Welcome to Footballguys' Weekly Top 10. Since Week 4, the Top 10 has been free to Footballguys Insiders. All you have to do is register with your email and you'll receive access to this in-depth film breakdown (with a fantasy bent) of the weekend's games.
Because there's always a lot to share after a weekend of football, here are some noteworthy items that could have made the Top 10 but didn't:
- Give Peyton Barber creases and he'll perform. Barber had two of his biggest gains of the year against a Falcons defense weaker than the Buccaneers offensive line.
- Seahawks receiver David Moore delivered on a deep fade route against tight coverage and a coverage bust on a scramble drill for a score. He's not yet "there," but he's developing.
- Pete Carroll is pitching Rashad Penny as Jack Tripper in the fantasy football remake of the `70s TV hit, "Three's Company," and fantasy players aren't going to be happy.
- Against the Colts, the Jets only ran two plays remotely similar for Crowell when he gouged the Broncos last week. The Colts didn't give the Jets a soft edge and the Jets didn't try to manipulate it. Even with a bad ankle, Crowell showed speed to the edge on one of the plays seen from the Broncos game and beat contain in the red zone for a four-yard gain.
In addition to the weekly Fresh Fish, this week's Top 10 welcomes Taylor Gabriel back to the fold and gives an endorsement of the Bears scheme (and a shakier one to Mitchell Trubisky). It examines how the Patriots foiled Patriot Mahomes early, how the Chargers dismantled the Browns, and why the Broncos no-fly zone makes a great welcome mat. And it wraps up the analysis with a pair of rebounds, a reveals, and a call for reconsideration and sobriety.
1. Taylor Gabriel's usage Revival
Atlanta wasted a draft pick on Calvin Ridley. For Falcons fans, this is an inflammatory statement that may appear true to Bears fans this weekend but has a rationale (maybe...) that can be traced to Matt Ryan.
It has nothing to do with Ridley's talent. He's an excellent young route runner and sudden athlete with the ball in his hands.
However, if you examine what Taylor Gabriel had to offer — and what he's doing in Chicago — Atlanta could have kept Gabriel and used its 26th overall pick to address another need. Steve Sarkisian told the Atlanta press prior to the 2017 season that he wanted to expand the route trees of Gabriel and Sanu to make them more interchangeable in the shallow and deep zones of the field.
Gabriel demonstrated starter skills as a route runner in these ranges of the field under Shanahan, which made Sarkisian's summer statement seem odd. Sarkisian underutilized the budding star last fall, the offense tanked, the team added Greg Roman to the mix to assist Sarkisian after his poor performance as a play caller and then drafted Ridley — a taller and heavier player with the same skills as Gabriel.
Whether it's a dig, comeback, out, or another route in the timing game, defensive backs on the perimeter have a difficult time staying with Gabriel.
His speed and catch radius are significant strengths of his game. When he earns a single-coverage matchup on the perimeter, he's a viable threat.
Chicago can exploit the deep seam and the post with its Trey Burton and Anthony Miller in ways that Atlanta doesn't do nearly as often with the slower Austin Hooper and Mohamed Sanu and it activates Gabriel's skill as a deep threat more often.
Beautiful throw by Trubisky to Gabriel with TE forcing two S to respect post inside that leaves Gabriel singled up. pic.twitter.com/zNnNGeFtKd— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 15, 2018
The reason Gabriel didn't fit in Atlanta comes down to Ryan. He's not a strong-armed quarterback like Mitchell Trubisky, whose targets allow speedy receivers to run under the ball instead of rebound. Ryan's pinpoint deep accuracy extends to 35-45 yards, at best. Otherwise, he needs physical receivers.
This is why Mohamad Sanu's biggest plays cross the intermediate range of the field and most of Austin Hooper's targets face the quarterback. Gabriel is a great fit for an offense that has a slower-developing deep game that incorporates a variety of play-fakes and shifts because his speed will get him behind a defense and demand a deeper throw.
When examining Gabriel's body of work, the most explicable reason he's still not in Atlanta is that the Falcons didn't have a quarterback who matched well with a 5'8", 165-pound receiver in the deep game — even if he had the route skills to do what Ridley does in the intermediate zones.
This writer acquired Gabriel — and started him — in multiple leagues last week. He is value should remain strong in a Bears scheme that didn't return to its den after the bye week (see below).
2. Matt Nagy's scheme makes Mitchell Trubisky a potential fantasy star but not an NFL star
Two weeks ago, The Top 10 revealed why Trubisky's 6-touchdown performance against the Buccaneers was a positive for the scheme but not a true indication that Trubisky is becoming a top NFL starter. The Buccaneers game didn't present Trubisky any complications that tested his decision-making — a longstanding issue for the physically talented passer.
Although Miami's defense is young and has injuries to its defensive line, it's a superior unit to Tamp Bay. It made the Dolphins game a highly-anticipated test after the Bears' bye week.
The scheme — which, as anticipated, looks a lot like the 2017 Chiefs offense under Nagy — delivered upon its promise. The Bears incorporated its share of pre-snap shifts, stack-receiver looks with wide splits and inventive variations of the option game.
Burton TD on shovel with potential option pitch to Cohen rather than 3rd and one zone read earlier in game. pic.twitter.com/ziBAzQuYfw— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 15, 2018
These plays give opposing defenses a lot to think about pre-snap and can also create openings for more conventional big plays as seen with Taylor Gabriel above. It also allows the Bears to use an underrated element of Trubisky's game — his legs.
One of the most underrated aspects of Trubisky’s game is his legs. pic.twitter.com/CNcN6AJAnT— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 15, 2018
Trubisky earned top-three fantasy production this weekend, and his 10.19 yards per attempt will have the data contingent swooning. However, Trubisky made a lot of mistakes in this game that didn't show up prominently in the box score data that applies to fantasy football.
We saw this from Trubisky in multiple games with Tampa as more of the exception. Don’t be a hero; let the heroic moment come to you. pic.twitter.com/M7Bzqj4hnO— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 15, 2018
Trubisky RZ INT in 4th QTR on third read in progression. pic.twitter.com/vV5P6I8ZOo— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 15, 2018
This could have easily been a three-interception performance. Another telling indication that Trubisky's stats are still a problematic indication of his development track is Nagy's decision to kneel-out regulation when the Bear got the ball with 34 seconds left.
Offenses don't opt for this decision nearly as often these days — even when deep in its own territory. Trubisky's history of bad decisions influenced Nagy to go to overtime — where he fed the ball solely to Jordan Howard until the Bears earned field goal range.
Interestingly enough, Howard fumbled in the red zone earlier in the game and Nagy had no problem returning to Howard. Miami's Kenyan Drake fumbled at the goal line with a shot at the game-winning plunge the series prior to Nagy force-feeding Howard, and the Dolphins went back to Drake in the next series with runs and passes — passes from journeyman reserve Brock Osweiler.
Adam Gase trusted Drake and Osweiler after mistakes but Nagy didn't trust Trubisky. It's something worth filing away at this stage of Trubisky's career. He's definitely a good fantasy quarterback this year now that the Bears have opened its offense. He makes some excellent throws, and the scheme creates opportunities that fit his pay grade.
What remains above Trubisky's pay grade on a consistent basis is mature game management. It makes his fantasy value a little shakier than the recent numbers appear. Ride him as long as it lasts this year but if you're in dynasty formats, continue monitoring his development with a sharper eye.
3. The Patriots' defense slowed Patrick Mahomes II II long enough to make the difference
The Mahomes-is-reckless label is a long-standing piece of analysis that has been debunked in this column throughout the summer and early fall. Still, there was no debate that someone would challenge Mahomes' maturity and patience at some point of the year. It took Bill Belichick's Patriots to present a real chess match for Mahomes, Andy Reid, and the Chiefs offense.
Even so, Mahomes nearly flipped the game early on with a play that bedeviled New England last year.
The Mahomes-Pats first qtr chess match thread...Mahomes got the matchup they wanted but too much CJ on s line and overthrown. pic.twitter.com/uVTaXdNner— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 15, 2018
The Patriots' used dog-and-drop trickery as its first move to contain Mahomes to a short check-down but it didn't rattle Mahomes.
Considering down-and-distance, good defense by NE and good decision by Mahomes pic.twitter.com/Bf11VUcqtJ— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 15, 2018
However, the Patriots compressed the edges fast enough to eliminate a pocket for Mahomes to climb and it became apparent as the game unfolded that this was strategic. New England desired quick pressure to force Mahomes into retreating or breaking outside the pocket and targeting the slowest-developing route — dare him into the difficult.
Patriots get pressure and cover to lead Mahomes to slowest developing route pic.twitter.com/scGmum0iPk— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 15, 2018
If the Patriots couldn't force Mahomes into a long-developing play, it continued closing the edges to force a quick throw in the middle where he might not see or properly estimate the drop of a linebacker.
Where Mahomes has struggled early in career:MOF LB drops. Good INT. pic.twitter.com/Uv6E98TV1Z— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 15, 2018
Here's another look where the Patriots dismantled a pocket for Mahomes to climb and forced an off-balance throw on a slower-developing route.
Another play where Mahomes is forced to go to longest developing route and under pressure pic.twitter.com/FEASOCFDM8— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 15, 2018
The Patriots stifled Mahomes and limited the offense for most of the first half and it effectively tested Mahomes' patience. At the end of the half, Mahomes delivered his second interception on a play where he had just enough room to climb the pocket and then escape to his right — throwing into a thicket of Patriots defenders.
It took six weeks to see Mahomes make this kind of reckless attempt. INT2 pic.twitter.com/ReEOvFZZT4— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 15, 2018
Mahomes had these mistakes at Texas Tech but they weren't as common as the perception that existed — and six weeks of NFL tape should have mitigated. Mahomes and the Chiefs came roaring back late and made adjustments to tie New England late. Keeping its running back in to block and force a wider pocket was a key adjustment.
The Chiefs OL and RB provide enough of a pocket to Mahomes to climb and throw on-platform in rhythm and Mahomes finds blown coverage for Hill to do his thing. pic.twitter.com/yWoZVn68Pt— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 15, 2018
However, New England's first-half defensive performance was enough to make the difference in the game. The Patriots didn't find an antidote to the Chiefs offense that it won't overcome long-term, but it built a sound game plan that only slowed Mahomes temporarily. He remains an elite fantasy option.
4. The Chargers' disruption and dismantling of the Browns' defense
The public perception coming into this contest wasn't that Cleveland had a great defense, but it is a unit with emerging talent that has posed problems for good offenses. The head disruptor in charge has been defensive end Myles Garrett and the Browns succeeded in forcing Philip Rivers into difficult throws early in the game.
When you have an offense pinned you can force tough throws and play the percentages for incomplete passes. Browns-Chargers pic.twitter.com/4vyexhGh1w— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 14, 2018
This didn't faze the Chargers, who had a plan to disrupted Garrett with its ground game — and succeeded.
Browns getting stretched out by variations of this play and pitch plays all game long. pic.twitter.com/VIPkN5Svww— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 14, 2018
The Chargers also ran away from Garrett and used looks that set up bigger plays in the passing game.
Huge crease for M Gordon with wind back block and RT/RG double. RT arguably commits uncalled foul here. pic.twitter.com/XwlW4tJYJD— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 14, 2018
Chargers catch Browns in a coverage where Tyrell Willams can work behind the FS who is focused on K Allen. pic.twitter.com/vMpdpTjGIQ— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 14, 2018
Damarious Randall's effort on the touchdown pass to Williams nearly prevented this game from breaking wide open — or at least would have delayed the inevitable. This was a serious pounding for Cleveland at the Dawg Pound and remedying it will require some healthier bodies and wiser play on offense.
5. the Broncos no-fly zone defense makes a great welcome mat
The Rams Jet sweep is a meat and potatoes play for this offense and it’s used when Emedge defenders start crashing inside to stop inside run. Fine coordination of backside to sell RB exchange and frontside options working in space. pic.twitter.com/BzUZRL8Xnx— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 15, 2018
The Rams incorporate the threat of the Jet Sweep into wide zone plays that created massive cutback lanes for Todd Gurley, who had a career day.
When a team can tame the Broncos' edge defenders, the rest of the run unit is pretty tame. Denver's doormat run unit allowed consecutive career days to running backs whose linemen generated massive pushes down after down.
I am a big time fan of Tidd Gurley’s skills. I am an even bigger fan of the Rams line that makes his job easier than that of competent m-good starting backs like Peyton Barber and Carlos Hyde who don’t consistently earn this room to roam downhill. pic.twitter.com/4StiaQv9L0— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 15, 2018
Even when the Broncos got back into the game, the defense could not generate enough short-yardage stops. It's a tough job to contain the powerful Gurley when he earns 6-8 yards of untouched, downhill momentum.
6. Doug Baldwin is rounding into form
Baldwin's offseason knee issue generated a lot of angst in the fantasy community and it got worse a few weeks ago when he aggravated the injury. However, Baldwin returned to the lineup this week and looked a lot closer to his old self.
Baldwin appears quicker and the fact that Wilson trusted Baldwin deep, underthrew him, and Baldwin still delivered is a good sign. With Tyler Lock and David Moore each posing issues for defenses as deep threats and big-play options in the open field, expect big weeks for Baldwin ahead.
7. Michael Crabtree rebounds
Michael Crabtree had more drops in Week Five against Cleveland than he did in a drop-heavy start to his season. It earned him a spot on Fresh Fish for the first time in his career.
After the game, Crabtree told reporters that he needed to go back and work on fundamentals. The work paid off against the Titans on Sunday. This drive-ending touchdown culminated a series where Crabtree caught multiple passes.
This catch below was one of the better efforts a receiver made all weekend.
Crabtree’s effort outside the boundary to maintain control is as tough if not tougher than working in traffic over middle on some targets. pic.twitter.com/0cYZXa62SV— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 15, 2018
With John Brown and Chris Moore stretching the field, Crabtree earns a possession role in Baltimore that's made for him. He could be a buy-low opportunity for PPR fantasy manager's because changes in fan perception are often 2-3 weeks behind the player's performance.
8. Albert Wilson reveals the shades of Steve Smith that were always there.
Former Footballguy Matt Harmon is known for championing Albert Wilson. The Rookie Scouting Portfolio analysis on Wilson was a prospect with potential to develop into a contributor in the passing game. His balance and shiftiness as a runner and willingness to attack the ball in the air gave Wilson — a 5'9", 202-lb. option — a little bit of Steve Smith to his game.
Wilson flashed these skills occasionally in Kanasa City, but he wasn't as explosive as Tyreek Hill and De'Anthony Thomas nor as reliable as Jeremy Maclin or Travis Kelce. And if Alex Smith was ever going to throw a fade route, Chris Conley, Demarcus Robinson, and Kelce had a much greater chance as big-framed options.
These factors contributed to Wilson landing in Miami. This weekend, Wilson put together a game that befits his talent.
As well as Wilson performed, he did it with Brock Osweiler while Devante Parker remains out. Is he a one-week wonder? If Osweiler remains in the lineup, no. However, it's difficult to trust Ryan Tannehill will look to Wilson beyond that of a third option. The next two weeks against Detroit and Houston will be pivotal in determining Wilson's worth.
If you can add Wilson as a bye-week option with Detroit and Houston on the schedule, he should help at least for the first of those two weeks. If he doesn't against Detroit, don't wait for him to do it against Houston to determine if you should keep him long-term.
The talent is there; the team fit and rapport are major questions.
9. Slow Down a bit with Baker Mayfield
On Sunday Baker Mayfield worked with rookie receivers lacking experience or a starter's pedigree. His receivers dropped multiple passes and the Chargers built an early lead that tilted the game script. Even so, Mayfield deserves criticism for his play — his 53.3 percent completion percentage, 4 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions haven't matched his impressive debut against the Jets, even if there's reason to mitigate some of it based on his surrounding talent.
Mayfield's stats aren't that different than DeShone Kizer's first four games. Kizer had a 51.4 percent completion rate, 3 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. However, Kizer also had 97 rushing yards and 2 rushing touchdowns. Mayfield has 39 yards and no scores.
Kizer didn't have Jarvis Landry, didn't have Josh Gordon (yet), and Cleveland's rookie receiving corps was also a turnstile. Before hailing Mayfield as the next Drew Brees, let's keep in mind that Brees's 59 percent completion rate, 4 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions in his first 4 games came during a less quarterback-friendly era.
Brees also finished his first full year as a starter with a 60.8 percent completion rate and more touchdowns (17) than interceptions (16). Brees also began his career with Marty Schottenheimer, whose staff's had a role in developing Brees, Rivers, Bernie Kosar, and coaching Joe Montana.
These aren't meant to be direct comparisons — just enough information to say, "slow your roll." Mayfield has flaws just like every young quarterback. The two that were apparent with his game at Texas A&M, Oklahoma, and now Cleveland are his decision-making and accuracy from tight pockets against tight man coverage.
Mayfield becomes more hesitant when opponents can cut off his outside escape routes while compressing the pocket and he lacks that special pinpoint accuracy to win against tight man coverage when forced to make athletic throws.
None of this means that Mayfield is a bust. Though it is a caution to check your biases about Mayfield, whose upside could easily be closer to an aspiring Jeff Garcia than Brees. Garcia was a four-time Pro Bowl quarterback but definitely not at Brees' level.
Mayfield still must prove that he can defeat tight man coverage and win from the pocket with greater consistency — like DeShone Kizer had to. The difference is that, at least for now, the Browns organization hasn't turned on Mayfield.
Don't get sucked into the behavior of Browns fans. They are prone to huge shifts in sentiment after the years of abuse at the hands of Cleveland Browns ownership since the mid-1990s.
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: Atlanta Falcons Defense (Until further notice...)
Peyton Barber's best day of the year behind a bad run-blocking offensive line is just one indicator of Atlanta's struggles. The Buccaneers found ways to place its tight ends on an island against linebacker De'Vondre Campbell at every opportunity.
Howard on island 🌴 with D Campbell in empty pic.twitter.com/YdHLArOtRj— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 14, 2018
Bucs Brate baits Campbell and Barber wide open in gap left behind pic.twitter.com/JBPawL7Y63— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 14, 2018
It's down-right ugly for the Atlanta defense, which nearly gave up the victory on this last-second play. If your players face Atlanta this month, give serious consideration to active slot receivers, pass-catching runners, and high-volume tight ends.
Onto the fish cases...
- Kenyan Drake and Jordan Howard: Fumbling inside the five-yard-line.
- Antonio Callaway: Multiple drops.
- Chester Rogers: Multiple drops.
- Denver's rush defense: Unless it's simply allergic to UGA alums and matriculates, giving up 550 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground in 2 games is extraordinarily bad — 427 of those yards to two players.
Good luck to your teams next week and may your players stay away from the fishmonger.
More articles from Matt WaldmanSee all
The Replacements Week 16
The Gut Check No.530: David Montgomery's 2020 Growth Spurt
The Top 10: Week 16