The Saints are 7-2 with the third-most points in the NFL. If I had told you before the season they would get off to this kind of start, you would have probably assumed Drew Brees would be in the neighborhood of 22 touchdowns and 2,800 yards. That would be a 40-score, 5,000-yard pace. In other words, typical for Drew Brees. A few more touchdowns than usual, a few less yards than usual.
Instead, Brees is sitting on 13 and 2,238. That’s a 23 and 3,978 pace. Brees is having what would would have been pre-2017 Alex Smith’s career year. Both totals would be by far Brees’ lowest as a Saint. The scores by three, the yards by 410.
So what’s the culprit? Is the Saints’ running game just this good? Or has there been some decline in the previously-ageless Brees’ play? For starters, yes, the Saints’ running game is this good. Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara and company are now averaging over 4.6 yards per carry and 142 yards per game. No team has found the end zone more often on the ground (14).
That is not the whole story. Brees, though still accurate with a beautiful spiral, has appeared to lack his typical juice, especially down the field. This isn’t entirely new for 2017, as Brees’ arm has been in slight decline for a few seasons. But it does seem to have gone to a new level, and NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reported Sunday that the Saints have taken notice. Per Rapsheet, the Saints have grown concerned as Brees has begun to miss “throws he usually makes.”
Typically, I would write this off as a team getting the engine running on what will probably be contentious offseason talks. Brees’ contract is up and he can’t be franchise tagged. But I have seen it with my own eyes. There’s no real debating Rapoport’s leaked assertions. I believe it’s truly up in the air whether 39-year-old Brees returns for a 13th season in New Orleans next year. Thankfully, that’s not something we have to worry about now as the Saints march on with their best season since 2013, and probably 2011.
As for fantasy owners, the Saints’ running/passing touchdown totals will probably regress closer to their means, keeping Brees solidly in the QB1 mix. Just don’t expect his former limitless ceiling to keep accompanying his still steady floor.
Five Week 10 Storylines
In the midst of awful game, Melvin Gordon cedes snaps and touches to Austin Ekeler. Always more quantity than quality, Gordon stretched the formula to its breaking point against the Jaguars, turning 21 touches into a pitiful 42 yards. The display was bad enough that the Bolts turned to UDFA Ekeler down the stretch, with the “Western State” product generating a much healthier 119 yards on his 15 looks. Ekeler found the end zone twice. Fortuitously for Gordon, Ekeler also committed a devastating fumble with 1:51 remaining. The Bolts rode Gordon the rest of the way, though he didn’t reward their faith with production. Now averaging 3.76 yards per carry and 7.14 yards per catch, Gordon has posted a YPC higher than 3.30 in just 3-of-9 appearances. The Chargers’ patience is wearing thin. Gordon will get yet another opportunity to redeem himself in Week 11, where the Chargers get a Bills run defense that’s collapsed since the trade of Marcell Dareus.
Devonta Freeman suffers concussion. Looking to snap his month-long slump in a plus matchup with the Cowboys, Freeman instead made it all of two carries before suffering a head injury. In his absence, Tevin Coleman posted a workmanlike 20/83/1 on the ground. The concussion is Freeman’s second since the preseason, and third as an NFLer. Although he has an extra day to heal up for Week 11 with the Falcons playing the Seahawks on Monday Night Football, Freeman is probably on the wrong side of 50-50. Two concussions in three months is a serious matter. If Freeman does suit up, it will be with 25 carries for 90 yards over his past three games. Owners should be planning on at least one game without their supposed-to-be RB1.
Sterling Shepard has career game in second week back from ankle injury. As the Giants were collapsing to previously-unseen depths for one of the league’s proudest franchises, Shepard was ascending to new heights as a second-year pro. Each of his 11 catches, 13 targets and 142 yards were new personal bests, and give him 16 grabs for 212 yards in two games since returning from his high-ankle sprain. Shepard had a golden matchup in the 49ers’ league-worst cornerback corps, but was making legitimate plays, including a diving, one-handed grab a la the man he’s filling in for as the Giants’ No. 1 receiver, Odell Beckham. Shepard has another golden matchup for Week 11, as the G-Men will be hosting the Chiefs and their sieve-like defense. Shepard could flirt with WR1 status for that one.
Leonard Fournette has dud of a day in return. Seeing his first game action in 28 days, Fournette was stymied for 33 yards on 17 carries. The rushing yards were a new season low, while the totes were tied for his second fewest. With the Jaguars in pass-happy comeback mode, Fournette barely even saw the field in the fourth quarter. He did re-emerge for overtime, rushing five times for nine yards. It was a disappointing day against a soft run defense, and another “learning experience” for a feted rookie. Fournette will have to rely on volume against the Browns in Week 11, who despite their 0-9 record are holding enemy rushes to 86.4 yards per game and a league-low 3.10 yards per carry.
Already having a huge year, Adam Thielen posts signature game. Thielen entered Week 10 as the only pass catcher with at least five grabs in every game so far this season. He exited it third in receiving, with his 793 yards behind only Antonio Brown (882) and DeAndre Hopkins (802). Thielen’s 166 yards were the second most of his career. He scored for the second time in two weeks, and brought his season averages up to 6/88. Thielen is making huge plays out of the slot, with 14 of his 56 grabs going for at least 20 yards. He’s proven his 2016 was not a fluke. The Rams will not be slowing him down in Week 11.
Five More Week 10 Storylines
Jacoby Brissett suffers concussion vs. Steelers. Sliding at the end of a late third quarter scramble, Brissett took a (completely unnecessary) shot to the head from Stephon Tuitt. Clearly dazed, he stumbled to the sideline then locker room for the league’s standard battery of tests. Cleared to return, Brissett struggled through a fourth quarter where he completed just two passes, took two sacks and tossed an interception. The Colts blew a 17-9 lead and lost. Brissett didn’t appear himself and the Colts quickly confirmed afterward he wasn’t. How was this allowed to happen? The Colts will claim they did nothing wrong, just like the Seahawks and Russell Wilson last Thursday. The reality remains, the league is not taking head injuries seriously enough. It’s a contact sport, and none of us want to see stars and quarterbacks check out. But just like the players whose brains will be protected, the league and fans will also be better off in the long run if teams work harder to preserve their players’ health.
The Patriots reshuffle their backfield. The Pats made the overdue decision to shorten their committee from four men to three, with Mike Gillislee — he of the no pass catching or special teams value — being a healthy scratch. The rotation was further shortened in game, with Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead gobbling up touches and snaps. Lewis got the ball 14 times on 21 snaps. Burkhead, 13 on 36. That left just five touches on 11 snaps for James White. The Pats’ most complete back, it’s not surprising that Burkhead, finally healthy, was on the field for the most plays. It’s also not surprising that Lewis remained in 12-14 touch zone, as he’s been the Pats’ most consistent runner and is a big-play threat. White’s usage was disappointing, but will surely ebb and flow with game plans. None of the three seem likely to transcend FLEX status. That being said, the Raiders are the juiciest of matchups for Week 11.
Aaron Jones and Ty Montgomery both suffer injuries. The Packers’ running back committee quickly turned into a MASH unit. Jones made it three carries and six minutes before departing with a knee issue. Montgomery made it another quarter and a half before yet another rib aggravation landed him on the shelf. In their absence, plodding rookie Jamaal Williams carried the ball 20 times for 67 yards (3.35 YPC). Jones has a sprained MCL, which comes with a minimum multi-week timetable. Montgomery has been dealing with rib issues since late September. Both players seem likely to miss Week 11 against the Ravens, leaving the Pack to form an underwhelming committee with Williams and Aaron Ripkowski. It will be a situation to fade in fantasy leagues, with projected volume alone putting Williams on the FLEX radar.
Robert Woods goes off against the Texans. The Rams’ clear-cut No. 1 receiver snagged eight passes for a career-high 171 yards and two touchdowns. The two-score effort — which included a 94-yarder — was the second straight for a player the Bills let walk for five years and $34 million. Woods is all the way up to 12th in yardage (622), and at most, two games away from surpassing his previous career high (699). He’s posted at least 59 in five straight games, and been held below 50 only twice all season. Things will probably cool a bit against the Vikings’ stout secondary in Week 11 — Jared Goff’s production has ebbed and flowed with the quality of his competition — but Woods is well established as a WR3 with the upside for more.
Brett Hundley makes a little progress against the Bears. Showing more confidence after two starts where he appeared frenzied in the pocket, Hundley was both more efficient and more explosive. He completed 72 percent of his passes and averaged 8.48 yards per attempt. This, against a defense that entered the week allowing 64.9 and 6.33, respectively. Hundley’s strongest connection remained with Davante Adams, as he unfortunately once again proved unable to get on the same page with Jordy Nelson. Hundley also tweaked his hamstring, but managed to play through the ailment in Chicago. We would suspect he does so for this week’s tough matchup with the Ravens.
3. Why should the Chargers bother with these kinds of devastating losses if they don’t even have fans anymore?
Early Waiver Look (Players owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
DEF: Packers (vs. BAL), Cardinals (@HOU), Bengals (@DEN),
Stats of the Week
At one point, the Saints ran the ball 24 consecutive times against the Bills. That had not happened since 1989.
Adrian Clayborn’s six sacks against the Cowboys were the second most of his career … for a season.
The 0-9 Browns — once again the league’s last winless team — have outgained their opponents in 5-of-9 games.
Quote of the Week, From Fantasy Sleeper Garrett Celek: “I was told all week that I was a fantasy sleeper. I had to get everyone some points.”
Tweet of the Week, From Gucci Mane: I got a 100k on the @AtlantaFalcons Today #FalconsPride #RiseUp
Subtweet of the Week: The Patriots’ backfield to Mike Gillislee.
John Fox Moment of the Week: John Fox challenging this Benny Cunningham “touchdown,” only to have it reveal Cunningham fumbled out the back of the end zone for a touchback.
Something That Actually Happened This Week Award: The Chargers iced the Jaguars’ long snapper.
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