The Shadow Knows Week 15 2022

By Gary Davenport
Gary Davenport

As it turns out, Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings is pretty good at catching a football.

Before Jefferson even played last week against the Detroit Lions, he had already set an NFL record for the most receiving yards over a player's first three seasons. Just to make sure that everyone understood that said record was his, he exploded for 223 yards on 11 catches in Minnesota's loss to the Detroit Lions.

At his current pace of 115.4 yards per game, Jefferson will wreck Randy Moss' franchise record for receiving yards in a season. And as Mitch Goldich wrote for Sports Illustrated, with four games to play the Holy Grail for NFL receivers is within shouting distance-a 2,000-yard season.

"Putting aside all caveats about what the single-season record (1,964 yards by Calvin Johnson in 2012) means with the extra (17th) game, or how long a new record might even hold up, the cool thing about chasing this record is our collective fascination with round numbers and the bragging rights available for the first player ever to break the 2,000-yard mark," he said. "Jefferson would need to average 125 yards against the Colts, Giants, Packers and Bears. It won't be easy, for a guy who has averaged 115.4 yards per game to this point. But it's certainly possible, considering he posted 223 yards last week."

This week's matchup with the Colts is no cakewalk-Stephon Gilmore is one of the best cornerbacks in the league, and Indianapolis is dead last in PPR points allowed to ide receivers. But per the NFL Network's Next Gen Stats team, it really hasn't mattered what opponents do to try to stop Jefferson.

"Jefferson makes the improbable look routine, with six more receptions (24) than any other player this season on passes with less than a 50 percent completion probability," they said. "With defenses afraid to leave a corner on an island, the Vikings have faced the lowest rate of single-high coverages this season (45 percent). Even still, Jefferson leads the NFL in yards (869) against single-high coverages for the second straight season. Play man, get dusted. Try and press Jefferson to disrupt his route? Good luck."

In an NFL choked with elite receivers, Jefferson is making a compelling case as the best of the lot. And he'll be in the conversation in 2023 to be not just the first wide receiver drafted but the first player selected overall.


Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills (Xavien Howard vs. Stefon Diggs)

Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard has a reputation as one of the best ball-hawks in the league-a reputation earned with 15 interceptions in 2020 and 2021. Those big plays have all but vanished in 2022, as Howard has managed just one pick. But per the Palm Beach Post, teammate Kader Kohou firmly believes that Howard's level of play hasn't dropped a bit in spite of the nagging injuries that have dogged him in 2022.

"His mental was already good from the jump," Kohou said. "He hasn't gotten as many opportunities that he's gotten in the past years, but he's been having a great season. He keeps his head high, he's shining, he's just not getting as many opportunities. He's a superstar in this league and one of the best players on our team."

Kohou's comments aside, the numbers tell a different story. Howard's passer rating against this season is just under 110. His completion percentage is the highest it has been since 2018. And the Dolphins rank in the top half of the league in PPR points allowed to receivers. However, to his credit, Howard held Diggs relatively in check back in Week 3, allowing five of Diggs' seven catches. A 7/74/0 line is fine for most receivers. But most receivers are not Stefon Diggs.


Dallas Cowboys at Jacksonville Jaguars (Trevon Diggs vs. Zay Jones)

Speaking of the Diggs boys, Stefon's brother is having an interesting year-Trevon Diggs hasn't been making as many big plays as a year ago, but there also haven't been as many coverage lapses. Last week's comeback win over the Texans was one of Diggs' best games of the season-especially when you consider that he injured his hand during the contest. He told reporters after the victory that it was a gut check-both for him personally and his teammates.

"Whatever. I'm going to just fight through it, get through it, even though it's hurting. I've got to go," he said. I got nine fingers to catch with. It'll be alright. We need games like that just to see how are we going to respond to a little adversity. Game's not going our way, things not going our way, so how are we going to respond? And I think we did a real good job of that."

This week the Cowboys travel to take on a Jaguars team that has beaten two first-place teams over the past three weeks, and Zay Jones just so happens to have topped 20 PPR fantasy points in both of those victories. However, both those big outings also came in plus matchups for wide receivers, whereas Dallas ranks in the bottom half of the league in that regard. With Jones likely to see a lot of Diggs Sunday, this has the makings of a week where Christian Kirk will reclaim the top spot in points among Jacksonville wideouts.


Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans (A.J. Terrell vs. Chris Olave)

If New Orleans Saints wide receiver Chris Olave continues on his season-long pace over the final month of the 2022 season, he will do more than just top 1,000 receiving yards as a rookie-he will set a new franchise record for receiving yards by a first-year player. The player who currently owns that record (Michael Thomas) has been hurt (again) most of the season, but Olave told reporters he has also learned a great deal from veteran slot man Jarvis Landry.

"It's great having him on and off the field. He's a great leader as he has been throughout his career. He has that dog mentality," Olave said. "He rubs off on other people. Having him off the field when things aren't going well, then he is picking everybody up. Jarvis has definitely helped me out throughout my first year."

Olave will likely be covered for most of Sunday's NFC South tilt with the Falcons by A.J. Terrell, who has looked like an All-Pro at times this year and completely overmatched at others. As a whole, the Falcons have surrendered the fifth-most PPR points to wide receivers this season, so Andy Dalton's shaky play at quarterback is a larger concern for Olave than Terrell's coverage.


New York Giants at Washington Commanders (Fabian Moreau vs. Terry McLaurin)

The New York Giants enter Week 15 a team desperately trying to keep their season on the rails after a month-long winless streak. A pass defense that has been hit hard by injuries over the second half of the season has played a significant role in that skid, and Giants head coach Brian Daboll told reporters the team has to do a better job of limiting big plays after getting roasted like a Christmas ham last week by the Eagles.

"Well, when you have those really elite receivers, most of the time, they're going to get some yards," Daboll said. "You've got to try to prevent the real big ones - 50, 60 yards. When you play an elite receiver like that, it takes everybody. It takes the [pass] rush. It takes the coverage. It takes tackling. And you understand: They're probably going to get some, too. Most elite receivers do."

The Giants face another elite receiver this week in Washington's Terry McLaurin, and as was the case in Week 13 it appears they will do so without the services of No. 1 cornerback Adoree Jackson. In that last meeting with the Jackson-less Giants, McLaurin caught eight of 12 targets for 105 yards and a touchdown.

Maybe you shouldn't have your No. 1 cornerback return punts.





Arizona Cardinals at Denver Broncos (DeAndre Hopkins vs. Patrick Surtain II)

To say that the 2022 season hasn't gone according to plan for the Broncos is an understatement-Denver is already a 10-loss team with a first-round pick headed to Seattle in 2023. However, while the Russell Wilson trade may look like a disaster and the season is shot, second-year cornerback Patrick Surtain made it clear to reporters that he isn't giving up on the season-and he's ready to do whatever it takes to help the team win.

"I'm comfortable with wherever the coaches feel like they want me systematically," Surtain said. My focus is on finishing the season out strong, of course, and doing the best we can to put great film out there because the season isn't over. We still have more games left. The best thing to do is to put film out there and play hard to the fullest."

To the credit of Surtain and the rest of the Denver secondary, the Broncos rank seventh in the league in pass defense and 31st in PPR points allowed to wide receivers. Surtain has shadowed a number or wideouts this year, including DK Metcalf, Davante Adams, Mike Williams, Christian Kirk and DJ Moore. Given the likelihood that Hopkins will receive similar treatment in Week 15 and the downgrade at quarterback from the injured Kyler Murray to Colt McCoy, Hopkins gets a substantial downgrade at the worst possible time this week.