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  • Mitchell Trubisky has been outperforming some much bigger names in fantasy this year. Plus notes on Robert Woods and David Johnson.
By Michael Beller
November 14, 2018

Quick, guess which quarterback leads the league in fantasy scoring over his team’s last six games. Patrick Mahomes? Jared Goff? Drew Brees? All are strong guesses, but none is the right answer. What about Matt Ryan or Ben Roethlisberger? They’re both among the top-five quarterbacks in standard-scoring leagues through Week 10, which means they’ve performed well across any six-game sample you can draw this season. Neither, however, is the answer to this question.

It’s not Mahomes, Goff or Brees. It’s not Ryan or Roethlisberger. Nope, going back to the last week of September, the top-scoring fantasy quarterback is … Mitchell Trubisky.

Now, to be clear, we’re doing a little artful accounting right now. Neither Mahomes nor Goff has had their bye yet, so they’ve played seven games in the span we’re looking at, while Trubisky has played just six. They’ve scored more total points than Trubisky starting with Week 4, but no quarterback has more points per game in that window, or more total points in his own team’s last six games. Trubisky has 170.12 points in standard-scoring leagues across his last six games, which comes out to 28.35 points per game. For sake of comparison, Mahomes, this season’s top-scoring quarterback, is averaging 27.08 points per game for the full year.

Prefer to see these things spelled out in traditional stat form? We can do that, too. Trubisky has 1,713 yards, 9.21 yards per attempt, and 17 touchdowns against four interceptions in his last six games. He has rushed for 256 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, as well, making him one of the league’s truest dual threats at the quarterback position. Even with his terrible three-game start to the season (591 yards, 5.68 YPA, two touchdowns, three interceptions), Trubisky is the No. 5 quarterback in standard-scoring leagues, trailing Mahomes, Ryan, Goff and Roethlisberger. Yes, ahead of Brees. Yes, ahead of Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady and Deshaun Watson and Philip Rivers and Cam Newton, too. Trubisky has been that good.

With 2,304 passing yards, 19 touchdowns, 320 rushing yards and three scores with his legs, Trubisky is on pace for a 4,096 yards and 34 touchdowns through the air, and 569 yards and five scores on the ground line this season, to go along with a 65.5% completion rate and 7.95 YPA. No quarterback has hit all of those counting-stat thresholds in a single season, let alone done so with Trubisky’s efficiency. Cam Newton came closest when he won the MVP in 2015, throwing for 3,837 yards, 35 touchdowns and 7.75 YPA, while running for 636 yards and 10 touchdowns. It’s not a stretch to say that Trubisky is having a season akin to Newton’s MVP campaign from three years ago.

The Bears have a relatively soft remaining schedule for quarterback fantasy production. According to 4for4’s schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed metric, aFPA, Trubisky has the 13th-easiest remaining schedule in the league for quarterbacks, highlighted by matchups with the Lions (24th in quarterback aFPA) and 49ers (28th), the latter of which comes in Week 16, championship week in most fantasy leagues. Given his play to date, average cost back in draft season, and remaining schedule, Trubisky could be a staple of fantasy football championship teams this year.

With that, let’s get to the rest of the Week 10 Target and Snap Report. As always, we’ll use target, snap, touch and red-zone data from our friends at 4for4 Football, and the publicly accessible Next Gen stats from NFL.com, to try to explain what is going on underneath the surface level of the box score.

The most impressive streak no one is talking about

Trubisky isn’t the only player who’s not getting all the love he deserves this season. It’s nearly impossible to go a week without hearing some fawning praise for the Rams, and rightfully so. They’re 8-1, one of the three or four best teams in the league, and are helping usher in a new era of offensive football. Despite all that, though, one aspect the individual season one of their key players is having is going overlooked.

In last week’s 36-31 win over the Seahawks, Robert Woods caught four passes for 89 yards. That stat line doesn’t jump off the page, especially for a guy with three 100-yard games who is pacing for 88 receptions and 1,331 yards this season. It might have leapt out at anyone paying attention to season-long trends, though. The game was Woods’ ninth straight with at least four receptions and 70 yards, marks he has it in every game except Week 1. That puts him in an eight-way tie for the 12th-longest such streak in NFL history. If he keeps it going, he could be in second by the end of the season.

The players with longer streaks of four-catch, 70-yard games reads like roster of inductees at the Hall of Fame: Antonio Brown (21), Marvin Harrison (14), Reggie Wayne (13), Charley Hennigan (12), Larry Fitzgerald, Torry Holt, Laveranues Coles, David Boston, Michael Irvin (all with 11), Julio Jones and Jerry Rice (10). The Rams have six games left this season. If Woods keeps the streak alive through all of them, he’ll be second to only Brown, who’s 21-game streak would seem impossible if it weren’t in our recent past.

Where could Woods run into trouble? Well, likely not this week against the Chiefs. Assuming the streak is still alive when the Rams come out of their Week 12 bye, he shouldn’t have any trouble extending it against the Lions and their 21st-ranked defense in receiver aFPA in Week 13. The Rams visit Chicago for a tough matchup with the Bears in Week 14, the first time where Woods could run into real trouble. The Eagles likely won’t put up much of a fight in Week 15, especially with Ronald Darby out for the year, but Arizona could be a tough nut to crack in Week 16. If the streak is still going into the final week of the season, the Rams’ postseason hopes could get in his way. Unless the Bears or Vikings make a huge push over the next six weeks, the Saints and Rams should have the top-two seeds in the NFC locked up going into Week 17. If the Rams aren’t playing for the homefield advantage that week, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Sean McVay take it easy on his starters. After all, he did the same thing last year when the Rams were locked into their playoff seed.

That’s a discussion for six weeks from now. For the time being, recognize what Woods is doing and enjoy it while it lasts.

Byron Leftwich returns the Cardinals to sanity

Think way back to 2016. The world was pretty different then, right? It was a world in which the Arizona Cardinals offense made sense, regularly funneling as many touches as possible to the most dynamic player in their offense. We’re speaking, of course, of David Johnson, who handled 293 carries and 120 targets that season, catching 80 of them. Johnson’s 120 looks in the passing game are eighth-most by a running back in a single season, and he is one of seven backs in league history with at least 290 carries and 100 targets in the same year. Johnson proved himself an elite receiver out of the backfield, racking up 879 yards and four touchdowns on those 80 catches.

Here in 2018, the Cardinals, like so many other institutions, left sanity behind. Over the team’s first seven games, the seven for which Mike McCoy was the offensive coordinator, Johnson had 30 targets. What’s more, nearly all of those targets asked Johnson to do all the work after he had the ball in his hands. Eighteen of his 30 targets in the team’s first seven games came with him behind the line of scrimmage while running a route out of the backfield. That meant 12, or 40%, were thrown beyond the line of scrimmage.

After those first seven games, with the Cardinals’ offense among the league’s worst, the team relieved McCoy of his duties, installing Byron Leftwich as the interim offensive coordinator. In two games with Leftwich at the helm, Johnson has 13 targets, a per-game increase of more than two targets. On a percentage basis, Johnson is getting 51.4% more targets per game with Leftwich than he did with McCoy. They’ve also been more valuable, with seven of the 13 targets, just more than half, traveling beyond the line of scrimmage.

Johnson had his best receiving game of the season in Week 10, catching seven of nine targets for 85 yards and a touchdown in the 26-14 loss to the Chiefs. His two biggest plays from the afternoon show how Leftwich has changed Johnson’s role, thankfully getting him involved the way Bruce Arians did back when he was still running the show in 2016.

First, let’s take a look at the touchdown. Johnson starts this play lined up in the backfield, but he immediately makes a move upfield, taking his route well past the line of scrimmage. The play schemes him open beautifully, first getting him matched up with a linebacker in man coverage, and then allowing Ricky Seals-Jones to set a pick for him at the line of scrimmage, getting him wide open for an easy connection with Josh Rosen.

If that play seems simple enough, it’s because it is. That’s what makes McCoy’s use of Johnson so maddening. Leftwich has already done a great job of getting Johnson into man coverage with a helpless linebacker trying to slow him down, allowing Johnson to take advantage of the mismatch. He did so again in the fourth quarter, resulting in a huge play for the Cardinals when they trailed by just six points.

Johnson, again, starts this play in the backfield. After a playfake, Johnson ends up with a linebacker on him in single coverage. He sells a screen right at the original line of scrimmage with a little stutter step, then takes off on what amounts to a wheel route toward the left sideline. It’s not a perfectly thrown ball by Rosen, but it’s not poorly thrown, either, considering the pressure in the quarterback’s face. Johnson makes a play on it, adjusting to the pass, which is behind him, to pick up 23 yards.

If that ball were out in front of Johnson, it would’ve gone for at least another 10 yards, and could’ve ended with him in the end zone if he’s able to make one would-be tackler miss.

These are the sorts of plays that take full advantage of Johnson’s unique gifts. For inexplicable reasons, they were not part of the Arizona passing attack over the team’s first seven games. They have made a triumphant return in their last two. Sanity is a good thing.

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