The Panthers and Buccaneers were supposed to shower us with a bunch of fantasy points in Week 8. Instead, they left us with a bunch of unanswered questions.
Start at the top, with the quarterbacks. Cam Newton and Jameis Winston didn’t look right Sunday.
Newton’s crew grabbed the win, 17-3, though he didn’t cover himself in glory. Faced with the easiest passing matchup in the NFC, Newton completed just 18-of-32 passes for 154 yards, one pick and one touchdown. It hashed out to 4.8 YPA and a 66.4 rating, embarrassing numbers. Newton at least tacked on 44 yards on the ground.
And heck, you should have seen the other guy. Winston never looked right the entire afternoon, hurling a bunch of uncatchable passes en route to a sorry 21-38-210 line. Throw in a couple of picks, a paltry 5.5 YPA, and a rating under 50. Maybe Winston’s shoulder is hurting more than he’s let on.
When the quarterbacks falter, the receivers generally go down with the ship. Kelvin Benjamin’s day was partially saved by touchdown deodorant, but a 3-39-1 line isn’t worth a parade when you’re in Tampa. Devin Funchess was next to useless, a 2-11-0 return on six looks. Christian McCaffrey was ordinary on nine touches, 46 total yards.
Obviously no Tampa Bay player found the end zone, and no target passed 64 yards. Mike Evans needed 10 targets to cobble together a 5-60-0 day, and DeSean Jackson owners know all about his boom/bust tendencies (3-37-0, eight targets). Cameron Brate didn’t crush it on his five targets, but he did manage 4-64-0 (the fifth attempt was intercepted).
Normally we would look for either team to fix things when they eventually meet up with New Orleans, home of the shootout — but even the Saints are playing different ball this year. Sparked by a vastly-improved defense and a resurgent running game, the Saints are no longer the pinball arcade of the NFL. Sunday’s 20-12 victory over Chicago served as another data point in that corner.
You can’t crush Drew Brees for a 299-yard passing day, but he threw the ball just 28 times and didn’t account for a touchdown. Mark Ingram (99 total yards) and Alvin Kamara (76 total yards) both ran in a score, and the Saints maintained a balanced offense. (The only downside to the backfield: Ingram did lose two fumbles, something he did not take lying down.)
Michael Thomas (7-77-0, eight targets) had his normal day, a solid yardage haul but no touchdown. Brandon Coleman and Ted Ginn had one long catch each. Forget Willie Snead, he played just four snaps.
The Saints entered the week as a Top 10 pass defense, new territory uncovered. If you’re going to move the ball on New Orleans, try the running game. The Saints had a 4.9 YPC against through the first seven weeks, and Jordan Howard got them for 102 yards Sunday.
The Buccaneers head to New Orleans in Week 9, while the Panthers host the Falcons. Anytime these passing offenses want to straighten themselves out, we welcome it.
Pianow on the Take
• The Week 9 bye is our trickiest of the year, with the Patriots, Steelers, Chargers, Vikings, Bears and Browns all resting. The final two teams aren’t that meaty, but the first four have plenty of fantasy juice. This is your last great opportunity to use the bye weeks as a trade elixir — trade for long-term improvement if you don’t need the win that badly, but look for win-now pieces if you’re under .500. Trade motivation peaks at this time of year.
• The Colts gave away their game at Cincinnati, despite an edge in first downs and total offense. Jack Doyle remains the apple of Jacoby Brissett’s eye, gobbling up 12 catches for 121 yards and a score. Doyle has absorbed 39 targets the past four weeks.
• Joe Mixon didn’t go anywhere on his 11 carries (just 18 yards), but at least the Bengals moved along from Jeremy Hill (4-11). Mixon added 91 yards receiving, most of it on a 67-yard scamper that died just short of the goal line. It’s a win-or-else year for Marvin Lewis, so they better get their ideal personnel on the field.
Things I have never said: Man, the Falcons overused Tevin Coleman today.
— scott pianowski (@scott_pianowski) October 29, 2017
• Latavius Murray’s blowup in Week 7 probably belongs in the fluke file, one of those unexplained spikes. He was back to his useless form in London, 19 carries for 39 yards. Jerick McKinnon was ordinary as a runner (14-50-1), but he added six catches for 72 yards. He’s unquestionably the guy you want here. Minnesota’s offensive-line play is dramatically improved from last year.
• The Chargers deserve to lose for giving Hunter Henry just two targets. New England has three talented running backs and none of them are named Mike Gillislee. It’s beyond time to cut him (and now it’s easy, with the bye coming).
• The Patriots know more than anyone, you generally win by making less big mistakes than the other team. (That’s true in most competitive environments, actually.) The Bills read the memo, and are playing the type of smart football that, at minimum, will dispatch the lesser clubs.
DeShaun Watson sure looks matchup proof and I’m always going to use the microscope over the telescope, but do note, Jacksonville and Pittsburgh wait Weeks 15-16. Maybe it doesn’t matter.
— scott pianowski (@scott_pianowski) October 30, 2017
• Although Zach Ertz has a very high floor, the receivers in Philly are having ordinary years when you consider QB Carson Wentz is a legitimate MVP candidate. They simply don’t force the ball to anyone; it’s a little like the Atlanta setup last year. LeGarrette Blount did little with an ideal game-flow setup (17 touches, 52 yards), but a late touchdown bailed him out. Corey Clement was used for 10 carries, while Wendell Smallwood hardly played (two touches).
• In case you somehow missed the memo, Thomas Rawls can’t play.