Fantasy Football: 5 Things We Learned in Week 4
Every NFL season, it's always only a matter of time before the first head-scratching weekend of football occurs. In 2019, Week 4 was that week.
As if touchdowns from rarely-seen players like Troymaine Pope, C.J. Prosise, Trevor Davis, James O'Shaughnessy, and Ricky Seals-Jones weren't enough -- and that should be enough -- the Raiders completely trounced the Colts in Indy, the Titans did the same to the Falcons, the Buccaneers upset the Rams, the Browns walloped the Ravens, and the Broncos and Jaguars put on one of the most exciting games of the week. And most surprisingly of all, the Dolphins had a lead.
Wacky weeks always create interesting information to digest. Here are 5 Things We Learned in Week 4.
The Dallas Cowboys Offense Is Stalling
I miss Week 1, when the Dallas Cowboys looked like one of the most exciting offenses in the league. I wrote up the changes that new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore had implemented after they demolished the New York Giants back in Week 1 but also noted that things could change once Ezekiel Elliott returned to his full workload. And unfortunately, things have definitely changed since then.
For starters, the Cowboys went from utilizing play-action on 43.8% of Dak Prescott's drop backs to using it on 20% of his drop backs on Sunday Night Football. Dak was crushing it on play-action passes early on this season and could have benefitted from them again in their lifeless loss last night.
Per Warren Sharp, the Cowboys ran 19 plays on first downs last night. Of those, 11 were run plays, which averaged 1.9 yards per carry. They Cowboys attempted just 8 passes on those first downs but averaged a far-better 7.3 yards per attempt. The offense was just constantly shooting itself in the foot by wasting their first downs on unsuccessful -- and predictable -- carries.
Things are definitely trending in the wrong direction for this once-promising offense. The return of Elliott has caused this offense to revert to the play-calling that got Scott Linehan fired just a year ago.
To make matters worse, All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith suffered a high-ankle sprain towards the end of the game. Smith is one of the most important players on this team -- Dak took a whopping 14 sacks in three games the last time Smith missed considerable time. His absence -- plus the team's strange desire to run Zeke into brick walls on first downs -- mean dark days are ahead for this offense.
Mitchell Trubisky Is Going to Miss Some Time
Things were looking pretty grim for the Chicago Bears early on this Sunday -- just six snaps into the Bears first possession, Mitchell Trubisky took a hit that forced him from the game with a shoulder injury. We don't have any solid updates as of this writing, but we do know that head coach Matt Nagy believes the young quarterback will be back this season. It seems pretty clear Trubisky is going to miss some time.
But fortunately for the Bears, backup Chase Daniel was able to lead the squad to a tight win over the Minnesota Vikings. Daniel starting might not be a terrible thing for the Bears -- or for their players in fantasy football.
Frankly, Trubisky has not been very good in 2019. He has a 31.9 total quarterback rating (QBR) so far this year, a bottom-five rate in the league. Only Ben Roethlisberger and the Dolphins' quarterbacks have performed worse than Trubisky's 5.3 adjusted yards per attempt. Daniel didn't do anything flashy against the Vikings' strong defense, but he also didn't turn the ball over. He completed 22 of his 30 pass attempts for 195 yards and a score.
In the win, Daniel targeted Allen Robinson 7 times for a 23% target share. That's a slight dip from his 26% mark through the first three weeks, but targets from Daniel may be more valuable for Robinson than inaccurate targets from Trubisky were. The Bears also heavily involved rookie running back David Montgomery to take some of the pressure off of Daniel -- Montgomery's 24 touches were a career high.
Losing a starting quarterback is usually a death knell for NFL teams, but 2019 seems to be rewriting that narrative. Daniel might represent a change for the better for the Bears.
David Johnson and Dalvin Cook Are Script-Proof
The Arizona Cardinals and Vikings may have lost in Week 4, but people who drafted Dalvin Cook and David Johnson in fantasy this year didn't. Well, they still might have lost in fantasy this week, but they definitely didn't lose when they drafted either of these players in their fantasy leagues. Cook and Johnson showed us that even in negative game scripts, they are invaluable pieces of their teams' respective offenses, and that they will remain heavily involved in big losses.
Cook toted the rock a season-low 14 times on Sunday, only managing to put together 35 yards (and a score) against the stout Bears defense. But despite his struggles on the ground, Cook still managed to put up relevant fantasy numbers in the receiving game. He caught 6 of his 8 targets, adding another 35 yards through the air, finishing the week with 16 fantasy points on FanDuel. He led the entire team in targets, showing us that even when the Vikings can't run the ball every single down, they still prioritize Cook.
Johnson reminded us why he was such a stud in fantasy football just a couple of seasons ago. The Cardinals got wrecked by the Seattle Seahawks in this one -- they had just three points until the final 10 minutes of the game. And yet, Johnson still managed to shine. Johnson led the entire team in targets (11), receptions (8) and receiving yards (99), while still grinding his way to 40 yards on the ground on 11 carries. Those receiving numbers alone would have been good enough for Johnson to finish as the WR13 this week, which is just absurd for a running back.
Cook and Johnson are integral parts of their teams' offenses. They both showed us that they can be started with confidence in even the worst game scripts and against the toughest defenses.
We Need to Keep an Eye on Ronald Jones
Well that was unexpected -- who would have expected the Bucs to topple the Rams in a shootout that hit 95 combined points? I certainly didn't.
There were fireworks in this game on both sides. Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods broke 100 receiving yards, while Chris Godwin cruised to a finish as this week's top-scoring receiver and Mike Evans had another solid performance. But perhaps the most important takeaway from this game (for fantasy purposes) was what happened in the Tampa Bay backfield.
Ronald Jones is kind of running away with the lead-back role on this offense, and that could be really valuable going forward if the Bucs continue firing on all cylinders.
Jones was one of the bigger disappointments in the 2018 rookie class. He averaged just 1.9 carries in his rookie season, barely touching the ball before getting outright benched for the final few games of the season. It was pretty ugly.
But 2019 is a different story. While he was clearly operating behind teammate Peyton Barber in Weeks 1 and 2, Jones asserted himself as the better back in Weeks 3 and 4 -- and the Bucs coaching staff has reacted accordingly. While Barber out-touched Jones significantly in the first two weeks, the touches have since shifted Jones' way. After an even split (15-15) in Week 3, Jones led Barber 20 to 9 in backfield touches in the Bucs' Week 4 victory.
He's been pretty efficient with those touches, too. Jones is averaging an impressive 4.7 yards per carry and broke 100 yards from scrimmage on Sunday. While he hasn't been a prominent factor in the passing game, he has reeled in all 3 of his targets for another 71 yards. He offers the Bucs speed and upside that Barber simply cannot, and assuming he continues playing at this level, he could become the undeniable lead back they drafted him to be last year.
You Need to Be Attacking the Falcons' Defense in 2019
Some teams can just never catch a break. It seems like every year, the same teams suffer more injuries than the rest of the league combined. The Atlanta Falcons are one of those teams.
Through four weeks this season, the Falcons' defense doesn't look too bad on paper. They've allowed just 861 passing yards, the fourth-fewest in the league. Pretty good, right?
Actually, not really. Because the Falcons have only faced the eighth-fewest passing attempts against them this season -- because they've been getting crushed.
Outside of one competitive game against an extremely-injured Philadelphia Eagles offense, the Falcons have faced some of the silliest game-scripts of the season. They got blown out so hard by the Vikings in Week 1 that the Vikings only attempted 10 passes, averaging 9.8 yards per attempt on those passes. The Falcons also allowed 310 passing yards to Colts backup-turned-starter Jacoby Brissett, the second-highest total of his career. And on Sunday, Marcus Mariota picked them apart so badly in the first half that he only attempted nine passes in the second half.
When we look at rate stats, it becomes clear that the Falcons defense is barely holding on. Opposing quarterbacks are completing over 67% of their attempts, while the Falcons' pass-rush is generating sacks at the fourth-lowest rate in the league on drop backs.
The Falcons' schedule is about to get a whole lot more exploitable, too. They'll face the Houston Texans, the Cardinals, the Seahawks and the Rams in the coming weeks -- all teams with reliable receivers we can depend on to trash this Falcons secondary.