5 Things I care about
From a defensive perspective, the Broncos were playing Patrick Mahomes about as well as you can possibly ask. They didn’t get their first lead until almost five minutes into the third quarter. If their offense had offered any life in all four periods, we’d probably be talking about a Denver upset.
As you know, it didn’t happen that way. In the second half, Mahomes did what he always does and just started breaking the rules of football. Perhaps it gets exhausting for the overly cynical among you but we really shouldn’t stop being amazed by him. As I said in this space just a few weeks ago, he’s not normal and we should never lose our appreciation for it:
Frankly, the analysis of the Chiefs hasn’t really changed much since that Week 11 win over the Raiders.
The defensive line isn’t playing to expectations and that’s keeping these games closer than we thought. When the offense does get bogged down, they can still crush you when it matters. Other days, they can fully unleash the hellfire, and essentially all of their skill position players will hit in fantasy. Tonight was obviously more of the former but all options seem to be on the table for Kansas City on a weekly basis.
It would be nice if teams like Denver didn’t just invite him to pierce their heart. Vic Fangio, how can you punt back to this guy, of all the guys, in the fourth quarter? That is inexcusable. The analysis for the Chiefs doesn’t change on a weekly basis, only the way their opponent accepts their fate.
Going forward, the Chiefs draw matchups with the Dolphins, Saints, Falcons and Chargers. You could easily see a mixed bag of those two scripts given the varying quality of those defensive units. No matter the script, however, the end result is usually the same.
By the time the clocks hit zeroes, Mahomes will usually have found his way to the winner’s circle.
Taysom Hill continues to settle in
With reports that Drew Brees could be back soon for the Saints, we may be leaving the Taysom Hill coaster at the docking station soon enough. However, for as long as Hill remains under center for New Orleans, his performance matters, considering he’s tethered to an offense with several elite fantasy players.
Week 13 featured Hill’s best passing day by far out of his three starts. He still toted the ball 14 times for 83 yards but threw two touchdowns (the first of his career) and completed 73 percent of his passes. It was encouraging after a nightmarish Week 12 outing in Denver.
Before the hordes of haters point out “but it’s the Falcons,” don’t forget that Raheem Morris has this team, and especially the defense, playing much better since he took over the head coaching gig. They just completely wrecked a Las Vegas offense that had been playing good football last week. In fact, you could argue their two worst games under Morris were their two losses against New Orleans.
On Sunday, Hill did about all we could ask of him. Not only did he keep the offense moving with his legs, but he also got out of the way of both the Saints’ main stars. Alvin Kamara touched the ball 17 times and scored a touchdown. His fantasy managers were sent dancing in relief through the streets. Hill continued to get the most out of Michael Thomas, as well. The star receiver has racked up 259 yards in Hill’s starts, as he’s been the clear apple of the growing quarterback’s eyes.
Keeping these guys afloat isn’t just good news for fantasy this year, it’s a part of the evaluation process for Hill’s prospects as a passer down the line. That’s what Sean Payton is certainly looking for right now. The fact that he continues to rack up wins while getting Hill valuable reps is extra juicy.
Jalen Hurts provides an immediate boost
Absolutely everything has looked hard with Carson Wentz under center for the Eagles this year. With that in mind, I don’t know how you can watch Jalen Hurts come off the bench and immediately drive down the field against Green Bay and not want him to take the reins.
We’ve all been curious about what Hurts would bring to a moribund Philadelphia offense. Everyone knows that there’s more wrong with this unit than just the quarterback but there’s no doubt Wentz has contributed to the issues. It’s only natural to wonder if a change to the rookie coming off a decorated college career would change the trajectory.
Hurts’ early returns indicated he might just help. The first series for Hurts resulted in a punt but he did unfurl a deep 35-yard pass to Jalen Reagor. Later, he showed off his high-class mobility with a pair of 10-plus yard runs to start his fourth-quarter touchdown drive. Then he hit a few big plays of 20-plus yards through the air, including his touchdown to Greg Ward on 4th and 18.
To be clear, this wasn’t some garbage-time effort. The contest was still certainly close enough before Aaron Jones put an end to the madness with a 77-yard touchdown run. This was all legitimate play for Hurts.
Playing Jalen Hurts the rest of the way presents pretty much zero downside for the Eagles. The team knows they need a spark. Regardless of his future, Wentz just isn’t moving the offense. There’s more upside with Hurts right now and they can assess if he’s a part of their future at quarterback. It’s difficult to see why they wouldn’t go that direction.
Justin Jefferson is already a star
Justin Jefferson made some history on Sunday, as he became one of a handful of rookie wideouts to record 1,000 receiving yards in his first 12 games. One of the other guys to do it was a fellow Vikings legend:
Justin Jefferson has passed Randy Moss for the most 100-yard games as a rookie wideout, and joins the HOF WR as the only Vikings rookies with 1,000 receiving yards. pic.twitter.com/WfpL4Pdvun
— Rotoworld Football (@Rotoworld_FB) December 6, 2020
The rookie’s 121-yard, one-touchdown outing on a team-high 12 targets was the fifth game in 2020 where Jefferson cleared the century mark. It hammers home how impressive he’s been and his transformative impact. It really isn’t crazy to say that Jefferson singlehandedly altered the course of the Vikings’ offense in 2020. We saw what this team was in the first two weeks when Jefferson was merely a bit player and it was not good. (Side-note: What was all that Jefferson erasure about?) Because as soon as Jefferson hit the field, he looked like a five-year NFL wideout.
His route running continues to be impressive albeit not surprising if you watched a second of his college film.
Now, thanks to Jefferson taking on the role of a featured player, the Vikings offense has the ability to crawl out of holes like they did in Week 13. It’s the reason Kirk Cousins is a weekly QB1 play. It’s made established stars like Adam Thielen’s and Dalvin Cook’s lives easier. You can’t dedicate resources to take them away when Jefferson is waiting to destroy your soul. All of that is the definition of an NFL star.
The Titans lack of a pass rush
It wasn’t surprising that the Titans couldn’t get close enough to Baker Mayfield to even so much as sneeze on him, but it raised more alarms. The Browns were able to mount a quick lead on the Titans, sending them into a hole they’d never fully dig out of.
The Titans’ defense has sneakily been a problem all year. The team has won games and remains one of the AFC’s better teams regardless but the state of the stop unit is not ideal. Tennessee had just 14 sacks heading into Sunday and didn’t bring down Mayfield once.
The biggest issue is that when a team can just go up and down the field against Tennessee, it minimizes their chances to play the way they want to on offense. We know it’s more difficult to deliver an authoritative run game when your team is trailing. A team with a bad pass rush is likely to fall behind. When said team has a handful of mistakes on offense like your star running back losing a fumble in the first half, you can suddenly find yourself down 38-7.
It’s not as if we completely lost faith in the Titans passing game when they can’t play with a lead. Ryan Tannehill deserves more respect than that and did battle them back today. However, in any given game, our expectations for the team can be thrown out of wack thanks to this defense. That’s not ideal for a team with three key fantasy contributors.
5 Things I don’t care about
Drew Lock playing out the string
Drew Lock just isn’t good enough for the Broncos right now.
The mistakes are killer. His first interception was just mind-numbing. The second one essentially drilled the nail in the coffin.
Did anyone out there have any faith at all that the last Broncos drive would end in them netting the seven points needed to beat the Chiefs? Did his coach? Did his teammates? Did the fans? Did Lock himself even believe? It’s hard to imagine that anyone who had watched the entire game could tell themselves a story with a happy Denver ending.
Drew Lock on his bad plays: “Half the time, right as the ball leaves my hand, I’m like… ‘Oh no.’”
— Zac Stevens (@ZacStevensDNVR) November 19, 2020
The bigger problem with Lock isn’t the turnovers, it’s that he doesn’t do enough between those mistakes to make the errors worth living through. This offense just doesn’t consistently move at an acceptable pace.
It’s worth noting that the Broncos aren’t operating with a full cupboard. Courtland Sutton has long since left this team and while Jerry Jeudy is out there, he’s clearly hampered by his own malady. Noah Fant and K.J. Hamler were also injured in the middle of the season. Still, Tim Patrick has emerged as a bonafide starting wideout and two of the previous three players are healthy. Combine those pass-catchers with a red-hot Melvin Gordon and the Broncos should have won this game.
The offense owed the defense that, but they just aren’t capable.
The reality of this is bittersweet for Denver backers. Surely the team will be on the hunt for yet another answer at the quarterback position. They’ll also just be toiling away the rest of 2020 with a strong cast of skill players who won’t hit their weekly ceiling. The silver lining here is that when/if the Broncos do find an answer at quarterback, we can feel comfortable that said mystery player will have a lot to work with.
Getting carried away with Baker Mayfield’s stats
Baker Mayfield unfurled four touchdowns and was downright electric in the first half. He ran some of the gorgeously designed plays in Kevin Stefanski’s offense to perfection. So we’re not applying the “don’t care” label here to discredit what was a strong game for Mayfield or to deny that it was the kind of clear jump in his individual production many had been waiting for.
We just didn’t learn anything new about him.
When he gets protection, he can still carve up defenses as he did as a rookie. When his coach defines the reads for him via the offensive design, he doesn’t have to read defenses or get bogged down with the mental part of the game. You don’t want this many stipulations to come with your former No. 1 overall pick’s path to success but this is where the Browns are right now.
Mayfield’s biggest problem over the last two years has been his complete lack of an answer when the integrity of the pocket is compromised and pressure comes in. So it’s no surprise he was able to sit back in the pocket and rip apart the hapless Titans pass defense.
Tennessee came into this game bottom-five in defensive DVOA and boasting one of the league’s worst pass rushes. They just lost Jadeveon Clowney to season-ending surgery and weren’t even good when he was playing. It’s a mess. This is the exact type of opponent Mayfield can destroy, as he’s still a talented thrower from a clean pocket.
The Browns are a good team. They will go to the playoffs, boasting a handful of stars, and are extremely well-coached. These are all things we should have held as truths before Week 13. Despite today’s performance, however, they still have some questions about their quarterbacks. We just didn’t get any new information today.
Complaining about Jonathan Taylor’s usage
If you played Jonathan Taylor against the Houston Texans in Week 13, you were rewarded. He totaled 135 yards from scrimmage and scored on one of his catches. If you were mystified by his usage, I really don’t know what to tell you.
Taylor backers just can’t get upset when they see Nyheim Hines on the field, especially in scoring areas. Hines has been a major factor in several key wins this season for the Colts. He’s a big factor in the offense and has been a good player. Teams don’t just needlessly remove good players who have helped them win games from their offense just to make things a bit clearer when it comes to workload splits.
With that in mind, this was about as much of a win as you could hope for. That’s especially true considering Taylor was coming off a Week 12 absence and, on balance, hasn’t been a consistently positive presence for the team when he touches the ball.
Taylor led the team in snaps, played an active role in the passing game, and got enough chances to smack around a bad run defense. That’s a win. We’re just not at the point where we can project Taylor for a massive workload every week. But that’s okay.
Worrying about Rams’ “hot hand”
The Rams backfield has been a moving target. We expected as such. Sean McVay has always told us this would be a committee backfield featuring all of their young guys, and I’ve never come across a good reason to not believe him.
The spotlight is now on rookie Cam Akers. After a touchdown run last week, Akers was the guy against the Cardinals in Week 13.
He was on the field for 62 percent of the team snaps, totaled 94 yards from scrimmage on a massive 22 touches. Darrell Henderson scored on a long run late in the game himself but only handled five touches. Malcolm Brown registered just four on 13 snaps.
The other two guys just aren’t going to go away. This will be a hot hand approach, but who cares? You just need to live in the moment. As long as Akers is going to get this workload and produce, it’s hard to imagine McVay going away from him. You shouldn’t go away from him in fantasy either.
It’s also not crazy to think Akers is just now getting up to speed either. After all, he dealt with injuries during the regular season and suffered through a shortened offseason this summer. We saw with Darrell Henderson last year that younger backs can take some time to get onboarded with this system. Akers might just now be catching up. It shows on the field.
Sunday was an affirmation that when the Rams are on schedule, you want to be invested in their running game. It’s one of the best units in the NFL when it’s clicking. Right now, Akers is at the controls of this machine. Los Angeles should be plenty on schedule the rest of the way with matchups against the Patriots, Jets, Seahawks, and Cardinals.
Justin Herbert’s hideous performance
In a way, I do care, because after buying the offseason value dip, my competing fantasy teams are littered with Chargers. On the other hand, I’m completely comfortable waving off this nightmare performance.
Considering his team lost 45-0, you’re probably not shocked to discover that on an EPA per play basis, Justin Herbert was the worst starting quarterback on Week 13’s Sunday slate. He also boasted the worst completion percentage over expectation (per Next Gen Stats) at -17.3 percent. All of Herbert’s doubters after his final college season feared this was the guy we’d see in the NFL.
However, he’s been anything but this guy. Herbert has, by any legitimate measure, been a top-10 quarterback in the NFL this year. Week 13 was the clear, obvious, screaming outlier.
Herbert absolutely had a miserable day at the office and sank the fantasy prospects of Keenan Allen, Austin Ekeler, and a variety of other skill position players. But let’s consider two coaching points. We know Herbert doesn’t get much help from his own staff, and he just so happened to be facing a legendary coach who routinely makes mincemeat of rookie/first-year starters. Bill Belichick smells blood in the water when he sees a young quarterback across the field.
We should be willing to give Herbert a pass for this one, as he’s just been too good to get caught up in one terrible moment. The Chargers still have a favorable schedule down the stretch, too.