StrategyDecember 12, 2004


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Spotlight Game: Tampa Bay at San Diego

By Dave McGrath

Each week, Dave presents a preview of the week’s most interesting contests from a fantasy perspective, offering his take on player performances, potential sleepers and, of course, the game’s outcome.

Tampa Bay

Brian Griese: Griese has been on fire of late, and has become a reputable fantasy start. Griese also has not been mistake-prone as in years past, boasting a mark of 13 TDs and only 6 interceptions. He will be in for a tough battle in this game, and he could be forced to pass more often if Michael Pittman gets shut down by the pesky San Diego run defense. Unfortunately for Griese, he only has one productive receiver in Michael Clayton, so spreading the ball around will be difficult. However, San Diego can be had through the air, as they give up 6.8 yards per pass attempt. Taking all of this into consideration, I see Griese having a decent day, but maybe not as good as fantasy owners need as we enter the fantasy post-season. Griese should throw for 180-210 yards, a TD, and a turnover.

Michael Pittman/Mike Alstott: Pittman has been on fire as of late, making the fantasy owners that were astute enough to pick him up look like geniuses. However, I advise Pittman owners to sit him this week as long as you have even a modest back-up. There are several factors working against him this week in San Diego. The first is San Diego’s much improved run defense, which is allowing only 3.6 yards per carry for the year. Second is the recent return of Mike Alstott, who will no doubt hurt Pittman’s production. Pittman should not only lose overall carries, but particularly goal-line carries, which means a vast decrease in touchdowns. A prime example was last week: Pittman’s carries were reduced to 17 (while Alstott had nine), and Alstott stole one of Tampa’s two rushing scores. So as you can see, while Pittman still gets the majority of the carries, he is not getting the 20+ he was used to earlier. Lastly, perhaps the most telling stat is Pittman’s immense struggles on the road:

 GAttYdsAvgLgTD1st
HOME GAMES5914835.378725
ROAD GAMES4661792.71307

As you can see, Pittman is a different person on the road. His average per carry is cut in half away from home, and he has yet to have a carry over 15 yards. Also, he has yet to taste paydirt on the road, compared to seven TDs at Raymond James Stadium. He does have nearly 300 receiving yard this year, but nearly half of that came against the Panthers two weeks ago, so do not expect receiving production out of him every week. Therefore, I still suggest sitting him this week. Pittman will get 15-18 carries for 50 yards, and a couple of grabs for 10-20 yards. Alstott, on the other hand, will carry the ball 8-10 times for 35-50 yards and a touchdown.

Tampa Bay WRs: The only real play here is rookie Michael Clayton. Out of LSU, many scouts felt he was lacking the skills that were needed to be a premier NFL receiver. These opinions dropped him to Tampa late in the first round. He has responded with a brilliant rookie campaign, catching 61 balls for 843 yards and three TDs, nearly triple the output of the team’s second leading receiver, Michael Pittman. Start Clayton without worry as he should have another productive day as Griese’s favorite target. Clayton will have seven catches for 90 yards and a touchdown. Behind Clayton, there is a plethora of mediocre, aging receivers. Charles Lee (the young guy of the group), Joe Jurevicius, Bill Schroeder, Tim Brown and Joey Galloway have all had down years due to injuries, inconsistency, or a decline in talent. None of these guys should be starting, let alone be on your team at all. This group could combine for a couple of catches, but do not expect much from anyone individually.

Ken Dilger: Dilger has made for a quality sleeper tight end this year, racking up 30 catches for 286 yards and three TDs. Those stats are good enough for Dilger to be Tampa Bay’s third leading receiver. His inconsistency keeps him from becoming a quality fantasy start, but don’t be afraid to plug him into your lineups this week if your primary TE has injury problems. Dilger should have 25-35 receiving along with a red zone look from Griese.

Defense: Tampa’s team defense is not a great start this week against an efficient San Diego offense. Drew Brees has only thrown four interceptions this year, and LaDainian Tomlinson is about as sure-handed as they come at the running back position. The Bucaneers should get two sacks and only one turnover at most. As for IDPs, Derrick Brooks (102 tackles, one interception and three sacks) and Shelton Quarles (72 tackles and 3.5 sacks) are very valuable at the linebacker spot. Each of these guys should have another 6-8 tackles in this tilt, and don’t be surprised if Brooks adds a sack. In the secondary, Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly are the two options. Barber (67 tackles, two sacks, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions) and Kelly (43 tackles, a fumble recovery and four interceptions) are quality starts. Each should have 4-5 tackles, but Barber is the better play because he is a more complete defensive player (he is also utilized more than Kelly on corner blitzes, opening the door for sacks).

San Diego

Drew Brees: Brees has been very efficient this year and is one of the season’s most improved players. However, he could find himself relying heavily on Tomlinson in this game. Also, Tampa Bay allows only 6.4 yard per attempt, so some of the passing lanes could shrink in this game. Still, he should have a quality game as long as he is able to stay mistake free. Sit him only if you have a quarterback with an quality match-up or one of the other top-tier passers. Brees will be 18/27 for 190-225 yards, a TD pass to Gates, and most importantly, no turnovers.

LaDainian Tomlinson/Jesse Chatman: LaDainian should see the ball early and often in this game, both on the ground and through the air. Fears that Jesse Chatman would take a significant amount of his carries subsided last week when Tomlinson had 30 carries to Chatman’s two. Tampa gives up only 4.2 yards per carry, but I think that Tomlinson will have a huge game due to the amount of times he will see the ball. He should see 24-28 carries for 110-125 yards and two touchdowns. Luckily for Tomlinson owners, he is also adapt at catching passes. Therefore, he could add another 30-40 receiving to his rushing totals. Chatman will get his carries, but not enough to worry Tomlinson owners, picking up five touches for 25 yards when he is spelling LaDainian.

San Diego WRs: Both of the San Diego receivers have the potential to have breakout games, but they are not consistent enough to start unless you have major injury problems. With Reche Caldwell out for the year, Parker and McCardell’s value should have gone up, but that has not been the case thus far. McCardell started out hot, but has cooled off considerably since. Parker has the makings of a rising star, but that will probably have to wait until next year. That being said, avoid San Diego wide outs this week. Parker should have 50 yards and McCardell 30, but they will both be kept out of the end zone.

Antonio Gates: Gates is not only the leading receiver for the surging Chargers, but he is also Brees’ favorite red zone target (as evidenced by his 11 TDs). So there is not much to say here, since Gates has been a top three TE this year. Bottom line: Start him in all formats and you should see six catches for 55-70 yards and a TD.

Defense: San Diego’s team defense is a middle-of-the-road start this week against Tampa. They should have 2-3 sacks and 1-2 turnovers. Donnie Edwards, one of the best tacklers in today’s game, is a must-start as always with his 112 total tackles. Edwards should have another 7-10 against the Bucs. Randall Godfrey is a borderline start at the other linebacker spot. In the secondary, Terrence Kiel, a second year man out of Texas A&M, is excelling at strong safety. Kiel is a possible start with 70 tackles, an interception, a sack and a fumble recovery. Lastly, if you need a lot of help in the secondary, Jerry Wilson could be a possible plug-in. He has 60 total tackles and three picks, but he is a risky play since his presence may not be felt unless he has an interception.

Sleepers:

Steve Foley: Cincinnati picked up Foley a couple of years back when they experimented with the 3-4 defense. He excelled in this scheme, but Cincinnati would switch back to the 4-3 2 years later, rendering Foley nearly useless, as he was now playing in a scheme that did not favor his abilities (and a scheme in which he had no experience playing). Injuries and a lower level of play eventually caused Cincinnati to release Foley. He had a brief stay in Houston, but he wound up moving on to San Diego, where they were beginning to utilize the 3-4 defense. Foley has seen a huge re-emergence as his stats have been very impressive this year. He has chalked up 47 total tackles (fifth on the team), six sacks (leads the team), two fumble recoveries (tied for first on the team) and two interceptions (third on the team). Seeing as he produces in every defensive phase of the game, he makes a quality IDP option if you have injury problems on your team. Expect another six tackles and a sack from Foley this week.

Prediction

Many people like the Buccaneers in this spot, and for good reason. They have caught fire as of late, winning four of six to throw themselves right into the thick of the NFC playoff race. However, keep in mind that those four victories were all at home, while the two games they lost were on the road. Tampa Bay is only 1-5 on the road this season, with that win coming against the lowly, inconsistent Saints. The Chargers, of course, are a much stiffer challenge. Tampa is desperate at 5-7, knowing that they will have to win at least two, probably three of their last four to taste the playoffs. Unfortunately for them, one of those wins will not come in Qualcomm this week. San Diego 27 Tampa Bay 17.

 
Dave McGrath hopes to eventually turn his Communication major into a full-time sportwriting career. He can be found posting as dave416 in the Cafe forums.

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