Monday September 22nd, 2014

Fact: LeSean McCoy is worth keeping

Everything Washington did defensively in Week 3 was geared toward stopping the Philadelphia run game. That partially manifested itself in Nick Foles throwing for 325 yards, 7.9 yards per attempt and three touchdowns. Here was the look of the Washington defense on LeSean McCoy’s first run of the game. He picked up just one yard on this play.

With the Eagles in a 2nd-and-14 situation, the Redskins came out with this defensive front on the next play. McCoy ran for nine yards, but left the game briefly after taking a big hit.

Notice a difference there? In the first one, Washington has eight men in the box to guard against the run. In the second one, the Redskins are in a seven-man front. It may look like there are eight men in the box in both, but Brandon Meriweather immediately drops in coverage after Foles takes the snap. It’s little surprise McCoy was able to get to the edge and rip off a nice chunk of yardage on this play. All told, McCoy saw an eight-man front on 12 of his 19 carries, leading to his worst statistical game as a pro.

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While Washington’s game plan was effective in shutting down McCoy, it did nothing to slow down the Eagles’ offense, which still put up 30 points. Foles completed passes for 19, 21, 22, 26, 27 and 50 yards, and had an 80-yard touchdown brought back because of a low-block penalty. In other words, Washington didn’t supply the rest of the league with the blueprint for shutting down the Eagles. Darren Sproles had just five touches on Sunday, and is no threat to significantly eat into McCoy’s workload. The latter has had at least 22 touches in every game this year. It’s only a matter of time before he breaks out. You better get knocked off your feet to think about trading McCoy.

Fiction: Eddie Lacy will continue to struggle

Eddie Lacy has probably been the most disappointing consensus first-round pick this season. He has only 113 yards on 36 carries, six catches for 38 yards, and has yet to find the end zone. A big part of the problem is the Green Bay offensive line, which ranks third worst in the league in run blocking, according to Pro Football Focus. That could be an issue all year. Lacy’s individual struggles, however, will not be an issue.

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There’s one obvious factor at play here. No team has had a tougher slate of opponents against the run through three games than the Packers. The Seahawks, Jets and Lions rank in the top 11 against the run by Pro Football Focus’ metrics. These teams haven’t exactly gone up against weak offenses or poor running backs, either. In addition to playing the Packers, the Seahawks have seen the Chargers (Ryan Mathews) and Broncos (Montee Ball). The Jets have faced the Bears (Matt Forte), and the Lions have shut down the Giants (Rashad Jennings). The Packers' schedule is about to get a whole lot softer against the run. Their next two games are against the Bears and Vikings, both should be plus matchups for Lacy.

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Secondly, while his output hasn’t been up to par, he has performed well considering the circumstances. He has caused 10 missed tackles on 36 carries. Only one other running back in the league has created as many misses in as few touches, the Panthers' Jonathan Stewart. Lacy is getting 2.47 yards after contact per rush, the 15th most in the league among running backs who have at least 25 percent of their team’s carries. Add it all up, and Lacy has the ninth-best elusive rating, as measured by Pro Football Focus. That metric strives to determine how good a running back has been independent of his blockers. From Lacy’s own skills to the Green Bay offense as a whole, there’s too much good here for him to fall far short of expectations all season. A turnaround is looming.

Fact: Demaryius Thomas' production will pick up

Demaryius Thomas has been the only "elite" receiver to disappoint his owners through three games. Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall, A.J. Green, Jordy Nelson and Julio Jones, the other members of that top tier, are all inside the top-nine receivers by fantasy points per game in standard-scoring leagues. Thomas, meanwhile, ranks 46th. Emmanuel Sanders leads the Broncos with 33 targets. Thomas is second with 27. That’s a breakdown not likely to last much longer.

Focusing on the Broncos’ Week 3 loss to the Seahawks, we can see one clear reason why Thomas disappointed his fantasy owners again. He was lined up on the left, a.k.a. Richard Sherman’s side of the field. The previous week, the Chargers had success by going after Sherman. Peyton Manning and the Broncos, however, wanted nothing to do with the entire left side. Thomas only got three targets in the first half even though 11 of Manning’s 15 pass attempts went to the left side of the field or between the numbers. Of the four balls Manning threw to the right side during the first half, only one was directed at Sherman. By rarely looking in Thomas’ direction, the Broncos let the Seahawks take their best player out of the game.

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In the second half, Thomas lined up more frequently on the defense’s right. He got six targets and all four of his receptions after halftime. With Thomas an actual part of the offense, it’s not surprising the Broncos were finally able to find the end zone after halftime. They scored just three points when their fear of Sherman steered them away from their best offensive weapon. Once they got him involved again, they scored 15 points, the last two on a ridiculous two-point conversion catch by Thomas to tie the game and force overtime. Perhaps if they gave him a few more chances to make plays, with Sherman on him or not, they would have left Seattle with a win.

While Sanders leads the Broncos in targets, Thomas leads the team with seven in the red zone. He remains the Broncos' best option once they get near the goal line, and is clearly the most talented weapon at Manning’s disposal. I’m not backing off my 1,400-yard, 12-touchdown season-long projection one bit. His owners should be excited they’ll get all that production packed into his final 13 games of the year. If you own Thomas, do not panic. If you don’t, see if you can steal away one of the best receivers in the NFL at a discount.

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