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In this space, I’ll go through all that we learned from the Week 3 action and give you five things I care about along with five things I can’t muster up the emotional energy to care for.
Good news for you: We’re going to do this exercise in emotional turmoil every Sunday of the regular season.
5 Things I care about
Full speed ahead for the Packers
The Week 1 gut-punch the Green Bay Packers took, courtesy of the New Orleans Saints, feels like ages ago.
The Green Bay Packers are now operating at maximum power. The battle station is fully operational. It’s terrifying for the rest of the league.
Aaron Rodgers has essentially been lights-out for the better part of the last two weeks. The 49ers’ defense has holes in the secondary but this was still a difficult spot on the road against a talented team. The fact that Rodgers played effortless, flaw-free football for long stretches of this game was wildly impressive.
Rodgers and Davante Adams took the 49ers secondary to the woodshed all night. Adams drew 18 targets and racked up 132 yards and a score on 12 catches. He got open at will and made huge grabs at every level. These two are operating on a unique level of mind-meld right now. It’s unstoppable.
The Packers also got key contributions out of Aaron Jones, with 96 total yards and a score. Even when Jones missed some plays with injuries, AJ Dillon logged nine touches and kept the offense chugging. After that, all it takes is a handful of huge plays from one of the ancillary players. Enter Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who snared a touchdown in the red zone during the fourth quarter.
As Aaron Rodgers said after the game, “How can you not be romantic about football?” It’s hard to keep the stomach butterflies at bay when Rodgers puts on a show like that, especially on that final drive. Spectacular, peak-athletic performances; special humans creating unique masterpieces are why we tune in.
If you had sky-high expectations for the Packers coming into 2021, you now have every piece of evidence you need to keep those afloat. If you thought about dinging them at all after their murky offseason or even their Week 1 loss ... it’s past time to boost them back up.
Josh Allen dominates
Two units that were supposed to be some of the very best this year entered their Week 3 matchup as clear underperformers. Washington's pass defense and Buffalo's pass offense weren't playing up to par through two weeks.
Something had to give. One side gave all the way.
Washington actually did a good job putting heat on Josh Allen. The Bills quarterback was under pressure on 21 dropbacks but he shredded right through it. He completed 12 of 19 passes for 184 yards (9.7 YPA) with two touchdowns in those situations.
In total, Allen put five touchdowns on the board; four through the air, one on the ground. He finally connected in a huge way with new addition Emmanuel Sanders, who had carried all the routes run, target, and air yards volume indicators we look for in forecasting these big games.
Washington’s defense might get it together at some point. Allen and the Bills passing game clearly has. Buffalo draws the Texans, Chiefs, Titans, Dolphins, and Jets over their next six games. That’s a great mix of cupcakes and/or beatable defenses.
The Bills are about to go on a huge run now that they’re firing on all cylinders.
Justin Fields era begins with a whimper
I feel stupid for putting too much emphasis on Justin Fields’ rushing ability in his first start and not enough on the clear danger he was walking into.
A rookie quarterback who only just now started to get first-team reps behind that hideous offensive line while facing Myles Garrett ... what could go wrong?
Fields was pressured on 16 of 30 dropbacks and the Browns made the most of those chances. Cleveland hit the rookie 13 times, including nine sacks. Garrett himself recorded 4.5 on his own. It was pure domination.
The good news is the Bears draw a matchup with the Lions next week. Detroit doesn’t roster any Garrett-level pass rushers. So we’ll probably be right back with strong expectations for Fields, Allen Robinson and David Montgomery. But you must admit, this first showing had to make you nervous about the ceiling we're dreaming of.
The Falcons’ win
The Falcons got a win; great for them. I don’t feel any better about their offense after their 17-point effort against the Giants.
Arthur Smith seems to be calling plays as if he’s still in Tennessee. Unfortunately, Atlanta employs a mediocre Mike Davis and 30-year-old gadget player Cordarrelle Patterson — not Derrick Henry — at running back.
The play-action game is present in Atlanta. Matt Ryan went 11 for 13 on 14 dropbacks with play-action. There just aren’t any explosive plays. He averaged 6.5 yards per attempt. His season average is 6.4.
A depleted offensive line that can’t pass protect a lick has proven to be a demon this team can’t shake.
Lastly, what is the point of making the aggressive, win-now draft pick in Kyle Pitts if he’s going to draw just three targets on this talent-barren team? It’s hard to imagine Arthur Smith’s grand plan for this offense was just to design cutesy plays for Patterson. There should be more for this Falcons offense, but we’re running out of patience to see the vision come to life.
Still a huge gap between Kupp and Woods
From a bottom-line standpoint, the gap between Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods was once again huge. Kupp caught nine passes for 96 yards and two scores while Woods caught just three for 33 yards.
Woods was second on the team in routes run (first time in 2021 that was the case) but that wasn’t enough.
The main problem for Woods is that Kupp is just a much better receiver in a much juicier role. No one runs more routes against zone coverage or gets away from press more often than Kupp. His ability to sift through zones is why he’s such a huge factor in the red zone (three targets today). There is no reason Matthew Stafford should turn away from him.
The secondary issue is that more ancillary players have emerged. Tyler Higbee being another threat in the same short-to-intermediate areas that Woods runs his routes isn’t ideal. Van Jefferson isn’t going to put up steady fantasy numbers but he continues to play a full complement of snaps and runs nearly as many routes, if not more, than Woods every week. The two had the same target total of six this week. The fact that DeSean Jackson is going to pop up for massive games as he did against Tampa Bay only increases Woods' volatility.
Robert Woods will absolutely have his weeks. You still want pieces attached to this Rams offense. However, I’m absolutely out on industry preseason expectations that he’d be a steady high-end WR2.
5 Things I don’t care about
The 49ers' first two weeks
For starters, if you thought there were going to be any lasting effects from Brandon Aiyuk’s strange disappearance from Week 1, it’s time to come back to reality. Aiyuk played 60 snaps to 63 for Deebo Samuel in Week 3.
He drew six targets (with multiple coming in the end zone) and hauled in four for 37 yards and an impressive touchdown while being covered by Packers star corner Jaire Alexander. The doghouse chatter and panic after Week 1 was nothing but a waste of time.
Sunday night was the perfect piece of evidence in the case I made for the 49ers needing to open up their offense. They could beat bottom-dwellers like the Lions and Eagles with their conservative, screen-heavy, Deebo-only passing game. It’s not going to fly against good teams.
The 49ers were able to claw back into this game with the Packers because of plays by Aiyuk and especially George Kittle. San Francisco absolutely needs these two players to be big factors every week because they bring dynamic dimensions others just can’t offer.
After Week 3, I'm not willing to bring my rest-of-season expectations for Aiyuk and Kittle up to near where they were heading into the year. They need to be part of the equation in the manner they were against Green Bay if the 49ers are going to remain a key contender.
How long will Jimmy Garoppolo remain a figure in that equation? He absolutely had his moments against Green Bay. But his hyper-conservatism mixed with a stunning propensity for bone-headed mistakes is impossible to ignore. There is no question he caps the ceiling of the offense. Whether Trey Lance can unlock it in his rookie season, and whether Kyle Shanahan will take the risk, remains to be seen.
One has to imagine Week 3 moved the doomsday clock up a bit.
Ja’Marr Chase’s preseason
Let’s be clear: We should have never cared for even a single second at any moment ever about the bad practice reports and rough preseason moments for Ja’Marr Chase. Those look even worse in hindsight.
Chase has now caught 11 passes for 220 yards and a league-high (tied) four touchdowns. He played today without fellow outside receiver Tee Higgins but it’s been clear all year who is the No. 1 receiver in this offense. Joe Burrow and Chase have not missed a beat when it comes to their chemistry in the vertical game. Chase currently averages 16.5 air yards per target.
Chase’s fantasy ADP was aggressive this year but he’s more than repaying those who took the plunge. What he’s doing through the first three games of his career is legitimately special. He’s a locked-in every-week starter.
“Yeah, but…” in Pittsburgh
The offensive line is not good in Pittsburgh. The rumored new wrinkles that Matt Canada was going to install are either too ineffective or too infrequent to move the needle.
Some of the shutters are hanging loose and the windows are cracked but those are all secondary issues. The support beam of the house is broken — Ben Roethlisberger is actively holding this offense back to an alarming degree.
Roethlisberger has now completed just 8 of 22 throws of 15-plus air yards. He’s averaging under 6.5 air yards per attempt. With No. 1 receiver Diontae Johnson out, Roethlisberger didn’t suddenly elect to uncork downfield passes to Chase Claypool — he just found a new binky target in Najee Harris:
Najee Harris was targeted 19 times on 52 routes, the most routes run by any RB in a game in the Next Gen Stats era (since 2016).
Harris gained 109 yards after the catch (+31 YAC over expected).#CINvsPIT | #HereWeGo pic.twitter.com/5hkguaLH70
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 26, 2021
Anyone who unironically quotes you Johnson's or any Steelers receiver’s yards per target is just admitting they haven't watched a second of Big Ben playing football the last two years.
To make matters worse, Roethlisberger made several killer mistakes to push the Steelers toward a loss to the Bengals. At least when Drew Brees was clearly physically compromised during his latter Saints years he was still keeping the offense on schedule. There’s nothing like that in Pittsburgh.
Volume will make players like Johnson (when healthy) and especially Harris fantasy starters, but it’s hard to not fantasize about what this offense would look like with an above-average quarterback.
Kenyan Drake’s impact in Las Vegas
I guess the Raiders actually signed Kenyan Drake to play a gadget/receiver role. Extremely weird.
Peyton Barber’s usage while Josh Jacobs has been out has been telling. After being the clear-cut early-down banger in Week 2, Barber touched the ball 26 times in the Raiders’ overtime win over Miami. He only played 10 more snaps than Drake but he's an actual running back.
Drake is doing ... something different entirely.
Credit to Jon Gruden. He was hyper-honest that this was exactly how the situation would play out when it looked like Jacobs was going to sit in Week 2.
In a strange way, this makes me optimistic about Jacobs. When he’s healthy it appears he will own a valuable role for a Raiders offense that’s pushing to be a top-10 unit. He has his flaws but that’s enough for Jacobs to be a solid high-end RB2 in fantasy.
Getting too excited about Rondale Moore in fantasy
Rondale Moore is an electric talent. He’s a perfect fit in Arizona’s offense and he’s going to make the whole attack, and especially Kyler Murray, better.
He is still absolutely not someone in the “set it and forget it” territory in fantasy football. It’s not even close.
Moore totaled one yard through the air on two catches and put up another three yards on a rush. If you started him on Sunday, you’re absolutely sick. Especially after the game he had in Week 2.
That is the range of outcomes you’re looking at here with Rondale Moore because he’s the fourth receiver on the team. He ran just 14 routes on the day, which was obviously well short of DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, and Christian Kirk, but he also trailed Maxx Williams and Chase Edmonds. It’s just not even close to enough playing time to put him in the weekly circle of trust.
It’s hard to see this changing anytime soon either. Think what you want of A.J. Green but he’s playing well for the Cardinals. From a pure football standpoint, just because both Green and Moore have “WR” next to their name doesn’t mean they carry remotely similar responsibilities on the field. So Moore can’t even really usurp Green. Maybe he can pass Kirk but the latter hasn’t done anything to lose reps.
This type of volatility will probably be the deal with Moore all year. Proceed accordingly.