Reading the Defense - Week 7
Posted 10/21 by Jene Bramel, Exclusive for Footballguys.com
It's been a crazy week around the league and it doesn't feel right to leave the biggest stories of the week until the end of the column. This week, we bring the Stunts section to the front of the column and give some expanded takes on the big trades, injuries and positional changes of the past week.
With Omar Gaither potentially out for multiple weeks with a foot sprain and recent veteran signee Jeremiah Trotter struggling to hold the point of attack in the middle, the Eagles acquired Will Witherspoon from the Rams just before the trading deadline. Witherspoon will play MLB and play every down in Philadelphia and will see a strong bump in his value. However, it's not likely that he'll be better than Stewart Bradley was in 2008. Expect LB2/3 numbers from Witherspoon. Dynasty owners could use this as a chance to get Bradley as depth for next year at a discount. Bradley will very likely be back in the middle next season, with Witherspoon competing with Akeem Jordan and Omar Gaither for playing time outside. Witherspoon could get a leg up on that job with strong all-around play. The Eagles may be souring on Jordan a bit, electing to pull him out of the team's subpackages in recent weeks for Tracy White, Chris Clemons or some form of a dime package.
Late last week, the first big trade deadline deal sent Gaines Adams to Chicago for a second round draft pick. The trade should have your interest for a number of reasons. A second round pick is a hefty price to pay for an underperforming player, even one that was originally drafted among the top five players overall. It's a testament to the talent Adams has flashed in the past and the Bears' belief that Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli can turn Adams around in his return to a Tampa-2 system. Expect Adams to be worked into the rotation heavily, likely at the expense of Alex Brown. Adams will be a better target in big play scoring systems, but warrants monitoring in all formats. Though the team had soured on him this year, the Bucs decision to trade Adams was still surprising given their so-so depth across the line. We'll delve into Stylez White's big week below in our Line Scores section, but both he and Jimmy Wilkerson are in line for a bump in their rotational snaps until the team is comfortable activating and playing Kyle Moore. Both veterans will have DL3+ value and could be very productive in better matchups.
The injury list, both minor and significant, is long this week. It's headlined by the early week news that the shoulder injury D'Qwell Jackson suffered against the Steelers was bad enough to put him on injured reserve. Rookie Kaluka Maiava took the bulk of the second half snaps in Jackson's RILB and was very productive with five solos. Expect to hear speculation about David Veikune, who's a better fit at SILB, and possibly David Bowens, who filled in at ILB for Eric Mangini in New York last year without much success, but this job is probably Maiava's to lose. He won't be as productive as Jackson, however, and has some growth to do in coverage. Bump the value of Eric Barton and Abram Elam. Jackson should be back at full strength in 2010.
Antwan Odom went down with a ruptured Achilles tendon last week and the Cincinnati pass rush went with him. Players have recovered from this injury before, even older vets like Takeo Spikes. It's hard to see Odom returning to the career form he was displaying this season, so dynasty leaguers shouldn't rely on him for 2010. The Bengals will likely replace him on base defensive down with Jonathan Fanene, who will have added value in DT required leagues in some league management software. Michael Johnson could see more time as the season progresses, but for now the biggest bump in playing time may go to Frostee Rucker, who will see more rotational and high leverage snaps on passing downs.
Early reports on Lofa Tatupu suggested he'd miss the remainder of the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Tatupu's MRI wasn't as bad as feared, so the team may keep him on the active roster in the hopes that he can return before the season ends. Fantasy owners shouldn't be as optimistic. Even a partially torn pectoral muscle is a multi-week injury and Tatupu will have conditioning issues and re-injury risk when he returns. Coupled with the improvement at OLB and Tatupu's production isn't likely to be consistent enough to risk in your lineup if he returns this year. In the meantime, David Hawthorne has shown he can be very productive in Tatupu's stead. The Seahawks get LeRoy Hill back from a early season groin injury this week, however, and with the strong play of Aaron Curry, it's difficult to guess who the two nickel backers might be. Hawthorne's upside is too high to leave him on the waiver wire on the chance he sits in the nickel. He should be a high priority for those needing help at LB as you'll not get a second chance at him if he does keep an every-down role with either Curry or Hill.
There's one more piece of potentially significant impact that's getting lost amid all the other big news of the week. Antoine Winfield left last week's game with what's been called a toe injury and a foot sprain in multiple outlets and he was in a walking boot early in the week. That combination could be ominous and, while Winfield hasn't been ruled out for Week 7 yet, could portend a multiple week recovery period. The Vikings don't have anyone of Winfield's caliber as a fill-in and it's unlikely his replacement will have value in IDP settings either.
Defensive linemen with injuries that could impact rosters include Patrick Kerney (re-aggravated his groin injury), James Hall (left in the fourth quarter with a groin injury), Stylez White (left in the fourth quarter with unknown injury) and Kris Jenkins (torn ACL). Kerney's injury will again increase Darryl Tapp's snap count and value. Chris Long could see increased playing time if Hall's groin injury is significant. And the Jets' inside linebackers may have a tougher road ahead without Jenkins occupying blockers inside. You'll also want to watch for late week developments on Kevin Burnett, Scott Fujita and Donte Whitner, all of whom left their games with injuries that could keep them out this week. On the bright side, Michael Lewis' concussion doesn't seem to be as bad as initially feared and he could be back sooner than expected. The Colts are expecting Bob Sanders and Kelvin Hayden to return to the lineup this week. And Marcus Trufant was activated from the PUP list this week, and will return to the field if there are no setbacks in practice before Week 8.
Jim Schwartz has become one of the more difficult coaches to read for injury information. After a press conference that seemed to speculate that DeAndre Levy wouldn't play ahead of Ernie Sims and was likely to head to the bench, the NFL.com Gamebook lists both Levy and Sims in the starting lineup against the Packers. A review of the game film shows Julian Peterson and Levy starting alongside Larry Foote, with all five Detroit linebackers on the field in some capacity during the first four plays. Both Ernie Sims and Jordan Dizon were on the field in nickel variations in favor of Levy in the first series, with Peterson as a slot corner or defensive end. The Packers make it tough to get a read on defensive personnel, but this looks like a situation likely to remain in flux all season long. Foote and Levy may have the most value should they continue to get the bulk of the base defensive snaps and Peterson had a huge game in what amounts to an every-down hybrid role, but expect inconsistency to be the weekly standard from this group.
Those following the coverage of the Green Bay linebacker rotation in our columns, podcasts and Forum threads should not be surprised by the disappearance of A.J. Hawk from the box scores over the past two weeks. With Nick Barnett back to an every-down role, all of Brandon Chillar's nickel snaps and his rotational time in the base defense are coming at Hawk's expense. Hawk may have a game with 5-6 solos on rare occasion, but he's not likely to get more than 40-50% of his team's snaps in any given week. While Chillar may not be a strong start every week with Hawk vulturing a percentage of the base defensive snaps, Hawk is no longer a consideration in any league format.
As expected, the Chargers rotated Kevin Ellison and Steve Gregory against the Broncos after releasing Clinton Hart. Ellison saw more time in nickel situations than expected and generally looked like the more dynamic player. Gregory will impact Ellison's stats just enough to keep Ellison from more than inconsistent DB3 numbers, but last week's effort was a clear sign that Ellison will be a viable roster in all leagues by 2010 at the latest. Dynasty owners with roster space should add him now, while redraft owners should wait for an increase in playing time.
Line Scores, Damn Line Scores and Statistics
- DE Stylez G. White (8-0-1)
White had 13.5 sacks over the past two seasons in mostly a part-time role since joining the Bucs from the Arena League. With Gaines Adams traded to Chicago and the team apparently reluctant to add Kyle Moore to the rotation yet, White got plenty of playing time against the Panthers. The eight solos are mostly related to opportunity, but it's reassuring to see White contribute in run support. If he can hold up while getting 60-80% of his team's snaps, he could be a surprise every-week starter off the waiver wire. Make sure to get more information on his late game injury before committing to him however.
- OLB Clay Matthews, Jr. (3-2-2)
Matthews, Jr. has earned more playing time as the season progressed and broke out with two sacks against Detroit last week. Matthews is athletic and versatile enough to eventually have fantasy value as an all-around OLB, but don't be fooled into thinking his day against the Lions was a clear sign that he's beyond the steep learning curve.
- MLB Jon Beason (1-2)
It was a disappointing effort, to be sure, from the supposedly matchup-independent Jon Beason this week. There may be more games like this for Beason, who still faces stiff competition for tackles from Thomas Davis when the team uses Tampa-2. Beason looked to be moving well and around the ball, however, and should still be considered an every-week starter.
- MLB DeMeco Ryans (8-4)
Ryans has been a frequent topic of discussion in the IDP Forum in recent weeks. We took an RTD-like approach before the Cincinnati game and argued that, despite the strong play of Brian Cushing and other data that suggested that Ryans' slow start might continue, there was enough evidence in his on-field play and tackle opportunity to expect a rebound in production. The Bengals were a perfect storm of sorts for Ryans, as they provided 26 tackle opportunities in the first half alone. 13 of those were rush attempts (nearly equal to the abysmal number the Cardinals provided the week before) and many of the pass completions came when Ryans was roaming the middle effectively in the nickel package. All eight of Ryans' solos came in the first half. The Bengals provided only 15 opportunities in the second half, with only four rushes and fewer short passes for Ryans to clear up in the second half. Expect some inconsistency from Ryans, but the trend seems clear.
- OLB Chris Gocong (10-0)
Though the Eagles are changing up their subpackages (as we'll discuss more below), Gocong isn't likely to repeat this output any time soon. The Raiders ran the ball 35 times and 15 of their 17 completions were to backs and tight ends. Gocong frequently made plays near the line of scrimmage in run support, but a significant number of his tackles came after catches by Zach Miller and Gary Russell. With Omar Gaither struggling on run downs, Gocong might see an extra solo a week, but he's still a marginal fantasy option at best.
- ILB Karlos Dansby (1-0)
Like Jon Beason, Dansby greatly disappointed his owners this week as the Seahawks completely fell apart on offense. Seattle provided a dismal 27 tackle opportunities, five of which were sacks. Dansby should be back to form in a big way against the Giants next week. Ignore last week when setting your lineups this week.
- S CC Brown (12-1, 2 PD)
Though seven of them ended in touchdowns, the Saints provided the Giants 63 tackle opportunities this week, 14 over the league's historical average. Brown was the biggest beneficiary. Brown had intermittently productive as a Texan, but was also injury prone. Ride him against better matchups, but it'll be risky to rely on him every week.
- DE/OLB Julian Peterson (6-4, 2.5 sacks, 2 FF)
Though he isn't listed as a starter this week, Peterson is working almost every down now at either linebacker or defensive end. While Peterson will likely remain an inconsistent upside play against better matchups, this note is a reminder that the Packers should be a strong pass rushing matchup every week until and unless there's a philosophical change in protection or the re-signing of Mark Tauscher stops the bleeding.
- CB Leon Hall (10-2, FF, PD)
Hall wasn't primarily responsible for the Bengals' shutdown of most opposing wide receivers before last week's explosion by Houston. But he was playing well in coverage - five passes defensed against 14 solos before last week's big solo tackle week - and hadn't been targeted extensively. Hall is a willing tackler and has average to above-average ball skills. However, it remains to be seen if he'll be targeted enough to be more than a CB2 with upside.
- DE Ray Edwards (1-0)
Edwards started the season afire and looked like the classic underachiever on a contract push putting up a career season. Edwards doesn't have a sack in his last four games and his run support numbers have also been poor. Edwards has a decent run of matchups upcoming and can still revive his season. If he fails to produce against Pittsburgh this week, however, he can be sent to the showers.
- S Patrick Chung (3-3, INT/PD)
Chung didn't enter the game until the Patriots were 50 points ahead, so this line deserves about the same consideration as that of a preseason game, but it's still worth noting. Chung was involved in nearly every defensive play during the fourth quarter, making plays in run support and coverage. His ETA remains 2010 and his future playing time likely comes at the expense of currently productive SS Brandon McGowan.
Josh Wilson returned a kickoff this week and with Marcus Trufant reportedly in line to return to duty in Week 8, Wilson may move back into the high upside nickel corner with return duty role now that the Seahawks have some depth at corner again. Watch the news through the bye week on that one. Danieal Manning is also regaining some return value. He lined up alongside Johnny Knox often last week. With Jordy Nelson out for a couple of weeks with a knee injury, Tramon Williams may see time as a dual threat punt returner and nickel back. Charles Woodson will see PR duty as well, but Williams might be an interesting pickup against the Browns. Chris Carr has given way to LaDarius Webb on kick returns, getting only spot PR duty last week. Since he's still failing to have much impact as a nickel back, his value remains minimal. Webb probably isn't ready to assume nickel corner duty yet, but he warrants close monitoring as a potential dual threat. Captain Munnerlyn still has punt return duty, but wasn't in the box scores as a defender. The Bucs use few multiple wide receiver sets, though, which limited Munnerlyn's snaps. Munnerlyn's numbers should be better against Buffalo this week, with a potential explosion coming in W8 against Arizona.
Remember to check out our weekly all-IDP podcast on the Audible on Thursdays and be sure to stop by the IDP Forum for the latest and most accurate IDP news and analysis, including our Sunday morning post and discussion of the week's inactive players. Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to email@example.com.
Best of luck in Week 7.