5 Things I care about
The Packers offense plays flawlessly
When all systems in the Green Bay offensive battle station are fully operational, few teams are as fun to watch.
Aaron Rodgers makes his assignment in Matt LaFleur’s offense look effortless when he’s able to move around freely after the snap with enough time to dice up a good defense. Next Gen Stats tells us that Rodgers was under pressure on only 10 percent of his dropbacks and threw just a single pass into a tight window. It was as clean a game as you’ll see — and he made it look easy.
Few, if any, receivers are as dominant as Davante Adams right now. He tacked on another touchdown to increase his positional-best fantasy points per game mark. Adams has said he wants to embarrass a corner every time he runs a route. It shows.
As good as Adams is, Rodgers is better when he doesn’t have to rely solely on his No. 1 wideout. Getting solid contributions from guys like Robert Tonyan and Allen Lazard only serve to unlock new weaponry in Rodgers’ still enviable arsenal.
We know it’s more important to the Packers’ overall team success that the passing game remains in sync than its running game but nevertheless, it doesn’t hurt to have a ground attack capable of imposing its will. It’s worked in 2020 no matter who is toting the rock for the Packers. Tonight showed that perfectly, as Green Bay looked right at the spot where Akiem Hicks should have been lined up for the Bears and sent Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams right at it. The duo both carried the ball 17 times apiece at 4.8 yards per rush.
With all those flowery notes on the record, I remain more convinced than ever that Green Bay will need their offense to be near perfect to get where they want to go in 2020.
The defense made mincemeat of Mitchell Trubisky. That’s not getting you any lollipops. What remains a worry for the Packers is Mike Pettine’s defense as a run-stop unit from both a design and execution standpoint:
Too often we watched David Montgomery rip through the heart of their defense on Sunday night. He totaled just 11 carries because the team couldn’t possess the ball but Montgomery still managed to clear 100 yards rushing. He tacked on 40 more yards and a score as a receiver. This has been a clear problem area for the team under Pettine for multiple years now and 2020 has only served to slam an exclamation mark on those concerns. Any other team on Sunday night that wasn’t playing with an anchor behind center could have exploited this weakness to more damning results.
The Packers will play Philadelphia, Detroit, Carolina, Tennessee, and Chicago again to wrap up the regular season. When you can find clarity, you should start every one of those running backs against this defense until Green Bay figures out a way to plug this hole.
If they don’t, another early postseason exit could be in the cards.
Austin Ekeler’s return
If you bet on Austin Ekeler being tossed right back into a key role for the Chargers as the central figure in their offense, you won. If you placed a chip on a “pitch count” narrative, you lost.
The talented back went right from the IR list to finishing as a Top-10 back in fantasy during Week 12’s games.
Ekeler played on 72 percent of the Chargers’ snaps, was responsible for 32.9 percent of the team’s yards from scrimmage, and touched the ball 25 times. Translation: There were no limitations placed on this running back fresh off a long injury absence.
With 16 targets on the day and a 40 percent share of the team red-zone targets, Ekeler assumed the top spot in the passing rotation. Keenan Allen got into the end zone and drew 10 looks from Justin Herbert; no concern there. Expect those two to split the primary position on the target distribution for the rest of 2020. But Ekeler’s return does send ripple effects for guys further down the list.
In a year where so many players, and true difference-makers at that, have left the stage in 2020, we got one back here in Week 12. Ekeler and the Chargers will draw the Patriots, Falcons, Raiders, Broncos, and Chiefs to end this year. You can’t ask for much of a more schedule for a star back.
The Cardinals need Kyler Murray to be Superman
My favorite comparison for Kyler Murray during his rookie season was “fun-sized Cam Newton.” So it was ironic that on a day where he played across from the man who made the Superman touchdown celebration famous, it was so plain to see Murray’s team also needs him to be something more than human.
Murray has been on the injury report all week, was seen rehabbing his shoulder during Tuesday’s practice and didn’t look totally right in their Week 11 loss to the Seahawks. It didn’t look much better against New England on Sunday. Sure, there were some excellent Murray moments; he managed to slip through a few incoming pass rushers in stunning fashion to keep the offense moving. It just wasn’t enough.
Kyler Murray’s 67.0 passer rating was his lowest mark of 2020. He has 46 yards rushing in the last two games combined. He’s cleared that number in seven individual games this season. Audible whispers about Kliff Kingsbury’s problematic and too-safe game management choices have become as loud as a scream the last few weeks. That might be the most disturbing trend from this injury-induced Murray mini-slump.
The Cardinals have made an unbelievable amount of progress since bottoming out in 2018. To even be a possible playoff contender at this stage of their rebuild is huge. However, the last two games have shown us this franchise still needs Kyler Murray to be superman.
When he’s not that player, they can lose to a team they are far better than like the Patriots.
Right now, Dolphins skill players are better with Fitz
At this current moment in time, DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki are better fantasy bets with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. That might read like an indictment of Tua Tagovailoa’s future in the NFL but it really isn’t. This is merely a statement of fact.
The truth of the matter is that it doesn’t really matter. Brian Flores was emphatic in telling reporters after the game that the rookie will be the starter for this team as long as he’s healthy. However, it’s hard to ignore what took place on Sunday.
Fitzpatrick threw to Parker or Gesicki on 49 percent of his passes in Week 12. It resulted in the tight end’s first touchdown since September and the wideout’s highest yardage game of the year. Of course, this was all against the hapless Jets but it’s hard to deny that Fitzpatrick’s aggressive style and willingness to throw it up to guys like these aren’t more conducive to fantasy value.
As mentioned, Tua will be the starter when he’s ready. That isn’t changing and eventually, he’ll be an excellent quarterback for this team. It’s just helpful to set expectations.
Deebo Samuel’s return
The entire 49ers effort was another reminder of just how good this team could be, had injuries and COVID issues not ruined their season. San Francisco took it to their division-rival Rams for the second time this year as several players made their triumphant return to the lineup.
Perhaps the most authoritative return of them all was that of Deebo Samuel. The receiver led the 49ers with a whopping 38 percent of the team’s targets and ran 31 routes. As usual, most of his work was done as a bully-ball player in the open field. Samuel averaged just 0.6 air yards per target but piled up an absurd 136 yards after the catch, good for over 12 yards per reception. No matter how much time Samuel misses, as soon as he gets back on the field, it looks like he never left.
At first glance, you’d think that Samuel’s role and that of Round 1 selection Brandon Aiyuk would be too redundant given that the latter was also a YAC monster in college. That’s not necessarily the case. Aiyuk averages a healthy 4.9 yards after the catch per reception but he’s been more of a downfield option than some anticipated. He rarely lines up inside and averages 10.1 air yards per target, the highest of any player with 20-plus targets on the roster.
5 Things I don’t care about
The Chicago Bears (not including Allen Robinson)
Mercifully, the Bears’ run of primetime games in 2020 has come to an end. It’s hard to pick the most glorious disaster but Mitchell Trubisky’s return to the starting lineup in Week 12 did its best to take the title.
The Bears have now dropped five straight games after starting 5-1. If you couldn’t see this implosion coming, you were either an overly zealous fan or completely unfamiliar with what wins football games in 2020. Each week has seemingly just helped to reaffirm the belief that not much good can grow in this soil. Even Chicago’s defense seemed to finally take their foot off the gas on Sunday night, offering Aaron Rogers ample time to operate in the pocket and giving away too much ground to ball-carriers on some of the later touchdowns.
Chicago has a favorable schedule down the stretch, drawing Detroit, Houston, Minnesota, Jacksonville, and Green Bay again to close out 2020. Who cares?
We don’t need to be given any lectures about how this team is still in it. We don’t need to consider anything about this team in fantasy football other than which starting wide receiver spot to slot Allen Robinson in or whether it’s a bleak enough week to consider David Montgomery.
That’s it. Other than that, just log out.
Titans offensive questions
As I monitored the social media chat channels during Fantasy Football Live Sunday morning, I was stunned at how many times A.J. Brown was coming up in start/sit questions.
Really? In this version of reality? That shouldn’t need to be asked.
The Titans star receiver is a top-10 fantasy wide receiver in points per game this year. He has a touchdown catch in all but one game since he returned from an early-season injury. Perhaps folks were spooked because that game was against the same Colts team he faced in Week 12. But his two drops in that game were such a clear and obvious fluke. You knew that if you’ve followed his career.
The Titans don’t put up the type of passing volume we associate with great offenses but they have a trio of guys in Brown, Derrick Henry, and Ryan Tannehill who are playing like top-10 options at their respective positions this year. Not to mention, people still aren’t hip to the fact the Titans have been getting excellent play out of their No. 2 receiver, Corey Davis. He put a long 37-yard deep catch on the board against the Colts that set up Tannehill’s rushing touchdown.
Tennessee is now officially through the difficult chapter of their schedule of opposing defenses. And they finished it with two big outings from their big three against the Ravens and Colts. This should be regarded as one of the most feared units in the league and it should go without saying you’re playing them every single week in fantasy.
Any more James Robinson doubts
If we weren’t there already, the Jaguars’ firing of GM Dave Caldwell following their Week 12 loss to the Browns firmly turns our eyes from their present to their future. The 2020 campaign always felt like it was destined to be a lost one for Jacksonville. Talented players were jettisoned from the roster in the offseason while a proven to be mediocre coaching staff and bad front office was left in place.
In that dark and lost season, the discovery of James Robinson has been one of the few beacons of light.
Over the last month, I’ve been ready for the rug to get ripped out from under the rookie back. It only made sense that a running back playing on an offense cycling between Jake Luton and Mike Glennon would start to slow down. He has not.
Starting Glennon in the year 2020 seemed like the ultimate wave of the white flag for Jacksonville but it didn’t matter for Robinson. In a surprisingly competitive afternoon, he ripped off yet another 100-yard rushing day with a touchdown on 22 carries while adding five catches. As wild as it is to say, Robinson has been situation-proof.
Robinson now ranks fourth in the NFL with 1,170 yards from scrimmage, trailing only proven studs like Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry, and Alvin Kamara. As we look toward the Jaguars’ future, it’s hard to not get overly excited about what he’ll do with a talented rookie passer on a restocked roster.
Looking too deeply into this Raiders’ loss
The sting of a team you were counting on falling short against a beatable defense like the Falcons can leave a mark. When they fall a good ten miles short of the mark, as the Raiders did in Week 12, you’re going to be tempted to pick at that scab all week.
Sometimes the answer is the one no one wants to hear: It lies somewhere between variance and, “things happen.”
The Raiders played one of their best games — even in a loss — Sunday night last week against Kansas City. The very next week, they come out and offer up their absolute worst in a matchup against the hapless Falcons. No one, not a soul would have predicted a six-point outing.
Just as the world over was ready to give Derek Carr his due praise for playing the best football of his career, the Raiders starter captained a miserable operation in Atlanta. Five fumbles, an interception, and 11 team penalties sank Las Vegas before the ship left the harbor. Given how Carr’s played this year, it was perfectly reasonable to expect him to drop a hammer on the Falcons stop unit. He didn’t do it. Things just happen. Sometimes even the worst possible things happen.
Would anyone be surprised if one and a half quarter into their Week 13 meeting with the Jets the Raiders offense is playing so well the memory of this loss is completely wiped from our minds? Don’t be. Actual football players and coaches will tell us that sometimes you just have to shake off a brutal defeat like this one and move on to the next week. We probably need to do the same as fantasy managers and prognosticators. Not everything means something.
Anyone who feels burned by Kendall Hinton
Anyone who feels anything other than “hell of an effort” for Kendall Hinton coming out of Sunday’s game can kick rocks. If you were one of the brave (I prefer to use a different word here) souls that decided to get cute and start a guy in your FLEX who hadn’t even met everyone on his own team, that’s on you.
There’s been plenty of good times to be had in taking advantage of some positional eligibility loopholes the last few years. This one was not it, chief. You should have known the deal going into this one.
Do some crazy stuff, don’t be surprised when the crazy comes back at you.