With two weeks in the books, we now have a sufficient sample size to begin to see the true breakdown of defenses and their relative ranks in the passing and rushing aspects of the game. While some ranks are still a reflection of matchups, and not necessarily defensive strength, the picture is becoming clearer. Trends are starting to reveal themselves.
Surveying the data in the tables below, I see several things worth pointing out:
- The Titans rushing defense is as good as its passing defense is bad.
This is likely partially due to the overall weakness of the Steelers rushing game, but that considered, the difference is still astounding. (They remind me of the Vikings defense of a few years ago.) The Titans were dominated by both Big Ben and Schaub in Weeks 1 and 2 respectively, while they completely shut down Willie Parker and Slaton. You have to like the chances of rookie QB Mark Sanchez and the Jets WRs in Week 3, while it’d be wise to avoid Leon Washington and Thomas Jones if at all possible.
- The Jets are for real.
In the preseason, safety Kerry Rhodes claimed the Jets had the best defense in the league. After two games, he’s starting to look like a smart man. Despite facing two of the best offensive teams in the league (Texans and Patriots), their defensive stats look as dominating as any other unit in the league. Based on their numbers, you’d think they’d just finished playing against two anemic offenses like the Lions and the Browns rather than two powerhouses. Simply put, they have yet to allow an offensive touchdown and cornerback Darrelle Revis has completely shut down two of the best WRs in the NFL (Andre Johnson and Randy Moss). CJ4.24 is the only Titan you should even consider starting against them.
- The Chargers are going to sorely miss nose tackle Jamal Williams
Already suffering from lackluster play by LB Shane Merriman, the Chargers lost quite possibly their greatest defensive asset in Williams. The Chargers are thin at the position and simply won’t be able to replace him. Willis McGahee turned back the clock against them in Week 2 as he ran for 79 yards (5.3 YPC) and two touchdowns. They made McGahee look like he did before his series of knee injuries. You have to like Ronnie Browns chances at another big day (see Monday nights game against the Colts) in Week 3.
Notable Week 3 Matchups
Eli Manning vs. Buccaneers Defense:
The younger Manning is truly an elite quarterback. As has been well documented by the media, the Giants are lacking a star WR and they feature a RB completely inept in the passing game. Enter Mario Manningham and Steve Smith. Manning tore apart the Dallas secondary while looking to his two WRs early and often.
Comparatively, Smith and Manningham are perfect complements of one another. Smith runs incredible routs (watch him abuse CB Scandrick on his touchdown last week) and Manningham provides a great deep threat. Furthermore, the two have been about as sure handed as they come (29 catches on 38 targets).
Expect another big week from the Giants passing game. Few QBs have better prospects than Eli Manning. He’s a top-of-the-line QB1 start against Tampa Bay.
Jay Cutler vs. Seahawks Defense:
The Seattle Seahawks secondary has been surprisingly impressive to date. Though their first two games were against weak opponents (Rams and 49ers), they have effectively shut them down and have held them to zero passing TDs (no small feat regardless of your opponents).
At the same time, Cutler just led the Bears to a remarkable upset of the Steelers. Cutler himself was extremely impressive, poised, and efficient. If he can put up those types of numbers against what’s likely to be a top-five defense, it’s tough not to like his chances against the Seahawks.
Bottom line, we’ll get to see who’s performance was for real: Cutler’s or the Seahawks’ secondary. I like Cutler’s chances myself. The only thing missing from the Bears passing game was Olsen (when is he going to break out?). Roll with Cutler unless you have an elite alternative option at QB.
Randy Moss vs. Falcons Defense:
Either Jake Delhomme had an incredible turnaround in Week 2, or the Falcons secondary simply isn’t very good — my vote is on the latter. After allowing Chad Pennington to dink-and-dunk them all game in Week 1, in Week 2 the Falcons allowed several deep balls to the Panthers.
Moreover, the Patriots will enter this game angry after their showing last week. Given that neither defense is particularly good and that the Falcons offense has been rolling, this could easily turn into a shootout.
Moss should get back on track this game against a mediocre at best passing defense. Expect him to put up similar numbers to those forecasted in the preseason.
Dwayne Bowe vs. Eagles Defense:
Bowe has been a fairly productive fantasy WR to this point despite his low yardage total of only 96 yards through two games. Too many of his points are coming from TDs for him to be a trustworthy WR1 right now. Though Bowe’s an immense talent, I don’t have enough confidence in Cassel against a strong defense like the Eagles to recommend Bowe here.
If you’re in a relatively shallow league with two starting WR slots, I’d consider benching Bowe this week.
Notable Week 3 Matchups
Maurice Jones-Drew vs. Texans Defense:
One of the top 3 most talented RBs in the NFL faces off against a Texans front that was absolutely throttled by Chris Johnson last week and bullied by the Jets committee of Thomas Jones and Leon Washington in Week 1. MJD owners should be licking their chops. This is why you drafted him.
Expect a big game.
Darren McFadden/Michael Bush vs. Broncos Defense:
While I like McFadden as a RB2, and Bush as a sleeper, I don’t like their odds against the Broncos. Denver seems to be a team on the rise under coach Josh McDaniels and they are clearly taking to their new 3-4 defense. Elvis Dumervil in particular looked unstoppable last week while registering 4 sacks. He was undersized as a DL, but at OLB in a 3-4 front he creates all kinds of matchups problems. The Browns could not keep him out of the backfield and the Raiders are unlikely to be any more successful.
It should be another poor day for the Raiders. They’ll most likely be playing catch-up the majority of the game and don’t have what it takes to sustain many long drives against the Broncos. McFadden is at best a decent RB3 this week in my book.
Note: All numbers besides TDs and INTs are averages. Also, see my column last week if you missed my method for calculating the overall ranks.
Jake Sheets is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Jake in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of jake_twothousandfive.
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