1. Adrian Peterson never left
You bet I'm celebrating. I've been writing about Peterson still "having it" for two seasons. It's not as much about being right as it is about searching for and presenting the truth.
Football is a difficult arena to expect the truth to manifest in full display. Peterson's performance is one of those uncommon comments worth celebrating. If you want the full case, read last week's Gut Check, which uses data and film to explain why poor scheme fit and lack of commitment to the run were far greater factors working against Peterson than his age, athletic ability, and recent lack of production.
As I said last week, the Cardinals' scheme is a perfect fit for Peterson because he and David Johnson have a lot of similarities with their running styles. It showed last week against the Buccaneers, a statistically-sound run defense that I also said was a "paper champion" in that area in Friday's The Best Of Week 6 feature.
The return of tackle D.J. Humphries and Alex Boone moving back to right guard solidified this line much faster than expected. This was a terrific bonus for anyone counting on Peterson as a buy-low starter.
From the first carry, it was clear from the design of the play that Peterson and Arizona are the great fit that I was demonstrating with video on both parties in separate settings. Jermaine Gresham winds back and seals the edge pursuit. There's enough of a push downhill that Peterson earns that runaway to hit the crease as hard as any back in the game today (this is the one area where the Leonard Fournette-Peterson comparisons were accurate).
But most of us knew that Peterson could still be a hammer when given a chance to swing it. The real questions were about his stop-start movement and burst. Could be beat edge contain to the outside? Here's Exhibit A...
Take note of the two-tight end set and work from center. The Cardinals love these sets, but neither Andre Ellington nor Kerwynn Williams is a great fit for a power ground game and they aren't as good at pressing and cutting back in this setting where finishing power is a must. Chris Johnson used to be good at it, but he does appear notably older and slower after leaving the Titans years ago.
Head Coach Bruce Arians and the Cardinals staff love these sets because they designed them as part of an overall game plan that integrates the run and the pass in ways that set up and trip-up defenses (more on this with the Jaguars ground game later on...). When they have to use more shotgun, they are moving away from that integrated gameplan, which is why it made sense to covet Peterson.
This two-tight end set also features Larry Fitzgerald tight to the formation between the two ends. Fitzgerald is an excellent blocker who can seal the edge on perimeter runs. As the slot receiver, he's also a savvy presence who finds the openings in the middle of the field with the help of play-action. The believability of Fitzgerald executing in either fashion with productive results puts opponents in a bind.
If you couldn't listen, you may have missed that the Buccaneers have nine men in the box to defend the play and it doesn't matter. Peterson, just like what we'll see with Fournette and Todd Gurley later, finds the cutback and runs through wraps for a strong gain.
Here's Exhibit B of Peterson getting the edge with the help of Larry Fitzgerald on the strong side (note, I point out the right tackle as a tight end in this video...the hazards of delivering quick analysis of almost every game on a deadline). This is another example of Fitzgerald as a blocker which sets up safeties and linebackers to ignore him or lose track of him on future plays.
These are all straight-ahead runs that exhibit downhill power or burst. Although I showed film of Peterson last year and this that illustrated that his cutting ability and burst from his cuts were still there, here's an even easier setting for those of you who need the support of a 100-yard and 2-TD box score to allow your eyes to believe what was already there. Sincerely, it can be difficult to believe compelling contrarian analysis. Adam Harstad has written a lot about the power of bias.
This bounce outside and cut inside is as good as any top young back with Peterson's size and style as a runner. Here's a cutback against nine in the box to bounce out the back side and outrun the speed LaVonte David up the right flat for 40 yards.
This series of cuts, reversal of field, and juke of four-time Pro-Bowl CB Brent Grimes on the edge is a good closing argument that Peterson is at least 90 percent of the excellent runner he was in 2015.
Peterson is healthy, quick, powerful, agile, and still has fantasy starter skills in a traditional offense that commits to him as its focus. If you missed the game, it was football's equivalent of Michael Jordan returning to the Bulls after his baseball hiatus. It was an electric atmosphere and the Cardinals looked like a team that had regained its identity after losing one big piece to its puzzle that held several pieces in place.
Peterson's addition is the most mutually beneficial transaction of the year in the NFL. He won't have 134-yard, 2-TD games weekly, but San Francisco, Houston, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Washington, and New York are all susceptible to the Cardinals ground game because they are either weak up front or they are vulnerable to Peterson's cutback style. The Rams are great in the middle of the line, but they, too are vulnerable to the occasional cutback.
His time to buy low has passed quickly. I expected as much. Congratulations to those of you who acquired him.
2. The Adrian Peterson effect
If you need a quarterback or you were nervous about having your share of Cardinals players, you should also be congratulated for your good fortune. Peterson is commanding eight- and nine-man boxes and the Cardinals aren't led by Blake Bortles, despite the fact that many analysts were ready to write off Palmer in that fashion.
Palmer, like Peterson, is an old-school football player and it means he's at his best when there's balance with a downhill power game that begins with Palmer under center and executing play-action. It didn't take long for Peterson's running to make life easier on Palmer.
Because of Peterson and his line's ability to produce against a defense cheating to stop them, Palmer gets great looks that a veteran can exploit.
Even with seven men in the box trying to play a balanced look in the red zone, the moment Palmer extends his arm towards Peterson in the backfield, it forces T.J. Ward fly into the box and allow Fitzgerald to fly right by him from that alignment tight to the right side where he had been sealing the edge on previous plays.
Palmer has potential to remain a QB1 this year. Fitzgerald has potential to remain a top-5 WR. And John Brown, Jaron Brown, and J.J. Nelson have potential as WR2, WR3, and productive bye-week options, respectively.
3. Leonard fournette won the highlight reel, Todd Gurley won the game
This was my favorite game of the week because it featured two of the best running backs, arguably the best player in the NFL (Aaron Donald) and several excellent defensive players. Although Jared Goff versus the Jaguars' zone was a matchup of heavy interest, the marquee was Fournette and the Jaguars' line versus Donald, Michael Brockers, and the Rams defense. Fournette rocked the Rams unit with an uppercut in the first round.
This play, including the motion of Marqise Lee, sets up two plays that gave the Jaguars an early advantage. Later in the quarter, the Jaguars use the success of Fournette's 75-yard run from this alignment to its advantage by running similar looks with that motion from Lee and for big plays.
After Lee does what made him a big-time prospect at USC, the Jaguars combine the threat of the run up the middle and the end-around to set up a screen pass to the back side of the formation and it generates a Chris Ivory touchdown.
Even variations of running plays and short passing can force an opponent off-balance and generate big plays. This is why Blake Bortles doesn't have to be a dynamic player for the ground game to have weeks of success. However, Bortles' struggles are also the reason why it may be safer to bet on balanced offenses like the Cardinals and Rams when considering the 2017 production of Fournette, Peterson, and Gurley.
While Fournette will be capable of breaking those 1-3 plays that make him a candidate for top-5 fantasy production weekly at his position, he earned the vast majority of his production during the first half. After that, the Rams contained him—to be accurate, Donald and Brockers contained him.
This type of control in the middle of the line forced Fournette to bounce more runs to the edges and he's less likely to succeed on these plays the way Peterson can. Yes, Fournette has a sweet spin move and he can do some things to elude opponent's one-on-one at the edge, but it's not his game as much as it is Peterson's and it showed yet again on Sunday.
While Fournette was up-and-down (which is often the case for power runners), Gurley enjoyed consistent production throughout the game thanks to a better matchup against a Jaguars line that has excellent pass rushers and zone linebackers who can be overaggressive and susceptible to the cutback.
Because Jared Goff is playing well and the passing and rushing offenses are integrated well into the game plan, it forces defenses to account for a lot of details pre- and post-snap in much the same way opponents have to account for the alignments and motion of the Chiefs and Texans.
Fournette has greater potential than Gurley for the long breakaway play because opponents will stack the box and dare Bortles to beat them, which leads to occasional plays like Fournette's 90- and 75-yard scores in recent weeks against these stacked fronts. Gurley has greater potential for consistent gains of at least five yards and a big play in the passing game because the Rams have greater balance.
Go back and watch Peterson faking out Grimes and you'll understand why I may like Peterson as much as these two options this year despite the fact that we haven't seen his breakaway speed. It's the one area where I wonder if he has lost a little something. Many if you will feel compelled to email me and explain that you've seen it but spare you keyboard; Peterson is still fast enough to get 40-50 on a defense and if opponents are forced to stack against Arizona, we'll see soon enough if he has that range of 70-80 (which really is far less important than most fans make it).
In fact, here's another way of considering Peterson while watching Gurley in action.
If you have one of these three options, be thankful. Most of your opponents are scrambling for RB play.
4. Brett Hundley's fantasy potential
I'll have more on Hundley in this week's Gut Check, including film analysis of his work against the Vikings. As a preview, I'll share my pre-draft thoughts on Hundley from the Rookie Scouting Portfolio as well as bottom-line insights from Week 6 to help you decide on his services.
- Contrary to popular takes, Hundley didn't consistently take his eyes off his receivers when pressured and resort to running earlier than necessary.
- Jim Mora Jr.'s refusal to give Hundley even basic responsibilities to call basic audibles or make line adjustments was an unusual coaching decision that aided the perception that Hundley wasn't an intelligent quarterback. Mora's decision hurt the UCLA offense, forced Hundley into difficult situations other top prospects had the luxury of avoiding and crashed his draft stock. More to support this view at the end of this list.
- While it still required work from the NFL game, Hundley displayed fluid footwork that had a sense of urgency to its pace. His footwork was well-defined, well-balanced, and he could climb pressure and deliver accurate passes based on his fundamentals—even after avoiding pressure.
- He has the necessary aggression to target tight windows and in rhythm. This requires an understanding of the defense, an aggressive mindset, anticipation, and confidence in what he's reading. Many starting NFL QBs have the first two qualities but lack the last two.
- When Hundley made a mistake, he followed up with redeeming plays.
- Hundley displayed physical toughness and poise, especially considering that Mora and his staff limited his ability to avoid bad matchups and exploit good ones pre-snap.
When Hundley arrived in Green Bay, the Packers didn't expect him to make the active roster. They bought into the idea that Hundley would need even more time with the mental preparation and grasp of the game than the technical flaws that could use a year of work. However, Hundley created a film study group with young teammates as a rookie during his first camp and learned the playbook well enough that he led the NFL in preseason passer rating and surprising his staff in the process.
This fast growth counters the perceptions that were built at UCLA. If Hundley was a slow learner, there's no way he delivers—even during the preseason—in a west coast offense at the level he did. The Packers have shopped Hundley as well as fielded offers for him during the 2017 draft, but there was not enough in-season tape to generate an offer worth Green Bay's attention.
If Hundley plays well this season, that could change, and there's reason to believe Hundley will perform well enough to produce interest. Aaron Rodgers' replacement made several noteworthy throws in difficult situations without having the benefit of practice time with the starting unit.
I didn't mention it in the audio, but I actually think Hundley made a good choice to target the inside shoulder of Adams to give him room to run downfield because it was there.
I also appreciate his work from the pocket. Just like his years at UCLA, Hundley remains poised and only flushes as necessary. This is also an impressive throw that Jordy Nelson should have caught.
If you need a quarterback, I prefer Hundley over C.J. Beathard, DeShone Kizer, and Blake Bortles. I also think he has enough upside to deliver low-end QB1 production. His three years of continuity in the same offense is an important point that many fans don't consider. So is his three years of working around the best quarterback in football.
Hundley also has physical similarities to Rodgers as a quarterback. They are around the same size, both can buy time, throw on the move (he's not on Rodgers' level, but he's good at it), and produce on the ground. Hundley also has a good supporting staff of skill players and linemen returning from injury.
Defenses will test him with looks that they wouldn't dare with Rodgers but even with the likelihood of less consistent play, Hundley has a fantasy baseline as no worse than a garbage-time committee starter and upside as a mid-range QB1.
5. Myles Garrett in Cleveland is like tom hardy in a "stooges" short
Watching the Browns executive team in the stands during the Texans game, and the vitriol directed at them on social media, had me hearing this little ditty when I saw them.
It's why defensive end Myles Garrett's early returns are so jarring. He beat two double-teams in this game; one for a sack and another to run down Lamar Miller for a loss. He also turned a designed play into a disaster, forcing DeShaun Watson to play to his weaknesses as a thrower.
While great to see, the Browns need leadership as good as Garrett plays.
6. Alvin Kamara flashing skills that are a little better than I anticipated
Kamara was one of my top "scheme fits" of this 2017 class. However, I had concerns about his decision-making between the tackles. Although Mark Ingram II has earned the role as Mr. Inside on most known run downs, the departure of Adrian Peterson is a small sign that the rookie is making progress in this realm. This carry against the Lions was a nice flash of skill that I hadn't seen him do enough as a collegian.
The second play was indicative of the day the Saints ground game had against the lines. The offensive line had several great blocks to kick-out defenders and open the edge for Kamara and Ingram, including a 51-yard jaunt from Ingram in the first half.
This ground game looks like it will remain a clear tandem and that's a good sign for Kamara owners.
7. erase Matthew Stafford's game from your memory banks
Stafford entered this game with a leg injury bad enough to limit his mobility. Although he finished with strong yardage and touchdown totals, it was a rough performance and equal parts his blame and to the defense's credit.
The good side of stubbornness is determination. Stafford showed the bad side on Sunday when he couldn't alter his game to his physical limitations early on.
Although he stopped trying to scramble, Stafford failed to adjust his interior clock to match the fact that he could not buy time and it led to a strip in the pocket. Then, to the Saints' credit, the defensive line anticipated Stafford's drops with the timing of throws and got their arms up to deflect more passes than I've ever seen.
I believe the broadcast crew had recorded 11 deflections by the mid-fourth quarter. While I'd stay tuned to Jene Bramel's work as it covers Stafford's recovery efforts, I'd wipe the disastrous part of this game away from your fantasy memory banks.
Instead, I'll redirect you to some of Chris Spielman's suggestions (and some of my own) for the Lions that often came to fruition on the field and I liked his ideas:
- Target Golden Tate with at least 10 touches per game.
- Make a heavy dose of those touches behind the line of scrimmage to force defenses to account for Tate, lose gap discipline, and open cutbacks for Ameer Abdullah.
- Use Theo Riddick in the slot in in the same backfield as Abdullah much like the Chiefs use two of Tyreek Hill, D'Anthony Thomas, and Kareem Hunt.
- Continue targeting Marvin Jones Jr downfield, but give him more targets where he can run after the catch. He's good at it.
8. Kareem hunt check-in
My friend Steve Volk, an avid Steelers fan, made the request for me to cover Hunt's acumen as a receiver. While I already covered him in this respect, he noted that work that Hunt did on Sunday against linebackers as opposed to an out-of-depth defensive lineman caught in a bad mismatch on a trick-play.
While that's good info there's a lingering concern with Hunt that continues rearing its head: pass protection.
the above play is a good example of Hunt "catching contact" rather than initiating it with a punch. The square position is there, the arms are extended towards the chest, and the head is up. However, he needs to deliver a punch to the larger man and initiate contact or he will see this end result more often.
I read a commenter reference me and try to conflate my analysis with his reason for Hunt being risky. Hunt isn't risky; he's performed well and it has been clear for about three weeks that the Chiefs offense can give him fantasy starter volume without requiring a heavy workload as a pass protector. However, there's a good chance that more defenses will find ways to force Hunt into these situations and expose him if he doesn't improve this year.
So far, he hasn't shown notable growth. So far, he hasn't needed to.
9. laquon Treadwell sighting
Dynasty analysts aren't always patient enough with young players. Much of this attitude can be justified based on their philosophy around their build and management. However many listen to several diverging voices of advice and fail to build a coherent strategy around roster management.
As Footballguy Daniel Simpkins said upon seeing my film posts on Laquon Treadwell, "Most in dynasty think Treadwell's [prospects] are dead." Interesting enough, it was Treadwell who earned time ahead of veteran Michael Floyd against the Packers when Stefon Diggs couldn't go. The second-year option looked good.
Here's Treadwell dropping his weight into an out for a reception.
Here's another good job selling the vertical route on the stem and work back to the target from his break.
Here's an old-school block, now known as a personal foul, that I personally liked until I remembered the long-term implications on players and felt bad about myself.
Yeah, I'm guilty of loving this play. Then I thought about why they've outlawed it and the admiration went away.
A Treadwell play that I could love was this magnificent one-handed grab. One of the best I've seen this year.
I don't know how Treadwell will fit into this offense with Diggs and Thielen in the lineup but I believe the talent is still too strong to believe that Treadwell won't have a productive career sooner than later. I've maintained he was a dynasty "hold" or "buy-low" for well over a year. This segment is a message of hope and patience for those who followed my advice.
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.
- Right Tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai: I wrote about the "Vaitai Effect" last year when he manned the Eagles' edge against Washington and with miserable results. Vaitai wasn't much better a year later against the Panthers. Carolina blitzed his side relentlessly with great first-half results. If it weren't for my next Fresh Fish candidates, the Eagles would have lost this game in grand fashion.
- Carolina's pass catchers: I could say receivers (namely, Kelvin Benjamin for his failures against press coverage that doesn't make him a true primary receiver, but I'd be leaving out Jonathan Stewart for allowing a ball to go through his hands that lead to an interception and kept the Eagles in a game that they had no business being in on Thursday night).
- Raiders linebackers and safeties: Late in the fourth quarter, the Chargers got the memo that the tight end will be wide-open at-will and exploited it for a game-winning drive.
- Falcons linebackers: Deion Jones nearly earned two interceptions (one was nullified by a penalty) in the red zone, but the Dolphins routinely tested the Falcons linebackers with misdirection and receivers in space and Atlanta's young, athletic crew failed. The well-defended skinny post to Austin Hooper may have sealed the victory, but Jay Ajayi's broken tackles and band-angle-exploiting burst paired with what I shared above won the game.
- Broncos defense: Denver's front-seven could not stop the Giants' ground game and two-tight end sets. I posed heavy sets as a viable solution in last week's column but wasn't counting on New York doing it. Denver's linebackers and tackles are the weak link of this unit and New York exposed them. Well done, Giants.
As always, the league is moving fast. Don't blink...