Here’s my top 10 things I’ll be watching in Week 5.
1. Packers-Cowboys is the game of the week. Dez Bryant used to be an efficiency monster. In 2012, he averaged 10 yards A TARGET on 138 passes thrown to him. Now he’s about five yards and change on his 40 targets. How sad. He is slow, as is this entire Dallas offense, but he can still win in space and on the boundary and is still a very competitive player. So why can’t he be like his counterpart in this game, Jordy Nelson, who remains productive despite losing at least a step since his knee injury? Yes, Aaron Rodgers is better than everyone but Dak Prescott isn’t chopped liver. My Breakfast Table Podcast partner Scott Pianowski says it’s because Jordy and Rodgers have a Vulcan mind-meld connection honed over many years. Dez did go 9-132-2 in their last matchup in the playoffs last January, and is a favorite in multiple guru DFS lineups this week.
2. Melvin Gordon has been and still can be good in fantasy because of the Chargers insistence on using him heavily, especially on the carries by the goal-line that matter the most, but he’s not a good player. He’s at 3.1 per carry after 3.5 as a rookie and 3.9 last year. Running backs that have averaged under 4.0 per carry in each of their first three years (minimum 200 carries in each year): Karim Abdul-Jabbar, Willis McGahee, John Stephens. That’s since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Subsequent 200-carry seasons for all three backs combined: two (both by McGahee). Only McGahee (4.04) finished his career with over 4.00 per tote. Bold Prediction: This is Gordon’s last year as a feature back.
3. The Bills defense unlike the Patriots has no proven ability to prevent teams from converting yards into points at well-above the league-average rate (15.3 yards per point). The Bills are 22.7 yards allowed per point right now, according to The Wall Street Journal Sports for my related article this week. Given the small sample, let’s assume this is dumb luck and that the Bills are not a defense that just prevents touchdowns. I’d play my Bengals this week without any of the hesitation usually reserved for when a Vegas game total is under 40.
4. Ben Roethlisberger makes me think that when a guy says he’s thinking about retirement, it’s over. He’s 4 for 21 this year on passes over 20 yards from scrimmage. Over 10 yards he’s 23 for 56 (41%). When he was characteristically crushing yards per attempt back in 2010, he was 71-for-151 (47%). This is a big difference. By the way, when you look at quarterbacks in the 1950s to early 1970s and laugh at their completion percentages, remember it’s because they were throwing mostly these passes and not the long-handoffs of today.
5. How bad is Matt Cassel? Since 2011 in adjusted passer rating where 100 is exactly average Cassel’s is 83. That’s 57th of the 60 QBs with at least 400 passes in the period. The only QBs who are worse: Blaine Gabbert, Geno Smith and John Skelton. It’s crazy to start any Titans if Cassel plays but it’s looking like Marcus Mariota may try to go. One-legged and blindfolded, he’s better than Cassel.
6. Maybe Carson Wentz is the new Eli Manning, who is turning the corner toward 40 and I still can’t say for sure if he’s good or not. Wentz has not been bad yet but hasn’t had an explosive game either. He’s just marching along in a very boring and ill-defined way. He’s gotten marginally better. I don’t want my players to be Eagles but if they are Eagles, I can live with it. I think….
7. Jared Goff now is way better than Wentz. The Rams are the highest scoring offense in football. No first or second-year QB since 2000 has had a higher passer rating or YPA through his first four games of a season. But what about Sammy Watkins, who had just two targets last week. Is the passing game too horizontal for Watkins to thrive? According to the NFL, the Rams rank 25th in passes short/left, 30th short/middle, 12th short/right, 25th deep/left, 5th deep/middle and 16th deep/right. That’s an average profile. Certainly not one that says a team isn’t throwing deep (no teams really throw deep, remember). I think you want a true No. 1 WR with a QB playing as well as Goff in an offense with a running threat to keep safeties closer to the line of scrimmage. In my 14-team home league, with a very competitive owner, it cost me Devin Funchess and Tevin Coleman to find out if I’m right on Watkins.
8. Joe Flacco might be the worst QB in the league now. His average of 5.1 yards per pass attempt is the lowest through four games for a QB since JaMarcus Russell (2009, 4.7). You don’t ever want to be in sentences with Russell. Guys better than Flacco through four games include Joey Harrington (2003), Trent Dilfer (1996), John Friesz (1991), Ryan Leaf (2000). Okay, I put Flacco in the same sentence with Russell and Leaf. Game over for Flacco.
9. How is Deshaun Watson doing it with an arm that graded so poorly. And Ourlads had him not at 49 mph but 45. Watson has thrown 11 of 114 passes 20 or more air yards from scrimmage. That’s 9.6%. NFL average is 10.8%. NFL average rating on these throws is 89.1 and Watson’s is 41.7. Only QBs worse on deeper throws: Cam Newton, Trevor Siemian, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Joe Flacco. It’s early and these samples are small. But it fits the narrative with Watson and if he can’t do it, teams will squeeze him.
10. I don’t understand why Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard can’t play together. Teams have run two backs in the past with great success. Look at the Jets here at 2:40 on the first Monday Night Football game ever using both Matt Snell and Emerson Boozer in the same backfield. Of course, neither of those guys were fullback slugs. I also like how the backs are so close to the line of scrimmage that they’re able to run past the linemen without them even knowing what hit them. The Bears, with a rookie QB, have to figure out a way to get their two best players on the field. I have no idea if this blast from the past could work today but I would find out.