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Reading the Defense: Week 7

A weekly look at IDP trends with a mix of metrics, film study and matchup strategy

week 6 DL observations

Following the every-down linebackers is a passion of mine and will always take precedence for this feature, but I love line play. Non-FBG work has skyrocketed for me recently and I've missed watching the lines. So, I wanted to get back to watching defensive line play more closely this week.

***The Jets are really fun to watch. Todd Bowles answered the question about how he'd get Sheldon Richardson back onto the field with Muhammad Wilkerson, Leonard Williams, and Damon Harrison with the simplest -- and probably smartest -- response: Use a four man defensive line. Richardson played tackle with Harrison and Wilkerson and Williams remained at end. That left Quinton Coples, Leger Douzable and Calvin Pace as rotational pieces. It'll be interesting to see how that affects the stat lines of the front seven. If the first week is an indication, we may see fewer tackles from the front line and a cleaner look at ballcarriers for David Harris and Demario Davis. With a strong secondary behind that stud all-around front line, what's most likely to happen is a drop in overall opportunity for all. More on this as it continues to develop.

***A number of readers and followers emailed and tweeted concerns about J.J. Watt this week, wondering if the last two weeks were a sign of trouble. Some in leagues with only one IDP starter at DL wanted to know if Watt should be dropped. Recency bias affects us all, but dropping or trading Watt should never cross your mind. Although he's arguably the most consistent fantasy player of the past decade, Watt will still have 1-3 games each season with an underwhelming stat line. The Week 5 game against Indianapolis raised a bit of a flag, as the Colts found ways to send waves of players to slow him down and Watt never looked as comfortable as usual against chips and double teams. Last week, Watt was arguably too ill to play and still found a way to play 79 snaps. The next two matchups should be very favorable, however, and I fully expect Watt to be back on course this week.

***The defensive line in Buffalo is grumpy. And with good reason. John Norton brought up something I've overlooked -- or more likely just haven't allowed myself to consider -- on our podcast last week. It's been years since Ryan has had a productive defensive line. His time in Baltimore was peppered with strong edge rushers, but there's not been much to speak of since. It was odd to see Buffalo use a 4-3 front, but it's the best fit for his personnel. What's not a good fit is the read-and-react style Ryan has asked them to play. Ryan himself finally seemed to see the disconnect after last week's game plan against Cincinnati flopped. Both Ryan and Mario Williams seemed motivated to change things up. Those changes may not come until after the Week 8 bye, but the matchup in Jacksonville is too good to sit these guys until then. I'll stubbornly be sticking with Williams and Jerry Hughes this week.

***In general, my response to any question about dropping a defensive end I'd tiered in the top 20 before the season will be to hold. In some cases, there are clear red flags. Chandler Jones' tackle production is a worry, Cameron Wake's hamstring injury was a worry, Rob Ninkovich's anemic stat lines are a worry. However, the defensive end group is shallow. Jones is DE14 in balanced FBG scoring. Jerry Hughes is DE22. Everson Griffen DE28 in four games. If there were talented players around them in the rankings, I'd be more likely to make a move in redraft leagues. But there are just four ends with 18 or more solos through thr first 5-6 weeks. Nobody is a consistent tackle producer right now. The sack counts are more impressive. But those come in bunches, as a healthy Cameron Wake and Cameron Jordan proved last week. Stick to the talented players and ride the variance.

***It's hard to take your eyes off the football, especially when the RedZone Channel is so much fun. Any of the players listed above are great to observe. But if you can, try to make time to catch some snaps from Fletcher Cox, Ezekiel Ansah, Geno Atkins, and Aaron Donald. Not every snap will put a smile on your face, but you won't have to wait long to chuckle at their athleticism and dominance.

EVERY-DOWN LINEBACKER PROJECTION

TEAMEVERY-DOWN LBs75-100% SNAPSINJ | SUSPNOTES
ARIZONA Kevin Minter   Alex Okafor : Daryl Washington  
ATLANTA Paul Worrilow   Justin Durant Durant could return to practice this week 
BALTIMORE C.J. Mosley : Daryl Smith Elvis Dumervil : Courtney Upshaw Terrell Suggs (IR)  
BUFFALO Preston Brown : Nigel Bradham      
CAROLINA Luke Kuechly : Thomas Davis      
CHICAGO Christian Jones Pernell McPhee Shea McClellin  
CINCINNATI Rey Maualuga   Vinny Rey, Vontaze Burfict (IR-R) Maualuga remained every down after Rey's injury
CLEVELAND Karlos Dansby Paul Kruger Craig Roberston  
DALLAS Sean Lee Rolando McClain    
DENVER Von Miller : Brandon Marshall Danny Trevathan DeMarcus Ware  
DETROIT Josh Bynes   DeAndre Levy  
GREEN BAY Clay Matthews Julius Peppers : Nate Palmer Sam Barrington (IR)  
HOUSTON Brian Cushing Whitney Mercilus Jadeveon Clowney  
INDIANAPOLIS D'Qwell Jackson Erik Walden : Jerrell Freeman   Freeman didn't rejoin dime package last week
JACKSONVILLE Paul Posluszny : Telvin Smith      
KANSAS CITY Derrick Johnson : Justin Houston Tamba HaliRamik Wilson Josh Mauga  
MIAMI Jelani Jenkins Koa Misi    
MINNESOTA Anthony Barr : Eric Kendricks      
NEW ENGLAND Jamie Collins   Dont'a Hightower  
NEW ORLEANS Stephone Anthony Hau'oli Kikaha   Dannell Ellerbe could cement every down role if healthy 
NEW YORK GIANTS     Devon Kennard Return of five man rotation last week
NEW YORK JETS David Harris : Demario Davis      
OAKLAND Malcolm Smith : Khalil Mack Aldon Smith    
PHILADELPHIA Jordan Hicks Connor Barwin : Brandon Graham Kiko Alonso : Mychal Kendricks  
PITTSBURGH Lawrence Timmons   Ryan Shazier Shazier expected back this week 
ST. LOUIS James Laurinaitis   Alec Ogletree Mark Barron as hybrid linebacker in subpackages and may start now
SAN DIEGO Donald Butler : Melvin Ingram : Jerry Attaochu   Manti Te'o Butler replaced Te'o in dime packages
SAN FRANCISCO NaVorro Bowman Aaron Lynch : Michael Wilhoite : Ahmad Brooks    
SEATTLE Bobby Wagner : K.J. Wright Bruce Irvin   Kevin Pierre-Louis played every down w/ Wagner out 
TAMPA BAY Lavonte David : Kwon Alexander      
TENNESSEE Wesley Woodyard : Zach Brown Derrick Morgan : Brian Orakpo Avery Williamson  
WASHINGTON Keenan Robinson : Ryan Kerrigan Perry Riley   Would expect three man rotation again when Williamson returns

I'll update this table every week between now and Week 17.

PERFORMANCES OF NOTE

Scrolling through this week's gamebooks and statlines, the same thing continued to jump out at me. And it's critical to stay on the right side of this situation.

Chris Kirksey 6-3 || Stephen Tulloch 9-4 || Danny Trevathan 7-3 || Ramik Wilson 7-2

What do each of these linebackers have in common? Each of them put up a LB1 caliber stat line and each of them have the talent to do so again in the near future. But, more importantly, none of them played more than 80% of their team's snaps last week and none of them have cracked their team's primary subpackage. Trevathan and Wilson are seeing some subpackage snaps, but it's game flow dependent. Any of these players could see 20 of 70 snaps in future weeks. They're talented enough to keep on rosters and potentially use during bye weeks in deeper leagues, but don't read more into these stat lines than is there.

WAIVER WIRE PRIORITIES

I'm checking the waiver wire in a mix of my most and least competitive leagues, including expanded lineups. If there's someone on your list who hasn't made mine, shoot me a note and I'll add them here. There were, thankfully, no major injuries to shake things up this week. So you'll be looking at matchups and recent trends to decide whether to make roster adjustments. I'm going to include players who may have been recently cut on the defensive line to give a sense of relative value there.

DE: Mario Williams | Cameron Wake | Jerry Hughes | Sheldon Richardson | Damontre Moore ||| Lawrence Guy

LB: Eric Kendricks | Ryan Shazier | Justin Durant | Rolando McClain || Dannell Ellerbe || Danny Trevathan | Josh Bynes | Zach Brown | Rey Maualuga

DB: Add Mark Barron if you can -- the Rams may be on the verge of playing him every down at WLB as a Telvin Smith / Deone Bucannon clone

Subscribe to The Audible on iTunes or download our weekly IDP podcast here every Thursday for injury updates, player analysis and matchup discussion. Follow and ask questions on Twitter @JeneBramel.