Before the 2012 NFL season, most fantasy owners probably never expected to see 4,000-plus yards and 30-plus touchdowns come from the right arm of future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning before fantasy championship weekend (in most leagues). In fact at this point, I'm guessing that those who do own this Manning are ready to celebrate some more, expecting his field general greatness to continue against the always perceived bad Cleveland Browns. I say timeout.
As bad as the Cleveland Browns have been at times, they haven't been bad against Peyton Manning. In fact, believe it or not, historically the Browns have been the one team that Manning has struggled with the most -- 223.4 yards per, two touchdowns, six interceptions, and a 74.2 quarterback rating in five games (his worst career numbers).
Furthermore, the Browns are allowing 120.6 rushing yards per game this season, and can be beat more efficiently on the ground. Plus, with the division wrapped up and the home crowd behind them, this may be a golden opportunity for the Broncos to show future playoff opponents that they can churn out yards via the ground, while playing sound defense.
I know this isn't the Christmas gift Manning owners were hoping to find under their fantasy tree, but it's certainly something they need to think about. Nick Foles (against Washington) or Andrew Luck (against Kansas City) are two rookies looking to prove something this week against very beatable pass defenses, and maybe be better "fantasy" starts than the always reliable Manning.
T.D.C. - Touchdown Double Check
The Chicago Bears defense was no match for quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was able to throw for three touchdowns to wide receiver James Jones. Let's break down one of them.
On this play it was 2nd-and-goal from the 8-yard line for the Green Bay Packers, matched up against the Chicago Bears defense. The Packers were in a Shotgun four receiver set while the Bears were countering with a base Nickel Cover 2 formation.
For the Bears, they rushed three up front while stunting the defensive tackle in to coverage on the running back. There was man coverage across the formation on the receivers with the safeties defending the back of the end-zone deep. The final piece was linebacker Lance Briggs, whose primary responsibility was to defend the middle short passing lanes.
For the Packers it was pretty much a ‘gimme.' They ran short post and slant routes with the three receivers (Greg Jennings, James Jones and Randall Cobb) lined up wide to the left to create an inside zone. Jermichael Finley was at the bottom right of the formation and ran a fade route keeping the deep safety pinned down. The running back ran a flat route drawing linebacker Lance Briggs down.
Jennings (green route) opened up the zone when he ran an intermediate post route, which kept the other safety (Chris Conte) deep. Jones (inside yellow route) gained inside position running a slant route and Rodgers gunned it to him on the goal line for the easy touchdown.
Ultimately, because the safeties stayed deep and Briggs instinctually moved down to cover the running back instead of staying at home, the Packers were able to exploit the middle zone. Not only was this a perfect play call by the Packers, but a great "double check" by Rodgers to ensure the right zone was going to ripe for the taking.
L.U.L.C.T. - Lit Up Like Christmas Trees
The Dallas Cowboys are a team on a roll heading in to this week's matchup with the New Orleans Saints. However, they aren't without flaws, specifically on defense and in the secondary.
Last week, the Pittsburgh Steelers offense was able to gash the Dallas defense for five passes of 20 yards or more, including a 30-yard touchdown to tight end Heath Miller down the right sidelines, and a 60-yard strike to Mike Wallace. Let's break down the Wallace play.
What you see above is the position strong safety Danny McCray was in when Wallace reached the top of his route. McCray used terrible technique to turn and run with Wallace, and failed to start his drop back until Wallace was almost past him.
Wallace is now almost five yards ahead of McCray with free safety Gerald Sensabaugh also closing in. McCray is now panicking and pointing to Sensabaugh to provide help down the field.
Wallace actually has to slow up to let Ben Roethlisberger's pass get to him, giving both safeties an opportunity to try and make a play on the pigskin. McCray has just about given up, while Sensabaugh throws his hands in the air hoping to tip the ball. He completely missed, though.
The end result was an easy 60-yard completion for Roethlisberger and Wallace, which could've been prevented with the right personnel and technique.
The bottom line here is that the Cowboys' overall secondary is problematic and it's due in large part to the back end of it. So go ahead and start all the Saints you can against this 2012 Cowboys defense that ranks 27th in yards allowed per pass attempt (7.6) and 23rd in pass plays of 20-plus yards (48).
C.I.T. - Checking It Twice
So I did a little digging this week, and was able to find some numbers that could make fantasy owners think twice about who they start in this all important week of fantasy playoff football.
- San Francisco 49ers outside pass rusher Aldon Smith gets plenty of attention these days, and for good reason. However, it is important to keep in mind that Seattle's Bruce Irvin is just as effective and possibly more impressive when it matters most. Irvin has 21 quarterback pressures on third and fourth downs (Smith is nowhere close). This means that the 49ers may not move the chains on offense as much if the down and distance requires a pass before a punt.
- For every fantasy owner worrying about Adrian Peterson's matchup against a Houston Texans defense that has allowed just 93.2 yards per game and a total of three touchdowns in 14 games, there's another laughing at the notion of even thinking about sitting the NFL's leading rusher. Not only has Peterson rushed for 100-plus yards in the past eight games (150-plus in six), but against tough rush defenses like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (first) and Seattle Seahawks (12th) he has fared extremely well (305 yards and three touchdowns in Weeks 8 and 9).
- For the fantasy owner looking for that plug and play defense-special teams this week, look no further than the Buffalo-Miami matchup. In their three prior meetings dating back to last season there have been a combined four big plays on special teams (including three touchdowns), 14 sacks, seven interceptions and four fumble recoveries. If I had to pick one I would probably take the Dolphins, who have one of the NFL's leading pass rushers (14 sacks) and a league high 28.3 yards per kickoff return.
Merry Christmas to all! Thanks for reading!
"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14.
Eric Huber is a Senior Writer for Fantasysharks.com and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA).