Fact or Fiction: Holmes' time is now; Murray will keep up torrid pace
Three quarterbacks threw at least four touchdown passes in Week 6. Two of those may not have come as a huge surprise. Tom Brady appears to have put his early-season woes behind him, throwing for 361 yards and four scores in a win over the Bills. Joe Flacco may not be a stud, but it’s well within his powers to dominate a terrible defense like Tampa Bay’s and he did just that, throwing five touchdowns in the first 16:03 of action.
The third and final quarterback to throw for four scores was a bit of a surprise. After all, his four touchdowns on Sunday doubled his season total and came against a team that had allowed six passing touchdowns through its first five games. Rookie Derek Carr lit up the Chargers, coming so close to making Tony Sparano’s first game at the helm for the Raiders an unmitigated success. Carr had easily his best game as a pro, setting career highs in yards (282), yards per attempt (8.3) and, yes, touchdowns. Carr and the Raiders also nearly pulled off what would have been one of the biggest upsets of the season, losing by just three points to a team widely viewed as one of the very best in the NFL.
Carr’s big game also revealed a lesson for fantasy owners. However, that lesson is not expressly about him. Rather, it is about the guy who has emerged as his top target.
Fact: Andre Holmes’ table is ready
The Raiders seemed to be willing to play anyone at the wide receiver position before giving Holmes a shot. In true Raiders fashion, they basically got this one right by default. Through the first three games of the season, Holmes played a total of 66 snaps and got nine targets. In Oakland’s last two games, he has played 111 snaps and racked up 20 targets. The team may have been slow to come around on him, but now that it has don’t expect it to turn back. Holmes has nine receptions for 195 yards and three touchdowns in the last two weeks. He kicked off the scoring last week with a 77-yard touchdown, a play on which everything in the offense — yes, the Oakland offense — worked in sync to help the Raiders draw first blood.
It’s 3rd-and-7 from the Oakland 23-yard-line on the first possession of the game. The Raiders come out with Carr in shotgun and a single back lined up in front of Carr and to his left. Two receivers are split to the right, with Holmes outside the numbers. Tight end Mychal Rivera is also on the right side of the formation, and the third receiver, James Jones, is to the left.
That’s Holmes at the bottom of the screenshot, with Brandon Flowers in coverage. The Chargers bring a zone blitz, leaving six players to cover five potential pass catchers. Unfortunately for the Chargers, four of those players in coverage are to the offense’s left, with a safety over the top likely due to Jones’ presence on that side of the formation. That leaves Flowers and safety Jahleel Addae in man coverage. You can see that in the screenshot below. You can also see the problem already forming for Flowers and Addae. Holmes is even with Flowers and setting him up to run into a pick unintentionally set by his own teammate. Holmes and Brice Butler have executed the switch to perfection, opening up the middle of the field for Carr to hit Holmes on a deep post.
Two more pieces still need to come together to make this play happen. First, the line has to hold up for Carr to give Holmes enough time to get open down the field. Second, Carr has to make the throw. Again, the execution is perfect.
Holmes’ second touchdown of the day broke a 21-21 tie five minutes into the fourth quarter, giving the Raiders a lead they would hold until inside the two-minute warning. Oakland has a 2nd-and-goal from the San Diego 6-yard-line. Again, Carr is in shotgun, but this time there are two backs flanking him in the backfield. Holmes is tight to the line on the left side, while Jones is in the same position on the right. The main takeaway from this formation? As has been the case in nearly all of the team’s two-wide sets over the last two weeks, Holmes is out there with Jones.
Carr play-fakes to Marcel Reece, then rolls to his right. Holmes immediately started to run across the formation, and you can see in the screenshot below that, as Carr begins to make his way toward the sideline, Holmes is in no position to make a play for his quarterback. He’s No. 18, running with his back to the camera a yard inside the end zone.
From this spot, there is little promising for the Raiders. However, Holmes instinctively changes his route, kicking to the back of the end zone rather than running straight across the goal line. He loses safety Eric Weddle (whom you can see reaching for Holmes in the first screenshot below) and starts to come open. Safety Marcus Gilchrist tries to stick with Holmes, but by time he realizes that Holmes is coming free, the receiver is already past him. At this point, Carr still needs to make a very good throw. In the first screenshot below, you can see that Carr is already winding up to throw, but that Holmes appears to be covered by Gilchrist. Carr leads him perfectly to the corner for six points.
Holmes went to tiny Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Mich., but don’t hold that against the third-year player. He’s a big guy at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, and he ran a 4.53 40-yard dash, so there’s here enough speed to make him a downfield threat. Carr’s arm talent was unquestioned coming out of Fresno State, and that will only make Holmes better. You should be targeting him on the waiver wire this week. He’s a WR3 for the rest of the season.
Fiction: DeMarco Murray has to slow down at some point
Pace stats are silly, but let’s just get it on record since we’re talking about the way Murray projects for the next 10 games. Murray is on pace for 2,093.33 yards, which would land him just short of Eric Dickerson’s record of 2,105 rushing yards set in 1984. He’s also on pace for 424 carries, which would break Larry Johnson’s record of 416 achieved in 2006. However, that torrid pace doesn’t mean he has to taper off at some point. In fact, there are a few factors that suggest he will in fact be able to eclipse the 2,000-yard mark.
The first is simply anecdotal, but worth mentioning. Murray was already on a record-setting carries pace heading into Sunday’s showdown with the supposedly impenetrable Seahawks in their great, imposing fortress in the Pacific Northwest. All he did was run for a measly 115 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries, helping lead the Cowboys to a huge 30-23 win. The Seahawks’ defense may not be what it was last year, but it’s still one of the stronger units in the league. If it couldn’t stop him in Seattle, what chance does the rest of the league have? It is worth noting, however, that six of the Cowboys’ remaining 10 games come against teams currently ranked in the top 12 against the run, according to Pro Football Focus.
Second, the Cowboys’ offensive line has been one of the best in the league all year. Pro Football Focus grades the unit as the sixth best in run blocking. That showed up in a big way last week.
Let’s take a look at a play that has an innocuous enough description in the official play-by-play provided by the NFL: “D. Murray right tackle to DAL 18 for 10 yards.” It wasn’t a huge play, as Murray ran for an impressive, but not back-breaking, 10 yards. The Cowboys are still 82 yards from a touchdown, and about 40-to-45 from Dan Bailey’s field goal range.
And yet, this play did so much. Facing a 2nd-and-7 from their own 8-yard-line, the Cowboys were one ineffective play away from a 3rd-and-long deep in their own territory. Remember, the Seahawks' first touchdown in this game came on a blocked punt return. It’s unlikely Chris Jones and the punt unit would have been comfortable kicking out of their own end zone. It was absolutely imperative to get some breathing room on this play. Murray and the line did that, and then some. They picked up a first down and jump-started a drive that ended in a 42-yard field goal by Bailey. Here’s the look of the formation at the start of the play.
You can see Jason Witten lined up on the right side of the formation, and it’s no surprise that the Cowboys run to the strong side here. Witten and right tackle Doug Free crash down, immediately taking Tony McDaniel and O’Brien Schofield out of the play right off the bat. It also opens up the area for guards Zack Martin and Ronald Leary to lead the way for Murray. The screenshot below is taken when Leary pulls from his left guard position. Martin is already out in front.
Murray patiently allows his blocks to set up, then bursts through the hole. He runs right behind Leary, following his big guard for an easy gain of 10 yards.
Murray, the offensive line and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan have been working cohesively all season and that is why the fourth-year player out of Oklahoma leads the league in rushing. The team got a dose of bad news when it learned that Free could be out 3-to-4 weeks with a foot injury he suffered in the fourth quarter, but it’s hard to downgrade Murray for fantasy purposes based on that alone. Just because Murray has received a huge workload to this point doesn’t mean he’s more likely to break down as the season progresses.