The Shadow Knows Week 12

By Gary Davenport
Gary Davenport


Back in Week 3, the Denver defense allowed the Miami Dolphins to tally 70 points and 726 yards of offense. It was a historically embarrassing performance that certainly gave the impression the 2023 Broncos were headed nowhere fast.

Fast forward two months, and the Broncos are one of the NFL’s hottest teams after peeling off four straight wins. The Denver defense has played a large part in that resurgence, and the best player on that defense is arguably cornerback Patrick Surtain II.

In just his third season, Surtain is rapidly developing a reputation as one of the league’s best cover cornerbacks. NFL Network Analyst Steve Smith Sr. Doesn’t play wide receiver in the NFL anymore, but if he did, he said he’d be doing a lot of homework ahead of a matchup with the 23-year-old.

"He reminds me of a Darrelle Revis, a Champ Bailey, and what I mean by that, when I'm looking at film, I don't want this year's film," Smith said. "Give me their whole last two years of film so I can get enough data. I need to be studying a Patrick Surtain II. I need to study him in the offseason. I need all of his plays—runs, pass, special teams. What's his favorite color? What season of the year does he like? What is his favorite candy? I need all the information. Good information, ancillary information, and then some fun facts as well because Patrick Surtain has the ability to be off coverage and still shut you down. And also be pressed up and shut you down. I don't think he gets enough credit, so I'm on record telling you—he's a problem child, man. He's a trouble maker for a wide receiver."

Surtain has been spending quite a bit of time shadowing opposing No. 1 receivers this year, whether it’s Davante Adams of the Las Vegas Raiders, Garrett Wilson of the New York Jets or even some time on Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce. And he’s been successful—less than 60 percent of the passes thrown in his direction have been completed.

Fantasy managers with shares of Amari Cooper of the Cleveland Browns already have to deal with major questions at quarterback after Deshaun Watson was lost for the season. Now he draws a brutal matchup with Surtain and a Denver defense that has allowed the second-fewest PPR points per game to wide receivers over the past month.

Many fantasy managers have little choice but to start Cooper. But he’s a low-ceiling WR3 in Week 12—at best.


Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals (Joey Porter Jr. vs. Ja’Marr Chase)

The Cincinnati Bengals don’t have a ton to be thankful for this week after losing quarterback Joe Burrow to a season-ending wrist injury. That injury means that Jake Browning will lead the Cincinnati offense for the rest of the season, and Browning told Geoff Hobson of the team’s website that he knows getting the ball out quickly Sunday will be key against the Steelers.

“They're going to challenge you on the outside and try to make you one-dimensional stopping the run,” he said. “I think it really starts with their pass rush and the two guys on the edge and the two on the interior. I mean, we know Larry (Ogunjobi at defensive tackle). Larry makes a lot of splash plays. Shows up on film. Cam Heyward has been there forever. The two edge guys are two of the better ones. One is the best in the NFL and the other one's not talked about as much but really good, too.”

Most weeks, there would be no question that Ja’Marr Chase would be Browning’s top target Sunday. But rookie cornerback Joey Porter has quickly become a force for Pittsburgh, putting the clamps on the likes of Cooper and DeAndre Hopkins of the Tennessee Titans. With Tee Higgins (hamstring) also out Sunday, the Steelers will probably bracket Chase—it’s fixing to be a tough day for the Bengals star.


Kansas City Chiefs at Las Vegas Raiders (L’Jarius Sneed vs. Davante Adams)

When the Kansas City Chiefs are discussed, the conversation almost always turns to Patrick Mahomes and the offense. But it can be argued the Chiefs defense has been the better unit this year, and as Chiefs safety Justin Reid told reporters, a key component of Kansas City’s defensive success this season has been the outstanding play of cornerback L’Jarius Sneed.

“We put LJ on whoever’s the best receiver,” Reid said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Calvin Ridley, Justin Jefferson, whoever. He goes out and plays his game, man. I know those guys see the tape. He’s aggressive. He’s physical. He’s an old-school corner that you don’t see anymore. He puts his hands on people and that throws guys off.”

We have seen this movie before, albeit with a different quarterback under center in Vegas—in two meetings with the Chiefs last year, Adams caught eight passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns. The problem with looking at those stats? Adams has just one 100-yard game all season long in 2023, and his touchdown last week was his first since Week 3.

Adams may still be an elite talent. But this year at least, he’s not an elite fantasy option.


Buffalo Bills at Philadelphia Eagles (Stefon Diggs vs. Darius Slay)

There’s no question that Stefon Diggs of the Buffalo Bills is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, but his numbers haven’t reflected that of late. However, Tim Brosnan of Fantasy Pros believes that fantasy managers fretting about Diggs’ fantasy value need to just eat some more turkey and let that tryptophan chill kick in.

“In Week 11, Diggs failed to record 35 yards, five catches or finish as a top-50 wide receiver for the second consecutive week,” he said. “This is likely nothing more than back-to-back flukes. However, it’s worth monitoring that it’s been six weeks since he recorded 100 yards in a game. Nevertheless, Diggs remains is still a high-end WR1. The only reason panic is present in any capacity is because the standard is extremely high for Diggs.”

The schedule may be doing Diggs; fantasy managers a solid—as good as the Eagles have been in 2023, there isn’t a team in the NFL who has allowed more fantasy points per game to wide receivers this season than Philly. This isn’t to say that Slay isn’t still an excellent veteran cornerback. But this isn’t a matchup fantasy owners need to fear. In fact, it’s the opposite.


Baltimore Ravens at Los Angeles Chargers (Brandon Stephens vs. Keenan Allen)

The Baltimore Ravens are arguably the best team in the AFC—largely because the Ravens are arguably the most balanced team in the AFC. Baltimore’s defense is among the league leaders in several categories, including third in the NFL in pass defense. And while Marlon Humphrey may be the biggest name at cornerback on the roster, it’s third-year pro Brandon Stephens who has emerged as the team’s best player at the position—in part because he isn’t lacking for confidence.

“Corner is my type of game,” Stephens said Wednesday. “I love the island. The island is not for everybody. It’s mainly just confidence. Confidence in your technique, being fearless out there. Whoever is front of you, you’re in front of them. It’s a mindset.”

That fearlessness is going to be tested Sunday night in Los Angeles, when Stephens matches up with Chargers wideout Keenan Allen, who leads the league in receptions (83) and targets (113). Given the Chargers’ injuries at wide receiver, it’s entirely possible that Stephens will shadow Allen (he has experience playing inside), and even then, he’ll likely have safety help.

No one is benching Allen. But he’s going to have to earn his points against the Ravens.