5 Things I care about
The Broncos won but the offense is severely flawed in fantasy and reality
The Broncos beat a 49ers team that was dying to give the game away. That’s good — but this Denver offense is clunking around with at least one broken wheel.
I got some things right so far this year. I got a lot of things wrong this year. One prediction I feel good about is that this Broncos offense was not as good as the hype made it out to be.
Here’s what I feel like we know for sure …
Russell Wilson isn’t as good as he used to be. The Broncos pass catchers aren’t as good as people wanted you to believe they were. I don’t know if anyone thought Nathaniel Hackett was good but if he’s added something, no one can tell.
Other than that, fun offense.
Look, the Broncos offense can get better as all these new pieces start to gel. I’m betting they’ll eventually be better than one touchdown per week. But let’s be realistic as to where they are right now. Denver had one good drive all night and it was when Wilson finally let his hair down, scrambled and hit a deep pass on an extended play from the pocket. None of their infrastructure works, unless you call Wilson checking down to his running backs with a fastball “working.”
The Broncos have lost to a Geno Smith-led offense, barely squeaked by the Davis Mills' Texans and literally beat a 49ers team playing their backup quarterback by a single point. This isn't a unit that is going to compete in any type of high-scoring affair.
Lamar Jackson is white-hot
We’d have spent the last seven days talking about how Lamar Jackson looks better than ever if the Ravens defense didn’t blow the game against the Dolphins last week. Well, with the right result in the W-L column, we can have the discussion.
It needs to happen because Jackson has been white-hot as a thrower and runner. He’s making his 2019 tape look like light work in comparison.
Jackson ranks fifth in EPA per dropback while nailing high degree of difficulty throws. Only Jameis Winston is averaging more air yards per pass attempt than Jackson’s 10.8. He’s still as dynamic as ever on the ground with two monster games in consecutive weeks.
He looks like the type of player who will lift the Ravens all on his own and, while we don’t often say it for quarterbacks, he’s going to do the same for fantasy teams. Jackson went in the same range of drafts as a bunch of middling receivers and running backs. Meanwhile, he’s a difference-maker.
Jackson is essentially doing all this in the passing game with just Mark Andrews leading the way, Rashod Bateman making huge plays as the vertical X-receiver and a light sprinkling of Devin Duvernay. Jackson is a teammate elevator.
This is going to be a special season for Lamar Jackson.
Derrick Henry’s receiving role
It’s always been weird to me that the Titans don’t just pass the ball to Derrick Henry more often. He’s never going to be some big-time route runner but a few dump-offs in the flat, a couple of screens here and there could make a difference. He’s an explosive player and can run over smaller players out in space.
It especially makes sense this year when they are so clearly hurting for juice in the passing game.
So, it was awesome to see Henry get targeted on 40 percent of his routes against the Raiders. Henry earned an average of 10 yards after the catch per reception. The bruising back was the second-leading receiver on the team.
We need to see more of it.
No, Henry wasn’t out there running complex, precise routes or anything like that but no one on the Titans is playing like that right now. Henry offers juice and Tennessee needs it. More passing-game work would also help salvage his fantasy floor as the Titans navigate this transition season. It’s a win for all of us.
Justin Jefferson’s role
The Week 1 runout for Justin Jefferson made it look like all the high-end dreams for his 2022 season would come true. The last two weeks have cast a serious doubt.
Jefferson has a 25.7% target share on the season with an average of 8.9 air yards per target. He’s not getting much work downfield the last two weeks but the layups aren’t there either. For all of the “Cooper Kupp” role talk this offseason, K.J. Osborn is the primary slot man for Minnesota (58.4% snaps in the slot).
We shouldn’t be in full-on panic mode over Jefferson but there’s more volatility to his role than we might have expected. He’s still a great receiver and will have a big season. It’s just not going to happen in the way many people discussed this offseason.
Chris Olave's breakout game
You should have seen the next big rookie receiver breakout coming. The air yard clues did indeed lead us to the truth.
Chris Olave had an absurd 300-plus air yards mark to his name coming into Week 3 while running out as the No. 2 receiver for New Orleans. He was getting open at all levels while specializing in downfield routes. Jameis Winston just left too many plays on the field last week against Tampa Bay.
The duo connected against Carolina, though.
Olave once again led the team in air yards and drew 13 targets, good for a 33.3% team share. Veteran receiver Michael Thomas was on and off the field while dealing with injuries. Olave capitalized. He’s good enough to be a legitimate top receiver for the Saints.
Thomas has made a big comeback from a long injury layoff but has dealt with other maladies ever since he returned. Meanwhile, Olave just gets better every week. There is a decent chance the rookie is the best pass catcher for the Saints the rest of the way.
5 Things I don’t care about
Jimmy Garoppolo as the savior narratives
Who knows what would have happened with Trey Lance but getting Jimmy Garoppolo back in the 49ers starting lineup does not remove throws being left on the field and the propensity for mind-numbing mistakes from the equation.
Anyone suggesting otherwise hasn’t watched this team in the last three years.
Garoppolo’s “Dropback out of the back of the end zone” safety was comically brutal but it was just one notch in a bedpost of miscues. His fourth-quarter interception is a play we’ve seen from Garoppolo thousands of times. He tries to needle throws into tight zone coverage and doesn’t see the robber defender in the secondary.
His ball placement on open third-down routes to Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel were drive-killers. The lack of a deep passing game was back.
The 49ers are better off with Garoppolo on the roster in a post-Lance world than they would have been in with any other of their other backups. But any suggestion that he’s about to come in here and save a team Lance was going to sink is nonsense.
The 49ers can win with Garoppolo. The skill-position players’ floor projections might rise with him under center. But they are absolutely NOT going to reach their theoretical ceiling because of him.
I’ve seen more than enough: The Eagles are the most dangerous offense in the NFC right now. Other contenders are dealing with injuries but I struggle to see how to slow the momentum the Eagles have right now.
This team continues to prove doubters wrong.
Jalen Hurts isn’t good enough to lead a high-octane passing game? He ranks fourth in the NFL in completion rate over expectation and EPA per dropback. He just continues to get better.
A.J. Brown’s volume numbers are going to decline after leaving Tennessee? Brown ranks fourth in the NFL in air yards and has been targeted on over 27% of his routes. He’s been a game-changer for this team.
DeVonta Smith is too small to thrive in the NFL? Not a chance. Smith was electric on Sunday. He led the team with a 53% share of the team air yards and made incredible contested grabs on his deep reception and touchdown.
Philadelphia has other threats on this team we shouldn’t overlook, but their Big Three is enough all on its own to put fear in the hearts of any defensive play-callers. They’ll be there all the way until the end. Hopefully, you shut out the noise and bought into the talent of the Eagles’ passing-game players.
The Chargers offense
I am losing faith in the Chargers coaching staff’s plan — and it’s fading fast.
Justin Herbert was obviously completely compromised; we can start there. I have no idea why he played so late into the game. It was a clear blowout, there was nothing to be gained. After the game, Brandon Staley said “He wanted to be out there with his teammates,” when questioned about an injured Herbert’s playing time deep into the fourth quarter. No kidding, coach, but it’s your responsibility to do what’s best for the team. There’s no rational argument for that being what was best for the Chargers on this day or the future.
There are non-Herbert injury flaws on this team too. The offense is so tight. Without Keenan Allen, they don’t have any players who can create separation or get open downfield. So Herbert just throws short aDOT passes to a bunch of blanketed receivers. It’s brutal.
And who knows what’s going on with the backfield? This team signed Sony Michel, like, right before the season. Why is he getting more carries than Austin Ekeler? They can’t play the “saving Ekeler’s body” card because they played their star back deep into this blowout too.
If there’s a reason here, I’m not seeing it.
The Chargers have entered “Show me something” territory. Getting Allen back in the fold will help, as will Herbert getting further away from this injury. But there are serious structural issues within this offense.
Preseason expectations for DJ Moore
Through three weeks DJ Moore might be the most frustrating early-ish-round wide receiver selection. Baker Mayfield was meant to be an upgrade for not just Moore’s outlook but for the Panthers as a whole. That hasn’t worked out just yet.
The Panthers got the win today but their two touchdowns came on a 44-yard fumble return and a 67-yard catch-and-run by LaViska Shenault on a flat route behind the line of scrimmage. The Panthers didn’t exactly put together consistent offensive drives that resulted in end-zone trips.
Mayfield finished with a -16% completion rate over expected in Week 3. He’s been a net negative for this offense. Target share has been an issue for Moore. He’s sitting at 23.4% through three weeks — he was at 28% last year — which is just not good enough. The Panthers have gotten a ton of ancillary players involved in the passing tree.
Maybe this turns around in the future. You probably have to hold Moore and hope, if you’re invested in fantasy. The Panthers' brain trust doesn’t exactly inspire a ton of confidence and we’ve seen Mayfield struggle when he needs to elevate a single pass-catcher before, back in his Cleveland days.
Non-Dameon Pierce Texans
Rookie running back Dameon Pierce had his breakout game. It was easy to see coming against Chicago.
Pierce played on 59.6% of the snaps and touched the ball 22 times. He runs well and can put up big numbers when game scripts are tight like this. Pierce got a lot of steam in the preseason, perhaps too much, but he will still have some big games throughout the rest of his rookie season.
The Texans' passing game is another story. I feel as if Davis Mills got bonus points for his rookie season because he has “acceptable” moments when the expectations were next to zero. The results so far in his second season are not promising.
Even the usually steady Brandin Cooks hasn’t been able to shine thus far. He’s dominating the targets for this team (27%) but it’s turned into just 13 catches for 158 scoreless yards.