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THE SHADOW KNOWS: Week 2
THE SHADOW KNOWS: Week 2
If their Week 1 dismemberment of the New York Giants is any indication, the Dallas Cowboys just might have the best defense in the NFL. And while edge-rusher Micah Parsons is certainly a big part of that, so is arguably the best duo at cornerback in the league in veteran Stephon Gilmore and youngster Trevon Diggs.
Gilmore’s resume rather speaks for itself—the 32-year-old has been to five Pro Bowls and was the 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year (the first cornerback to win since Charles Woodson a decade earlier). Per Jori Epstein of Yahoo Sports, Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn knew the team was getting a steal when they acquired Gilmore for a fifth-round pick.
“He’s just got really good football instincts about him,” Quinn said. “He's able to share things with players, coaches. He really has a good routine to practice. All these little details for all this. There's a reason he's so productive.”
What wasn’t necessarily expected was the impact that Gilmore would have on Diggs, who quickly gained a reputation as both one of the league’s best ballhawks and a player who could be had in coverage. The pair has quickly developed a type of teacher/student relationship, with Gilmore advising Diggs on everything from technique to conditioning to diet.
“He sees me eating gummy snacks and he be like, ‘Why are you eating that?’” Diggs said. “Taking me under his wing and showing me how to last in the league that long.
However you want to look at it, it’s working—the Dallas defense completely shut down New York. Now Dallas faces the other New York team—after the Jets lost Aaron Rodgers to a torn Achilles tendon.
The reality is this Dallas defense doesn’t have to shadow Jets star wideout Garrett Wilson. Gilmore will play his side. Diggs will play his. And either way, Wilson will have his work cut out for him.
That Garrett Wilson breakout season everyone was hooplahing about over the summer? It was lost the moment Rodgers was.
Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons
(Jaire Alexander vs. Drake London)
Drake London’s 2023 debut went, um, yeah—in the first game of his second professional season, London had as many catches against the Carolina Panthers as you did. However, the Falcons won their opener by two touchdowns, and Falcons head coach Arthur Smith told reporters that London cares a lot more about winning than catching passes.
"Let the fantasy guys worry about that," he said. "We've got to clean some things up. We can all be better in our spacing, and targets is the most misunderstood thing in the National Football League. There's progressions, there's spacing, if somebody underneath is not right, that's the stuff where I'm a little irritated as a coach. We had to fix it at halftime. That's on me. That's on everybody. We don't care. Drake London doesn't care. All we care about is 1-0. We have a lot of work — and that has to improve because it's not going to sustain every week. Every week is its own entity. We don't care about the stats. We care about winning."
For the record, Smith said essentially the same thing last year—multiple times. That winning matters more than stats. That London and tight end Kyle Pitts don’t care about stats so long as Atlanta wins. Maybe they don’t. But fantasy managers do. So long as they are in games, the Falcons are going to run the ball like crazy—just as they did a year ago. The problem is the misguided belief that if they fall behind, the run-heaviest team in football can just flip the switch and London and Pitts will get theirs.
Being covered by Alexander doesn’t really matter if London is being targeted once in a game.
Las Vegas Raiders at Buffalo Bills
(Davante Adams vs. Tre’Davious White)
It has been a long road back for Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White. After tearing his ACL on Thanksgiving in 2021, White missed a full calendar year, and even when he did return last season, he wasn’t the same shutdown corner he was pre-injury. However. After another full offseason to get back to 100 percent, White entered the 2023 season looking like his old self—something that pleased Bills defensive backs coach John Butler a great deal.
“I don’t know if I necessarily see anything different, because Tre’Davious has always been, coaching 10 years in the NFL, I would argue he is the hardest-working DB I’ve ever been around,” Butler said. “Some people talk about process, this dude is grinding all the time. Physically on his body, physically with his fundamentals, so he’s always been that way. I think now … he’s just another offseason away from that injury and now he can really focus on developing himself as a football player, not as much worried about maintenance and taking care of his knee.”
White spent most of Week 1 locked up with Garrett Wilson, and while Wilson scored on a ridiculous one-handed catch, White held his own most of the night. This week’s battle with Davante Adams and the Raiders should be an even tougher battle, and not just because of Adams’ considerable talents. With Jakobi Meyers (concussion) looking iffy at best to play, this is a game where 15 targets for Adams might be closer to the ceiling than the floor.
Chicago Bears at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
(D.J. Moore vs. Carlton Davis)
There was no shortage of excitement in the Windy City this summer after the Bears acquired Moore. Justin Fields had his No. 1 wideout. The key to the next step in his development. All would be well and good in the universe.
Then actual games started, Moore was targeted all of twice in another lopsided loss to their most hated rivals in the Green Bay Packers, and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy was left playing, “well, what had happened was,” with the media after another defeat.
"It was definitely a disappointment," Getsy said, via NBCSportsChicago.com. "There's a lot of reasons why things happen. Protection could have broken down for a particular play for him. Justin just maybe didn't see something in a particular way. There's a lot of things that go into it. I think, you know, we definitely are calling plays for DJ, and he knows that, and he wasn't frustrated by any of that. And you know, sometimes it's just the way the coverage dictates to where the quarterback has to go with the football too."
Carlton Davis isn’t an elite cornerback—Justin Jefferson didn’t have much trouble getting open against him in Week 1, although to be fair Jefferson gets open against everyone. Davis has familiarity with Moore from their time together in the NFC South, and while Davis hasn’t won every battle, he’s won his fair share. With the Bears passing game again barely passable, Moore’s more risky WR3 than confident play.
Washington Commanders at Denver Broncos
(Terry McLaurin vs. Patrick Surtain)
Broncos cornerback Patrick Surtain opened the 2023 season facing a stiff challenge—covering Davante Adams of the Raiders. Adams’ six catches for 66 yards should frankly be viewed as a win for Surtain, but the burgeoning third-year star told the team’s website that he’s already on to the next challenge of facing the Commanders’ talented duo of Jahan Dotson and Terry McLaurin.
"They've got two good receivers in Dotson and McLaurin," Surtain said. "They're pretty versatile in their scheme — they can match up anywhere on the field. They use those guys well within their play-calling style and those are their two playmakers, obviously. Defensively, we have something schemed up, we have a plan for them, too. It will be an exciting matchup."
Given how much more time that McLaurin spends on the perimeter than Dotson, it’s likely the former will draw a lot more coverage from Surtain than the latter. That’s not especially good news—the Broncos gave up the second-fewest PPR points to wide receivers last season, and the Commanders passing game wasn’t exactly lights out last week against Arizona.
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
(Denzel Ward vs. George Pickens)
The Pittsburgh Steelers got both beaten down and beaten up last week by the San Francisco 49ers—in addition to getting throttled 30-7, the Steelers lost No. 1 wide receiver Diontae Johnson indefinitely to a hamstring injury. That injury makes second-year pro George Pickens the new No. 1 wideout in the Steel City—something fans have clamored for. But as Joe Starkey wrote for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the question is whether Pickens is really ready for the role.
“It was Pickens who famously said he’s open even when he’s covered, and the numbers from last season show truth in that statement,” Starkey said. “He had a ridiculous catch rate on contested throws. But he also had a route tree the size of a walnut. The analytics show that Pickens mostly ran go routes and curls and not much else. Word out of camp was that his route tree had begun to grow, that he was showing he could get separation. We shall see.”
Pickens’ readiness to be top dog is far from his only problem. The Browns have quietly assembled one of the better young secondaries in the NFL, headlined by Pro Bowl cornerback Denzel Ward. And given the lack of depth the Steelers have at wideout behind Pickens (Allen Robinson? Really?), Cleveland can probably afford to cheat a safety to that side of the field as well. Add in the whole Kenny Pickett is the quarterback in Pittsburgh thing, and the odds that Week 2 is a coming-out party for Pickens just ain’t good.