I’ve heard tell of some sort of return to Philadelphia tonight for a former Eagles head coach, but I refuse to acknowledge it until a choir sings this song…
Chattering heads and those who weave poetic narratives will discuss Andy Reid’s return all night and far into tomorrow morning. Personally, I’m much more excited about the football game that will be played, and the intriguing factors that may lead to the pleasant upwards ticking of fantasy points. So, about that.
1. Those running backs who catch passes: will they be defended?
Both LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles excel at catching a ball and then running with it, a skill they’re being asked to use more now in new offenses. I know, I’m not exactly knocking you over with shocking material here, but it’s still a lot of fun to see their receiving skill quantified. Through just two games they’ve combined for 17 receptions and 190 receiving yards, with the bulk of that yardage coming last week on McCoy’s career high 70-yard catch and run (it led to 114 overall yards against the Chargers, a single-game high). With the 48 yards he posted on the Cowboys last week, Charles has already eclipsed his 2012 single-game receiving high…in Week 2. Perhaps more importantly for our purposes was the potential for even more through the air for Charles last week, as he was targeted 10 times by a quarterback who’s just fine thanks with being safe, and not sorry.
Of course, both of these guys can do great things when they’re used conventionally and given the ball straight to the gut. But I’m zeroing in on their receiving abilities prior to this particular evening because they both have matchups that could be particularly promising for running backs who do a lot of catching. Charles will oppose a Philadelphia defense that’s been diced and chopped in nearly every way imaginable thus far, and that includes allowing Danny Woodhead to catch eight passes for 37 yards last week, which adds up to 11 fantasy points in PPR leagues. That’s a fine total for a secondary deep flex option like Benjamin Button himself.
Despite their tenacity and near flawless fundamentals as a unit while defending running backs when they’re, you know, running, the Chiefs have struggled early when they catch the ball in space. Over two weeks they’ve given up 95 receiving yards to running backs, which includes 49 to DeMarco Murray in Week 2.
2. Is this the game that Andy Reid goes into default Reid mode, and asks Alex Smith to pass deep, and often?
You know those toddler leash things? Reid has his quarterback firmly fastened to one of those right now. But it feels like tonight is a game when he could unzip his bouncy child who really wants a Bob the Builder playset, even though he knows that’s probably a horrible and costly idea.
I’m using every ounce of restraint in my fingers to not drop the vague, generic, and blanket label of “game manager,” because somehow that’s become an insult, even though it’s not at all a bad thing (“hey, you’re a quarterback who never throws any interceptions ever? YOU SUCK JERK”). Smith doesn’t have a strong arm, and so in both San Francisco and early in Kansas City his deep throwing has been minimized. On short throws, though, he’s accurate (see: his completion percentage of 70.2 over 10 games last year and quarterback rating of 104.1), which is why intermediate routes and quick strikes are emphasized.
Over 70 pass attempts through two games in KC he’s averaged only 5.7 yards per attempt, and over his last 561 attempts dating back to the start of the 2011 season he’s thrown only 10 interceptions, largely because of that conservative approach. Between throws in space to Charles (who leads the team with 11 receptions), Dwayne Bowe, and Dexter McCluster, the march down the field has been efficient through yards after the catch, and that’s led to Smith throwing a touchdown pass on 5.7 percent of his throws (four in total). Aided by that scoring and his 57 rushing yards, Smith has 21 fantasy points in Week 2, which followed his 16 in the Chiefs’ opener against Jacksonville.
That’s working, and working really, really well then. Does it change suddenly tonight against an atrocious secondary, with Reid reverting back to his natural state of deep bombing?
Between torchings by Robert Griffin III (in the second half, at least) and Philip Rivers, the Eagles have already given up 721 passing yards while allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 68.8 percent of their passes. Reid and offensive coordinator Doug Pederson should and likely will stick with what’s working, because if he doesn’t then Smith will become the octagon-shaped peg he’s hammering into a square hole. But it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Bowe — who’s averaging just 10.8 yards per catch through two games, nearly three yards lower than his career average — sent deep more. Or at least, you know, at all.
3. Brandon Flowers = ruh roh
There are injuries, and then there’s mannnnnn that sucks. The Chiefs may not quite get there with Brandon Flowers, their top cornerback who’s listed as questionable and will therefore be a game-time decision tonight with a knee injury, and they have fine depth behind him with Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson. Still, if Flowers is lost for tonight or limited that’s pretty painful since the Chiefs need a shutdown guy to keep up with DeSean Jackson, the Eagles’ burner who leads the league with 297 receiving yards, and had receptions for 41 and 61 yards in Week 2.
If Flowers meets either of those descriptions (limited or out), expect even more boom from Jackson tonight.
Standard preamble/dire warning: in the end it’s all the same, but sit and start decisions on Thursday night just feel more pressing and possibly painful, because if you make a poor call already one roster spot has been burned long before Sunday. That sucks a lot (#analysis).
No-brainers: Starting LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, and DeSean Jackson always takes about 0.12 seconds of thought. Right now the same is true with Michael Vick, and the early indications are that after finishing draft season with an ADP of 106th he’ll provide the best value in fantasy football history this side of Adrian Peterson in 2012. Of course, that’s assuming he stays healthy, something we need to add every time Vick’s name is mentioned.
Dwayne Bowe nearly always fits in this category too and is typically a decent if unspectacular WR2, and this week is no different with the aforementioned juicy matchup he has and the possibility of more deep chucking.
Tweeners: Because of all the warm and welcoming numbers associated with the Eagles secondary, this is the night (and maybe the only night) to start Alex Smith, though it’s a decision which depends entirely on how you’ve constructed your roster. If you’re one of those crazy kids who took the late-round quarterback strategy to its extreme while waiting and then waiting some more and then drafting Smith and, say, Joe Flacco as your tandem, make those clicks and insert Smith now. His limited value as a fantasy commodity lies in his accuracy, his lack of interceptions that will hurt you, and his frequent touchdowns. This will be a game and a matchup which caters to all of those things. Heavily.
Flex/sleepers: Brent Celek is still a fine flex play and will keep sporadically booming throughout the season with his long runs up the seam. In Week 1 he had 56 yards on just two catches, including a 28-yard touchdown. Week 2? No catches, no targets, and no nothin’.
Stay away: Only those of you in deep and unhealthy leagues are doing much of this anyway, but you can’t touch any Eagles wide receiver not named DeSean Jackson. McCoy, Jackson, and whatever tight end Chip Kelly feels like featuring tonight will get the majority of Vick’s targets, and at this point Riley Cooper and Jason Avant have combined for only 10 catches.