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You love to read it when you somehow had the foresight to start or avoid these players, you hate to read it when it's time to figure out how that could have happened: It's The Week In Confounding Fantasy Football! Amon-Ra St. Brown and Russell Gage have WR1 moments! Minshew Mania resurfaces! Ja'Marr Chase has now become a Tee Higgins enabler! Let's discuss.
Amon-Ra St. Brown keeps the 2021 Lions out of the history books
How did this happen? The Minnesota Vikings have allowed opposing wideouts to create to the tune of 28.7 fantasy points per game coming into Week 13, the most in the NFL. The Detroit Lions have been abysmal all season as a passing offense, but Amon-Ra St. Brown has flourished in terms of offensive snap share over the past few weeks even as the Lions have struggled to throw the ball. He had 18 and 23 receiving yards in the two games before this, but he also had 18 of 77 passing yards, and 23 of 171 passing yards in a game where Josh Reynolds' 39-yard touchdown was a huge chunk of the passing offense. As far as underneath targets go, St. Brown was rounding into form as second only to T.J. Hockenson -- it was just happening so far underneath the fantasy points radar that it didn't matter. Until Sunday, that is.
Brown had the walkoff touchdown, saving the Lions from permanent futility, and garnered a game-high 10 catches for 86 yards on 12 targets. An air offense that had been on cruise control for weeks finally found some juice as Jared Goff came alive for 296 yards and three touchdowns. The Vikings stumbled into an untenable 5-7 record as they try to hold on to dear life for one of the final playoff spots in the NFC.
Who can we blame for this? Well, you've got to give a heavy bit of credit to Mike Zimmer. The Vikings defensive overhaul has not resulted in a coherent unit. And, yes, without Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen, things are significantly worse than they were earlier in the season. They also were missing Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, two starting linebackers who could have been better in underneath zones than the guys that Minnesota played. Only one of St. Brown's targets was beyond 15 yards, so linebackers do play more into coverage on him than most wideouts.
What's our takeaway? Think of St. Brown as you would think of Tyler Boyd or Jamison Crowder: He's a smart slot guy who can find some zone holes and be productive. He's stuck on a bad team now, so there's no need to go ga-ga on the waiver wire trying to make him happen, but he can help in some situations this year and should be on our radar for 2022 fantasy.
I want to start any pass receivers I can against this Vikings defense for the remainder of the season. They deserve a big bump. Next week? That's the Steelers on Thursday Night Football.
Gardner Minshew proves there's no bad quarterback to start against the Jets (OK, Tyrod Taylor was a bad start against the Jets.)
How did this happen? Jalen Hurts' injury forced the Eagles to go to Gardner Minshew as early Saturday rumors became early Sunday reality. There was not really time to regret the move for the Eagles, because by the time Jets fans had settled into the seats with a 6-0 lead, the Eagles immediately rolled off four straight scoring drives of screens and check-downs ala Colt McCoy's weird Cardinals wins early this year.
Minshew is what he generally always is: A terrific backup quarterback who can be accurate underneath and buy time to hit things deeper. It is unfortunate for the Eagles that Hurts has some warts he's overcoming, but Minshew's success shouldn't have much long-term staying power for the almighty narrative. It was literally the Jets, who have been the worst defense in the NFL all season and have held nobody but the Texans down since their Week 6 bye. Then again, Eagles fans have Nick Foles in their minds forever, so maybe Minshew's success does have a foothold that's a little scary for Hurts managers.
Who can we blame for this? Robert Saleh was supposed to be a defensive mastermind, right? So really, what's the deal with this, Robert? Your team has garnered no respect. The Jets have a decent enough defensive line to get some pressure, and they have a secondary that has no No. 1 corner, but is on par with some of the 49ers units he rode to better finishes. Minshew is solid and there were no clips of him with the Eagles yet so I understand being surprised early, but there wasn't a lot of fight. The Eagles didn't punt until their final drive of the game.
What's our takeaway? There's probably not much to take away from Minshew's success outside of him somehow becoming the starter would be good news for Eagles running backs, who drowned in targets, as well as Dallas Goedert, who caught all six of his targets for 105 yards and two scores.
I want to start any players I can against this Jets defense for the remainder of the season. It is Down Bad, and in the #LongestSeasonEver, it is not getting better.
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The Russell Gage train continues to roll
How did this happen? Well, Calvin Ridley took a mental respite from the Falcons. (Good luck, Calvin!) A necromancer put a spell on Kyle Pitts that makes him unable to be targeted by Matt Ryan against anyone but the Jets. That has left a lot of volume for the Falcons to play with because -- Cordarrelle Patterson notwithstanding -- they can't really run the ball. So when opponents get rolling, and Ryan starts passing, someone has to catch those passes and that someone is Russell Gage.
Affix that with (running theme) a Tampa Bay pass defense that isn't bad but is a serious run funnel because of Vita Vea, and our lab scientists found a scenario where Mr. Gage could catch 11 of 12 targets for 130 yards. He almost came down with the one incompletion in the end zone for a touchdown as well, so he could have exploded even more than he did.
Who can we blame for this? Gage's breakout is impressive, but probably something we should have seen coming. It was hidden a bit because of two ghastly performances by the Falcons -- their 19-13 loss to Carolina, and their 43-3 loss to Dallas -- where Gage had no catches. In four of his last five games, Gage has delivered with at least seven targets. He's not Patterson -- who appears to be the main cog in Atlanta -- but he's more of a secondary cog than Pitts has been. The Bucs probably delivered at least three or four extra targets to Gage by virtue of Atlanta not wanting to run, and remain a good secondary to target.
What's our takeaway? Gage is a weird player because the Falcons are a tough team to figure out. The Atlanta offensive line is a bad enough unit to single-handedly sink a game. If you can figure out which games are pitfalls for the Falcons and play Gage around those, you very well could find WR3 production on your waiver wire or have it in hand for the playoffs when necessary.
Ja'Marr Chase's "brutal" stretch capped off by Chargers
How did this happen? Well, the general gist of what happened is that opponents started realizing that Ja'Marr Chase was really good. Some of that is because it's impossible to ignore receivers that put up 201 receiving yards in a game, some of it is because he couldn't stop scoring touchdowns. Either way, Bengals opponents have adjusted to the fact that Chase is now one of the world's best wideouts. They have shaded more safety coverage his way. They have enough film to understand his strengths and weaknesses, and they have openly decided "well, let's make Tee Higgins the next Ja'Marr Chase."
Chase put up just 52 yards on his eight targets on Sunday, which is actually the most yards he's put up in a game since that 201-yard explosion. Chase is still catching touchdowns, but defenses have changed gears on the Bengals and that has been the main factor in Joe Mixon and Tee Higgins blowing up over the last few weeks. Higgins went for 138 yards and a touchdown on 14 targets.
Who can we blame for this? Chase. It's always kind of funny when this happens because it's a compliment, but there are receivers who are just so good that they adjust entire game plans. I guess in a grander picture you can blame Zac Taylor because he's generally uncreative and hasn't yet implemented a real counter-punch to Chase getting played this way. But if you watch the Higgins touchdown catch from last week, it's very apparent that the safeties are rolling to Chase and that the option is Higgins one-on-one. The Bengals can absolutely succeed with Chase as the defensive cheese if Higgins keeps blowing up like this, which is infuriating for Chase managers because it lessens the incentives for Taylor to change.
What's our takeaway? You're not going to sit Chase in a non-DFS league. We all know that. There's too much upside and he's too good. But you may want to lower expectations to more of a WR2 with upside than a pure WR1 until we see a real change play out for the Bengals offense. He's amazing, but he's getting picked on because defenses like their chances better defending the rest of the Bengals offense.