Geno Smith is, in a word, maddening. At times this season he’s controlled his default rookie-ness through a firm grasp of fundamentals and pocket sense. He’s gone through his reads, completed difficult passes, and identified times when, yes, running is the best option. No really, all of those things happened, and when they did, Jets fans experienced wildly encouraging and fun times.
But far more often lately, we’ve seen the fumbling Smith. Or the intercepting Smith. Or my favorite, the behind the back And1 mixtape Smith.
That’s why, despite some injuries, the defense he’s throwing against this week is the defense you’re streaming.
Let’s do the weekly swim up that stream. As always, the ownership numbers are taken from Yahoo.
1. Atlanta Falcons vs. Jets (percentage owned: 32%)
Like last week when we laughed at Blaine Gabbert heartily while picking up the Colts defense to the tune of 24 fantasy points, this is much more about the level of the opponent’s suck than it is the Falcons’ ability to keep opponents away from areas where points are scored. Overall, the Falcons have been pretty gross against the pass, ranking 26th while giving up 301.0 yards per game, and 8.1 per attempt. Combine that with the fact that Asante Samuel, their top cornerback, is still hobbled and missing practices (he didn’t participate yesterday), and they’re getting little pressure on the quarterback (only seven sacks), and it feels like there isn’t much to enjoy here.
I bet you’re wondering when I’m going to say something good. Patience.
First, there’s Smith’s inconsistency and lack of comfort in the pocket, two things that happen with rookie quarterbacks, and we mostly nod and shrug. But Smith has taken that to both new and uncomfortable levels, with six turnovers over his past two games. But it’s the frequency of his crunchings that’s especially appealing for our purposes here. Smith has already been sacked 14 times through only four games, which includes two games when he was taken down five times apiece. Like the Falcons, New England hasn’t brought down opposing quarterbacks much, yet four of their nine total sacks thus far came against the Jets in Week 2.
But here’s an even better reason for giddiness: who, exactly, is Smith throwing to? Santonio Holmes is out for a few weeks with a hamstring injury, and Stephen Hill will likely sit with a concussion. Hill returned to practice today, but in a non-contract jersey.
If Hill isn’t cleared, Smith will be left with Jeremy Kerley and Clyde Gates as his top two wide receivers, and the effective yet always creaky Kellen Winslow Jr. would then also be a frequent target. So there’s a strong possibility that Smith’s top receivers will have a combined 15 catches over four games between them, and only 30 targets.
2. Miami Dolphins vs. Ravens (percentage owned: 12%)
I’m not sure what it was, exactly, that we saw from Joe Flacco last week.
I like Flacco, and I like him a lot. But there’s a pretty good chance that he was simply a quarterback who peaked at the perfect time during a season to play a crucial role in a championship drive. There’s nothing at all wrong with that, but now the recency effect has taken over. We only remember the Flacco we saw during the playoffs who didn’t throw an interception over 126 attempts, and most famously he connected on that 70-yard sailing behemoth throw to Jacoby Jones that kept the Ravens alive, and eventually preserved a Super Bowl berth. We don’t remember the guy who had four games throughout the regular season when he completed less than 55 percent of his passes.
He was good and great, but not always excellent, which was certainly the case a week ago when Flacco threw five interceptions against a Bills secondary that was riddled with injuries, most notably missing its best cornerback Stephon Gilmore, and safety Jarius Byrd. He’s now thrown seven picks total through the first quarter of this season, and he’s done it on just 169 pass attempts. Last year including the playoffs, Flacco threw just 10 total interceptions on 657 attempts.
He’s bringing that recent slopfest to a matchup against the Dolphins, and corners Brent Grimes and Nolan Carrol who have given up a combined 53.2 catch rate to opposing receivers, and a 65.9 passer rating. Yes, they were torn up by Drew Brees last week, because Drew Brees tends to do that often. But the week prior to that Matt Ryan, Julio Jones et all were held to a fine and modest 236 passing yards, and that offense is averaging 316.5 yards per game.
3. New Orleans Saints @ Bears (percentage owned: 17%)
Something wonderful has happened with the Saints defense this year. Part of it is Rob Ryan’s influence, but the much larger part is, you know, good players.
Keenan Lewis and Kenny Vaccaro have been money and a draft pick well spent. Each game thus far the Saints’ opponents have been held to 17 or fewer points, and that comes after they gave up an average of 28.4 points per game last year. But the most significant improvement has come while defending sailing balls, as they’re giving up an average of 192.2 yards per game through the air, after 292.6 last year.
Yes, that’s at least a mild improvement, and it extends to the pass rush, where the Saints already have 12 sacks, putting Cameron Jordan and his posse of large men who hurt quarterbacks on pace for 48 overall (they had 30 in 2012). So keep all of those numbers fresh, and then remember that the Saints will oppose a Chicago offense that abruptly saw the return of the old Jay Cutler last week when he turned the ball over four times — three through interceptions — against the Lions.
But oh, there will be yards this week as the Saints try to defend Brandon Marshall, the receiving ability of Matt Forte, and overall a rejuvenated offense under Marc Trestman. There will be turnovers from Cutler too against a defense that’s generated eight of them.
Honorable mention quick hits:
- The Rams are much more widely owned, and available in only a quarter of Yahoo leagues. But this is your standard, weekly reminder that the Jaguars suck a lot, so playing the defense that’s set to hammer them is always a good idea.
- Speaking of which, the Indy defense that just hammered those Jags isn’t an awful play. The Colts face a Seahawks offense that may do some ground carving with Marshawn Lynch, but Russell Wilson is coming off a game in which he was sacked five times, while averaging only 5.3 yards per pass attempt.