NFL teams continue to put up points at a record pace: more points, passing yards, and passing TDs have taken place than any other season in NFL history. Fantasy owners cannot complain when their teams are putting up more points than anyone anticipated. However, as the season wears on, injuries and slow starts begin to play a role on every fantasy owner’s team. The good news for the injuries is that new players get many more opportunities. The waiver wire becomes essential for any successful owner and gives those teams that have started off slow a chance to bounce back. The NFL Playbook crew has been focusing not only on those players with increased opportunities, but on certain players who have started off slow. We have tried to determine both the reasons for their slow starts and if there is any end in sight in Week 4.
Here’s Part 1 of our Week 4 Fantasy Tips:
BUF @ CIN
- We have seen on film that the Bengals play a lot of Cover 3 defense, meaning they can be beat by underneath passes; something that the Bills have excelled in this year. The Bengals pass rush should keep the Bills passing attack honest, but do not expect Ryan Fitzpatrick’s results to be much different than the first three weeks.
- Cedric Benson and the Bengals rushing attack saw moderate success against the top run defense in the league this year. They were able to match the 49ers physicality up front and should see some good success running the ball. Benson torched Buffalo last year and even though the Bills’ run defense has improved, it still has holes that Benson should be able to exploit.
- Fred Jackson‘s agility and center of balance have stood out on film and make him a threat to have success against any defense. Combined with his receiving ability, Jackson should be able to battle against a physical Bengals front to continue to post solid numbers.
TEN @ CLE
- Nate Washington and Jared Cook are two players who will reap a lot of the benefits from Kenny Britt’s injury. Washington’s production should increase simply from the higher number of targets he will receive on the outside. He possesses the speed to get down the field and will challenge the Browns to respect the Titans vertical passing game. Cook has the athletic ability to really attack the middle of the field. He stood out in the preseason, but has yet to translate that production over into the regular season. Keep Cook on your radar because he could become Matt Hasselbeck’s new go to target if Washington begins to face a lot more of the defense’s attention.
- Last week, 9 of Colt McCoy’s 19 completions were on drag routes. McCoy has yet to show a comfort in the pocket to consistently get the ball vertically. Against a physical Titans front 4, McCoy should continue to struggle to put up any big passing yards.
- Chris Johnson has really struggled to produce this year. The Titans OL has not done much to help ease Johnson back into fantasy stardom. Johnson really excelled last year when the Titans were utilizing their zone running scheme and Johnson could make one cut and explode through holes. Tennessee has been getting pushed off the ball at the snap, which has hindered Johnson’s ability to make a cut and go. The Browns have yet to show an ability to penetrate up the field and their DL does not possess the same lateral athleticism to contend against the Titans run game. Johnson should have a great opportunity this week to continue progressing to where he was last season
PIT @ HOU
- Andre Johnson has been on a tear this season. The Steelers weakness on defense is in their secondary and there is no one out on the field who can contain him one on one. Matt Schaub should be under some pressure this week, which is the only reason that Johnson’s production could dip slightly.
- The Steelers OL has been very inconsistent this year in the run game and Rashard Mendenhall’s production has shown just that. We noticed on film that against the smaller defense of the Colts, the Steelers struggled up front. Their OL had issues getting to the 2nd level and engaging the LBs. The Texans possess a similar fast moving D that could cause problems for Mendenhall owners once again. The Steelers have yet to show any dedication to the run and will continue that way until Mendenhall gives them a reason to change course.
NO @ JAC
- Drew Brees is in a good spot to continue his hot start. The Jaguars have yet to face a passing attack like the Saints’. The Saints went into last week with a similar matchup, facing a team with a moderate pass D, and as the game progressed they got better and better. Look for more of the same.
- Maurice Jones-Drew will continue to see a lot of touches this week with Blaine Gabbert again under center. The Jaguars OL has stood out on film with their overall blocking ability. They have been able to move people off the ball so that they can get off to the second level onto the LBs. MJD is a small guy in general so if LBs do not have a clean shot on him then he’s that much harder to tackle. We expect MJD to continue to have success this week.
- Even in a torrential downpour the Panthers were able to get the ball to their TEs. The Jags run a lot of Cover 2 coverage and really struggle to cover the curl zones. They drop their MLB into the seam often, but if they cannot figure out a way to stop the dinking and dunking they will have to gradually bring the MLB down. Both of these play to Jimmy Graham’s strengths. He has the size to get open in the holes of the zone, but also the athletic ability to stretch the field; he should have a big day. Let’s also not forget how well Sean Payton has put Darren Sproles in position to succeed weekly.
MIN @ KC
- Adrian Peterson needs to, and will, run the ball more this week. He has been a force in the first half of games this year and if the Vikings want to continue to control their leads in the 2nd half they need to give him the ball. On film he has been able to overcome a less than dominant Vikings OL performance and has been almost impossible to tackle one on one. The Chiefs will have no answer for him.
- With no other proven threats on offense, Dwayne Bowe is going to get a healthy amount of targets. Last week he started to come into midseason form, partially because Matt Cassel is throwing the ball better. The Chiefs are creative with where they line Bowe up whichs help him get mismatches all over the field. Bowe should have a week similar to last weeks, the Vikings don’t blitz much and will give Bowe holes to find in their cover 2 pass defense.
NE @ OAK
- Tom Brady should bounce back after a difficult performance against the Bills. Brady was targeting Wes Welker early and often, which seemed to throw off his rhythm and accuracy. Welker had 16 catches and the rest of the WRs only had 3, not a good ratio. Brady and his new short hair should be able to put points on the board against a Raiders secondary that likes to play man to man.
- Against the Bills, the Patriots LBs and secondary really struggled to tackle Fred Jackson and it showed from his big plays. The Raiders are physical up front and did a good job of either getting to the Jets LBs or sealing them off enough for Darren McFadden to have lanes to run. McFadden gets downhill very quickly and if the Patriots do not tackle better they will be in trouble.
- Chad Ochocinco and Deion Branch did not produce. The Raiders should be a good matchup for both of these veterans to see some improved production. Not only will a lot of the focus be on Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski, but the Raiders run a lot of man to man coverage. These WRs are not the biggest guys, but they are both very quick players, run great routes and are experienced enough to get off the line cleanly. Do not expect breakout days from them, but their production should increase from last week.
MIA @ SD
- Miami’s physicality in their front 7 should be a big test for the SD running game. Ryan Mathews has looked great thus far and with a lot of injuries in San Diego’s passing game he should see a lot of carries. The Dolphins run D has been hit or miss all year. On film we have seen them cause a lot of negative and short yardage gains by penetrating the line of scrimmage. However, they also miss a lot of tackles, which leads to big gains. If the Chargers stay committed to the run they will eventually be able to break off a big run or two.
- Philip Rivers struggled last week throwing the ball. So many injuries in the passing game have made Rivers look out of sync. We saw on film, against the Chiefs, that Rivers was being forced to double clutch at times. This meant that guys weren’t getting open for him and other times the protection was not firm. Both of these have resulted into timing issues on throws. The Dolphins have some athleticism on the outside and a decent pass rush to cause Rivers some problems this week.
- San Diego’s Run D was very aggressive against the Chiefs last week. We saw on film that they were able to limit any success the Chiefs might have had running the ball north and south. However, Miami against the Texans 3-4 ‘D’ in Week 2, washed the defense inside so that Daniel Thomas and Reggie Bush could use the cutback lanes. Thomas is content with being a hardnosed runner, but his cutback ability and patience are what will allow him to produce above average yardage this week.
NYJ @ BAL
- The Ravens have yet to face a TE not only as talented as Dustin Keller, but one that is used in the offense as much as he is. The NYJ have been splitting Keller out wide so that he can use his size and speed combo in the middle of the field vertically. The Ravens LBs are not exceptional in coverage and if they choose to put a S on him, he should be able to utilize his size to his advantage.
- Torrey Smith had quite the coming out party last week, but expect that to be short lived. There is no denying Smith has exceptional speed and that was surely on display against the Rams. However, the Jets will not allow Smith to run behind them like he did last week. Not only are the Jets CBs much better than the Rams’, but they do a great job of bracketing outside WRs to limit their big play potential.
- Shonn Greene had decent production last week against the Raiders, but do not expect much of the same this week. We have seen on film that Greene is at his best after he gets a full head of steam. Not only do the Ravens have a physical front 7, but one that has the ability to penetrate the line of scrimmage and redirect running backs, something Greene struggles with. He is not a stop and start back, so don’t expect too much out of Shonn this week.
Check back to TCIPF for Part 2 of our Week 4 breakdown.
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