The Shadow Knows Week 2 2018

By Gary Davenport
Gary Davenport Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals is a no-doubt, first-ballot Hall of Famer. As Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner (who played with Fitzgerald in Super Bowl XLII) told ESPN, the 11-time Pro Bowler has made a career of making unbelievable catches look like no big deal.

"Every day he would make what we thought was a routine catch, but for anybody else it would've been miraculous," Warner said. "We would see it every day in practice, and it would be like, 'Oh yeah, that's why I threw it there.' But that's what became so incredible. I think anybody that does something incredible that becomes normal, it just speaks to how great they are, and that's who Larry was. I think we got numb to how great he was, so I think there were times that our expectation moved above where it should've been simply because we saw it a lot."

Sadly, what may well be Fitzgerald's swan song is shaping up to be a miserable year in the desert.

In Week 1, the Cardinals offense could do less than nothing at home against the Washington Redskins. Fitzgerald at least had a decent outing in PPR format—seven receptions for 76 yards—but those 76 yards were almost half of Sam Bradford's total passing for the game.

Now, Fitzgerald and the Cardinals have to travel to Los Angeles to face a Rams secondary that just completely shut down the wide receivers for the Oakland Raiders. Rams cornerbacks Marcus Peters (who had a pick-six against Oakland) and Aqib Talib generally don't work the slot, so Fitzgerald might be able to pile up some numbers there. And he'll get targeted Sunday, if only because the rest of the Arizona receivers are a pile of meh. But the cold reality is that in Week 2 that 7/76 line is close to a best-case scenario for Fitzgerald. Maybe a garbage-time touchdown.

I had the privilege of interviewing Fitzgerald a few years ago, and he's every bit the professional off the field that he is on it. He has earned a bust in Canton—and then some. But there won't be a playoff run this year.

And big a fan as I may be, I'm thinking long ang hard about sitting him in fantasy leagues where I have alternative options this week.

Here's a look at the other big-time wideout/cornerback duels in Week 2—beginning with the flip side of Fitz vs. the Rams.

NOTE: If you don't see a matchup listed here, then odds are unless teams flip the scheme (a relative rarity in today's NFL) or play "shadow" coverage (even rarer) that team's top corner and the opposing No. 1 receiver line up on opposite sides. That's the case with Keenan Allen in Buffalo this week (Tre'Davious White) and Mike Evans against the Eagles (Ronald Darby).

Arizona Cardinals vs. Los Angeles Rams (Patrick Peterson vs. Robert Woods)
Per Jess Root of Cards Wire, Peterson has an admirer in Jacksonville cornerback (and fan of working his mandible) Jalen Ramsey. “Getting to the top, you got somebody you shooting at,” he said. “Then when you get to the top, now people shooting at you. Like [Arizona Cardinals cornerback] Pat Pete, to be on year eight or nine and still be considered one of the best? That’s something big.”

With Peterson now playing more zone and working one side of the field, he'll probably spend most of Week 2 on Woods. That could mean a repeat of Week 1, when Woods was held in check by Oakland's Rashaan Melvin but Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp had much better numbers .

Panic Level: 4 (No need for Goff to force it to Woods when he has other weapons covered by inferior cornerbacks. If this trend continues, Woods may be the sacrificial lamb of the Rams passing game.)

Indianapolis Colts at Washington Redskins (T.Y. Hilton vs. Josh Norman)
As Jonathan Jones wrote for Sports Illustrated, for Norman greatness at the cornerback position is a matter of practice makes perfect. “You’re so confident because you went through every repetition out on the practice field,” he says. “There should be nothing you haven’t seen because you worked it all. And if it’s something that hits you in the game, you’re not upset or overly concerned about it because you know you’ve done that 1,000 times and you make a play on it the next time.”

Norman gets his first big-name test of the 2018 season Sunday in Hilton, who hauled in five passes for 46 yards and a touchdown last week against the Cincinnati Bengals. Frankly, there may be an even bigger concern for Hilton's fantasy prospects in Week 2 than Norman – the DC area is believed to be in the path of the remnants of Hurricane Florence, and the weather at FedEx Field Sunday could be all kinds of funky.

Panic Level: 4 (You can knock this down to a 3 if the weather isn't too terrible, but a lockdown CB in a typhoon doesn't inspire the warm and fuzzies.)

Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers (Xavier Rhodes vs. Davante Adams)
Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers was ranked as the top player in the NFC North recently—by Rhodes. Rodgers just has it," Rhodes wrote for The Players' Tribune. "And he can do it from the pocket, outside the pocket, running left, running right, while he’s getting tackled … this guy has no weakness. He doesn’t get frazzled. He’s so accurate, always on the money. And the worst part? He knows it. His demeanor — his swagger — he’s so confident in his game that it actually bothers you. And you can’t even talk trash about him. You have to respect him, because he’s one of the best to ever play the game."

And of course, that's the thing. If Rodgers is under center, fantasy owners are going to start Davante Adams—regardless of who's covering him. But Packers head coach Mike McCarthy intimated Thursday that it's not a sure thing that No. 12's balky knee will allow him to go Sunday at Lambeau Field in a big division showdown. With all due respect to Rhodes (who is a fine corner), any panic here is inspired 137% by the idea of DeShone Kizer attempting passes.

Panic Level: 1 (With Rodgers) 416 (With Kizer)

Cleveland Browns at New Orleans Saints (Jarvis Landry vs. Marshon Lattimore)
Lattimore and the Saints defense was absolutely immolated by Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1, but he told Sean Fazende of WVUE-TV that he's confident the team will rebound in Week 2. “You got to take your losses like you take your wins. You got to bounce back. You can’t win every game as far as the one-on-one battles. It’s easy to fix. Just being competitive, and honing in on your technique, that’s it. That’s really it for me. It really wasn’t nothing that big to me. Like we’re in trouble, it wasn’t nothing like that. It was just technique."

Sunday's home tilt with a Browns team that hasn't won a game since December of 2016 sets up well for the Saints to get right. But with Landry spending more time in the slot than outside and Josh Gordon lining up on the opposite side of the formation, Cleveland's top two receivers probably won't be seeing a ton of Lattimore in Week 2.

Panic Level: 1 (Hello, Garbage Time! All RIGHT! Woo-hoooooo!)

Detroit Lions at San Francisco 49ers (Marvin Jones vs. Richard Sherman)
Per David Fucillo of Niners Nation, Sherman had a solid debut for the team last week against the Minnesota Vikings. "Sherman played the entire game, getting in the full allotment of 71 snaps opposite Ahkello Witherspoon," he said. "He played 64 snaps on the left side of the field (offense’s right side), and Kirk Cousins did not have much success that way. He completed 6-of-15 passes for 84 yards to that side of the field on throws past the line of scrimmage, according to ESPN. Sherman specifically was not targeted much in his first game. He was targeted three times, with Cousins completing one pass for 18 yards, including six yards after the catch, according to Pro Football Focus. Cousins had a passer rating of 54.9 on passes targeting Sherman’s receiver."

But wait! The news for Marvin Jones get better! In last week's loss to the New York Jets, Jones was a distant third in targets, trailing both Golden Tate and Kenny Golladay. That isn't especially likely to change with Sherman draped all over him. Oh yeah, and Matthew Stafford looked like a flaming bag of dog poop a week ago. Other than that, everything's great.

Panic Level: 5 (The list of receivers I'd start over Jones in Week 2 is not short. He's going to need to get lucky over the top to have a good game.)

Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos (Jordy Nelson vs. Chris Harris)
According to Jimmy Durkin of the Athletic, both Nelson and Amari Cooper were open more often last Monday night than their meager stat lines indicate. "According to SportRadar’s Next Gen stats," he said, "Cooper averaged 3.61 yards of separation per throw on Monday. That’s the average of how far away the closest defender was on each of Carr’s pass attempts. Nelson was right behind at 3.59 yards. Those averages were the eighth- and ninth-highest in Week 1 among 69 starting wide receivers. Could those numbers be skewed by some off coverage late in the game, when the Rams were perfectly comfortable giving Raiders receivers plenty of cushion? (And the Raiders still didn’t throw the ball their way.) Not really. The fourth quarter was when Cooper actually averaged the least amount of separation on the night at 3.06 yards."

Jon Gruden has groused publicly this week about Derek Carr's happy feet and failing to see open receivers in the loss to the Rams. However, complaining about it isn't going to magically make Carr stand tall in the pocket and deliver accurate passes. Even if he does, it's Cooper who has the better coverage matchup and the built-in rapport with Carr. Nelson's coming-out party in the Bay Area isn't happening in Week 2—if it ever does.

Panic Level: 5 (Nelson's a so-so fantasy WR4 in Week 2—if he's even that.)

New England Patriots at Jacksonville Jaguars (Rob Gronkowski vs. Jalen Ramsey)
Ramsey made headlines in August in a wide-ranging interview with Mina Kimes of ESPN in which—among other things—he said that Gronk ain't all that and a bag of chips. "'I don't think Gronk's good," Ramsey said. "Registering my involuntary blinking," Kimes wrote, "he course-corrects. "Let me say -- I don't think Gronk is as great as people think he is." Before the Patriots game, he explains, he had the Jaguars' analytics staffers pull some numbers for him. "Any time Gronk has been matched up with a corner, he's had a very bad game -- and that corner has had a very good game." (Gronk has performed much better when lined up in the slot than he has on the perimeter, where he's more likely to encounter elite corners -- his catch rate drops from 71 percent to 56 percent, which is lower than that of the average NFL tight end.)"

The only thing Ramsey likes more than shutting down pass-catchers is talking about it, but he does have a point—Gronkowski's numbers aren't as good when he's covered by corners as when he's on linebackers or safeties. Given that (and the fact that Jacksonville knows it), it would make sense for the Jaguars to try line Ramsey up on Gronk as much as possible. Of course, the Pats know it too, so they'll scheme Gronk off of him. Chess, anyone?

Panic Level: 2 (Maybe dial back expectations a tad. But it's Rob freaking Gronkowski. One does not bench Rob freaking Gronkowski.