The Shadow Knows Week 10

By Gary Davenport
Gary Davenport


To watch the Las Vegas Raiders puffing cigars after last week’s blowout of a miserable New York Giants team, you’d think Vegas had clinched a playoff spot and not won just their fourth game of 2023. Apparently, that’s just the effect that Josh McDaniels being run out of town has on people.

After McDaniels was sacked last week, linebackers coach Antonio Pierce was handed the keys to the team for the rest of the season. And as the Raiders prepare to host their second New York team in as many weeks, Pierce admitted to reporters that one of the bigger challenges facing the team this week is the coverage of reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Sauce Gardner.

"Sauce Gardner is a problem,” Pierce said. “Very talented individual. A lot of confidence, swag, ballhawking. Creates opportunities for his defense with his length. Plays to the strength of the system as well. Knows where his help is. Smart football player, really good football player. Very talented. It's going to be fun to watch whoever he's matched up on and just watch how our guys compete against them."

“Whoever he’s matched up on,” is all but certainly going to be veteran wide receiver Davante Adams. Were this any other year, that would be a problem, sure—Gardner’s coverage numbers aren’t quite as good as last year, but they’re still solid.

But this isn’t any other year.

In any other season, 12 catches for 102 yards would be a so-so game from Adams. In 2023, it’s his numbers from the last three games combined—a slump from the star wideout who’s supposed to be slump-proof.

Granted, most of it’s outside Adams’ control—the Raiders are starting a fifth-round rookie at quarterback. And to his credit (and rather surprisingly), Adams hasn’t said boo about his lack of numbers—possibly because he expects this to be his last year in Sin City after the Jets made a play for him at the trade deadline.

But the reality is that counting on Adams as a WR1 is a dicey proposition for fantasy managers right now. And while you essentially have to start him, even WR2 numbers may be an optimistic projection with Gardner in coverage.


Tennessee Titans vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (DeAndre Hopkins vs. Carlton Davis)

In DeAndre Hopkins’ first game with Will Levis at quarterback for the Titans, he went completely “Nuk”-lear (see what I did there?), hauling in three long touchdown throws. Levis came back to Earth somewhat last week, and Hopkins with him—four catches for 60 yards. However, Dalton Del Don of Yahoo Sports cautioned fantasy managers to look past that stat line to the second-show Hopkins is about to put on for fantasy managers.

“Hopkins hasn’t been a top-20 fantasy wideout this season despite a 32.8-point explosion in Week 8, but he will be moving forward,” he said. “The Titans named Will Levis the team’s new starter, which is huge news for Hopkins. He caught three touchdowns during Levis’ NFL debut and then saw 11 targets last week, when Hopkins had the third-most unrealized air yards (128) and was shadowed by breakout CB Joey Porter Jr. more than any other WR in the league has been.”

When last we saw the Tampa pass defense, it was being disemboweled by Houston’s C.J. Stroud to the tune of an NFL-rookie record 470 passing yards and five scores. With Jamel Dean likely as not to miss Sunday’s game, it will fall to Davis to cover Hopkins, and to say Davis has been shaky is an understatement—per ESPN’s Mike Clay, Davis has allowed 0.63 fantasy points per coverage snap, which is worst among 178 qualified defenders.

178 sounds like a lotta guys to be worse than.


Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens (Amari Cooper vs. Brandon Stephens)

The Browns got Deshaun Watson back under center last week, and no one was happier about that than wideout Amari Cooper, who promptly (albeit against a terrible Cardinals team) went off for a season-high 139 yards and a touchdown on five catches. While speaking to reporters after the game, Cooper said Watson throws the best deep ball of any quarterback he’s ever played with.

"I think, No. 1," Cooper said. "The one I caught last week, where we were up 20, it was perfect. Like it was, right on the money. I don't think I've ever caught a more perfect deep ball than that. I'd put him up there."

Recency bias is definitely a thing.

Lovefest aside, the Browns aren’t playing the hapless Redbirds this week. They’re playing a smoking-hot Ravens team that drilled Cleveland 28-3 in Week 4. That game comes with a caveat (Browns quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson was completely overmatched in his first (and only) start), but the Ravens have already obliterated the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks at M&T Stadium this year, Baltimore has allowed the sixth-fewest PPR points per game to wide receivers this season. And Stephens (Baltimore’s No. 1 CB right now) has quietly allowed less than 10 yards per completion and a passer rating against under 70.

The Ravens are playing better defense than any team in the NFL. Period.


Houston Texans at Cincinnati Bengals (Shaquill Griffin vs. Ja’Marr Chase)

That this entry exists at all is bizarre. It’s also an exhibit in why halfway through the season, more people should be talking about DeMeco Ryans as Coach of the Year.

Nine weeks into the 2023 season, the Houston Texans are a .500 football team. And while they are allowing passing yards, they aren’t giving up fantasy points per game to wideouts—only three teams have surrendered less. This has come with injuries to Griffin. And young corner Derek Stingley. And safeties Jalen Pitre and Jimmie Ward. Griffin told reporters that’s what has impressed him most about his new team—how the defensive backs have rallied around one another.

“I’m finally getting to full speed and getting to move how I used to move back in the day, which is really good and I’m really confident about that," Griffin said. "I’ve seen [cornerback Derek] Stingley [Jr.] stepping up in a big way," Griffin said. "I see [safety Jalen] Pitre being the leader in that room that we need him to be. Steve [Nelson] is just a savvy vet, so it’s good to just continue to learn from a guy like that."

Normally, the Bengals depth at wide receiver is a nightmare for opponents—focus too much attention on Chase, and Tee Higgins kills you. Concentrate on the outside receivers, and Tyler Boyd will have a 100-yard day. Never mind the top-five quarterback the team has in Joe Burrow.

But after landing HARD on his back last week, Chase is at best dinged up and at worst might actually miss this game. Higgins is nursing a sore hamstring. And again, somehow Houston’s patchwork secondary is bottom-five against wideouts in terms of fantasy points.

Will Cincy win? Probably. Should fantasy expectations be tempered? Yep.


New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings (Marshon Lattimore vs. Jordan Addison)

Given that the Minnesota Vikings lost their starting quarterback to a torn Achilles and still don’t have the NFL’s best receiver back from injured reserve, things are going pretty well—last week’s comeback win with new signal-caller Joshua Dobbs has the Vikings over .500 for the first time this year, and Jefferson has been designated to return from IR. Part of the reason the team has stayed afloat is rookie wideout Jordan Addison, who has impressed head coach Kevin O’ Connell by stepping up into the role of the team’s top wideout.

“Physical and mental toughness,” O’Connell told reporters. “Jordan’s been everything that I hoped for from the moment I cut on the tape of his time in college, but he’s been more than that. He’s been really taking on a role within our team, within our offense. He’s earned an incredible amount of trust.”

To be fair, Marquise Brown was able to maintain low-end WR2 value with Dobbs under center in Arizona. But that value came with a fair amount of variance, Dobbs has still been in the Twin Cities less than two weeks, and Lattimore has as much experience as any cornerback in the NFL at shadow coverage. It makes sense for Dennis Allen to want to remove Addison from the board Sunday. If the rookie cracks the top 25 receivers this week, it will be the biggest indicator yet that the former USC standout is the real deal.

This analyst just doesn’t think that’s going to happen.


Denver Broncos at Buffalo Bills (Patrick Surtain II vs. Stefon Diggs)

It’s been a bumpy season to date for the Bills, and wide receiver Stefon Diggs hasn’t handled that especially well, making the news more than once for outbursts during or after games. Quarterback Josh Allen dismissed his latest tirade after last week’s loss to Cincinnati as nothing more than a player who wants to win, and while speaking to reporters Diggs thanked his quarterback for having his six.

"Obviously, I'm thankful to have a quarterback who has my back and someone who understands, somebody who is out there, somebody who plays the game of football," Diggs said Thursday, per ESPN's Alaina Getzenberg. “For other people, it's hard for me to put it in words how much time and effort goes into football and how serious it is out there. When things aren't going right and you put a lot on yourself and you want more for yourself, you want more for your team."

It’s likely that when Diggs lines up on the perimeter Monday night, he’ll be shadowed by Broncos corner Patrick Surtain, who has drawn that duty on multiple occasions this season with somewhat mixed results. The same can be said for the Denver pass defense as a whole—it ranks in the middle of the pack in fantasy points per game allowed to wide receivers this year. The Bills may only be 5-4, but Diggs is third in PPR points among wideouts. He’ll be fine, and so will the Bills most likely this week.

Gary Davenport is a Contributing Author and Associate Editor at Football Diehards. Follow him on Twitter @IDPSharks