The Shadow Knows Week 8 2022

By Gary Davenport
Gary Davenport

There isn't a lot going right for the Indianapolis Colts in 2022. Star running back Jonathan Taylor has been on the shelf a large chunk of the season. The Matt Ryan era in Indy lasted all of seven games, and now the team is turning to a completely untested and unproven quarterback in Sam Ehlinger. After losing to the Tennessee Titans last week for the second time this year, the Colts are a .500 team in danger of slipping into irrelevance in the AFC.

However, cornerback Stephon Gilmore has been the exception to a mediocre rule,

After a couple (by his standards, anyway) down seasons, Gilmore has looked a lot more this year like the player who was named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in New England in 2019. Seven weeks into the season, Gilmore is allowing less than 53 percent of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed. His passer rating against is an outstanding 60.0.

Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, Gilmore was a face a high-end wideout quite familiar with that venue-Washington's Terry McLaurin is an Indiana native who played in multiple high school championship games there and returned for two Big Ten title tilts while at Ohio State. Per the team's website, McLaurin said he expects a daunting challenge, despite all the uncertainty surrounding the Colts.

"I wanna keep our win streak going," McLaurin said. "They [the Colts] are really disciplined on defense, and I know they have a new quarterback, but he's probably going to give them a lot of energy. So, we have to go in there and limit the negative plays and get off to a fast start on the road."

This is arguably the most fascinating matchup between corner and receiver this week, because it next to impossible to get a bead on. On paper, it looks like a downgrade for McLaurin. But "Scary Terry" (it is Halloween, after all) has shown the ability to get his even against elite coverage, and the return of Taylor Heinicke under center last week appeared to help his fantasy prospects.

McLaurin's a riskier WR2 play in Week 8 than he might be in a more favorable matchup. But his fantasy managers are too happy hearing that he's back in the WR2 conversation to care.

Denver Broncos at Jacksonville Jaguars (Patrick Surtain II vs. Christian Kirk)

Given the hoopla surrounding Russell Wilson's arrival in Denver, calling the 2022 Denver Broncos a disappointment is a kindness Gandhi would think is over the top. But as the folks at NFL Next Gen Stats pointed out, what's been lost in a season of offensive offense is the fact that second-year cornerback Patrick Surtain is rapidly becoming one of the league's best at his position.

"While the Broncos have been in zone coverage 77 percent of the time this season (tied for fifth-highest usage in the NFL), a majority of that has been Cover 3 (42 percent, third in the NFL). As a result, the outside corner has still been left on an island on a majority of his coverage snaps this season," they wrote. "Surtain has shadowed some of the top receivers in the NFL this season, aligning across from DK Metcalf, Mike Williams and Davante Adams for at least 65 percent of their routes in those three games. Surtain shut out Williams on three targets and held his own against Adams and Metcalf, holding each of them under 6 yards per target. The shutdown corner has completely erased any other WR who has dared to challenge him this season, allowing just 61 yards on 21 targets to receivers not named Adams and Metcalf."

There's a bright side here for Kirk-even when Surtain has been asked to shadow receivers, he rarely moves inside, and Kirk spends upwards of three quarters of his snaps in the slot. But Broncos slot corner K'Waun Williams is no joke either, and for the season only two teams have allowed fewer fantasy points per game in the slot.


Miami Dolphins at Detroit Lions (Tyreek Hill vs. Jeffrey Okudah)

Okudah's first six games in 2022 are something of a microcosm for his career to date-flashes of the talent that made him a top-five pick, but also of inconsistency. However, Marcus Mosher of Pro Football Focus believes that Okudah's Week 7 effort against the Dallas Cowboys might have been the best of his career-and not for the reason you might think.

"Most players aren't able to overcome an Achilles injury, and the success rate for cornerbacks is extremely low," he wrote. But the Lions have to be thrilled with how Okudah has bounced back and played this season. He just put together the best game of his career in Week 7, allowing 22 yards on four targets. But that's not why he made this list. That came down to his ability to contribute as a run-defender. Okudah led the Lions in tackles (13) on Sunday, making seven run stops. He did not miss a single tackle and was the big reason the Cowboys struggled so much on offense in the first half."

Back in Week 3, Okudah played Justin Jefferson as well as any corner in the NFL has this season. But he got roasted like a ham the following week by DK Metcalf. Okudah's a talent only just now coming into his own after losing so much of his first two seasons to injury. There isn't a receiver in the league playing better than Tyreek Hill, who looks to be on a mission to show that trading him was a mistake. The Lions, as a whole, are a dumpster fire defensively. The Dolphins have a healthy Tua Tagovailoa back. Let the roasting commence.

Who doesn't like ham?




Green Bay Packers at Buffalo Bills (Jaire Alexander vs. Stefon Diggs)

The Green Bay Packers are already under no shortage of pressure-the Packers have lost as many games in a row as they did in each of the last three entire seasons. On top of that, now the Packers have to play arguably the best team in the league on the road. Cornerback Jaire Alexander told the Athletic that as daunting as covering Bills star Stefon Diggs might be, doing so in Buffalo is another challenge altogether.

"You've got to conserve a little more energy because the opposing fans' energy, they can take it away from you," Alexander said. "You've got to be a little more composed. I learned that when we played Dallas in 2019. I was so amped up for that game following Amari Cooper and I almost tired myself out. I learned that the hard way."

Alexander won't necessarily shadow Diggs all game, although he trailed the aforementioned Terry McLaurin last week. Of course, McLaurin also topped 18 PPR fantasy points last week against Alexander, and the last time Alexander faced Diggs (when the latter was still in Minnesota), things went, um, not good. What I'm saying is, it's Stefon Diggs.

Sorry, Jaire.




Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans (Brandin Cooks vs. Kristian Fulton)

Last season, Brandin Cooks used a combination of target volume and efficiency to overcome shaky quarterback play in Houston and become one of the bigger values at his position of the year. This year, the shaky quarterback play is still there. The target volume and efficiency? Not so much. And as Tim Brosnan wrote at Fantasy Pros, the argument for Cooks as a weekly starter in fantasy leagues is wobbly-at best.

"After another forgettable performance in Week 7, the elephant in the room can no longer be ignored," he said. "It's time to panic about Brandin Cooks. Since Week 2, he has just one game with double-digit PPR points, is averaging a measly 39.8 yards per game and has seen his targets decrease each week. Cooks is trending in the wrong direction and is difficult to trust even as a flex at the moment. You can either wait to see if he figures it out, or you can try to sell him for a half-decent flex."

As if all that wasn't enough, this week's matchup with the Titans is a lot worse than it looks at first glance-Tennessee's ranking in fantasy points allowed to the position is skewed by a Week 2 blowout in Buffalo, and the last time Cooks saw Fulton in coverage he had two catches for 18 yards. At this point, Cooks' fantasy managers should be exploring alternatives-and hoping that the trade rumors swirling around him have some validity.




Pittsburgh Steelers at Philadelphia Eagles (Diontae Johnson vs. Darius Slay)

The 2022 season hasn't been completely bereft of good news for Johnson's fantasy prospects-his 67 targets trail only Cooper Kupp of the Bengals, Ja'Marr Chase of the Dolphins and Tyreek Hill of the Bengals.

Just making sure you're paying attention. Because as the esteemed Andy Behrens pointed out at Yahoo, if you have you'll know all those targets have meant jack squat this year.

"All those opportunities have resulted in 337 receiving yards and zero touchdowns," he wrote. "Every other receiver in the league who's been targeted at least 60 times has produced at least 475 yards and one score. If there's good news for Johnson, it's that he's drawn 30 pass attempts over the past three weeks, so the shift to Kenny Pickett at QB hasn't been a negative in terms of volume."

This week's matchup with Darius Slay is pretty much a worst-case scenario for Johnson. It might even be worse for George Pickens, who gets a corner in James Bradberry who excels against bigger receivers. If there's an opportunity here, it might be with Chase Claypool inside-but even that feels like reaching against Philly's excellent pass defense.




Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns (Chidobe Awuzie vs. Amari Cooper)

Monday's matchup in Cleveland features a rarity in the NFL-a matchup between a cornerback and wide receiver who are also very close friends. That friendship between Cincinnati corner Chidobe Awuzie and Cleveland wideout Amari Cooper started over a chess board when the pair were teammates in Dallas, and Awuzie told the team's website those games continue to this day,

"He taught me the deeper level of chess," Awuzie said. "That opened it up to me wanting to play even more. I was playing already, but it was on different level with Amari … He's a very competitive person. I'm a very competitive person. We'll stay for a very long time to figure who's going to win or keep winning. Even in arguments and debates. We both like to learn and have knowledge. I really like his competitive nature."

Cooper is one of the best route-runners in the game. A true technician. Awuzie might be the best corner in the league who doesn't get mentioned among the best corners in the league. Cooper will probably be fine-target volume and his route-running offers him a fantasy floor that's of considerable comfort to fantasy managers. But it's past time to realize that facing Awuzie isn't a good thing for wide receivers.

Gary Davenport is a Contributing Author and Associate Editor at Football Diehards and a two-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association Football Writer of the Year. You can yell at him when he's wrong on Twitter at @IDPSharks