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Monday Night Football Preview: Hail to the Seahawks

After dropping a dud last Thursday, Washington gets to face the defending Super Bowl champions. What could possibly go wrong?

A few weeks ago, Kirk Cousins was the bee's knees. Brudduh could do no wrong. There were discussions about how the team needed to bail on Robert Griffin III immediately in favor of The Chosen One.

Then last Thursday happened. The New York Giants throttled Washington with a 45-14 beat-down that made the Jaguars point and laugh. Cousins's four interceptions, all within about 12 minutes of game time, may have had something to do with that.

Fortunately, Washington has had 11 days to recover from said fiasco. Great news! Less great news: their task is the defending Super Bowl champions. Sad faces abound for Jay Gruden and company. Do they stand a chance against the Seahawks? To evaluate this, we'll use numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. A positive play increased the expected number of points a team will score on a drive. A negative play does the opposite. The summation of all of those plays results in a team's NEP rating. You can read more about it in our glossary. Let's take a look at what numberFire's projections say.

Which Cousins Should We Expect?

Through his first 83 drop backs, Cousins had a stupid, disgusting ign'ant 0.39 Passing NEP per drop back. That was the highest of any quarterback in the NFL with at least 50 drop backs. The praise for what he had done was justified. But, stuff happens.

With his Thursday-night performance, Cousins' Passing NEP went from 32.65 to 21.25, an 11.40-point drop in just one night. He went full Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the span of about four days.

Next up is the Seahawks. Oh boy. The Legion of Boom. I'm sure our friend Kirk has soiled his pants a time or two in anticipation of this doozy.

Fortunately for Kirk, the Seahawks haven't quite fit the narrative yet this year. Through the first four weeks, Seattle ranked 22nd in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. Among those ahead of them were noted defensive powerhouses in the Jets, Cowboys and Eagles. Although this was through a small sample size, it was clear the Seahawks weren't yet living up to the expectations they set forth for themselves last year.

So what does all of this mean for Cousins? If you look at our Week 5 Projections, you'll see a projected 253.51 passing yards to go with 1.04 touchdowns and 1.03 interceptions. The yardage is projected to come on 39.70 attempts, putting Cousins at 6.39 yards per attempt. Overall, this is very much a below average performance.

Despite the slow start, the Seahawks are still the Seahawks. Matching them up with a guy who has been completely unproven throughout the course of his career is asking for trouble. Cousins and the Washington passing game could be in for another long night.

Can Alfred Morris Move the Ball on the Ground?

If Cousins has been the question mark, Alfred Morris has been the exclamation point. He is the one that, without variation, will bring a punch to the line-up each and every week.

Through the first four games, Morris has had at least 77 all-purpose yards in each event to go with three total touchdowns. His -0.02 Rushing NEP per Play ranked eighth of the 18 running backs with at least 50 carries heading into the weekend. While that's not great, that's also after facing four rush defenses that are all in the top 20 in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per Play. They haven't been great, but they also haven't been terrible. He has been an above-average back who has benefited from a heavy workload.

The problem is that his toughest task comes tonight. While the analytics may not dig the Seattle passing defense, they are slurping all over the run-stoppers. Entering Week 5, the Seahawks ranked third in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per Play at -0.18. Opponents' top running backs have combined to post 47 rushes for 103 yards, a whopping 2.19 yards per carry. I'm sure that stat would make ol' Alfy just giddy right now!

While the algorithms expect Morris to fare better than those before him, they still aren't great projections. Morris is slated for 64.92 yards on 16.70 carries to go with 19.51 yards through the air. He's only projected for 0.30 rushing and 0.07 receiving touchdowns. This gives him a median of 10.32 projected points, his second lowest total for the rest of the season. The lowest is next week against Arizona, so give Alfred Morris owners a hug when you see them today.

Will the Seattle Offense Unleash?

The schedule-makers kind of dumped on the Seahawks to start the season. Their first three opponents are a combined 9-2 in their games this year against non-Seattle competition. Now, they are blessed with a defense that is a week removed from giving up 45 points. Luscious.

Entering the weekend, Russell Wilson was projected to have the sixth-highest fantasy score among all quarterbacks in standard leagues. This was despite having the lowest number of projected attempts of any quarterback in the top 27 of those projections. That's just what Russ do, homies.

Then you've got that Marshawn Lynch guy. He's pretty good. But the Washington defense certainly doesn't struggle against the rush. They rank seventh in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per Play and have held Arian Foster, Toby Gerhart and LeSean McCoy to a combined 2.51 yards per carry.

Last week, both Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams averaged more than four yards per carry on at least 13 attempts. Even with this, a matchup with Washington means at least scaled-back expectations for any back.

For this week, Lynch is projected to go for 82.16 yards on 16.95 attempts with 0.58 touchdowns. This puts his confidence interval at 7.72-22.36 fantasy points. That's a solid floor, and you should expect nothing less from Lynch regardless of the opponent. His top two comparables are Priest Holmes in 2002 (313 rushes, 1,615 yards, 21 touchdowns) and Jamaal Charles last year (259 rushes, 1,287, 12 touchdowns). Both of those guys finished as the top fantasy backs in those respective years. You don't bench Marshawn Lynch under any circumstance.

On the game profile that premium subscribers can check out, it lists similar matchups to this one throughout the years. If you look at the top three similar matchups, the team representing the Seahawks failed to score more than 22 points each time. This doesn't mean you should expect Washington to slow down Seattle, but it does mean it's possible. The odds certainly favor a solid output from both Russ and Skittles.

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