There's always a lot to share after a weekend of football. Here are some items that didn't make the top 10:
- We saw another strong week from Patrick Mahomes II II, who exhibited a combination of rare play-making on one play and restraint on another. Mahomes still isn't playing his best football but you wouldn't know it from the box score.
- Kenny Golladay remains a primary option whenever the Lions use him on the wing of its formations.
- Jakeem Grant and Albert Wilson gave the Raiders a preview of the Chiefs' signature offensive play that's getting copied faster than smart kid's test when the teacher leaves the classroom.
Among the items in this week's Top 10, we examine Atlanta's removal of the training wheels from Calvin Ridley's game, Carson Wentz's return, the state of the Raiders offense, Mitchell Trubisky's lack of progress, and of course, Fresh Fish.
1. Calvin Ridley's three-score explosion
The first thing that seems to come across the lips of people who heard about Ridley's performance but didn't watch the game because they were on television commentating other NFL games was the assumption that the Saints were cheating its coverage to Julio Jones. Even FOX's play-by-play announcer for the Falcons game proffered this analysis.
Ridley benefited from earning targets as a perimeter receiver. Until this week, Atlanta used Ridley as a slot receiver or outside man working inside as part of route combinations with Austin Hooper. Atlanta's staff was using Ridley like a glorified Tavon Austin — a limited route runner with excellent skills in space.
Atlanta finally unleased Ridley's route-running prowess on the Saints, ditching the training wheels of rub routes and crossers, and Ridley soared. Here are consecutive big plays that include a third-down dig route with an excellent stem that suggests bend to the outside before snapping the break inside followed by a double move for the touchdown.
Jones didn't influence the coverage on either route. Jones ran a shallow route on the opposite side of the field on this 75-yard toss to Ridley, who faced tight man coverage on an island.
Jones wasn't even on the field in this 21 personnel, I-formation post route to Ridley where he ran by the corner and the safety, forcing a defensive pass interference penalty and earned 45 yards for his teammates.
And nothing about this scramble drill for Ridley's third touchdown had anything to do with Jones, who was on the other side of the field and not drawing significant coverage away from this trips-side alignment with Ridley, Sanu and Hooper.
Ridley TD3 Scramble frill along end line pic.twitter.com/B2NbDoUJv3— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 23, 2018
Will Ridley earn these opportunities on the perimeter against defenses other than the Saints or will Atlanta revert to the training wheels from Weeks 1-2? We don't know for sure but count on the Ridley graduating to a full diet of perimeter routes. He's still fighting the ball at times but his routes are as good as they appeared at Alabama.
Jones' presence will help Ridley, but it had nothing to do with the rookie's breakout game — and that's an encouraging sign.
2. Carson Wentz is back, but is he "back?"
While commentator and former Cowboys fullback Daryl Johnston gushed over Wentz's return and proclaimed the quarterback all the way back from his injury if you're evaluating his athletic ability, it's not that clear-cut. It was weird that the Colts defense respected Wentz's legs before even testing Wentz's legs.
Colts still respect Wentz’s legs early without seeing proof. pic.twitter.com/wU22TY92Of— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 23, 2018
You would have thought Indianapolis would have made keep the ball and played the running back. Despite not testing Wentz immediately, it didn't take long for the Colts to force Wentz to scramble.
If Wentz isn’t completely back, he’s healthy enough to get the job done with his past style of play. pic.twitter.com/oagONeFcFh— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 23, 2018
A lot of the typical hop-set-and-throw for Wentz but here’s some scramble work early on... pic.twitter.com/bVd5EGoE8b— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 23, 2018
If he's not all the way back, he's close enough that whatever percentage of athletic ability he's rehabbed is enough to force opponents to respect him. For good and bad, nothing significant has changed with Wentz's game. He's creating ugly when forced to maneuver a muddy pocket, he's still awkward and inaccurate from tight pockets where more refined technicians create within rhythm, and he's at his best when he can throw in the quick game where he hops into a throwing position.
Goedert sneaking thru with defense on his diff focused on flat and Ertz occupying opposite side slot DB, high S, LB... pic.twitter.com/qFbLgnMyW6— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 23, 2018
Until the Eagles establish an outside receiver as a threat that opponents fear, don't expect as many 300-yard, multiple-score efforts from Wentz as we saw last year.
3. the odds are against Mitchell trubisky developing into a top franchise quarterback
Trubisky weaknesses at North Carolina were immaturity and poor decision-making under pressure. Some analysts wrote this off as a lack of experience while playing up Trubisky's athletic ability, arm strength, and maturity in pre-draft interviews.
The problem with Trubisky and quarterback evaluation, in general, is that there's too much emphasis on tangibles that only delineate whether a player has enough physical, intellectual, and interpersonal skills to be in the NFL. What Trubisky does well and earns praise is no different than what we've seen from Brandon Weeden, Josh McCown, Blaine Gabbert, or any other quarterback who has been good enough to earn consideration as a potential franchise prospect.
Nice throw by Trubisky but it is not what defines a good starter. pic.twitter.com/1izoNBC8GI— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 24, 2018
The better evaluators place more weight on pocket presence, decision-making under pressure, and maturity deep in one's own territory or in the red zone. In these respects, Trubisky was not a good prospect, isn't a good prospect, and may never become a good prospect.
Issues with pressure and maturity were items highlighted about Trubisky pre-draft at the Rookie Scouting Portfolio site, and they're still manifesting in his game as recently as Sunday against the Cardinals.
Where Trubisky must improve and this troubled him at UNC pic.twitter.com/ocKKMsx3FQ— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 24, 2018
More pressure on Trubisky and another immature decision. Three step drop? Gotta get rid of it. Don’t be a hero here. pic.twitter.com/Ircws8UXvg— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 24, 2018
The wiser plays elude Trubisky’s judgment too often pic.twitter.com/0UPHlwlXYn— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 24, 2018
Good NFL quarterback occasionally makes these mistakes, but Trubisky is still at the stage of his development where he must prove that this isn't the norm for him. His mind moves too fast for his body when he feels pressure and it forces even small details off-kilter.
Although Chandler Jones deserves credit for part of this play, Trubisky rushes this throw before he can get onto his toes. He fades away and the ball is moving at a downward trajectory rather than over the top of Jones.
Trubisky INT: Mind is moving too fast under pressure. Fine play by Jones but smallest detail for AB missing leads to throw with downward trajectory. pic.twitter.com/kZmxdRlUtZ— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 24, 2018
Unfortunately, the most successful plays Chicago has run this year: screens and handing the ball to Jordan Howard up the middle. Tarik Cohen should be everything that Austin Ekeler is showing and more. Some of the responsibility goes to Matt Nagy but Trubisky isn't executing well and until he does, this offense will remain limited.
Long-term, the fact that Trubisky is in his second year with a new head coach, new offense, and new receivers haven't helped his development. Even so, Jared Goff thrived and Goff's emergence is the expectation Bears fans have for Trubisky. The difference is the Goff had a history of smart decision-making and poise under pressure at Cal and even as a rookie (if you ignore the ignorant but pervasive narratives stating otherwise).
It's possible that Trubisky would have overcome his issues at Chapel Hill if he stayed in school one more year but the fact that he's still showing them in Year Two of the NFL isn't a good sign.
4. memo to Mike McCoy: use David Johnson like an H-back
David Johnson is a wide receiver in a big back's body. The only receiver with better hands than Johnson on the team is Larry Fitzgerald. This isn't an insult to Christian Kirk; it's just how good Johnson's hands and body control truly is.
Opponents are not respecting the Cardinals receivers because none of them have proven they can consistently win in the intermediate and deep range of the field when matched one-on-one. Until they do, the opposing defenses will continue locking down the Arizona ground game.
Fans and analysts have been publicly clamoring for the Cardinals to use Johnson more often in the passing game. This week, Mike McCoy did more to target Johnson and we saw a glimpse of the production that the all-purpose back could deliver.
This was an easy pitch and catch thanks to a well-designed play. Johnson's skills are strong enough that Arizona must use him more often as an intermediate and vertical presence. This was likely harder to do early in the year because the Cardinals lacked a believable blocker at the tight end position while Jermaine Gresham was rehabbing an injury.
Now that Gresham is healthy, the Cardinals can use more two-back sets with a tight end at the line of scrimmage. This will create opportunities to send Johnson down the field with the help of play-action. Even when Gresham isn't part of the plan, Arizona could do more with Johnson than these traditional wide and shallow routes that every defense anticipates from a runner in the passing game.
Not just this but more H-Back routes for Johnson, please... pic.twitter.com/fHSPS5gOTw— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 24, 2018
Will McCoy make these adjustments? Considering that logic that Gresham's absence may have prevented this type of versatility, it's possible. However, don't expect it. Johnson remains a low-end No.2 running back in PPR fantasy formats with no more than a glimmer of hope for more.
5. the Raiders offense has the pieces but lacks cohesion
Oakland has been an easy target for media and fantasy analysts. Jon Gruden trolled the media analytics community, traded away its best player, and acquired older and/or troubled options. Still, there's hope for the Raiders offense. The pieces are there and they exhibit bright moments, but the play-to-play, quarter-to-quarter, and game-to-game cohesion are missing.
Marshawn Lynch still looks like a force. While his box score data hasn't been strong, he's commanding attention and making plays as fantasy's No.15 PPR back.
Marshawn forever pic.twitter.com/buULAs91t1— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 24, 2018
Lynch is doing his part but the Oakland passing offense has been inconsistent. This weekend, the unit prepared well for a Miami linebacker corps and secondary that hasn't been disciplined or savvy in the passing game for at least two seasons. The Raiders made Jordy Nelson the clear beneficiary.
Nelson in similar situation as first target, now for TD pic.twitter.com/pVT5St9YRs— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 23, 2018
Nelson for another 60+ pic.twitter.com/CQYOUERbHn— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 23, 2018
Nelson hasn't lost much, if any speed. He held off a linebacker with 4.53-speed on the first target for over 50 yards (Nelson ran a 4.51 years ago at the Combine) and the linebacker never had more than a two-yard deficit on Nelson when he began his chase.
If a receiver can flip the field with gains of 35-45 yards as a ball carrier or route runner and sustain that distance against safeties and linebackers, he's not slow. Expect the Raiders to continue finding ways to exploit Nelson as a slot and zone option in the middle of the field because he's the wisest route runner on the team.
Part of the Raiders' problems right now is that no one else has delivered consistently. Amari Cooper had a big game last week but most of his plays were short passes and he wasn't dominating as a one-on-one player. This week, Cooper let down Derek Carr when he stopped running this deep post, which allowed Xavien Howard to work from the right side of the field behind Cooper to the far left and intercept Carr's pass.
While there are analysts who blame Carr for making the throw, keep in mind a few things:
- There are multiple quarterbacks who can deliver in the vertical game 65 yards through the air — Patrick Mahomes II II, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Jared Goff, Cam Newton, and Joe Flacco are six that come to mind — so it's illogical to presume this throw was too deep to make or Cooper lacked awareness of Carr's range after three years of working with the quarterback.
- Carr's decision to throw is logical (and coached) based on the location of Cooper at the point he began the rapid process of eluding, resetting, and firing the ball in succession and the throw was accurate.
- Howard would not have earned access to this target if Cooper didn't break off this route. He was to the right of Cooper and would have needed to play through the receiver to reach the target if Cooper maintained his path.
Cooper not only quit on this route, but he didn't aggressively pursue Howard after the interception. It's possible that Cooper pulled up with an injury and couldn't chase Howard but as of writing this, there has been no supportable explanation of this type.
The best two receivers on the Raiders roster are Nelson and Martavis Bryant, who made two strong catches against tight coverage. Unfortunately, Bryant has a potential suspension looming and the coaching staff was so displeased with his effort in practices that it cut Bryant before the season, only the bring him back as a move of desperation.
The Raiders offense has the talent to turn it around but Carr, Cooper, and Bryant must play to the level of Lynch and Nelson.
6. Kerryon Johnson delivers a fantasy preview
Lions head coach Matt Patricia knows his old defensive personnel in New England and exploited them on the edges with Kerryon Johnson Sunday night. A quick runner with scatback skills, Johnson is the first Detroit runner to earn 100 yards rushing in four years.
However, Johnson is far more than an outside guy and the Lions offensive line is a promising collection of top athletes who are still developing as pass protectors. One thing this group can do is run the football. Johnson, in particular, is a player worth consideration if negotiating package deals on the trade market.
Johnson's touch-count has steadily risen since Week 1 from 8 to 13 in Week 2, and to 18 in Week 3. A workhorse at Auburn, Johnson is displaying the talent between the tackles that any fan of the SEC will remember.
7. The Cowboys aren't making it easy for Dak Prescott Anymore
It's not wise to blame Dak Prescott for the Cowboys' woes. The offensive line is missing key cogs and it hasn't done a good job of diagnosing its pass protection assignments. The wide receivers are young and none of them have proven to opponents that it can consistently beat the best cover corner on the field.
It means that opponents don't have to cheat to play this passing game and it leads to more pressure on Prescott when it stops Ezekiel Elliott. And without the veteran presence of Jason Witten and Dez Bryant, there's not a lot of help in the huddle or pre-snap for adjustments.
It's all on Prescott and when that includes defenders bearing down, the throws aren't reaching receivers.
Dak feeling pressure and overshoots Gallup. pic.twitter.com/s5fLT3tTY9— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 24, 2018
Not like Prescott is shying away from pressure pic.twitter.com/DC5jCeDBx8— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 24, 2018
Prescott clean pocket pic.twitter.com/lWqvMtt7qH— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 24, 2018
When there's a clean pocket, Prescott is accurate. When there isn't, he's short-hopping or over-throwing receivers. He had clean pockets against the Giants and pressure against the Panthers and Seahawks. At this point, Prescott and the Cowboys passing game is a spot-start based on match-up, at best.
8. mike Williams is emerging before our eyes
The Chargers praised Williams for developing a quick rapport with Philip Rivers during the off-season and it's showing up in September. This weekend, Williams beat Marcus Peters for a diving score on a savvy display of route running. He scored again on a mismatch against Lamarcus Joyner.
Tyrell Williams has his share of drops and Mike Williams rendered Travis Benjamin inactive this weekend. Williams should earn more red zone work moving forward. He's a big and sturdy target who will benefit from attention to Keenan Allen. If you're seeking a buy-low receiver, you probably should have considered Williams last week but you might still have time.
9. Saquon Barkley is the Giants' second-best pass catcher
Evan Engram drops passes, Sterling Shepard is reliable but not terribly dynamic, and Cody Latimer is just happy to be in a starting lineup for once. Barkley is the best pass catcher on this Giants roster not named Odell Beckham Jr, Jr.
Route running is a different story but when it comes to attacking and winning the football, Barkley is special for a runner. This one-on-one with a Texan defensive back is a modest taste of what he's shown in the past at Penn State.
Hope for more from Barkley as an outside presence as the season progresses because he's capable of running seam routes against safeties and linebackers and catching "trust throws."
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: Falcons Defense
Atlanta has lost Ricardo Allen, Deion Jones, and Keanu Neal. Before this trio of injuries, the unit hasn't been good at tackling in space or defending routes crossing the middle of the field. This weekend the Saints exploited the Falcons with crossing routes to Austin Carr and Michael Thomas as well as seam throws to Ben Watson.
Worse yet, Atlanta missed a tackle on a Drew Brees run that sent this game into overtime.
Falcons defense missed tackle in space... pic.twitter.com/kZlsrFXacx— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 23, 2018
- Offensive lines from Texas: Both the Cowboys and Texans offensive lines allowed too much pressure on its quarterbacks.
- Lamar Miller The runner lost a fumble and later earned a block in a back penalty in the red zone — the same play where his quarterback blocked a defensive end.
- Ezekiel Elliott: The Cowboys' focal point tried to do too much on this excellent run during a losing effort and lost a fumble.
- Middle of the Dolphins Defense: See above and expect above. Kiko Alonso is a liability in coverage.
Good luck to your teams next week and may your players stay away from the fishmonger.