Pressure Is Getting To Matt Ryan
Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan has been sacked nine times over the last two games but just 15 times this season. This is a reflection of the injuries and changes on the offensive line and specifically, the play of tackle Ryan Matthews, who’s really struggled against any kind of quality pass rusher. The added pressure on Ryan has shown up in the targeting data to his wide receivers. When the team is firing on all cylinders and playing well, Roddy White and Julio Jones receive nearly equal target numbers. This was evident throughout 2012, the five games they played together in 2013 and in Week 1 of this season. Over the past few weeks, the targeting has been very unbalanced, favoring one receiver or the other by a significant margin, which is likely the result of Ryan being unable to get to his secondary reads. Until the Falcons get their revamped offensive line to gel and get an effective pass-blocking scheme in place, Ryan will continue to get beat up and we’ll continue to see only one of the two primary receivers put up decent Fantasy numbers in any given week.
This week, the Falcons face the Detroit Lions, a team with 21 sacks on the season, tied for third-most in the NFL with Denver and Indianapolis. The Lions are also tied for second-most yards lost, with 135 on the season, and are tied with Baltimore for the fewest passing TDs allowed (7). In other words, this will be another difficult week for the Falcons’ pass attack. The receiver that draws cornerback Darius Slay, the weakest link in the Detroit secondary (among the starters), will be the guy who gets more attention (and targets) from Ryan this week. My money is on Julio Jones, as Roddy White will likely start on the left side of the offense against veteran cornerback Rashean Mathis, who had a 41-yard pick-six in the Lions’ Week 5 game against Buffalo.
[Related Link] The King’s ROS Rankings and Engel’s Angles
Reggie Wayne Injury Creates Opportunity
The Indianapolis Colts’ pass attack is arguably the best in the NFL. They currently lead the league in attempts, completions, passing yards, touchdowns and net passing yards per game. Andrew Luck is among the Top 10 QBs in completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating to name a few. So, when a key player is injured it creates an opportunity for someone else to step forward and make a statement.
WR Reggie Wayne has an elbow injury that has been described as being “not serious,” yet, we are hearing that he could miss “a couple of games” while he heals. Wayne is the second-most targeted receiver on the Colts with 62 targets; T.Y. Hilton is the leader with 68 through Week 7. With Wayne potentially out of the picture, Hakeem Nicks, who is currently the fourth-most targeted receiver (32) for the Colts, is likely to see an uptick in targets while Wayne is sidelined. Nicks has seen 4.6 targets per game but that’s skewed a bit by the sole target he received in Week 7. Remove that and his average bumps up to 5.2 targets per game, which is much closer to reality. He has 17 receptions for 141 yards and two TDs thus far, averaging 8.3 yards per reception, well below his career mark of 14.5 yards per reception. Hilton remains the top dog in this offense and Nicks won’t threaten his status in the least bit, but you can reasonably expect Hicks to get a bump of 3-5 targets per game while Wayne is out. That could help Nicks to finally total more than 50 receiving yards (he’s only exceeded 36 yards once this season) and perhaps score a touchdown in Week 8 against the Steelers.
However, the receiver with more upside as a result of Wayne’s injury could very well be Donte Moncrief. Let’s be frank here; Hakeem Nicks is a shadow of his once great self. Multiple leg injuries have slowed him down and that lost step or two has made it difficult for him to gain separation from opposing defensive backs, which is reflected in his below average performance statistics to date. On the other hand, Montcrief, who has good size and athleticism to go with terrific speed, has the talent to be a top notch receiver. He’s been included in the offense more often in recent weeks, and saw a season-high 23 snaps in Week 7. Whenever he’s played this season he’s had good success and made things happen on offense. He’s caught nine passes on his 11 targets for 103 yards; that’s an average of 11.4 yards per reception. You can’t expect him to suddenly become a huge part of the offense just yet, but he is definitely a player to grab and stash away, especially if he has a big Week 8 game. If you have the roster space, get him now while you can probably get away with a $1 FAAB bid. If he hits it big in just one game he will end up costing you much more, and believe me, you are going to want him on your roster if he becomes an integral part of Indy’s pass attack.
Johnny Football Chatter On the Rise
During the preseason, once it became apparent that Brian Hoyer was going to be the Browns’ starting quarterback, many analysts were predicting that Johnny Manziel would replace Hoyer by Week 5, right after the team’s bye. Even though the team’s 1-2 record didn’t reflect it, Hoyer was actually playing quite well when Week 4 rolled around, so Manziel continued to cool his heels on the sideline. Hoyer continued to astound his critics, leading the Browns to wins in Week’s 5 and 6, making head coach Mike Pettine look like a genius for sticking with him. Then the Browns took a trip to Jacksonville and laid an egg.
Hoyer was terrible in this game; he completed just 16 of 41 passes (39 percent) for 215 yards with zero touchdowns. He fumbled in the third quarter, which led to a Jaguars field goal. Then, with just under six minutes to play, Hoyer threw an interception that gave the Jaguars the ball on the Cleveland seven yard line. Two plays later, Blake Bortles threw a TD pass that was the final nail in the Browns’ coffin. One bad game for Hoyer has opened the floodgates; despite all Hoyer’s done to help the Browns to a 3-3 record, the clamor for Johnny Manziel to take over as the starting quarterback has begun in earnest. Coach Pettine has spent the latter part of the past three days offering Hoyer the dreaded “vote of confidence,” but it’s clear that the team’s braintrust is flirting with the idea of getting Manziel into the game.
At a press conference this past Monday, Pettine told reporters that he “briefly considered” bringing Manziel in during the latter stages of the game against the Jaguars, although, he later backed off from that and stated that Hoyer is “firmly entrenched” as the starting quarterback. Regardless of what Pettine is saying publicly, it’s clear that Hoyer is on a short leash, and it could take just one more bad performance for him to lose his job and the Johnny Football era to begin. Fantasy owners of Hoyer, likely confined to two-QB leagues, though, you never know, should have a backup QB on their rosters now. The next two games are against the Oakland Raiders and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, two teams with poor defenses that should allow Hoyer to play well and lead the Browns to victory. However, if they can’t establish the running game and get back to the schemes that created an atmosphere that was favorable to Hoyer’s capabilities as a quarterback, Manziel could be inserted into the starting role. You’ve been warned.
The RB situation in Buffalo isn’t as unsettled as most think. Anthony Dixon will get the first shot at the bell cow role, but Bryce Brown will also get his share of carries and targets right away. Whichever one excels in the game against the Jets this week will get the first shot in Week 9. Everybody talks about Brown’s upside, but let’s remember that upside is just another word for potential, which means – you ain’t done nuthin’ yet. Dixon will be a serviceable RB2, while Brown will end up as a low-end flex play. Once Fred Jackson returns, all bets are off. Oh, one more thing – C.J. Spiller has played his last game as a member of the Bills. Remember that you heard it here first…
[Related Link] James Naddeo’s RBBC Update for Week 8
Pierre Thomas is going to be out 2-3 weeks with a shoulder injury. Look for Travaris Cadet to do a Wally Pipp number on Thomas. Cadet has already become a regular target, and a trusted one at that, for Drew Brees. He’s gotten 20 targets over the last three games – more than Thomas (16), Jimmy Graham (18) and tied with Brandin Cooks. In fact, the only Saints receiver to get more targets is Marques Colston (26)… The Patriots defense is in big trouble. First they lost their best run stopper, LB Jerrod Mayo, to a torn ACL, and now they’ve lost their best pass-rusher, DE Chandler Jones, to a hip injury… We’ll end on a good note – Darren Sproles is back on the practice field with the Eagles after recovering from a MCL injury. It’s not clear whether he’ll be ready for Week 8, which is way ahead of schedule for him, but it’s good news for Sproles’ Fantasy owners, especially in PPR leagues.