Sunday Aftermath: Burrow’s struggles, Nacua’s dominance and much more
It turns out completing 53.1 percent of his passes for 259 scoreless yards against the Rams was not the turning point Joe Burrow was hoping for. Sunday against the Titans — 165 scoreless yards against a pass defense that had served up at least 289 to each of Deshaun Watson, Derek Carr and Justin Herbert — shattered any remaining illusions that this offense was about to get back on track.
This, of course, is dangerous language when it comes to a superstar like Burrow. Even if players of Burrow’s caliber are struggling, physically compromised or both, they are capable of flipping the switch at any given moment. But can they do so while almost literally playing on one leg? Without their No. 2 receiver? That’s the situation Burrow finds himself in. Unable to take snaps under center because he can’t push off his ailing calf, Burrow also can’t get anything going down the field. Stunningly, he has one completion of 20-plus air yards in 2023. It goes without saying Burrow can’t scramble right now.
If you can’t throw deep, can’t move the pocket, and can’t … hand the ball off from under center? What exactly can you do? Which brings us back to that No. 2 receiver. Tee Higgins has a broken rib and is almost certain to miss time, likely through the Bengals’ Week 7 bye. That’s how long Burrow should sit, too. This isn’t going anywhere until he gets healthy. The problem for the Bengals is that they’ll already be nowhere if they lose Weeks 5-6 against the Cardinals and Seahawks. They will probably — correctly — surmise they are better off betting on random Burrow superstar mode than backup Jake Browning.
That’s their decision. Yours as a fantasy manager is benching Burrow no matter how strong the matchup might seem until he demonstrates some sort of ability to either more effectively play through his injury or just actually gets healthy. The latter doesn’t even seem possible at the current moment. That means it is Ja’Marr Chase or bust when it comes to what should be one of fantasy football’s most explosive passing attacks.
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Five Week 4 Storylines
Puka Nacua makes the most of his final pre-Cooper Kupp appearance. Nacua has 501 yards. Again, fifth-round rookie Puka Nacua has 501 yards through four games. He is second in the league in receiving, first in receptions, and has the most catches in NFL history through a player’s first four games. We know Sean McVay can scheme players open, but he can’t do that. He also isn’t going to know how to choose between Nacua and returning All-Pro Cooper Kupp. Kupp seems likely to suit up for Week 5 against the Eagles, creating a problem for fantasy managers everywhere. The good news? It’s not a dilemma. A dilemma would be deciding whether or not you can even still play Nacua. That ship has long since sailed. Now an every-week starter, the question is if Nacua and Kupp can co-exist in the top 12.
Jonnu Smith out-produces Kyle Pitts in London Town. Well it’s not entirely accurate to say Smith out-produced Pitts “in London.” He’s also out-produced him two of the past three weeks and on the season as a whole. Jonnu leads the Falcons in targets over the past three weeks after drawing zero looks in Week 1. Coach Arthur Smith not only thinks Jonnu is a better pass catcher than Pitts, he thinks he’s the best pass catcher on a roster that also includes Drake London? Maybe? Hopefully not? Are we all going insane question mark? We know insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Many had already moved on from the idea of “Kyle Pitts, TE1.” It’s time for everyone else to follow until Smith either stops playing this sick joke or maybe, just maybe Pitts actually forces his hand with strong play.
Rhamondre Stevenson’s slump deepens. Stevenson ended up comfortably out-snapping and out-touching Ezekiel Elliott in Dallas, but fantasy managers didn’t reap the rewards. Stevenson generated 3.3 yards per carry or fewer for the fourth time in as many games, and produced 10 or fewer receiving yards for the third time in as many games. Forget RB1, does that sound like an RB2 to you? And one of these Sundays, the pre-game reports that Zeke is ticketed for a bigger role might actually come true. The only thing keeping Stevenson live for the next two weeks are dates with Saints and Raiders teams that aren’t going to bury New England the way Dallas did. The touches will still be there. Stevenson has to do something with them if he’s to remain in the top 24.
Mac Jones gets more fiasco-ish. Jones produced only two scores in Dallas — for the Cowboys. The author of both a pick-six and fumble-six, Jones had his lowest low in a career increasingly full of them. Bill Belichick had finally seen enough by the end of the third quarter, ordering Jones to take a seat as he gave Bailey Zappe another looksee. Belichick has long been Zappe curious, but the rookie fourth-rounder rewarded Belichick’s 2022 curiosity with a brutal performance against the Bears. For now, that memory still looms large for the head coach, who has insisted Jones remains the starter. But Jones’ benching is rapidly evolving from potential coaching impatience to the only option for an offense in desperate need of a spark.
Devon Achane keeps the miracle going. Achane carried the ball eight times in a 48-20 road loss. 19 times out of 20, that game situation equals a running back graveyard. For Achane? 101 yards and two touchdowns. A jet sweep maestro and red zone warhead, Achane was once again the fastest player on a field full of speed demons. It’s a special trait in an offense that knows how to use special traits. Duds are inevitable with this skill-set, but it’s already clear there is one place Achane doesn’t belong: The bench. Fantasy managers need to accept an inevitable 4.1 point outing or two in exchange for the big plays and touchdowns.
Five More Week 4 Storylines
Justin Fields finally has big day vs. radioactive Broncos defense. Fields began his Week 4 by doing what everyone does against the Broncos: Incinerating them. His big throws were the main reason the Bears jumped out to a 28-7 lead with 4:11 remaining in the third quarter. The Bears were winning. Then they decided not to lose. Fields attempted just five passes on the next three drives as the Bears watched a 28-7 lead turn into a 31-28 deficit. Yes, one of those possessions was killed by a Fields fumble-six. Very bad. But how is this the message the coaching staff continues to send? Stake us to a massive lead only for us to stop trusting you? It’s surely not as simple as that, but no one is going to learn anything if the Bears continue to prevent Fields from being Fields.
Javonte Williams knocked out with hip injury, Jaleel McLaughlin takes over. On the other side of the ball in Chicago, the Broncos completed their comeback despite losing lead back Williams. Finally poised for a big game against the Bears’ pathetic defense, Williams made it just five touches before going down in the first quarter. Samaje Perine predictably played the most snaps following Williams’ departure, but it was McLaughlin who handled the most touches. The NCAA’s all-time leading rusher, McLaughlin turned his seven carries into 72 yards, adding 3/32/1 as a receiver. With the Broncos trailing by multiple scores on the road, they were never going to turn the car keys over to McLaughlin mid-game. But with a week to prepare to face the Jets? Perine certainly won’t be winning that game in the trenches if Williams is forced to miss time. McLaughlin is worth a speculative add in all formats.
Alvin Kamara absurdly catches 13 passes in 2023 debut. That answers that question. Kamara will not be eased in. He also won’t be allowed to inherit his long-gone “1A” role. The Saints are insisting on bell-cow usage even though Kamara has never been efficient on such workloads. It stands to reason the approach will change once Jamaal Williams returns, but he’s out at least two more games with his hamstring injury. It also stands to reason Derek Carr’s shoulder will improve to the point that he’s not just throwing the ball 3-5 yards every play. This was probably already Kamara’s PPR high-water mark, especially since touchdowns won’t be a given once goal-line legend Williams is healthy. If you held Kamara for three weeks, you should explore “selling high,” if that’s what you can even call this.
Chuba Hubbard causes problems for Miles Sanders. Hubbard out-snapped, out-carried and even out-routed Sanders against the Vikings. Perhaps it was the effects of Sanders’ lingering groin injury, but it’s not like he wasn’t active and playing. It’s also not like Sanders has been effective. That includes through the air, where Sanders has received gangbusters usage but failed to stuff the stat sheet or provide efficiency. He is basically operating as the same frustrating, inefficient player he was in Philadelphia, only this time without an elite offense to prop him up. Sanders is looking like a risky RB2 bedrock as injuries and bye weeks begin to decimate fantasy rosters.
White-hot Mike Evans suffers hamstring injury. Against all odds, Evans has produced with Baker Mayfield under center. The odds just got a little longer, as Evans will now be a 30-year-old battling hamstring complications. Evans seems more day to day than week to week, but hamstring injuries have a way of taking on a life of their own, especially if you are on the wrong side of 30. Throw in an upcoming tough defensive slate of vs. DET, vs. ATL and @BUF, we might get more of the struggle bus Evans statlines we were expecting during the preseason.
1. Is there some reason Joe Burrow has yet to undergo some sort of mysterious stem cell treatment in a German university town whose population peaked in 1653?
2. Why is no one talking about the Mecole Hardman revenge game?
3. Has Arthur Smith ever considered untying the hand behind his back?
Early Waivers Look (Players rostered in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
QB: C.J. Stroud (@ATL), Sam Howell (vs. CHI), Jimmy Garoppolo (vs. GB), Zach Wilson (@DEN)
RB: Jaleel McLaughlin, Chuba Hubbard, Latavius Murray, Ezekiel Elliott, Tyjae Spears, Jeff Wilson
WR: Marvin Mims, Tyler Boyd, Darnell Mooney, Rashee Rice, Jayden Reed, Jameson Williams, Michael Gallup, Wan’Dale Robinson, Josh Reynolds, Michael Wilson
TE: Dalton Schultz, Zach Ertz, Luke Musgrave, Logan Thomas, Jonnu Smith, Durham Smythe
DEF: Commanders (vs. CHI), Lions (vs. CAR), Dolphins (vs. NYG), Broncos (vs. NYJ), Packers (@LV)
Stats of the Week
Puka Nacua is already 77.3 percent of the way to Kadarius Toney’s career yardage total.
Via ESPN Stats and Info: “Joe Burrow is the first quarterback in NFL history to attempt at least 150 passes in his team’s first four games of a season and average fewer than 5.0 yards per attempt.”
Via Jonas Shaffer: “Dorian Thompson-Robinson averaged -0.58 EPA per play today, per RBSDM. So for every two plays he was involved, he basically cost the Browns a full point.”
Kyle Dvorchak on Christian McCaffrey’s unbelievable start: “Chrisitan McCaffrey has 120 PPR points through four weeks, putting him on pace for 510 this season. He would become the first player ever to top 500 points and it would shatter the record currently held by Ladanian Tomlinson by nearly 30.”
Zero. Nico Collins’ number of 100-yard games before partnering up with C.J. Stroud. He now has two in four games and is the WR7 by average PPR points.
Week 4 Fantasy All-Pro Team: QB Josh Allen, RB Christian McCaffrey, RB David Montgomery, WR A.J. Brown, WR Stefon Diggs, WR Nico Collins, TE Cole Kmet
Tweet of the Week, from Gregg Rosenthal: The C.J. Stroud Texans have won two straight by at least 20 points. For comparison, the Vikings last won a game by 20 points in 2019.
Steelers Tweet of the Week, from Josh Carney: Najee Harris has 55 yards in the third quarter on nine carries. Big brained OC Matt Canada decides to go shotgun and throw the ball on 4th and 1. I’m sick. This is exhausting.