StrategyNovember 6, 2004


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Spotlight Game: Philadelphia at Pittsburgh

By Dave McGrath

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

Philadelphia

Donovan McNabb: Last week, McNabb was efficient against the brick wall that is the Baltimore Ravens pass defense. McNabb showed poise and patience in the pocket on his way to 219 yards and a score. This week, he again faces a stingy defensive unit in the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers bottled up Tom Brady last week, forcing him into 3 critical turnovers (Brady’s 271 passing yards were greatly inflated by garbage yardage late in the game). Expect McNabb to use his mobility to neutralize Pittsburgh’s aggressive defense and cut down on sacks and costly turnovers. Start McNabb as usual. McNabb will also pass more than usual due to Westbrook’s health concerns. Bottom Line: 24/40, 245 yards, two TDs and a turnover from Donovan.

Brian Westbrook/Dorsey Levens/Reno Mahe: As mentioned earlier in the Start/Sit article, none of the running backs in this trio is worth a play this week. Westbrook is listed as questionable, but he did practice Thursday, which is most likely a good omen for his owners. However, if he plays, expect him to see only limited time, which could translate to a dreaded running back by committee situation. Also, his owners should temper their enthusiasm, since Pittsburgh only allows 3.7 yards a carry. So, if Westbrook starts, he will tally 50 yards on 13 carries, including another 20 yards through the air. Levens and Mahe, who would then be relegated to backup duty, will chalk up 25 and 15 yards, respectively. On the other hand, if Westbrook receives another week of rest, Levens will run for 45 yards, while Mahe will grab 30 yards with his share of carries.

Philadelphia WRs: Not much to think about here, Terrell Owens is the only player worth starting. Of course, with his numbers this year, he’s a starter week in and week out. Despite Pittsburgh’s tough secondary, Owens will have another banner day. Owens had over 100 yards and a TD against the revenge-minded Ravens, so there is no reason not expect a similar day here. Terrell will add another 100 yards and a TD to his total. The Eagles had hoped that either Todd Pinkston or Freddie Mitchell would emerge as a viable #2 WR alongside Owens, but that plan has not come to fruition. Mitchell has still not lived up to his potential while Pinkston has not bulked up enough, leaving him susceptible to physical corners. Neither deserve a spot on your team, and don’t hope for much from them on Sunday either. Only 35 yards from Pinkston and 20 from Mitchell.

LJ Smith/Chad Lewis: We have two talented, productive tight ends here. Unfortunately, they play for the same team. They have nearly the same exact yardage totals, with both of them having between 180-190 yards for the year. Both of them may see a couple extra looks during this game, seeing as the running game could be non-existent. There are better options this week, but if you choose to start an Eagle, go with Smith, who seems to get more red zone looks from McNabb. Smith will have 30 with a red zone look, while Lewis will chip in with 20 yards.

Defense: The Eagles have been a solid defensive unit for fantasy owners thus far this year, and there is no reason to think they will falter here. Expect big tackling days from Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis, the team’s leading tackler. Jevon Kearse and the rest of the Eagles defensive line will provide constant pressure as they try to fluster Roethlisberger. Mark Simoneau and Nate Wayne are also solid starts, as they will be recording tackles when Pittsburgh attempts to pound the ball with Bettis and Staley. If you play in a league with team defenses, start Philadelphia with confidence. Three sacks and one or two turnovers from this unit.

Pittsburgh

Ben Roethlisberger: In his first six games as a starter in the NFL, Big Ben is completing an amazing 70% of his passes. But he comes up against his greatest challenge yet against the Eagles. Philly only allows 6.07 yards per attempt, and has already sacked the quarterback 25 times this year. If possible, sit Roethlisberger this week in favor of a better match-up. Ben will have an efficient game, but not one that meets owners’ lofty fantasy standards. He will pass for 190 yards, a TD and a pick.

Duce Staley/Jerome Bettis: Staley currently ranks seventh in the league with 707 yards on the ground (with a 4.7 avg.). Staley has revenge on his mind in this game, and he may have his way on the ground, seeing as the Eagles’ major weakness is their running defense. Philadelphia allows 5.1 yards per carry, so there should be some sizable holes for Duce to run through. Start Duce this week, even if you are disappointed with his mere one touchdown on the year. The Eagles will eventually stack the line to stop Staley, but not before Duce racks up considerable yardage total. Duce will end his touchdown drought while rushing for 98 yards on 24 carries. Bettis saw an increased workload last week, rushing for 65 yards on 15 carries and a TD. Still, he should remain off your team unless you are desperate. Owners of Bettis can only hope for a goal line touchdown, since his yardage totals will not usually be impressive. Bettis will revert back to old form this week, rushing for 25 yards on eight carries.

Pittsburgh WRs: All of the Pittsburgh have a lesser value this week against a quality Eagle pass defense. However, Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress remain must starts. Ward has once again gone unnoticed this season, quietly putting up 589 yards and two scores. Owners of his will be pleased to see 60-70 yards and a touchdown in the box score when this game ends. Burress has come alive lately, chalking up two touchdowns against the defending champs last week, doubling his season total. Another 60 yards and a red zone look for Burress this week (could steal Ward or Staley’s score). Antwaan Randle El had more looks and therefore more value in his rookie season. However, he had 6 of his 16 catches last week against the Patriots. Look for him to work the middle of the field again to grab 30-40 yards on three catches.

Jerame Tuman/Jay Riemersma: They should remain on the waiver wire. Roethlisberger doesn’t utilize the TE position too often, as each only has five grabs on the year. Riemersma will have a catch for 10 or 15 yards, while Tuman will remain in the box to block for Staley.

Defense: Troy Polamalu and Deshea Townsend are good starts once again. Not only are they tackle machines, but also they have combined for five interceptions on the year. Most of the Steeler linebacking corps are worth starting as well, as Larry Foote, Joey Porter, and James Farrior all have at least 30 tackles and two sacks each. Also, look for an underrated Aaron Smith to produce once again. He already has five sacks on the year, and he also recovered a fumble against New England last week. The team defense is not as valuable this week. Still, 2-3 sacks and a turnover is not out of the question.

Sleepers:

Sheldon Brown: This is a name not often spoken of in many fantasy circles, but if you hurting in the secondary area, you might want to consider him. This young corner had to be thrust into the lineup this upon the departure of Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent. They hoped that he could be an adequate fill-in that would not be a liability in the passing defense. However, he has turned out to be more than just a serviceable corner. Brown is third on the team in tackles (39) and has recorded two sacks already this year. Brown is a solid bye week fill-in this week. Look for 5-7 tackles and possibly a sack since defensive coordinator Jim Johnson is infamous for his corner and safety blitzes.

Chris Hope/Willie Williams: Chad Scott is out once again this week, which means Willie Williams will see much more time at the left corner spot. Williams could nearly double his season total of 11 tackles in this game if he sees the majority of the time. Hope has already benefitted from Mike Logan’s injury, seeing a significant increase in time to the tune of 36 tackles. He has also been around the ball often, because he has several passes defended. Look for another five tackles and a possible pick from Hope.

Prediction

This will no doubt be a hard fought game, but can Pittsburgh pull of yet another upset of an undefeated team? Not this time. The Patriots were not prepared for the complex defensive schemes that the Steelers threw at them last week. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, Philadelphia runs a similar defense, so McNabb should be able to adapt and find ways to beat it as the game progresses. Philly will pack the box to stop Staley, and then use that later in the game to disguise their secondary blitzes. They will grab the victory on the dependable leg of Akers late in the game. Philadelphia 23 Pittsburgh 20.

 
Dave McGrath is a freshman at LaSalle University, and will be previewing several games in this way each week. He can be found posting as dave416 in the Cafe forums.

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