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THE SHADOW KNOWS Week 18 2021
THE SHADOW KNOWS: Week 18
It has been quite a while since we saw a cornerback like Trevon Diggs of the Dallas Cowboys.
If Diggs can intercept two passes in the season finale Saturday night against the Philadelphia Eagles, then the second-year pro would tie the single-season record for picks with 13. It's a record that has stood since 1952.
That's, um, a long time.
Diggs has gotten more than a little run as a potential Defensive Player of the Year candidate. And in fairness to him, Diggs has had a ridiculous season where takeaways are concerned. However, there's one small problem with anointing Diggs the league's best cornerback. As Sam Monson wrote at Pro Football Focus, Diggs has also given up a boatload of yardage in coverage this year.
"(Diggs) is currently on pace to surrender the most yards in coverage PFF has recorded from any cornerback over the last 16 years," Monson said. "Think about that for a second. Some truly catastrophic liabilities in coverage have started full seasons over the last 16 years in the NFL, and Diggs could eclipse them all in yards allowed despite boasting the kind of interception total that would ordinarily dissuade offenses from targeting his coverage. Only two cornerbacks have more targets than Diggs this season despite the threat that he will pick off any wayward pass. And teams are not shying away from testing him."
It's become quite the debate in NFL circles. Is Diggs a difference-making ball-hawk or a flawed young corner benefitting from a tremendous amount of good fortune? The answer, frankly, is both. Eleven picks are 11 picks. But there's a reason teams keep throwing at Diggs. He can be had. Fairly easily.
The moral of this story, as we kick off the final edition for this season of The Shadow Knows here at Football Diehards, is that nine times in 10 you shouldn't shy from starting a big-name receiver against most corners. The number of cornerbacks that NFL offenses actually shy away from targeting in 2021 is small. Really small.
And even if Diggs does play against the Eagles, DeVonta Smith's biggest problem continues to be a Philadelphia offense that is all about running the ball.
Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles (Amari Cooper vs. Darius Slay)
Darius Slay's 2020 season was a forgettable one-forced into man coverage with no help on a weekly basis against elite receivers, the 31-year-old looked like his best days might be behind him. But as Matty Breisch wrote for Section 215, in 2021 Slay has rebounded in a big way, earning a Pro Bowl nod and becoming one of those rare corners that opponents actually do endeavor to avoid.
"Slay's 2021 campaign also featured an opposing catch percentage of 58.8 on 85 targets, an average yards per catch of 10.7 - his lowest in four years - and only three touchdowns surrendered on 50 catches," he said. "He shut down many of the best wide receivers in the NFL, forced opposing play-callers to avoid his side of the field, and, assuming he doesn't play in Week 18, will finish out the season with the lowest passer rating allowed in single coverage of any cornerback in the NFL according to PFF."
It's hard telling how much of which team's starters we'll see Saturday in Philly-the Eagles can't move up much with a win and the No. 1 seed in the NFC is off the table for the Cowboys. But fantasy managers considering starting Cooper in Week 18 would be well-served to keep in mind his 3/26/0 line on four targets against the Eagles in Week 3.
Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (D.J. Moore vs. Carlton Davis)
It has been a rough season for Tampa's top cornerback-Carlton Davis missed almost half the season after tearing a quadriceps muscle against the Patriots in October. But the fourth-year veteran has been back in action for a few weeks now, and he told reporters via Mark Inabinett of AL.com that it feels great to be doing more than just watching.
"It's like I'm the kid in timeout watching everybody play on the playground," Davis said. "It's like, 'I want to go play to. I want to have fun on the monkey bars.' But it's a part of the game, and I used that time to work on myself physically and mentally and come back and help make this playoff run."
Davis appeared to be just about 100 percent last week against the Jets, racking up eight tackles and a pass defensed against the New York Jets. Of course, those tackle numbers indicate that he was also thrown at quite a bit, and it's hard to imagine this week going any differently. The Panthers passing game has barely been passable over the second half of the season, but the one constant has been DJ Moore-the fourth-year veteran has piled up 51 targets over the past five games, Moore isn't the high-end WR2 fantasy managers had hoped for, but this matchup doesn't change the WR3 he's become that much.
Washington Football Team at New York Giants (Terry McLaurin vs, James Bradberry)
To say that the 2021 season has been a disaster for both the Washington Football Team and New York Giants is being kind-Washington's defense imploded, New York's offense evaporated and both are just playing out the string Sunday. In fact, things are so bad in D.C. this year that pundits like Jeremy Brener of Washington Football have questioned whether wide receiver Terry McLaurin should even play in Week 18.
"McLaurin, who has been one of the few WFT players to avoid the injury bug this season, is 40 yards shy of his second straight 1,000-yard season," he said. "As exciting as it would be to clinch that accomplishments this season, keeping McLaurin healthy could be more important. He has been healthy for the first part of his career and his presence on the field kept Washington's season alive until last week's loss to the Eagles."
It's hard to imagine that Rivera would sit a healthy McLaurin-almost as hard as it has been to watch his talent wasted by poor quarterback play this season. The first time the Giants and Washington met this season, McLaurin set season-highs in targets (14) and catches (11) while topping 100 yards and finding the end zone. He has a good shot at ending a down season on an up note.
San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams (Deebo Samuel vs. Jalen Ramsey)
One of Sunday's biggest games takes place at SoFi Stadium, where the Rams will attempt to secure the NFC West by doing something the team hasn't done since 2019-beat the San Francisco 49ers. Still, despite five straight losses to the Niners (including a 31-10 loss in San Francisco earlier this season), Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey insisted to reporters that the Niners aren't in the Rams heads.
"Since I've been here, they've had our number," Ramsey said. "It is frustrating, but they don't have mind control over us, nothing like that if that's what you're asking. It's just how the games have went. But we are going out there confident on Sunday. We're not going out there thinking, 'Ah, man, we've lost this many games.' That is not our mindset at all. We're definitely going out there confident."
Insisting that a team isn't in your head is usually a sign they are. But were I Rams DC Raheem Morris, after watching Deebo Samuel turn 10 touches into 133 yards and two scores in their first meeting, I would Krazy Glue Ramsey to him. Ramsey can play the slot. Ramsey can play in the box on those jet sweeps the Niners love so much. He's done both this year. This isn't to say that Samuel won't roast the Rams again. But given San Francisco's questions under center, the smart play would be to make that as difficult as possible.
See you in 2022 (I hope)!