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TNF Preview Plus Injury Notes

Matthew Stafford

Matthew Stafford

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

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Week 5 is set to start off with a Thursday Night Football matchup with multiple fantasy angles. Seattle’s passing game has taken a step back but their backfield may be missing a starter. Meanwhile, Los Angeles started off hot and has already lost one divisional matchup in a beatdown from Arizona. Both teams are looking to get back on track on a short week as the Rams travel up north to Seattle. I’ll preview TNF while reviewing all of the fantasy-relevant injury news out of Wednesday’s practices.

TNF Preview: NFC West Showdown

The game total for TNF sits at 54.5 points and I don’t see how we get there. The last time these teams played against each other in the regular season and scored more than tonight’s total was in Week 5 of 2019. We’ve got some of the same players. One even plays for the other team now. But the big news for Seattle starts in their backfield.

Carson’s snaps dropped to 43% and 45% over the last two weeks with just one limited practice over the span. Alex Collins mixed in with Carson on Sunday for a 48% touch share and will be Seattle’s starter should Carson be ruled out. The only concern will be how often he’s used in relation to the passing game.

Russell Wilson still remains as accurate as ever (third in CPOE) but the offense as a whole has been stagnant. They’re 22nd in yards per drive and they’ve maxed out their single-game scoring at 30 points. It’s been fine when playing struggling teams like the Colts or a team in transition like San Francisco, but Los Angeles’ offense fits neither descriptor. Same goes for their defense.[[ad:athena]]

In their last six matchups, Wilson has finished as a top-12 quarterback against the Rams in four of those contests. And he’s done it in vintage Wilson style. His passing yards have never exceeded 250 but he’s thrown three or more touchdowns in half of those games. It leaves his pass-catchers out in the cold if they don’t find the paint which makes the Thursday night draw an even tougher decision for fantasy managers.

DK Metcalf has typically drawn the tougher assignment with Jalen Ramsey roaming the perimeter. He’s moved around this season, but there’s little to suggest he’d opt out of facing Metcalf again. The third-year receiver has scored just one touchdown against Los Angeles and yet to crack 100 yards on them. Tyler Lockett’s done it once. Back in 2016. Michael Pittman (Week 2, 12-123-0) and Mike Evans (Week 3, 10-106-0) did surprise the Rams with big gains from the slot. For Seattle to move the ball, they’ll need to get creative against a team that sees them twice a year.

Outside of Sunday, the Rams’ offense has matched the offseason hype. Matthew Stafford is third in yards and tied for second in touchdowns on throws of 20 air yards or more. But even if the deep passing game doesn’t work, the intermediate throws have been lights out.

I’ll talk more about Cooper Kupp’s route in a bit, but this offense has taken a sizeable step forward. They’re second in EPA per dropback behind only Kansas City and top-2 in yards and points per drive. Seattle’s already allowed two 300-yard passers so far this season. Three if you want to combine the 49ers’ quarterbacks. But even if Seattle mounts some sort of the stance in their secondary, they’ll still need to contend with the Rams’ running game.

In the games Darrell Henderson has started and finished, he’s played 91.7% of the team’s snaps. Henderson has received every running back carry from inside the 10-yard line and has a 6.7% overall target share. He may not be producing like Todd Gurley did in his prime, but Henderson is seeing similar usage. He’s second in success rate with 14.0% of his runs going for 10 yards or more.

The Seahawks have actually played well up front. Derrick Henry (35-182-3) is the only rusher to pass the century mark on them. However, running backs involved in the passing game have been productive. Jonathan Taylor (Week 1, 7-60-0) and Alexander Mattison (Week 3, 8-59-0) were still productive without either finding the paint. All eyes will be on the passing game, but Henderson has the talent and opportunity to be the talk of TNF.

Points of Interest in TNF

For the Rams, my only interest regarding their offense is what Stafford and Kupp are having for breakfast together. No, seriously. What kind of meals are these two sharing that’s caused Robert Woods to not even enjoy scoring a touchdown? OK, I get it. They were down multiple scores so a celebration probably wasn’t warranted. But, there’s no doubt a part of the broadcast tonight will focus on this exact narrative.

Woods’ 18.5% target share is one of the bigger surprises of the season. It’s not like he’s missed time during games. Woods has run a route on 86.5% of Stafford’s dropbacks. Kupp, of course, has run more routes (15). But the distinction extends past just what’s going down on the field.

The MNF crew mentioned it during the broadcast, but Kupp scouted Hunter Renfrow’s china route during joint practices over the offseason and had it added to the playbook. Sean McVay also credited Kupp with inventing the “Ocho” route (Omaha-China-Out). Unless Woods has the “Nueve”, or some other fancy route combo in his back pocket, he may be stuck on the outside of a dynamic duo. McVay might say the opportunities starts with him, but they sure do seem to end with Stafford.

On Seattle’s side, my focus will be on trying not to fall asleep. If I do, I’ll miss the inevitable play where Wilson avoids pressure and connects downfield for either a big gain or a touchdown. Happens every game. It’s a tale as old as us wanting the Seahawks’ playcalling to join the 21st century.

Seattle pace and neutral passing ranks Weeks 1-4.
Pace Neutral Pass Rate
Week 1 8th 29th
Week 2 12th 20th
Week 3 19th 23rd
Week 4 15th 24th

And yet, they’re slower and passing less when the game is close. Their first-down passing rate has dropped from last season (57.9% to 53.4%) and they continue to use the “Run-Run-Pass” play sequence which is one of the least effective means to starting a drive.But really, my focus will be on the tenor of the offense itself. I’m old enough to remember Shane Waldron’s hiring as being a good thing. His high-paced, quick-passing concepts were supposed to improve Seattle’s passing game. Or, in other words, they would literally help them keep pace with the rest of their division.

We’ve seen flashes of Metcalf or Lockett running intermediate slants before. They’ve helped set up deeper shots later. But this shift back to previous years doesn’t jibe with their current personnel. Their defense certainly can’t handle the added strain. Hopefully, we’ll see more out the aerial attack that catches most of the highlights from week to week.

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Injury Slants

Like last week, let’s start off with some good news.

Sunday’s news led us to this point. Before the game, it was reported that McCaffrey traveled with the team and was seen going through his pre-game stretching routine. There was no follow-up from Matt Rhule, but it at least sparked the notion fantasy’s RB1 was close to returning. Now, it’s confirmed. McCaffrey was a limited participant and the team will continue to test his hamstring ahead of Week 5. His participation throughout the rest of the week will give us a better idea as to his status against Philadelphia. The same can be said about the Titans’ wide receivers.

After losing in Week 4, it was good to see at least one of Tennessee’s primary receivers back at practice. A.J. Brown was a limited participant but the single drill showed some progress as Brown battles back from a hamstring injury. Meanwhile, Julio Jones remained out with a similar injury. Jones went from “tightness” that caused him to play just half of Week 3 to missing all of Week 4. Mike Vrabel didn’t provide any additional information on Jones so we’ll have to wait for news on Thursday to know if he’ll miss yet another game. At least in Dallas there’s more optimism.

There was some expectation that Amari Cooper would be out early in the week after his performance on Sunday. Cooper was seen on the sideline after a hamstring injury sustained during the game. He returned to catch a touchdown but, between the hamstring and his ribs, rest would do him well. Ezekiel Elliot’s injury was somewhat new but the Cowboys’ lead back was all smiles on Wednesday. He insisted that he felt “three times better” and just needed the rest. As now, there’s no reason to doubt Elliot’s intent on being out there in Week 5. We can’t say the same for Joe Mixon.

There wasn’t a break in the action during TNF, but everyone started to notice Samaje Perine playing more than Joe Mixon towards the end of the game. Mixon was spotted at practice and considered day-to-day. Zac Taylor indicated the plan is to get him on the field tomorrow or Friday to gauge the running back’s health ahead of Sunday. Mike Zimmer will probably be doing the same for his starting running back.

Dalvin Cook was limited the entire week leading up to the game, but started in Week 4. He pulled himself out of the game during the first half and we didn’t see him again until the third quarter. Afterward, he was used sparingly despite the Vikings attempting to mount a comeback. Minnesota is facing their first divisional opponent but it’s the Lions. We can’t assume a victory, but Alexander Mattison has played well in Cook’s absence. Plus, Minnesota’s bye is just around the corner in Week 7. Rest may be the right course as the team sits at 1-3 with the rest of the season ahead of them. Let’s hope the same is the case for Washington’s personnel.

Early reports from practice were bleak and then the afternoon got worse. Logan Thomas heads to IR and Washington signed former Packer Jace Sternberger. The only positive information is that neither Antonio Gibson nor Curtis Samuel suffered setbacks during the game on Sunday. Rest after coming into Week 4 with injuries would be a likely course of action anyway. Their practice participation on Thursday and Friday will tell us more. Pittsburgh appears to be in a similar situation.

Roethlisberger missed practice with a hip and pectoral injury. Given his history of shouldering injuries, there’s no indication he’ll miss the game but his comments during his latest interview are somewhat revealing. Just two years ago, he was asked about his mechanics and how the game comes naturally to him. Now, Father Time (and taking multiple hits over the years) has changed his approach to being a passer. You likely weren’t relying on Roethlisberger, but we’re all rostering his pass-catchers. Unless you’re the lone Mason Rudolph stan, let’s hope Roethlisberger can get back on the field prior to Sunday. Detroit would also like to see one of their starters return to practice before the end of the week.

The star tight-end was present at practice but, reportedly, didn’t do any work in the open portion of practice. There was no report of an injury during the game and Hockenson’s target share actually reverted back towards their usual numbers after a dip in Week 3. The team has experienced a rash of season-ending injuries so it’s possible today was all about rest for the veteran. His participation throughout the rest of the week will be vital for his status for Week 5.