THE SHADOW KNOWS Week 14 2020
Darius Slay of the Philadelphia Eagles needs a hug.
That the veteran cornerback is nursing knee and calf injuries is the least of his problems. Slay is headed into the third game of a five-game gauntlet against some of the league's absolute best wide receivers. First, it was DK Metcalf of the Seattle Seahawks. Then Davante Adams of the Green Bay Packers. And now-assuming that Slay plays Sunday-it will be Michael Thomas of the New Orleans Saints.
So far, the results of those duels have been completely one-sided-and not in a good way for Slay. Against Metcalf, Slay surrendered 10 receptions for 177 yards. Before leaving last week's loss to the Packers, Slay allowed seven catches for 109 yards and two scores.
As EJ Smith wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz admitted that Slay hasn't been at his best of late. But he also lauded him for going out there at less than 100 percent and said that nothing has changed in regard to how the team plans to use him in Week 14.
"I think that he'd probably be the first person to say that he hasn't played his best football these last two games, but that's not going to change the way we handle him," Schwartz said. "That is not going to change the plan for him. Like any other player, we just got to get out of that and get him winning those matchups. I have every confidence that he will. He's a veteran player. He has a long track record. You can't show me a corner in the NFL that hasn't had a bad game or two regardless of what their level is."
Maybe it's the injuries. Maybe it's that just short of his 30th birthday, Slay isn't the player he used to be. Maybe it's just a bad pair of games against possibly the two best wideouts in football. Maybe it's some combination of the three. Whatever the reason, Slay has clearly been nothing like the player who made the Pro Bowl after each of the last three seasons.
With Taysom Hill under center for the Saints, Thomas has two games in three weeks with n ne catches and over 100 yards. In those two games, he was targeted 21 times.
Slay is going to be busy this week. And if the last two games are any indication, Thomas is going to have a fat stat line.
Arizona Cardinals at New York Giants (DeAndre Hopkins vs. James Bradberry)
For the season, DeAndre Hopkins' fantasy numbers are fine and dandy-he ranks third in receptions (85), sixth in receiving yards (1,019) and sixth in PPR fantasy points. But Hopkins ranks outside the top-20 fantasy receivers over the past three weeks, and as Matthew Freedman reported for the Action Network, his fantasy production has fluctuated quite a bit this season.
"Hopkins has been something of an up-and-down producer this year. In his five games since the Week 8 bye, he has been shadowed four times. Aside from a game-winning last-second Hail Mary, he has looked rather human," Freedman wrote. "The big issue with Hopkins is that his volume and efficiency have diminished as the season has progressed. Against shadow cornerbacks and in his present form, Hopkins has not looked like an all-world dominator."
This marks the third straight game in which Hopkins will face a big-name corner-in the past two games he went up against Stephon Gilmore of the New England Patriots and Jalen Ramsey of the Los Angeles Rams. Over those two games, Hopkins has 13 catches for 105 yards and a touchdown on 20 targets. Bradberry, a big press corner having arguably the best season of his career after holding his own in Week 13 against DK Metcalf, isn't going to make things any easier.
Los Angeles Chargers at Atlanta Falcons (Casey Hayward vs. Julio Jones)
On better than 25 other NFL teams, Calvin Ridley would be the unquestioned No. 1 receiver. In Atlanta, he's the best second-fiddle in the game behind Julio Jones. As Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan told The Athletic, that dynamic speaks well to the professionalism of both Padawan and Jedi.
"I think the pros (of Ridley playing behind Jones) certainly outweigh the cons. I think he is an unbelievably unselfish teammate, Julio, as a superstar, and his willingness to teach those guys and take them under his wing is really invaluable. I think one thing that probably impacts Calvin more than anything - and it doesn't take away from how good of a player he is - is your statistics get skewed because of the guy playing on the opposite side from you. There's only so many plays in a game, and we have so many talented guys, but I think the people who know, the people who have to play against Calvin or try to guard him in man-to-man coverage know he is elite. He's exceptional."
Ridley's talent is unquestioned, and he's the Falcons WR to have as the fantasy playoffs begin. But Jones just went 6/94/0 on one leg. Jones and Casey Hayward are both excellent veteran players struggling through less than excellent seasons.
That said, sitting Julio? In the playoffs? Nope.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills (Chase Claypool vs. Tre'Davious White)
At 9-3, the Bills have already secured back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in over a decade. But the team's goals sit much higher than that-an AFC East title or maybe even something in a nice Super Bowl. After a convincing road win against San Francisco, the Bills look the part of a legitimate contender in the AFC, and Pro Bowl cornerback Tre'Davious White told Heather Prusak of WIVB that's in part because the defense has played as well as it has in years.
"Guys attack the challenge when our backs are against the wall, we love the challenge and we thrive in those moments. I feel like these last couple weeks we've come in and we know what our identity is. We're starting to take the ball away and we're playing with a little more confidence," White said.
That Claypool will see White (who had a pick in that win over the Niners) isn't ideal-White's completion percentage against is barely 55 percent. Claypool's recent mini-slump (a 4/45/0 average line the past two games) isn't either. But the biggest problem night be Claypool's target share over that span. He's been targeted 13 tames, while Diontae Johnson and Eric Ebron have combined for 47.
Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns (Marlon Humphrey vs. Jarvis Landry)
The Cleveland Browns are good. For reals.
After watching the Browns post a franchise-record 38 first-half points last week against Tennessee, it's not a stretch to say the Cleveland offense is playing its best football of the season. And it probably isn't a coincidence that Jarvis Landry has been on a tear at the same time. Per the team's website, the 28-year-old said now that he's healthy, you ain't seen nothing yet.
"I feel like I am in a sense just getting started, so I am excited," Landry said. "I hope with that more opportunities come. It challenges me obviously to continue to work hard, to continue to get my hands on the ball in practice and to continue to earn the trust of the coaches that have to be able to call these plays and put me in these types of situations for this team to make those types of plays."
Landry has been absolutely phenomenal the past two games, catching 16 passes on 21 targets for 205 yards and two touchdowns. He's fourth in PPR fantasy points among wideouts over that span. But there also isn't a better slot corner in the league this year than Humphrey. Watching these two get after one another inside this week is a treat for folks who favor physical play-and maybe the occasional shoving match.