The return of NFL games seems like a perfect time to resume writing The Xpert Eye. Each week, I’ll look for the underlying reasoning or trends behind the schemes that teams, coaches or players utilize to accomplish their amazing feats on the field. Then we’ll apply those schemes and reasoning to their Fantasy production and determine whether they will help or hurt your Fantasy teams and advise you accordingly.
CHICAGO BEARS RB TIMESHARE
One of the more frequently overused questions posed by Fantasy analysts during the preseason was, “Who will be this year’s Jordan Howard?” The player cited as the answer most often in my completely unscientific survey of preseason punditry was Jamaal Williams of the Green Bay Packers. While Williams could yet emerge as this season’s breakout running back, it appears that the answer could very well be Howard’s teammate, Tarik Cohen.
Cohen had an auspicious debut in Sunday’s matchup against last year’s NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons. He was targeted a team-high 11 times and finished with eight receptions for 47 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown. He also registered five carries for 66 yards, and he led all NFL running backs with an average of 13.2 yards per carry and an average of 12 yards after contact.
So, it appears the Bears have themselves another dangerous offensive weapon; and they’re going to need him. Oft-injured wide receiver Kevin White suffered a broken collarbone in Sunday’s melee and will undoubtedly join Cameron Meredith on the injured reserve list for the 2017 season. Fantasy owners will flock to the waiver wire and bid aggressively for Cohen’s services.
But before you go and spend lavishly on Cohen, you should keep a few salient points in mind. First, despite all the wonderful things Cohen accomplished his NFL debut, he is one of the smallest running backs in the game at 5’6” and 179 pounds. While he is undoubtedly a gifted athlete, his size will limit his ceiling to at least some degree, and thazt brings up another item to consider; Cohen and Howard will almost certainly work as a time share, which could limit the Fantasy value of both players in some matchups.
For instance, last season the Falcons allowed an average of 14.5 receiving Fantasy points to running backs. So, the results of Sunday’s game were simply a function of the Bears exploiting Atlanta’s weakness. Against teams with weaker run defenses, Howard will be more productive with more touches and the majority of the workload in the running game, while Cohen is limited to third down conversions and pass plays that may result in fewer overall Fantasy points. The bottom line here is not to get too excited about the Bears’ running back tandem. Production will be matchup dependent for both running backs, so you’ll need to temper expectations from week to week and use them properly to get the most out of them.
THE EAGLES DEFENSE
Expectations are high for the Eagles’ defense this season and they lived up to the hype in Week 1. They held the Redskins to just 64 rushing yards and forced four turnovers – three forced fumbles and an interception. One of their forced fumbles was returned for a touchdown, which turned out to be the decisive score in the Eagles’ victory. They were in Kirk Cousins’ face throughout the game with four sacks, and they shut down two Redskins’ drives in the red zone in what was a dominant performance by the defense. There is a very good chance that the Eagles have a Top 10 defensive unit this season. Yes, they lost Ronald Darby in the secondary, but that now means the front seven will try to generate extra pressure up front to protect the back end of the defense.
To say that Nelson Agholor was a disappointment last season would be a vast understatement. He had just 36 receptions for 365 yards and two touchdowns for the season. Regardless, the Eagles confidently traded Jordan Matthews to the Buffalo Bills and brought in Alshon Jeffery to replace him, so they must have seen something from Agholor somewhere along the line. In Sunday’s game, he was targeted eight times and finished with six receptions for 86 yards and a touchdown. Only TE Zack Ertz finished with more targets, which is encouraging news for Algholor owners.
More importantly, Algholor caught six of his eight targets while Alshon Jeffery caught just three of his seven targets. While Jeffery has twice as many years of experience and is easily a more proven receiver than Algholor, Carson Wentz has more experience with and spent much more time throwing to Algholor, which bodes well for the third-year receiver and his Fantasy owners. Algholor is at least worth a spot on your bench if he went undrafted in your league.
COVERING GOLLADAY IS NO HOLIDAY
Detroit Lions WR Kenny Golladay was one of the heavily hyped rookies throughout draft season and his first game as a pro did nothing to dispell the notion that he will be a factor in Fantasy. His overall play wasn’t perfect as he was penalized for a false start and dropped one pass he should have nabbed. However, he was targeted seven times by QB matt stafford, had four receptions for 69 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His second TD grab was a 45-yard bomb from Stafford that he laid out to catch right on the goal line after streaking past Cardinals’ DB Justin Bethel. At 6’4”, 213 pounds, Golladay looks like a formidable target, especially in the red zone. His first touchdown was a 10-yard pass from Stafford, who lofted the ball towards the back corner of the end zone that Golladay easily reached up to grab.
The takeaway here is that the Lions now have a trio of receivers that may be among the best in the NFL and in Fantasy play. Marvin Jones only made two catches but one of them was a six-yard touchdown. Golden Tate was the most heavily targeted receiver with an even dozen, of which he caught 10 for 107 yards. Throughout the game, the Cardinals defensive backs had difficulty covering all three when they were on the field together. With cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Bethel, along with safeties Antoine Bethea and Tyrann Mathieu, the Cardinals have one of the better secondary units in the NFL. So to see the Lions’ receivers dominate that group is very significant from a Fantasy standpoint. The only disappointment among the Lions’ receiver group was Eric Ebron. However, the Cardinals are one of the stingiest teams as far as covering the tight end position, so don’t make too much of one low-scoring game for Ebron.
Overall, the entire Lions’ receiver group is vastly improved over last year just with the addition of Golladay. If an opportunity to trade for any of the Lions’ three starting wideouts comes along, Fantasy owners should seriously consider the offer. Of course, if you already own one of these wideouts, or even TE Ebron, you should hang onto them. The schedule ahead is far from easy with the Giants, Falcons, and Vikings over the next three weeks but there is no reason to sit any of these receivers against these teams. As far as Ameer Abdullah is concerned, the next two weeks look quite good. The Giants were gashed for 104 yards by Ezekiel Elliot and the Bears running backs did a number on the Falcons and almost won a game that was closer than the 23-17 score makes it seem.
Lots of things went wrong for the Seahawks in their matchup against the Packers on Sunday but there were two primary reasons they lost the game. First and foremost, their offensive line could neither pass block nor open any running lanes. RB Chris Carson gained 30 yards on one play and QB Russell Wilson broke off a 29-yard gain on a broken play. Aside from those two plays, the Seahawks only managed 31 yards on 16 carries. It’s not like they weren’t creative or didn’t try everything they could to move the ball. They tried to run with four different players plus Wilson. Carson looked as though he might be a dynamic player if they can get him the ball out in space with room to run.
Wilson was sacked three times and was on the run far too often. He couldn’t even set his feet properly to make a play. The only time the offense looked any good was when they were in hurry-up mode. The problem with playing no-huddle all the time is that while it tires out the other team’s defense, it also tires out the team running it. In the case of the Seahawks, the offensive line can ill afford any additional fatigue, and the defensive squad doesn’t get enough rest either. In fact, the other primary reason Seattle lost to Green Bay was the lopsided time of possession. The Seahawks’ defense (39:13) was on the field twice as long as the Packers’ squad (20:47).
Going forward, the Seahawks need to find a solution for their offensive line problems. Fantasy owners of Russell Wilson and other Seahawks players shouldn’t overreact to the events of one game. It can often take several games for units like the offensive line to completely gel and work effectively. The schedule for Seattle over the next three weeks has them at home against the 49ers, on the road against the Titans, then back home against the Colts; three relatively soft teams compared to Green Bay. By the time they face the Colts in Week 4, the Seahawks should have at least stabilized their offensive line troubles enough that they’ll be much more effective on offense. However, if things haven’t changed by then, it may become necessary for Fantasy owners invested in Seahawks players to make a move because their schedule gets much more difficult after Week 4.