The Rookie Receivers – Week 16 Preview

Evans has grabbed the headlines so far, but Adams may yet grow to become a solid receiver.

Evans has grabbed the headlines so far, but Adams may yet grow to become a solid receiver.

By Jon Meerdink

Did you know that 2014 is The Year of the Rookie Receiver?

If you didn’t, the internet decided it while you weren’t looking. You can find article after article after article after article after article declaring that this year is the best year of rookie wide receivers that has ever been or probably ever will be. They’re probably right, and this year we get to see two of those receivers everybody is talking about. Well, one receiver that everyone is talking about and one receiver that plays in Green Bay, so everyone in Wisconsin knows his backstory, who his parents are, and what he likes to do in his spare time. (Genuflecting before the statues of Vince Lombardi and Curly Lambeau, of course.)

I’m talking, of course, about Mike Evans and Davante Adams, the rookie pass catchers for the Buccaneers and Packers, respectively. Evans is going off like gangbusters for the unimpressive Buccaneers, catching 59 passes for 948 yards and 11 touchdowns, including a three game stretch near the middle of the season where he caught 21 passes for 458 yards and five scores. He’s really big (6-5, 231 pounds) and really productive.

Adams, meanwhile, is third banana behind two guys having historic seasons for a franchise that has had more than its fair share of historic wide receiver seasons. 36 catches for 429 yards is nothing to write home about, but it’s about what the Packers needed from their number three guy this year, maybe a little bit less. He’s filling the James Jones role admirably, and he projects to have a very solid future in Green Bay.

I think you could fairly characterize both seasons as successful in their own ways, but what’s making them successful? Let’s look at six catches (three each) that show some of the success each youngster has had.

Evans’ best game was in Week 11 against Washington, where he went off for 209 yards and two touchdowns on 7 catches. Evans was at his best on the deep ball, where he could do what he does better than anybody: just be really large. Consider this deep ball from the second quarter:

evans catch 1Evans fights off his defender, Tracy Porter, virtually the entire way down the field, using his strength and size advantage to create a little separation. It may have been a bit of a push-off, but there was no laundry on the field.

The second catch is even more about positioning. Evans will never beat anybody just blowing them off the line, but a little more here…

evans catch 2

…and he generates enough space for a nifty inside throw.

The third catch is a remix of the first. Evans bumps off his defender midway down the field, creating enough separation to coast in for a score.

evans catch 3

The linebacker turning to complain to the official almost immediately after the touchdown amuses me.

Adams’ catches are of a totally different variety. As I said before, Adams has been tasked with filling the James Jones role in the Packers offense. Jordy Nelson operates deep. Randall Cobb dances around in the slot. Adams, in an ideal world, works in the 9-15 yard range, maneuvering into the open spots and gaining tough, possession-oriented yards through precise route running.

The route running isn’t a focus on the first catch, but Adams still finds the soft spot behind the defense when this play doesn’t find an opening right away.

adams catch 1

With Nelson well covered on a deep shot to the right, Adams releases down the field when he sees Aaron Rodgers heading his way. That’s a move we see often from Randall Cobb, and if Adams picks it up even half as well, he’ll do just fine in Green Bay.

The second catch is very much about precision route running. Watch Adams absolutely dust his defender on this out-and-up route.

adams catch 2

It’d be hard to draw a tighter corner if you had a straight edge. That kind of route running against the right coverage should lead to an open receiver almost every time.

Finally, here’s another example of absolutely terrific route running. Adams sets his defender up for the deep ball, but stops on a dime at the first down marker.

adams catch 3

Defender falls down, the catch is made, first down Packers.

Now, in all likelihood, neither player will be a deciding factor in this game. Evans is good, but even Julio Jones in his consummate brilliance couldn’t singlehandedly beat the Packers (although he came close). The Buccaneers rookie will likely not be able to inspire enough firepower from the rest of his teammates to keep this game close.

Adams, meanwhile, is still tapping into his potential. He seems to be coming along, but the Packers won’t need a big effort from their rookie to put this one away.

Packers: 34 Buccaneers: 21

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Fantasy Outlook – Championship Sunday

fantasy ring

Will you be wearing the championship ring after Week 16 of the fantasy season?

by Jordan Huenink

If you are in the minority of teams who has survived the 2014 fantasy football season to advance to Championship Week, congrats! You’ve been able to overcome injuries, inconsistencies and (sometimes) incompetent opponents. There may have been some bleak moments, but you have stood tall and risen to the top of the heap.

If your team has advanced to the Week 16 championship game, chances are good that you have a healthy, solid team and don’t need to hunt for potential starters on this week’s waiver wire. But if you still have some tough decisions to make, maybe some of my upcoming input may help. Let’s start (as always) by looking ahead to the Packers game.

After a rough horrendous performance last week by Aaron Rodgers and the offensive unit in Buffalo, look for them to bounce back with a vengeance at Tampa Bay this week. The lowly Buccaneers rank 24th in the league against opposing quarterbacks, allowing almost 20 fantasy points per game. They’re also in the bottom half of the league against running backs (18.7), wide receivers (24.3), kickers (8.4) and opposing D/STs (12.9).

That being said, expect a hefty bounce back by the Packers in the realm of fantasy land. ESPN.com currently has Rodgers projected for 280 yards and 3 TDs, with Randall Cobb (13.6 fantasy points) and Jordy Nelson (15.1) each catching one score. Personally, I see Rodgers easily eclipsing the 300-yard mark this week. Four or five touchdowns wouldn’t be a huge shock either.

Eddie Lacy is projected for around 70 yards rushing and one touchdown on the ground. ESPN also has James Starks getting in the mix with 6-8 rushing attempts for around 30 yards.

On the defensive side of the ball, look for Clay Matthews and the defense to take advantage of an inconsistent Buccaneers offensive unit. Quarterback Josh McCown has turned the ball over ten times in the last four weeks (6 interceptions, 4 fumbles), has averaged 233 passing yards per game and 10.8 fantasy points during that stretch as well. I see a solid game for the D/ST as well.

Here are more players around the league projected to score big for their fantasy owners in Week 16:

Quarterbacks
1. Andrew Luck (@DAL) – 25.1
2. Aaron Rodgers (@TB) – 25
3. Tom Brady (@NYJ) – 23.3

Running Backs
1. Justin Forsett (@HOU) – 17.3
2. Jamaal Charles (@PIT) – 16.9
3. C.J. Anderson (@CIN) – 16.6

Wide Receivers
1. Dez Bryant (vs IND) – 16.2
2. Calvin Johnson (@CHI) – 16.1
3. Demaryius Thomas (@CIN) – 16.1
4. DeAndre Hopkins (vs BAL) – 16.1

Tight Ends
1. Rob Gronkowski (@NYJ) – 14.6
2. Jimmy Graham (vs ATL) – 14
3. Travis Kelce (@PIT) – 12.7

Defenses
1. Bills (@OAK) – 14
2. Eagles (@WAS) – 11
3. Lions (@CHI) – 9
4. Packers (@TB) – 9

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The Legacy of Late Season Losers

aaron sad

Aaron Rodgers is sad because sad things are sad.

By Jon Meerdink

The sky has fallen. Aaron Rodgers is mortal. The Packers have lost a game and nothing will ever be the same again.

These and other headlines brought to you by NFL Overreaction Week, in which we define a season’s worth of games (or, in the case of Johnny Manziel, an entire future career) based on one weekend.

I’m still not sure what to think of the Packers loss, to be perfectly honest. Is it reason for concern? Maybe. The offensive line depth was exposed. The receivers didn’t show up. Aaron Rodgers had a Freaky Friday-style brain switch with Mark Sanchez.

But it’s also possible that all those concerns could simply be short term issues. Bryan Bulaga could be back next week, or certainly by the week after. It’s hard to imagine the receiving corps performing as poorly this week as last week. It’s even harder to imagine seeing another performance like that from Aaron Rodgers.

So while I don’t know what last week’s stinker in Buffalo means (as though everything in sports has to mean something), I do know this: late season hiccups are far from rare for Super Bowl contenders. In fact, they’re surprisingly common. In fact, every Super Bowl winner for the last decade has dropped at least one game in December, and here they are:

2013 Seahawks – Lost to Arizona 17-11 in Week 16.
Russell Wilson completed just 11 of 27 passes as Seattle dropped a rare home game at CenturyLink Field. The Seahawks, famous for their efficient passing and powerful running, didn’t do either one very well. Marshawn Lynch had only 71 yards on 18 carries.

2012 Ravens – Lost four of last five games, including a 34-17 stomping at the hands of Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
The Denver game wasn’t even as close as the score would lead you to believe. It was 31-3 after three quarters, and Manning himself threw just one touchdown. Baltimore, of course, heated up in a big way and rampaged to the Super Bowl behind the suddenly-lights out Joe Flacco.

2011 Giants – Lost to Washington 23-10 in Week 15.
The Week 15 loss dropped the Giants to 8-7 on the season, forcing them into a situation where they had to win out just to make the playoffs. They did, of course, beating the Jets and the Cowboys to sneak into the playoffs, then beating Atlanta, some top seeded team with an MVP quarterback, and the 49ers en route to another classic showdown with the Patriots.

2010 Packers – Lost to New England 31-27 in Week 15.
This game is the most similar to this week’s loss to Buffalo, I think. The Packers were without Aaron Rodgers when they traveled to New England for this prime time matchup with the Patriots, and they were without their star quarterback when they played the Bills on Sunday.

2009 Saints – Lost last three games of the season.
Pundits screamed fire, brimstone, and lost momentum as the Saints coasted into the playoffs, including a 20-17 overtime loss to the Buccaneers, who finished 3-13 that season. Did it matter? No. They crushed the Cardinals 45-14 in the Divisional Round, beat up Brett Favre in the NFC Championship, and outfoxed Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl. Momentum shmomentum.

2008 Steelers – Lost to Tennessee 31-14 in Week 16.
The Steelers got thoroughly stomped by the Titans late in the regular season during their run to a Super Bowl. The Titans sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times, forced five fumbles (recovering three), and snagged two interceptions as they thoroughly embarrassed the Steelers. Pittsburgh, of course, had the last laugh. Nobody tends to remember late season beatdowns when they’re holding a Lombardi Trophy.

2007 Giants – Lost two of their last three.
The Giants fell to Washington 22-10 in Week 15 and to New England 38-35 in Week 17 to finish out 10-6 before Eli Manning burst into flames and carried the Giants to a championship. Nobody would have guessed that Week 17 would end up being a Super Bowl preview.

2006 Colts – Lost to Houston 27-24 in Week 16.
Houston rode a 32 carry, 153 yard, 2 TD performance from Ron Dayne (!!!) to send Indianapolis home with a late season loss. David Carr (16 of 23, 163 yards, 1 TD) was also remarkably efficient, which is something that was almost never said about David Carr.

2005 Steelers – Lost to Cincinnati 38-31 in Week 13.
Of all the Super Bowl winners in the last decade, the 2005 Steelers had  the longest winning streak leading up to their championship, winning their final four regular season games before their improbable run to the Super Bowl. Still, they dropped a December regular season game, falling to Carson Palmer (three TD passes), Rudi Johnson (98 yards, 2 TD on 21 carries), and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (5 catches, 88 yards, 2 TD). And boy, am I glad T.J. Whosyourmama is out of the league, because his name is a bear to type.

2004 Patriots – Lost to Miami 29-28 in Week 15.
The Patriots’ playoff berth was never in doubt, as they were 12-1 when they lost to Miami and would go on to finish 14-2. Still, A.J. Feely and Derrius Thompson hooked up late to beat New England in a late season shocker, proving to be the last real challenge to the Patriots, who cruised virtually uncontested to a championship.

So again I ask, what does last week’s game mean? Is it a harbinger of troubles to come? Is it just a late season stumble on the way to Super Bowl glory? I ask not for rhetorical effect, but because I really don’t know. What do you think?

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Fantasy Rewind – Week 15

LacyBUFF

Eddie Lacy provided the only fantasy warm spot in an otherwise frigid Packers offense in Buffalo.

by Jordan Huenink

Woof. Ugh. Ouch. Yikes.

Choose any of these words – or add your own – to describe the fantasy performance by the Packers offense this past week in Buffalo. I hope you weren’t in the majority of fantasy owners who lost their playoff match-ups thanks to the 6.1 point output from Rodgers or the 5.5 points posted by Jordy Nelson. They were bad. Real bad.

The only bright fantasy spots from Sunday’s game were thanks to Eddie Lacy and Randall Cobb. Lacy rushed for 97 yards and a touchdown on the day, which was good enough to get owners a respectable 16.8 fantasy points. Lacy should have had a much larger day, but the offense continued to unsuccessfully test the air space above the Bills secondary. We all know how that went.

Cobb squeaked out a respectable 11.1 points for fantasy owners as well. He caught seven passes for 96 yards, and rushed the ball three times for 15 yards. This was still good enough to rank 14th for wide receivers this week. Gives you a good sense of how many big players bombed this week…

Take note, the Buffalo defense did the exact same thing to Peyton Manning and the vaunted Broncos offense last week. Who would’ve thought it could’ve been done again to Rodgers? Might as well chalk it up for Week 16 as well, as the Bills travel to Oakland. But I doubt you’re starting any Raiders if you’ve made it to the fantasy championship!

Other headlines around the NFL:

- Odell Beckham, Jr. continues strong play with 143 yds, 3 TDs
– Brees leads all QBs with 375 yds, 3 TDs on Monday vs the Bears
– Jeremy Hill gouges Browns for 148 yds, 2 TDs in Cleveland
– Gronk’s 96 yards, TD pace Patriots past Dolphins
– Kansas City D/ST tallies four sacks, 2 TDs vs Raiders

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Fantasy Outlook – Week 15

trophy

With your league’s trophy in sight, are you leaning on the Packers to help carry you to the championship?

by Jordan Huenink

It’s Week 15, folks. Are you still in the running for your league’s coveted championship trophy, or are you now playing for pride and doing your best not to finish last? Either way, the fantasy football season is in the homestretch. A time when champions are made, and losers choke the title away. Which one will you be?

The Packers travel to Buffalo this week to face a surprisingly resilient Bills team that is currently ranked fourth in in the NFL in points allowed (18.5) and yards allowed per game (311.9). On the fantasy side of things, they are currently surrendering an average of 14.3 points to QBs, 13.9 points to RBs, 19.8 points to WRs, 4.7 points to TEs and 8.5 points to opposing D/STs.

That being said, their defense is solid. The numbers I just listed are all within the top ten in the league. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense will surely not have a cakewalk on Sunday – in reality or fantasy.

Rodgers himself is currently projected for approximately 240 yards and two touchdowns – a stat line warranting around 17 fantasy points, which is much lower than his games of 28, 25, 29 and 37 points in recent weeks. With the Bills’ strong defensive line, Rodgers may also tally some valuable points scrambling out of the pocket. His favorite targets Randall Cobb (70 yds, TD) and Jordy Nelson (86 yds, TD) are both projected to find the end zone. The experts also think that Eddie Lacy will finish as a top ten running back this week (67 yds, TD / 25 yds receiving).

To be honest, there is no reason not to start the four players listed above. They have all done more than enough to prove themselves as must-start players that could lead you to a fantasy championship. I personally hope that the Cobb projection is correct – #18 hasn’t found the end zone since Week 10 against the Bears.

If you’ve made it this far in the fantasy playoffs, chances are that you haven’t been leaning on Green Bay’s other fantasy players like Davante Adams, Andrew Quarless or Jarrett Boykin. They should only be started this week if you have NO other options on your roster.

Mason Crosby has been surprising lately after posting fantasy scores of 14 and 15 points in the last, two weeks, making him a great start again this week. A chilly Orchard Park, NY may make it a little tougher to boot the ball, but no precipitation is forecasted for Sunday.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Kyle Orton led Bills average 21.6 points per game on 230 yards passing (17th) and 96 yards rushing (25th). Not the most potent of offenses, but if Julio Jones is any indication, the Packers D is susceptible to good wide receivers. And the Bills’ rookie Sammy Watkins is nothing to shake a stick at.  If they can contain him, the defense should have a strong outing on Sunday.

Around the league, look Andrew Luck to continue his onslaught of fantasy points as he faces a Texans defense that ranks 28th against the pass. Le’Veon Bell has been a monster in recent weeks, posting fantasy scores of 41.5, 31.4 and 28.2 points in his last three games. This week, he faces a Falcons defense that has given up 17 rushing touchdowns this season – the most in the league.

Receivers Antonio Brown, T.Y. Hilton and Alshon Jeffery are all projected for over 100 yards receiving and a touchdown on ESPN.com leading up to this week. Odell Beckham, Jr. also faces a tasty match-up against a struggling Washington defense.

And finally, the defensive squads of the Ravens (vs Jax), Lions (vs Min) and Seahawks (vs SF) line up as the top three D/STs for the week.

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Watch the Big Guys – Week 15 Preview

mario williamsBy Jon Meerdink

I think a lot of times we make football more complicated than it is. That’s not to say it’s not a very complicated game, because it can be. At a basic level, though, it’s about very large human beings.

Anybody who’s ever played sports knows this is true in most situations. If you’re warming up for your high school basketball game and the other guys come into the gym led by some 6-10 troglodyte with biceps the size of watermelons, suddenly all the practicing you did that week seems a lot less valid. The question is no longer “can our plays beat their plays?” but “is that guy as good as he looks?”

Now, complicated defenses and Ph.D level offenses have mitigated the “our big guys vs. their big guys” struggle, but at a basic level, that’s what football is still about. If your big guys stop their big guys from getting to the quarterback, your chances of winning go way up. If your big guys can beat their big guys and do bad things to their quarterback, your chances of winning go way up. The inverse of these statements is also true.

I’ve stuck with this overwrought metaphor for so long because big guys are both the great strength and the great weakness of the Buffalo Bills.

The Buffalo Bills’ defensive line may be the best in the business. Their front four of Mario Williams (6-6, 292), Kyle Williams (6-1, 303), Marcell Dareus (6-3, 331), and Jerry Hughes (6-2, 254) is a combined +72.1 in Pro Football Focus’s ratings, and 45.7 of those rating points come from Kyle Williams and Dareus, the two defensive tackles. All of them have positive ratings against both the pass and the run, and their combined rating would be much higher were it not for a whopping -8.8 contributed by Hughes in the form of penalties. They have a combined 36.5 sacks. They can beat you with speed (Hughes), power (Dareus and Kyle Williams), or just freakish athleticism (Mario Williams). They’re truly a force to be reckoned with.

The opposite is true of the Bills’ offensive line. The offensive big guys have struggled this year in western New York, although they are still gigantic, even by offensive line standards. From left to right, the starters are Cordy Glenn (6-6, 345), Cyril Richardson (6-5, 343), Eric Wood (6-4, 310), Erik Pears (6-8, 316), and Seantrel Henderson (6-7, 310). And while their statures are impressive, their performance is not. Pro Football Focus only ranks Cordy Glenn as a positive performer this year, and his +6.1 is hardly anything to write home about. The unit’s cumulative rating is a -63.9, or basically the near mirror image of the defensive line.

This is where the simplicity of football comes in. If the Packers can mitigate the strength of the Bills’ excellent defensive line, they will almost certainly be able to score enough points to win. If the Packers can take advantage of the relative weakness of the Bills’ offensive line, scoring points will be that much less important for the Packers’ already potent offense, also increasing their chances at winning.

There’s no rocket science here. There’s no need to worry about whether the Packers’ (once again) suspect defense can contain the likes of Sammy Watkins. Focusing on the storyline that the Packers have never won in Buffalo goes nowhere either, and neither does wondering about how well Kyle Orton has done against the Packers in the past.

This game is simply about our big guys beating their big guys, and I think they will.

Packers: 30 Bills: 21

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Going Deep: The Jordy Nelson Shot Play

Jordy Nelson scores long touchdowns like it's his job. Because it is.

Jordy Nelson scores long touchdowns like it’s his job. Because it is.

By Jon Meerdink

In a sport like football, almost nothing is certain and very little is guaranteed. The Packers, however, have somehow found at least one virtual guarantee: Jordy Nelson catching a deep ball from Aaron Rodgers off play-action.

You know the play. A hard, play-action fake (typically to the left) precedes a deep roll out by Rodgers, who gathers and launches a bomb deep down the middle to a streaking Nelson.

Upon further review, it always becomes clear that the hard fake from Rodgers allowed Nelson to run a double move of some kind, leaving a defender flat-footed and grasping at air behind him as he gathers in the pass and saunters into the end zone.

It’s as effective as it is predictable, and the Packers execute it with such precision that even players that haven’t been in Green Bay in a while can see it coming. Tom Crabtree, the former Packers tight end, called the shot early in the game on Monday:

And…well…

atl 12-08-14

Whether it’s Crabtree, Cris Collinsworth, or Craig, that guy from accounting that someone invited to watch the game with you at Buffalo Wild Wings, everybody can identify this play because it’s so simple and the Packers run it so well.

There are three basic tenets in almost every version of this play.

1)Pre-snap motion
2) Fake away from the “shot” route
3) Double move

In Monday’s version, Andrew Quarless motions from right to left across the formation and sets up as a wing on the left side. It’s tough to tell from the TV tape, but in many instances of this play, the motion before the snap gets the safety on Nelson’s side of the field to move slightly, giving the dep route just a little bit more breathing room.

The play fake is obvious, but Rodgers executes it well, drawing the safety in even more and giving Nelson more room to operate on the outside.

Finally, Nelson executes the double move to perfection, getting the defender to turn his hips to the sideline before he cuts back inside, awaiting a perfectly delivered strike from Rodgers.

The Packers have been running this play for at least four seasons now, and perhaps longer. NFL Game Rewind archives only go back to 2009, but the same basic concepts were in play in Mike McCarthy’s system long before that.

An almost exact copy of this particular play can be seen as far back as 2011. Greg Jennings played the role of Jordy Nelson en route to a 49 yard touchdown in Carolina on Spetember 18, 2011.

jennings TD carolina

While Jennings may have started it, Nelson has perfected the deep route, and counting Monday’s touchdown, I’ve discovered at least eight total instances of Nelson going the distance on this play. Those eight plays have accounted for more than eight percent of Nelson’s career receiving yards and one sixth of his touchdown catches, but don’t just take my word for it. Let’s look at all of them!

Green Bay vs. Denver – October 2, 2011 – 50 yards

denver 10-02-11

Here, Nelson himself motions across the formation before running a twin double move with Greg Jennings.

Green Bay vs. Chicago – December 25, 2011 – 55 yards

chicago 12-25-11

Nelson waits extra long to make his second break on this route, making sure the safety is fully committed before burning him inside.

Green Bay vs. Detroit – January 1, 2012 – 58 yards

detroit 01-01-12

The route isn’t super precise here, but Nelson still manages to work himself to the inside of the corner, allowing Matt Flynn to drop the ball in for a score.

Green Bay @ New York Giants – November 25, 2012 – 61 yards

new york 11-25-12

This one isn’t the typical inside-out move we see from Nelson. Instead, a little hesitation gets him the separation he needs down the sideline.

Green Bay @ Baltimore – October 13, 2013 – 64 yards

baltimore 10-13-13

No double move required. Just blow past the corner who’s peeking into the backfield and collect the deep ball. Thank you very much!

Green Bay vs. New York Jets – September 14, 2014 – 80 yards

new york 09-14-14

No pre-snap motion here. Nelson uses a textbook out-n-up route to dislodge his first defender, then sends the safety to the ground with a side step.

Green Bay vs. Minnesota – October 2, 2014 – 66 yards

minn 10-02-14 66 yards

Vikings safety Harrison Smith seems to have very little reason to bite on Nelson’s fake on this play. It’s a long throw, and he may have been able to make a play on a throw to the outside without committing to the fake so early. But he bit outside, Nelson broke inside, and it ended with a touchdown for Green Bay.

In addition to the excellent design and execution of the deep shots to Jordy, it’s no coincidence that half the plays on this list have come in the last two years, timing out perfectly with the arrival and development of Eddie Lacy. Play-action works a heck of a lot better when there’s someone to actually justify the fake in the backfield. Lacy’s thunderous running style is the perfect complement to a deep ball play-action shot, and you can bet that we’ll see a lot more of Nelson streaking down the middle as the year goes on.

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Fantasy Review – Week 14

ARod vs ATL

A-Rod’s trusty arm helped the Packers beat the Falcons on Monday Night, and may have helped some fantasy owners win their playoff match-up

by Jordan Huenink

If you’re a Packers or Falcons fantasy owner, chances are good that you came out of Week 14 with a smile on your face. Unless you needed a halfway decent day from Peyton Manning or Josh Gordon, that is. Let’s take a look at last night’s Monday Night Football game before diving into the rest of the league’s fantasy headlines.

Quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers (327, 3 TDs) and Matt Ryan (375 yds, 4 TDs, INT) lit up the fantasy score board for fantasy owners on Monday night to the tune of 27.8 and  31.3 fantasy points, respectively. While the Falcons secondary gave Rodgers issues finding receivers downfield, #12 managed to successfully find his check down backs in Eddie Lacy and James Starks. Ryan, on the other hand, had no problems going deep to wide out Julio Jones. (We’ll talk about him later.) Both QBs had plenty of time in the pocket, however, due to stellar play by both offensive lines, which led to the huge fantasy game.

In the backfield, Eddie Lacy had a monster first half with 20 fantasy points (80 total yards, 2 TDs). However, he only managed 20 additional yards in the second half as the Atlanta defense stepped it up against both the run and the screen plays. Lacy finished with 22.6 fantasy points on the night. Meanwhile, James Starks had a better night than usual, as he found the end zone for a first quarter rushing touchdown in addition to 75 rushing yards and 26 yards receiving (16.1 fantasy points).

Once again, Jordy Nelson lit up the fantasy scoreboard (as well as the semi-frozen tundra) with 146 yards receiving and two scores. Just another day at the office for #87. Randall Cobb was held to a much quieter night as he only caught four passes for 58 yards. Davante Adams was virtually nonexistent with one catch for six yards.

Mason Crosby looked solid despite the chilly temperatures at Lambeau. Crosby connected on field goals of 38, 33 and 53 yards on the night for 14 fantasy points. However, he also had a PAT blocked for the second time this season.

The Packers D/ST looked solid in the first half holding the Falcons to seven first half points. Clay Matthews sacked Matt Ryan and Morgan Burnett came up with a great interception which gave the Packers offense a short field. The second half was a different story as the defense got torched for 30 points in the second half. Hopefully we don’t see this pattern happen again in Week 17 as the Packers face another superstar WR in Calvin Johnson.

Other fantasy headlines around the NFL:

- Peyton Manning throws two INTs, zero TDs in win vs Buffalo
– Le’Veon Bell goes for 215 total yards, 2 TDs in career day
– Julio Jones sets career mark of 259 yards on MNF
– St. Louis D/ST tallies seven sacks, two INTs and two TDs vs Washington
– C.J. Anderson finds the end zone three times against Buffalo

Week 1 of the fantasy playoffs is complete for most leagues. Who is still going strong and looking ahead to the championship?

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Whom Do You Fear? – Week 14 Preview

The Packers squeaked out a win against Atlanta last year. This year, the Falcons may not be able to keep it close.

The Packers squeaked out a win against Atlanta last year. This year, the Falcons may not be able to keep it close.

By Jon Meerdink

A good measure of a team is how many of the players would legitimately scare the opposing team.

For instance, the Patriots were a legitimately scary organization. Rob Gronkowski could smash through just about any defense and not notice that they were there. Darrelle Revis could make half the field invisible. Tom Brady was Tom Brady.

The Falcons are less blessed with talent, but before we talk about this year’s Falcons, let’s talk about the 2010 edition.

Those Falcons had NINE Pro Bowlers. No, seriously, check Pro Football Reference. I’ll wait. You’re back? Good. Yeah, the Falcons had a lot of scary players that year. Roddy White was at the height of his powers. Matt Ryan made the first of his two Pro Bowls. Michael Turner was still “The Burner.” Tony Gonzalez was still doing otherworldly old man things. And that was just on offense. On the other side of the ball, John Abraham racked up 13 sacks and Brent Grimes patrolled the secondary. Even on special teams, Eric Weems sprinted his way to Honolulu as a first rate return man.

But in football years, that was forever ago, and the Falcons’ roster shows the passage of time has not been kind. Matt Ryan has plateaued, Tony Gonzalez has retired, Roddy White is a shell of his former self, and both John Abraham and Brent Grimes have moved on. The Falcons find themselves banking on a few youngsters and the hope of a playoff run.

A couple of those youngsters, though, may be good enough to at least make this game interesting. Julio Jones, the man for whom the Falcons paid a king’s ransom in draft picks to get, is showing that despite an oddly pronounced first name, he might almost be worth the 47 (approximate) draft picks Atlanta used to trade up to get him. He has 82 catches through his first 13 games this season and is dangerous enough to tilt the Packers’ secondary.

In Atlanta’s secondary, Desmond Trufant may already be a star, even if nobody knows it. On a pretty miserable defensive unit overall, Trufant is carving out a niche as an elite cover corner. No, seriously. Pro Football Focus has him rated as their sixth best cornerback. While he may not get much help, don’t be surprised if the Packers do what they can to avoid him. There are plenty of other places to attack.

Overall, though, two players may not be enough to keep it close. Atlanta will need their absolute best effort to avoid getting run out of Lambeau. Their secondary gives up too many yards and doesn’t get enough pressure to make Aaron Rodgers break a sweat. I think the Packers win this one going away.

Packers – 34 Falcons – 17

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How’s Ha Ha Doing?

NFL: New England Patriots at Green Bay Packers

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix managed to get just enough of a hand on this pass to keep it away from Rob Gronkowski.

By Jon Meerdink

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has now officially survived his trial by fire.

This week, he declared himself no longer a rookie. Sunday, he had two significant growing up moments.

First, he made the questionable decision to try to go in high for a tackle on Rob Gronkowski. Though the All-Pro didn’t make it to the end zone, his encounter with the courageous Packers’ rookie didn’t end with the Patriots’ tight end on the ground.

Gronkowski rumbled for a few more yards, and Clinton-Dix was left with nothing but something to tweet about the next day.

The second encounter, though, left Ha Ha with the last laugh. A late deep shot to Gronkowski had both Clinton-Dix and the big tight end fully extended for the pass. The ball slipped away, the man in stripes signaled incomplete, and the Patriots would go on to settle for an ill-fated Stephen Gostkowski field goal. Packers win.

In the narrative of the season, it would be easy to point to this game as the moment things came together for Clinton-Dix…but it wasn’t his best performance of the season. Not even close, really. Pro Football Focus, the obsessive grades of all things gridiron, had the rookie pegged for a -0.6 on Sunday, his eighth negative performance of the season.

The negative grade comes from some struggles in the passing game. While Clinton-Dix allowed just one completion, it went for 14 yards, good for a -0.9 coverage grade. He made up some ground with a +0.2 against the run and a +0.1 in penalties, but still, PFF considered Clinton-Dix’s performance so far this year to be below average.

In fact, according to the PFF grades, Ha Ha has been slightly below average the entire season. Here’s his chart so far:

Ha  Ha  Clinton-Dix

In PFF’s grading, a zero is considered league average. Spread over the entire season, Ha Ha’s total grade is a -1.8, or a -0.15 per game.

Negative numbers are never good, but in the context of PFF’s grading scale, it’s only slightly below average, and I think I’d rather have slightly below average Ha Ha Clinton-Dix than very below average M.D. Jennings (-5.0 for 17 games last year, a -0.29 average) or just plain bad Jerron McMillian who piled up a rating of -10.4 in 5 games as a primarily defensive player, averaging a stellar -2.08.

The point is, Clinton-Dix’s slightly below average play is actually a big improvement for the Packers’ secondary, and it’s one reason the secondary as a unit has been pretty solid this year.

But we’re not looking for average from Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. As a first round pick, he’s expected to be a long-time starter, perhaps even a Pro Bowler. How, then, does Mr. Clinton-Dix stack up against the rookie years of PFF’s best rated safeties? I’m glad you asked.

Eric Weddle is the top rated safety in the league this year, with an overall grade of +16.9. But here’s his rookie season: a cumulative 2.8 in 19 games.

Eric  Weddle

Antoine Bethea is next on the list at +14.9. His rookie season predates the origin of Pro Football Focus, but in his second year, he posted a 4.6.

Antoine  Bethea

Vikings’ safety Harrison Smith (yes, the guy the Packers could have drafted instead of Nick Perry and no I’m not going to let that go) is third in the league at +12.8. He was almost as good in his rookie season, totaling a cumulative ranking of 10.8. (Perry, in his injury shortened season, managed an even 0.)

Harrison  Smith

 

George Iloka is next up with a 10.8. He barely played as a rookie, though, accumulating a rating of just +0.5 in two games of special teams work.

George  Iloka

Tashaun Gipson is just behind Iloka with a 10.6. He, too, was not super exciting as a rookie. Despite getting half a season worth of starter-level playing time, he was just a +0.5 for the year.

Tashaun  Gipson

Finally, Earl Thomas rounds out the list of safeties charting a double-digit rating so far this year. His rookie season wasn’t quite Harrison Smith-esque, but he was no slouch either, scoring a +4.0.

Earl  Thomas

So what’s the takeaway? First of all, I think we have every right to be encouraged by Clinton-Dix’s play so far. The numbers clearly show that you don’t have to be a mega-stud right out of the gate to be a successful player. He’s done a lot better than the safeties the Packers rolled out across from Morgan Burnett last year, and he’s managed to hang around at close to an average level despite only being a rookie.

On the other hand, there’s clearly room for improvement. He’s not one of the best safeties in the league yet. He’s not even in the top 20, 30, 40, or even 50 safeties in the league. (He’s 54th, since you’re asking). We haven’t yet seen the best of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, but that’s okay. He’s getting there. He’s playing well enough that Micah Hyde has been back at corner exclusively the last four weeks, and as the season goes on, perhaps we’ll have a moment where we can say without a doubt and without any narrative crutches that yes, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has arrived.

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