Although dedicated readers of The Top 10, the Gut Check, and Rookie Scouting Portfolio already knew in 2017 that Patrick Mahomes II II and the Chiefs were the storyline to watch in 2018, anytime a quarterback throws six touchdowns — and 10 in 2 weeks — it deserves top billing. This week Top 10 will share moments that help you separate Mahomes the player from the executor of an excellent scheme.
You'll also get a diagnosis for a fantasy stud with disappointing production, a box score fight where the early results are sad but there's reason for optimism, see two of the best catches we'll see this year (but only one of them was a reception), and a half-dozen other fantasy-relevant stories before we pay another visit to the fishmonger.
Conner has worked hard on his receiving game. He didn't have a great week against the Chiefs, but Kansas City put the Steelers game script in the smoker early on.
1. separate Patrick Mahomes II ii from the chiefs dynamic scheme and you get...
Last Sunday morning, the Chargers pass rush and secondary — even without Pro Bowl corner Jason Verrett — would challenge Mahomes. This Sunday morning, the Steelers' crafty blitz schemes would fool the Chiefs quarterback. Now, it's the idea that winter is coming for Mahomes and the Chiefs.
At least the first two responses were specific and rooted in football. When fans begin quoting Game of Thrones you know they're hating. The only thing perennial Steelers Twitter grouch Big Chief could say about my six-touchdown Tweet celebration was, "Why are your pictures hanging so high?"
Seriously, Mahomes had a great day in the stat column but there are a lot more tests ahead because opponents will begin countering certain looks and forcing Mahomes to be more inventive in the pre-snap mental game and creative off-script. The Steelers actually sniffed out the Chiefs' fly sweep that earned two of Mahomes' four scores last week in Los Angeles. However, it couldn't shut it down.
Steelers “foil” the KC sweep to Hill but Hill is so agile, he can still bend around penetration and bend back inside the CB for a solid gain. pic.twitter.com/8uWxFza6i3— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 16, 2018
Great plays are a combination of great athletes executing strong plans. The Steelers had the right idea to defend the plan but not the ability to stop the player.
Much of Kansas City's success is the result of a scheme that's been discussed in this summer's Gut Check: The Chiefs are spreading the defense and using personnel combinations on one side of the field that at worst, is creating confusion and at best, forcing difficult choices. Kelce's presence as the inside trips man creates enough confusion that outside corner Artie Burns gets zero help inside on a post where he's expecting it and leads to Mahomes' first touchdown.
Later, the Chiefs use pre-snap shifts to force the safety into a bind to choose between Kelce and Tyreek Hill — whether it's death by guillotine or lethal injection, the end result remains the same.
KC shifts Hill and Hunt presnap and that puts safety in a bind to account for Hill and Kelce. Mahomes TD 2 pic.twitter.com/T7KZnnyaBs— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 16, 2018
These are excellent schematic ploys that earn extra weight because Kelce, Hill, Sammy Watkins, and Kareem Hunt are proven mismatches. The Arizona Cardinals couldn't execute this scheme with the same initial success because Christian Kirk, J.J. Nelson, and Chad Williams have not earned that kind of respect from a defense.
Where the Mahomes critics are dead-on is that there will be pivotal moments where opponents will separate the quarterback from the scheme and make him produce. In fact, it's already happening although they aren't obvious because the Chiefs offense has been an overwhelming success.
Here are two plays where we can see Mahomes the quarterback isolated from a scheme administrator. The first is is a pre-snap blitz read that doesn't confuse Mahomes at all and he finds the correct target.
Good read by Mahomes vs blitz but overthrown pic.twitter.com/acM3LQ5u9R— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 16, 2018
While not successful, it's a good illustration of Mahomes being more than a figurehead of a successful offensive machine. The second play was about a step away from becoming the second dropping of a "Patomic Bomb" (and oh how fun for it to have happened in Pittsburgh...) but Mahome shut the bay doors of the Enola Gay and wisely scrubbed the mission.
Maturity by Patrick Mahomes II on what was shaping out to be a second Patomic Bomb but realized throwing under duress not necessary and takes the sack. Impressive wisdom from a “gunslinger.” pic.twitter.com/QrcBNp9d8q— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 16, 2018
Mahomes will have his share of failures this season as defenses formulate ways to stop the scheme and test the young passer's decision-making but let's not underestimate his decision-making smarts because there are established starters who've performed worse in similar situations above. Mahomes and the Chiefs offense are the early candidates as league-winner choices in fantasy leagues. We'll see if it remains that way a month from now.
2. Keelan cole: the best is still to come
In a Gut Check column this summer, yours truly profiled three breakout candidates: Paul Richardson Jr, Kenny Golladay, and Keelan Cole. The Rookie Scouting Portfolio site also featured film analysis of Cole, stating that his "2017 Season Is Only the Beginning."
New England didn't get the memo from last year's AFC Championship that Cole was for real. This weekend, the Patriots filled the middle of the field with defenders, placed one safety high, and left its corners one-on-one with the Jaguars receivers.
In the NFL, this tactic is a signal to the opposing offense that the defense doesn't respect the quarterback and perimeter receivers ability to earn big plays on them. With one play, Cole showed the Patriots that he was for real and put the rest of the league on notice as he torched the red, white, and blue bridesmaids of the 2018 Super Bowl to the tune of 117 yards, a touchdown, and a key block downfield to spring Dede Westbrook for the game-sealing score in the fourth quarter.
Cole beat Eric Rowe whenever called upon and expect at least another week or two before he earns that premium coverage delivered to primary receivers.
Don’t respect the outside receivers, NE? Bortles issue is more C2, not C1. Cole eating it up. pic.twitter.com/EO5oaS1Pm5— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 17, 2018
The Patriots don't play much Cover 2 but they needed to do something on Sunday to stop Cole because its strategy failed miserably on Sunday. The way the Jaguars feature Cole on the perimeter and the slot, don't expect a major slow-down of his production unless teams become adamant about bracketing him.
3. what's wrong with David johnson and can it be fixed?
David Johnson remains a top running back in football. Whenever the Cardinals give him room to roam, his highlights look like they have in the past.
The issue is the same one that plagued Adrian Peterson for the past two seasons: Bad offensive line play can derail a talented running back's production and make him look bad. David Johnson's production should be further proof to ignore the age-based argument against Peterson or future debates about runners who excel one year but lose quality line play the next (Todd Gurley in 2016).
The more significant issue is can the Cardinals get Johnson into more productive situations? Johnson earned far more targets in Bruce Arians regime that he has under Steve Wilks and Mike McCoy. This could be an immediate fix and we may begin seeing box score production that appears similar to Saquon Barkley's recent outputs.
The biggest problem is the Cardinals scheme and personnel. Chad Williams, Christian Kirk, and Ricky Seals-Jones haven't done enough to make opponents respect them as playmakers. Until they do, defenses will play them straight up like the Patriots tried to do against Jacksonville.
The Rams used a lot of man-to-man this weekend against the Cardinals. When it didn't, Sam Bradford found Larry Fitzgerald for a first-down conversion up the right seam. When the Rams went to zone again, the Cardinals tried the same play, Rams safety Sam Shields cut off the pass for an interception.
In order for the Cardinals receivers to prove it can win with deep an intermediate routes man-to-man, Sam Bradford needs time in the pocket. That has premise has been spotty at best thus far. Until that happens, don't expect opposing defenses to give the Cardinals ground game any breaks.
The best bet for Johnson is an increase of targets in the passing game. By the end of the month, we should know whether that's going to happen under McCoy.
4. the texans offense needs will fuller (or Keke Coutee)
Last week, New England dared Houston to run the ball, taking away the deep passing game. When Deshaun Watson tested the Patriots deep, he lacked the vertical firepower to spread the defense out. New England could replace coverage responsibilities in the middle of the play and bait Watson into a mistake.
With Will Fuller V in the lineup, opponents face a bind with Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins when attempting to cheat towards one. Although Fuller dropped too many targets at Notre Dame and during his first two years of his career, he still earned respect for his big-play ability.
With Fuller back, Watson and the Texans offense should round into shape. It may not approach the torrid pace it had last year before Watson got hurt but it will help Watson sustain no worse than low-end fantasy QB1 production. If Coutee gets healthy enough to see the field, his vertical prowess exceeds Bruce Ellington's and could up the danger factor of the Texans' passing game.
5. Jared Goff was, is, and will be a "buy"
Operating below the buzz of Mahomes and Ryan Fitzpatrick is Jared Goff, who continues performing well enough that every former NFL player-turned-broadcast-analyst who earns an opportunity to cover one of Goff's games comes away genuinely impressed. This week, Goff made a few throws that set him apart from many young passers in the NFL.
Media and fans still don't seem aware of Goff's arm strength as a deep thrower. Passers with greater arm strength than Matt Ryan would have to hitch like Mahomes did in that previously showcased bombing that wasn't to Tyreek Hill this weekend to deliver the pass Goff unloads with ease in this target below.
It's no wonder that the Rams coveted Cooks this spring. Cooks doesn't have Watkins' ball skills against tight, physical coverage, but Cooks can do everything else. Goff can also fit the ball into areas where Cooks doesn't have to be that type of receiver.
Although Cooks isn't a physical guy, he has the fortitude to handle targets in traffic. This completion is an excellent throw between defenders on third down.
One of Goff's best traits is his cool under pressure. He makes a lot of tight-pocket plays. Here's one where he has to place it over a linebacker and away from an oncoming defensive back to protect receiver Robert Woods.
Goff takes a shot on this throw below but still delivers where only Woods can make the play.
Goff throws Woods open under pressure. pic.twitter.com/lbzRCFPTaq— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 17, 2018
The Rams have a loaded roster with an elite defense, a strong offensive line, and enough weapons to test any opponent. Goff may remain under the fantasy radar but he's ninth in passing yards and tops in yards per attempt. Don't sleep on him if you need to make moves that could leave him as your starter.
6. behind the scenes of the Marvin jones-Kenny Golladay box score race
Although he was among the three receivers profiled as potential breakouts in a summer Gut Check column, most associate my thoughts on Golladay with Marvin Jones Jr and the competition for fantasy points. So far, Golladay is in the lead but as the past two weeks have revealed behind the box score, there's hope for both to deliver strong production all year.
Right now, that hope is disguised in despair over Matt Stafford's recent performances. This weekend, Jones got open on four targets that had strong potential to result in touchdowns. Stafford overshot all four of them.
Third time off with Jones deep pic.twitter.com/hPDrgWbVsn— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 17, 2018
None of these misfires occurred on the same drive, which is an indication of how much Stafford values Jones and how open Jones got all weekend. While Jones scored, on a red zone pass, he could have earned multiple touchdowns in this contest if Stafford wasn't ice-cold deep. Stafford also missed Golladay late in this game.
Overshoots Golladay deep pic.twitter.com/Jji5Tpkvzn— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 17, 2018
Golladay's production hasn't been as straightforward as Jones' targets. Detroit has been hiding Golladay a bit by shifting him to a wing as a potential blocker and then sneaking him behind defenses.
Lions put Golladay on the wing twice in first quarter with good results. This one features okay action eye candy that Witherspoon can’t resist. pic.twitter.com/3yhHxI9Lsj— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 17, 2018
These aren't the only types of targets Golladay has earned, but he's benefiting more from scheming than the likes of Jones or Golden Tate. The upside of this behind-the-scenes look at the Detroit offense is that Jones is in a buy-low moment as a valuable patience play.
This is the worst Matt Stafford has performed as a vertical thrower in years and barring injury (which you'd think would force him to underthrow passes), expect the Stafford-Jones hookup to sync soon. Continue starting Golladay with gusto.
7. merry Christmas, matt breida! love, the lions' defense
There's a lot of love for Matt Breida because he's that eye-candy athlete. He performed well in limited time last year but his work tends to result in getting what the defense gives him if he doesn't reach the opponent's secondary.
When San Francisco hosted Detroit this weekend, the Lions decided that being they are fans of Breida and won't be back for Christmas, would give the 49ers runner some gifts in September.
On the second day of Christmas, the Lions gave to me... pic.twitter.com/K8vlWhkPa5— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 17, 2018
On the third day of Christmas, the Lions gave to me... pic.twitter.com/NZyckGLa1l— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 17, 2018
Watch a Lions preseason game during the past three years and FOX analyst Chris Spielman earns ample opportunity to teach viewers what a lack of gap discipline and integrity looks like. Today, he got to do on three occasions in this regular season tilt.
Spielman also dropped a valuable preseason insight that's at least worth exploring if you don't immediately take it as gospel: If a defense struggles to defend the run during the preseason, it's likely it will have the same struggles throughout the year.
Take note of Detroit on the schedule because the defense is feeling festive.
8. Newton to Mccaffrey: where Carolina's offense is working
It must be noted that Atlanta was missing middle linebacker Deion Jones and safety Keanu Neal in this game and Neal's replacement Damontae Kazee earned an ejection in the first half, so Atlanta's unit was weaker than usual. The operative word is "usual," because, in the case of defending the middle of the field to ball carriers in space, Atlanta's athletic linebackers and safeties have a reputation for taking bad angles and missing tackles.
This is why there shouldn't be much qualifying of the success that Carolina's passing attack earned against the Falcons in the underneath zones. The Panthers schemed its attack of this area well and it's a replicable game plan.
Just looking down field in progression creates body language that manipulates defenders anc opens the field for Christian McCaffery pic.twitter.com/BOP3JIp9Uw— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 16, 2018
TEs run off defrnse, sets up screen with 2-on-1 advantage for Carolina and Christian McCaffery pic.twitter.com/8PjnLrRms8— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 16, 2018
McCaffrey is the No. 7 fantasy runner in PPR formats after two weeks and his 20 receptions is one better than Chris Thompson to lead all running backs. Despite not yet scoring a touchdown, Carolina's McCaffrey Plan is working for fantasy football.
9. Indianapolis will remain a committee but Jordan Wilkins is the Colts' best back
Marlon Mack is an early pick and an explosive athlete who can catch. These are three factors that will keep the Colts invested in him as an on-field commodity this year.
Mack doesn't possess a strong understanding of how to run between the tackles. He didn't enter the league with this conceptual skill and apparently, he didn't gain it while paired with master craftsman Frank Gore.
Here's a gap play where Mack has a clear one-on-one opportunity with Washington linebacker No.53 at the end of the designated crease. On top of the fact that gap plays are designed to hit that intended crease with almost no exception, it's a short-yardage play and there's no time or space for a cut back.
However, Mack runs this play like he's at USF and Washington is FSU.
An NFL runner must hit this intended crease and attack No.53. Most good gap runners see No.53 and lick their chops. Mack thinks it's an opportunity for running back ballet.
Jordan Wilkins has none of these problems. He's one of the most conceptually-sound runners between the tackles in this 2018 draft class.
Until the Colts upgrade its line, put Mack on special teams or the bench, and up Wilkins' volume, there's no running back to count on weekly in this offense. Wilkins and Naheem Hines were the best values for stashing and remain as such.
10. FRESH FISH
Fantasy football is a cruel place. We're always searching for that weakest link. While we don't want anyone facing the wrath of Hadley, we'd love nothing more than having our players face an opponent whose game has come unglued on the field.
In the spirit of "The Shawshank Redemption," here is my short list of players and/or units that could have you chanting "fresh fish" when your roster draws the match-up.
Catch of the Week: Detroit Lions Run Defense (See above)
Dissly and the Seahawks exploited the linebackers who were often late or confused with their coverage assignments. While Dissly is a big dude with good hands and an excellent blocker, he's not a consistent big-play threat. Expect this receiving output to be his best of the year (and maybe the next 2-3).
- Middle of the Falcons Defense: In addition to McCaffrey, rookie D.J. Moore had some fun in the Mercedes Dome.
- Jordan Reed: Washington's stud tight end fumbled away a reception with five minutes left in the game with his team down by 12 and driving.
- Deshaun Watson: Based on game totals as a starter, Watson is still a rookie. He had a rookie moment at the end of this weekend's game.
- Matthew Stafford: If Stafford hit on his deep throws, he could have outgunned Mahomes.
- Cleveland or New England's Front Office: It all depends on Josh Gordon. For the sake of Gordon, let's hope it's Cleveland's.
Good luck to your teams next week and may your players stay away from the fishmonger.