What We Saw: Week 8
Patriots vs. Bills
Well, that wasn’t pretty. A three hour game akin to the football version of pulling teeth, the Patriots limped into Buffalo on Monday night with a multitude of injured players, for a little over three of four opening quarters looking matched by the Buffalo Bills and Derek Anderson. Sorely missing Sony Michel ( and Rex Burkhead and Jeremy Hill before), the rushing game was an odd collaboration track of James White, Kenjon Barner, and at points Cordarelle Patterson. By no means what ESPN had surely hoped for in a Monday night matchup, this was a game that either team looked like they could have pulled out until the fourth quarter. What are the fantasy implications? Let’s dive in and see what we learned for our fantasy squads in this week 8!
Brady being…a tad bit mobile, worrisome and less sexy statistically than normal
This one was not what you’ll see playing when Tom Brady accepts his award entry into the NFL Hall of Fame. A lot of check down passes, trick plays, and one of the most awkward/slow eight yard scampers you will ever see in the National Football League, Brady got the job done but left this one with no touchdown passes to show for it, ending his night 29 for 45, for 325 yards. Splitting targets amongst six players, Brady at times seemed to play down to the matchup, not showcasing much of what makes him a weekly banked upon fantasy asset at quarterback. To the Bills credit, their defense was fired up and ready to play up to the divisional game challenge, and Brady got to meet a bit too closely at times with linebacker Matt Milano, who barely missed an interception on a poor pass out to James White that could have changed the trajectory of this game. Brady was alright in this one, but the lack of touchdowns and field goal settling did not do any favors to his final line. Admittedly, I worried this game would be not the true definition of a “trap” game, but with the injuries at running back, and the news prior to the game that Josh Gordon was tardy to a team practice and would be disciplined, I’d more check off this poor showcase of Brady on Monday night national broadcast to a visually amped Bills defense, and a “bend, not break” offense to leave Buffalo quietly with a win without running into any new injuries. Of which, they succeeded. Brady should play up for next week’s matchup in prime time, (again, really, I’m going to be pouring espresso into my apple cider on the couch), as the Patriots will play out and pull all the stops against the Packers on Sunday night. Below, check out the Tom Brady run away from father time!
A Sony’less household left us dusting off old consoles
That collective gasp we all experienced together when Sony Michel came off the field in Week 7 was greatly relieved as of last Monday, when the word came back that the injury was far less significant than it had looked, and at even certain points this week, Michel even found his way out onto the practice field. Now three running backs lesser than they started the season with, and five lesser if you count in two backs who left in free agency before the season, the Patriots “hotgluegunned” together a mish-mash Voltron of Cordarelle Patterson, Kenjon Barner, and James White on Monday night, with unexpectedly Patterson leading the backfield in touches, with 10 touches for 39 yards. James White was second in line for carries, with eight carries for a paltry 15 yards. Kenjon Barner, a sleeper for a potential break out until Michel’s return, only saw two carries for four yards. The running game was used entirely as an opportunity to catch the Bills off guard, and pull them back from filling their defensive schemes for all passing routes, but it was hardly effective. Twenty five carries, for 76 yards. Combined. From all backfield touches. This backfield is a hazardous, toxic wasteland until Sony Michel returns, so continue treating this backfield as the Super Nintendo in the back of your closets and do not operate or encounter it, until the true talent of the rushing game returns, hopefully in week 9!
Gronkowski a step slower, Edelman’s efficiency and much more!
The Patriots made their hay in this game in the air, as between James White and Julian Edelman, 19 targets were hauled in. Continuing to showcase their points per reception league prowess, the Patriots almost looked on autopilot for the majority of this game, surviving the game more so from the defensive touchdown late in the second half than by any incredible break outs in the offensive game. Edelman is back and fully operational, potentially a top 10 wide receiver if a touchdown is hauled in on a weekly basis, as he gave us what we can normally expect in this matchup. On ten targets, he hauled in nine of those for 104 yards. James White not wanting to be outdone, saw thirteen targets and hauled in ten of those for 79 yards. Both of these players can be installed as a top 2 wide receiver or running back with ease. A worry in my eyes is really the game of Rob Gronkowski. Being used primarily as a blocking and third or fourth option on most play calls,and also showing up after coming back from a sore back injury, he was targeted eight times and only hauled in three of those targets, a byproduct of rushed Brady passes being over or underthrown, but also it seems as if Gronkowski may not have the speed he normally possesses to separate off his mismatches. He can still play in as a big body red zone option, and surely will not be played away from, as Brady loves him, but I would worry on him being a slam dunk weekly option, as I have mentioned off and on throughout the season.
Defense deserves a word
Great. The defense over the last month has slowly started to look more akin to the preseason exciting we had all expected of it. Sealing the fate of the Bills was Devin McCourty on an 84 yard pick six, after the worry that the Patriots may not have the option of turning this game out. With bye weeks coming up, and the talent level being what it is with Stephon Gilmore, Patrick Chung, the McCourty twins, and Elandon Roberts coming back, you could do worse than plugging in this defense as a potential top five upside defense, with top fifteen floor.
The Buffalo Bills played their first Monday Night Football game since 2016 this week, and they held their own against the heavily favored New England Patriots. Despite dealing with injuries to key players like 1st round rookie QB Josh Allen and RB LeSean McCoy who was listed as questionable entering the week, the veteran QB Derek Anderson led Buffalo Bills were in the game until late and I thought they showed that they were not pushovers. The defense was incredible, holding a QB Tom Brady led Patriots squad to field goals for most of the game. The offense predictably struggled though, the talent level just isn’t high enough across the board, and Derek Anderson has just 3 weeks of experience with this offense. Let’s take a more in-depth look at the fantasy relevant information that you need to know about the Bills performance in week 8:
QB Derek Anderson looked competent under center in a game manager role!
Veteran QB Derek Anderson finished the game 22 for 39 with 290 yards passing, 0 TDs against 1 INT. He showed poise in the pocket throughout the game, standing tall and delivering the ball out quickly to the skill position players. The short/quick passing game is something that seems to fit with Anderson’s skill set, and has allowed some players like WR Zay Jones to flourish as well. Unlike last week though, Anderson pushed the ball a bit, even into tight windows and ranked 4th in aggressiveness rate with a 25.6% mark this week which ranked 4th highest in the NFL according to Next Gen Stats. His 7.2 average completed air yards was also a top 10 mark which shows that the Bills are giving more freedom to Anderson to air it out which should open up things underneath.
Anderson took a hit late in the 4th quarter that forced him into a slightly early exit from the game. Hopefully he is okay and able to play next week, but if not then the passing game likely really takes a big step back with QBs Nathan Peterman and potentially Logan Thomas as potential starting options.
How did RB LeSean McCoy look coming back from injury and what was the breakdown of touches in the backfield like?
RB LeSean McCoy returned to game action this week after suffering a concussion last week and what looked like a slight ankle injury too on the 2nd play of the game against the Indianapolis Colts. He flashed his explosiveness a few times throughout this game, particularly in the passing game where he caught 6 passes for 82 yards, but I thought he looked indecisive in the running game and he finished with just 13 yards on 12 attempts (1.1 YPC avg). Some of that is on the offensive line who struggled to create quality running lanes, but McCoy got caught dancing behind the line of scrimmage a few times too. To be fair, McCoy faced a high number of stacked boxes on his runs as his 25% rate of 8+ defenders in the box ranked in a tie for 5th highest in the NFL this week. Overall, I thought it was an encouraging game if you’re a McCoy owner in fantasy as at least he showed reasonable health and some of his typical burst.
Backup RB Chris Ivory got half the workload on the ground that McCoy did, rushing 6 times, but made much more effective use of his carries as he was able to rack up 34 yards (5.7 YPC avg). He was more decisive than McCoy and effectively ran between the tackles. He also caught 1 pass for 11 yards. He’s a medium upside handcuff as long as McCoy is healthy and playing.
Did anyone step up in the receiving core this week?
Presumed #1 WR Kelvin Benjamin had a bit of a tough game aside from one big catch in the 2nd half after negating a big gain on the previous play with a blindside block that earned a penalty. He caught just 2 of 7 targets for 45 yards in the game, and continued to struggle creating separation with a poor 1.3 avg yards of separation at target mark which ranked in a tie for 3rd worst in the NFL this week. Even with enough targets to be fantasy relevant, Benjamin has consistently failed to come down with passes and he likely is waiver wire material at this point.
#2 WR Zay Jones continues to show signs of a breakout and I continue to be high on his future outlook. He can get open effectively and did so with a 3.1 avg yards of separation at target mark this week, and that contributes to him having the space to come down with balls and leads to a quality catch efficiency. He caught 6 of 8 targets this week for 55 yards and more is yet to come IMO. He’s clearly the most talented receiver on the roster at this point, and has earned the trust of both Josh Allen and now Derek Anderson. I think he’s worth rostering as a bench option with moderate upside.
TE Charles Clay continues to work in the short/quick passing game but his lack of downfield routes limits his overall upside. It’s become clear that without former Bills QB Tyrod Taylor under center, that Clay’s role in the offense is less valued and he should be considered a low-end bench option or more likely left on the waiver wire.
The Bills D/ST held their own in a difficult matchup!
While it only led to just 2 fantasy points in standard ESPN scoring, the Bills defensive unit played very well and kept the team in the game until late. LB Lorenzo Alexander was a beast throughout the game, racking up 5 tackles including 2 sacks, and rookie LB Tremaine Edmunds continues to show improvement in coverage while retaining his ability to range sideline to sideline and help tackle ball carriers. The Bills defensive line was able to put pressure on Patriots QB Tom Brady for large portions of the game and forced him into both uncomfortable throws at times as well as forced him to throw the ball away to avoid sacks. LB Matt Milano had a good chance for an INT late in the 4th quarter that could have changed the game and upped the fantasy totals but unfortunately he couldn’t hold on to the ball. Still, the Bills have to be pleased with this performance against one of the game’s all-time greatest QBs.