, I'd seriously consider it.
2. This week's Jay Ajayi 200-YARD GAME
In last week's Footballguys Roundtable, I said that I was sold on Ajayi's rest of the season fantasy outlook without any conditions. For some, the outcome of the Buffalo game was important because the Bills had only allowed one runner to earn 100 yards all year.
Not only did Ajayi to tear through Buffalo's defense on his way to his second 200-yard game in as many weeks, but he also did it in more impressive fashion than the week before. Against the Steelers, most of Ajayi's gains were front-side runs into a weakened unit without any demand for artifice or creativity. This week, Ajayi and the Dolphins employed a lot more cutback runs and the Bills forced the back to do more work at or near the line of scrimmage.
The Dolphins ran a mix of zone and gap plays for Ajayi, which demonstrates the staff is beginning to understand the strengths and weaknesses of its back and they want to use him as a featured runner. When I scouted Ajayi at Boise State, he was a runner capable of production with either style of blocking, but his patience wasn't yet strong enough to be a consistently good zone runner immediately.
The best fit for Ajayi would be a team that has two or three veteran backs. One of these runners would ideally be a successful starter who is on the downside of his career and understands that he might be the man this year, but his other job is to actively share his knowledge with the rookie.
At least in team meetings, Ajayi has received some of Arian Foster's knowledge about zone schemes for the past 3-5 months. What I see is a more patient runner. Combined with his burst, balance, power, and agility, Ajayi's 200-yard games behind a line that's featured excellent play from Mike Pouncey and Laremy Tunsil are not flukes.
Always a good receiver, the greatest question mark for Ajayi after his patience on zone runs has been pass protection. The Bills' game included another good display of pass-pro—this time a pivotal blitz pickup to seal the Dolphins' fourth-quarter comeback.
I projected Ajayi as a top-24 back the rest of the way with high-end RB1 upside. After whipping the Bills' front, I'm amending it to the top-15.
3. Coleman-Freeman Shanahanigans with opposing defenses
Kyle Shanahan's ability to vary his game plan and catch opponents off-guard with new plays or wrinkles have been one of the most impressive aspects of the Falcons offense. I've mentioned this point twice before during the first six weeks of the season.
What I appreciated most about Shanahan's work have been the ways he has varied Coleman's usage in the passing game. This week, Shanahan switched things up on the ground.
I've often discussed at Footballguys and my blog that Coleman's style is a more natural fit with gap runs than zone but he is gradually improving with the zone plays. For the first time this year, Shanahan introduced gap runs into Coleman's workload and the results were excellent.
When a defense scouts a month of its opponents' film and doesn't see a single gap run, these plays had to come as a surprise to the Chargers. The creases were big enough for Coleman that it looked like Atlanta caught the defense off-guard.
Shanahan even gave Devonta Freeman—one of the better zone runners in the NFL—a gap play.
While I hoped the addition of Center Alex Mack would solidify Atlanta's line into a consistent unit, Shanahan's creativity has elevated this offense a notch above my expectations. If Coleman's hamstring injury forces him from the lineup, Devonta Freeman is in an excellent position to continue producing as a fantasy RB1.
I wouldn't be as optimistic about Coleman's outlook if the situation was reversed because Coleman's work in space often leans on the fact that defenses still have to account for Freeman in the backfield. Freeman does much of his work between the tackles without Coleman on the field.
Freeman's creativity and resourcefulness were on display Sunday.
Unless Julio Jones or Alex Mack get hurt, Freeman remains a strong RB1 for as long as Coleman misses time.
4. Quizz Show
Transitioning from the current Falcons backs to a former one, Jacquizz Rodgers was the latest runner to work over the 49ers defensive front. It came as no surprise to the Footballguys' staff. Rodgers isn't a top-shelf athlete, but he's a smart runner with a low center of gravity playing in a familiar offense with a head coach who trusts him.
A lot of readers have asked me about Peyton Barber's prospects, especially after this 43-yard TD.
This was Barber's longest run against the 49ers, but not necessarily his best. These two are strong candidates for that title because he had to do more to create yards at the line of scrimmage.
Although Barber played well as a ballcarrier, he won't cut into Rodgers' time. Dirk Koetter knows and trusts the veteran, he knows that the Buccaneers have a shot at earning a wild card in a weakened NFC South, his quarterback is already a young turnover machine, and he doesn't need potential rookie mistakes from Barber to exacerbate Winston's weaknesses with bad down-and-distance situations.
The fact that Koetter added Antoine Smith—another former Falcon—to the mix this week further underscores my point. These two backs know the offense better than Barber and they know the NFL game better. Barber has a future in the league and he'll continue to earn opportunities based on his performance but until Doug Martin returns, it's the Quizz Show.
5. Checking in with the Patriots' Man-zone Theory
In case you missed last week's Top 10, I'll share my fantasy theory once again on the Patriots' offense before revisiting it with results a week later:
One of the most confounding units for fantasy purposes is the Patriots offense beyond the obvious plays of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. I have a working theory after watching New England for the past two weeks. It will probably be trashed sooner than later, but it's worth monitoring along with me.
Opponents That Play A Lot of Man
- Buffalo (Week 8): Technically, the Bills play a lot of Cover 4 zone but its style of zone converts to man against "inside" routes often run by tight ends. It also plays its share of press coverage.
- San Francisco (Week 11): The 49ers like to play press coverage.
- New York Jets (Weeks 12 & 16): Darrelle Revis...
- Baltimore (Week 14): A lot of man on the outside.
- Denver (Week 15)
Opponents That Play A Lot of Zone
- Pittsburgh (Week 7): Although some of these options have higher upside based on the defensive scheme, I wouldn't downgrade Bennett, Hogan, or Blount when they're not facing those units.
- Seattle (Week 10): Although Seattle is known for Richard Sherman coverage skills, the Seahawks are essentially a zone defense.
- L.A. (Week 13): Gregg Williams will use his share of press man to blitz defenses but he also likes to place his safeties in disguised zones.
Optimal Pats vs. Man:
- Martellus Bennett: The Browns played a lot of man coverage and Bennett's size poses difficulties for linebackers and safeties at the catch-point and after the catch. The two tight end alignments and play-action also give Bennett big-play opportunities because the opposing corner, safety, or linebacker has to honor the run.
- Chris Hogan: Not as fast as Edelman, Hogan is a better receiver at the catch-point on downfield targets. He's a physical receiver and tracks the ball better against tight coverage. Because he's slower than Edelman, he's often the target on play-action deep routes involving those heavy run sets with two tight ends.
- LeGarrette Blount: Defenses are more likely to honor the run in two tight end sets with him in the backfield in comparison to James White. Blount is also a decent screen receiver and an excellent draw runner. He'll have some big runs when Brady and company break the huddle in heavy sets with tight ends to the same side but then shift pre-snap to a shotgun look with both tight ends split from the formation as receivers on each side.
Optimal Pats vs. Zone:
- Julian Edelman: Mostly a slot receiver, Edelman performs better when a cover corner isn't assigned to him. When Brady can run play-action and find Edelman behind the linebackers on deep crossers or in-cuts that let him work across the field with a running start, he's in for big days. Cincinnati rushed four and dropped seven with regularity this weekend and it was Edelman who earned a team-high 7 targets among the wide receivers.
- James White: White had some moments against the Browns two weeks ago, but he was at his best against the zone-oriented Bengals. He earned nine targets and caught eight of them for 47 yards and 2 touchdowns. Brady often targeted White under the linebackers in the right flat for nice gains, including one of White's touchdowns. He's just quick enough to do damage. If Dion Lewis returns to form, substitute his name here.
- Danny Amendola: Amendola is a terrific zone option when healthy. If you need a bye-week desperation flier, you can do worse than Amendola when the Patriots face zone-heavy defensive units.
Week 7's Results versus Pittsburgh:
- "Don't Downgrade Blount, Bennett, or Hogan": Well, 1-for-3 there. Blount was huge in this game against a weakened Steelers' defense. The other two were clearly on the periphery in the passing game, which actually feed into my theory they are better "man" matchups.
- "Gronkowski is matchup-proof based on defensive type": You didn't need me to tell you that one.
- "Edelman performs better when a corner isn't assigned to him": The slot performer had 60 yards on 9 catches, riddling the middle of the Pittsburgh zone. LB Lawrence Timmons was no match.
- "James White targeted in flats" : Screens often occur in the flats and White's 2-32-1 stat line was decent bye-week production if you have to play the matchups.
Next week, look for more from Bennett, Hogan, and more from Blount and Gronkowski. We'll see if the theory holds up.
6. Kaepernick's Fantasy outlook
The 49ers' quarterback earned nearly 19 fantasy points in most scoring systems this weekend, good enough for No.14 among quarterbacks. It dovetails what Sigmund Bloom asked me before the game on our Sunday Morning show: "Is Kaepernick worth consideration as a streamer?"
The answer is yes, but there is more boom-bust built-in with the Kaepernick's game than others within the same top 12-18 range on a weekly basis. We value his skill as a runner. Gaining 84 yards on 9 carries is worth 160 yards of passing and is the fantasy equivalent of the 49ers QB earning a total of 303 yards through the air if he were strictly a pocket passer.
Because of his strong arm and mobility, Kaepernick can make difficult plays.
But the standard timing plays that move the chains have always been a major weakness in Kaepernick's game. Among the reasons are his footwork and release, which are symptomatic of the speed in which he processes the game.
The zone route to the slot receiver on this third-down play below is an example of Kaepernick's slow drop and release impeding his ability to execute what should have been a quick throw at the top of his drop. It's a rhythm throw timed with the top of the receiver's stem, and Kaepernick is so slow with his drop, that he misses that timing and his elongated release with his legs and arms exacerbate the problem.
What this Instagram doesn't show is the safety cutting off the route from over top and nearly intercepting the late pass. Kaerpernick's slow drop and elongated release process gives the defense time to react. This play encapsulates a lot of what limits Kaepernick from becoming a pocket passer. Against lesser defenses that lack a great pass rush, he has streamer upside—think New Orleans, Chicago, and Atlanta in Weeks 9, 13, and 15. He's a bigger gamble if you need him for the Dolphins in Week 12, but the secondary makes enough mistakes that it could counteract the rotation of defensive linemen Mario Williams, Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake, Jason Jones, and Andre Branch. I'd steer clear of Kaepernick on other weeks.
7. State of the Rams' offense
Jared Goff isn't playing this year and I applaud this decision. It was just a few years ago that the public and media were attempting cogent arguments that Kaepernick was a top quarterback in the NFL.
In a specific offense tailored to his strengths and weaknesses, he could obviously thrive. But ask him to be a pocket passer that fits most systems, and forget about it.
Goff is a pocket passer transitioning from a "throw-to-open-grass" system of the Air-Raid to the most complex, and often convoluted, offensive system in existence. The right kinds of talents to make the transition are there: pocket presence, toughness, pinpoint accuracy, and strong mechanics with this footwork and release. But throw a player into a new system and force him to think more than react, and these skills deteriorate fast.
It means Case Keenum is the Rams' signal caller for the rest of the year and he's had enough quality games—and a supporting factor for the quality performances of Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin, and Brian Quick—to consider his value in fantasy leagues for the rest of the year.
Britt and Quick have the field-stretching ability to deliver big upside in any given week. One of the reasons "any given week" isn't "every week," is Keenum. He lacks the arm to drive the ball deep.
London's weather impacted Keenum's deep ball in consecutive plays late in the game against the Giants.
There were also at least two passes Keenum overthrew when targeting a wide-open Britt during the game that should have resulted in long gains, and potentially touchdowns.
But Keenum isn't the only culprit of the Rams' collective inconsistency as fantasy outlets. Quick misread a signal at game's end and didn't run a fade route that Keenum released at the top of Quick's stem only to watch Quick cut the route inside and the ball sail like a pop-fly to the Giants' defender in the end zone as if he was a centerfielder about to end the last at-bat in the bottom of the ninth.
Tavon Austin remains a limited, gadget player. His skill after the catch is fantastic, but his route skills don't mesh well with this offense. He's thinking too much and reacting too slowly.
Although he had a solid game for fantasy owners this weekend, his upside remains significantly lower than traditional wide receivers because this offense doesn't have the surrounding players or the system to maximize his talents. If he were running a limited route tree for the Falcons and Kyle Shanahan, who I bet could integrate Austin into Atlanta's offense more effectively, he'd be a better player in the league.
Beyond no holes to run through and a coaching staff that perversely removes him from the field on third downs or after he has a gain of 6-10 yards, there is nothing wrong with Todd Gurley. When the creases appear, Gurley's burst and strength are more apparent to the casual viewer.
Get him into space, and he makes multiple players miss and earns yards after contact.
I've heard and read arguments that Gurley's not a great back because great backs transcend their offensive line play. Sometimes that's true. In 1976-77, and 1979-80, Walter Payton averaged 99.3, 132.3, 100.6, and 91.3 yards per game.
No one talks about the 52.2 yards per game he had as a rookie or the 76.4 yards per game in 1981, or the 66.2 yards per game in 1982. While it's true that most of the backs at the top of the rushing pantheon had far more yards-per-gam averages in the high-80s and above, let's be patient with Gurley and his 57.6 yards per game after 7 weeks.
If you're a re-draft owner, you won't command a good deal for him at this point so odd's are better if you hang onto him. If you're a dynasty owner, Gurley is a buy-low. Britt remains WR14 but his street value is closer to mid-range WR3 territory, at best. They are the only two players I'd consider in most leagues right now.
8. Allen Robinson's Ailment
You mean, besides Blake Bortles?
Yes. The Jaguars have dropped 11 passes during the past 2 weeks. Robinson had 3 of those 5 drops against the Raiders and 1 of his drops last week against the Bears was a low target in the end zone that resulted in an interception. Robinson repeated that ignominious feat at the end of the Oakland game when he tipped a low target upward and into the arms of Reggie Nelson.
There's a lot wrong with this offense that isn't Robinson's fault. Bortles didn't prepare like he did last year when he worked with Tom House in California and it shows. He's not recognizing basic coverage types quick enough and he's either throwing to covered players or holding onto the ball too long. His offensive line hasn't developed—top pick Luke Joeckel has been a bust.
And Robinson isn't the only receiver dropping the ball. The Jaguars have the worst third-down conversion percentage in the NFL. This unit has been my biggest fantasy miss of the year. Hopefully, you weren't caught in the wake.
9. This is your Jack Doyle Wake-up Call
At Western Kentucky, Jack Doyle was a slow, skinny tight end with fluid athletic ability, good hands, physicality, and better-than-you-think blocking technique. Now he's a flesh-out, slow tight end with fluid athletic ability, good hands, that his teammates and coaching staff admire—especially Andrew Luck.
And really, that's all that matters for fantasy football when we're talking about the Colts. Throw all the numerical analysis that you want at Doyle's current success and explain that his production will regress based on history.
I'm sure it will sound good.
But maybe, the context of that statistical analysis shouldn't be limited to tight ends. Maybe...just maybe...it should be focused on receivers, backs, and tight ends who function as slot players or what I refer to Doyle as, a zone splitter.
Marlon Brown seemed to be a zone splitter as a rookie and he had 7 touchdowns as a rookie on only 82 targets. Marques Colston's first two seasons in this role resulted in 19 touchdowns on 158 targets. Doyle has 4 scores on 33 targets after 7 weeks, which understandably makes his rate much higher than other positions.
Still, if I had the time, I'd want to define the role he has and the caliber of the quarterback throwing to him and try to match it with players from history with a similar role and caliber of the passer. I'd bet the production isn't as outrageous as it appears.
Even if it is, the Colts need him, the offense is finding inventive ways to use him, and the quarterback has the skill to exploit him. If you're part of the fantasy football culture that needs a tight end and you've been turning your nose up at him, it's time to wake up.
10. 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: Davante's Inferno: De'Vante Bausby, Deep Fried And Faded
Adams has improved his consistency as a route runner, which makes him a viable flex-option with high upside. I'm even considering him in three-receiver lineups. But far and away, Adams has always been a good fade route artist and Bausby was no match. On to the rest of Week 7's candidates...
- Atlanta LB Deion Jones: He either dropped too far against Antonio Gates on pivotal short routes or didn't drop far enough to cover Tyrell Williams on crossing routes. He also failed to wrap Melvin Gordon on a short-yardage run that kept a game-tying drive alive. Atlanta is a good matchup for receivers that specialize on crossing routes, high-target tight ends, and the ground game.
- Atlanta G Chris Chester: He held Joey Bosa late in the half and it was probably a good move, considering that he was also par tof a line that gave up multiple sacks. The Chargers' line of Bosa, Melvin Ingram III, Brandon Mebane, and Corey Liuget is formidable—especially when the Chargers put Ingram as a DT inside Bosa rather than as an OLB. Chester struggled.
- Miami CB Byron Maxwell: The free agent stared into the backfield while Marquise Goodwin ran by him for a long touchdown. Off coverage has never been his specialty and he's still struggling to acclimate.
- San Francisco front seven: Jacquizz Rodgers and Peyton Barber had strong performances. The 49ers are a welcome wagon for fantasy RBs.
- Tennessee LBs Sean Spence and Wesley Woodyard: Jack Doyle riddled their zone drops with receptions and a touchdown. So did Erik Swoope and T.Y. Hilton.
- The right side of the Raiders line: It's still bad and Chris Ivory's 42-yard run in the first half highlighted Oakland's ongoing problems. Fortunately for the Raiders, the Jaguars didn't seem skilled enough or cognizant of this weakness to exploit it.
- Cleveland's defense up the middle: Jeremy Hill was a happy man.
See you next week (hopefully not in Fresh Fish).