Turning It Around

He was once the future, and then he was a disappointment. But one quarterback is going to rebound in a big way this week, much like one of our fantasy experts did in our ongoing survivor draft duel

Cam Newton has not impressed this season from a reality or fantasy perspective, but things might finally fall into place this week. (Matt York/AP)
Cam Newton has not impressed this season from a reality or fantasy perspective, but things might finally fall into place this week. (Matt York/AP)

By Eric Edholm and Alessandro Miglio

It’s a busy week in the fantasy realm, with only the Falcons and Dolphins on bye, so there’s no reason to get too cute with your Week 6 decisions if you don’t have to. That said, there of course are some tough calls to make.

We nonetheless offer up a few starter-grade players you might want to consider sitting, plus a few borderline players who might be above the fold with favorable conditions and matchups. And naturally, we again have tapped into the scouting vortex that is the mind of The MMQB’s Andy Benoit for all the scouting goodies you possibly could digest.

Sit: Matthew Stafford

There’s a decent chance that Stafford’s faithful Golden Retriever, Calvin Johnson, is going to play this week, and we saw in Week 5 what not having Johnson can do to the Lions’ offense. But the recommendation to sit Stafford is more based on his matchup this week against the Cleveland Browns.

The Browns’ defense is more equipped to contain Johnson, believe it or not, than it is to handle Reggie Bush. With cornerback Joe Haden on the job, he’ll gear up for his weekly duty of locking down on the opponent’s No. 1 receiver—in this case Johnson—and likely do a good job of it.

The likelihood of Stafford making some questionable throws in this one is high on the road, and you can likely find better results, provided you have a dependable backup option.

Start: Cam Newton

Last week was a horror show for Newton’s fantasy owners, but it could have been much better if his receivers helped him. Steve Smith dropped a touchdown pass during the first quarter, and Brandon LaFell dropped a crucial fourth-down pass in the red zone during the second. It’s the Bizarro NFL when Ted Ginn Jr. is the most reliable receiver on the team.

Though Newton did wind up throwing three interceptions after that, he was brutalized by those drops and a ferocious Cardinals pass rush. Now owners are really starting to question Newton, as it appears he’s no better—and perhaps slightly worse, even—in his third season than he was as a rookie. His completion percentage has hovered around the 53-56 range, and his turnovers and sacks are on the way up. Part of that is scheme; part is the talent around him.

But Newton might finally be ready to put together the kind of rushing-passing combo game he has yet to do this season, and without turning the ball over multiple times. Newton has been good the past two seasons on turf, and he has fared better against teams—like his opponent this week, the Vikings—that tend to rush four most of the time. Blitzing has hurt Newton, but that would be out of character for the Vikings. He should bounce back.

Benoit Says: “Cam Newton is not better in his third year than he was in his first year. Of all the rookies that came out the past three seasons, I still thought his rookie season was the most compelling of the bunch, especially with the lockout and such. But we’re still seeing the same little glitches on the field, and that’s concerning. He still can make the explosive plays, though, and he’s got the potential to get hot anytime.”

Sit: Frank Gore

Gore has started to pick up steam of late, as the 49ers have gotten back to their more characteristic run-game approach, relying more on power up front. The result has been an eye-opening 6.6 yards per carry the past three games after averaging a mere 2.0 per the first two games.

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That said, the Cardinals present a serious challenge. They were strong up front even before the Week 5 return of Daryl Washington, and now they are even more stout at stopping the run. Last season, the Cardinals held Gore in check (123 yards combined, 3.4 yards per carry), and though it’s a different coordinator, much of the personnel is the same on defense.

This game has the earmarks of a defensive struggle, and though Gore could steal a touchdown, he might not be a yardage horse this week. It says here the mini-hot streak gets derailed a bit.

Benoit Says: “They’ve gone back to the running game not because Frank Gore spoke up after the loss to Indianapolis, they’ve gone back to it because they’ve needed to. The difference has been that the offensive line had been very poor at run blocking, uncharacteristically so. But the line has gotten a lot better, up to its usual standards, on pull blocks and trap blocks—two of their standards in the run game. And Gore is as good as anyone at setting up his blocks, and exploding through. But Arizona’s run defense has been fantastic the past few weeks, and what stood out last week was the return of Daryl Washington. He’s one of the two or three best blitzing inside linebackers in the league, and that’s big for sacks, but it also affects the run game. No one can block Calais Campbell and Darnel Dockett right now, either.”

Start: T.Y. Hilton

Most Hilton owners know just how dangerous this guy is now, based on his Week 2 (six catches, 124 yards) and Week 5 (five catches, 140 yards, 2 TDs) performances. But what’s most concerning is that, to date, he has not been an every-week producer. In the other three games, he has combined for a mere nine grabs for 78 yards, and no scores.

Frustrating, no?

It might be this way for a good chunk of the season, as Hilton remains in somewhat of a secret-weapon role. But this week appears too good of a matchup to pass up on, even with the Chargers surely keen to what Hilton did last week. They have allowed the fourth-most points to wide receivers this season—more than 200 per game, and seven TDs in five contests—and Hilton is just flat-out too fast for those DBs to cover. Expect a few rainbows from Andrew Luck to Hilton.

Sit: DeSean Jackson

One thing the Buccaneers actually have done well is cover wideouts, especially the deep threats, and keep them relatively contained. They play predominantly two- or three-deep zone coverage, and that certainly will keep Jackson from tilting the field and getting behind the last line of defense.

It’s assumed that Nick Foles will be under center with Michael Vick likely out with a hamstring injury. Even though Foles and Jackson hooked up for a touchdown late in the Week 5 victory over the Giants, it appeared that they had trouble connecting on a few passes. More practice time for Foles this week certainly will help, but the matchup with the Bucs—and Darrelle Revis likely in Jackson’s face for much of the game—causes us to consider other fantasy options.

Benoit Says: “He’s fascinating because there are times when he’s almost unstoppable. But he’s also hurt by the focus on him. My guess is that defenses are going to really dial in on him going forward now. The Giants went into (Week 5) playing left and right corners, but Jackson burned Trumaine McBride, who would be their sixth corner if it was not for injuries in their secondary, on that side. And even after they put Prince Amukamara over there, Jackson burned him. He’s very good at creating deceptive separation on his routes, and if he is getting the ball within the timing of the offense—even though he can play sandlot, too—Jackson can be dominant. But it’s a function of getting the ball consistently.

“I worry about his ability to get off press-man coverage. Tampa will play almost exclusively Cover-2 or Cover-3 zone, so Revis will play off him. That’s what they have done almost all season, so I expect it to continue.”

Start: Martellus Bennett

Two weeks in a row now, and fantasy owners have to be wondering about Jay Cutler, who has struggled at times. But Bennett, save for the Week 3 Steelers game, has done something to reward fantasy owners every other week. He hasn’t scored since Week 2, but Bennett could be looking at a strong opportunity in Thursday night’s game.

The Giants will be fielding a patchwork secondary again, and newly acquired Jon Beason will be in at middle linebacker with just over a week to have absorbed the defensive scheme. That’s a favorable turn for Bennett, a former Giant who is the type of player to be highly motivated to sting his old team—and remind them they made a mistake in not retaining him.

Bennett has a knee injury that could technically limit him, but we feel he’ll be a go—and be effective.

Sit: Jared Cook

The Rams have changed their offensive identity from what they have wanted to be to start the season, and one result has been that Cook has been roundly overlooked after a hot Week 1. That has left fantasy owners in the lurch a bit, and it doesn’t appear that this is the week Cook suddenly will heat back up again.

The Texans might have their flaws, but they have held opposing tight ends to a mere 11 receptions in five games, as they have the defenders to help contain Cook’s speed down the seam. With the Rams’ passing game struggling to get revved up, it might be another week that Cook remains below room temperature.

Benoit Says: “I watched the Week 5 tape, and all of a sudden it’s late in the third quarter and I said, ‘Oh that’s right, Jared Cook hasn’t really stood out yet.’ The Rams clearly scaled back to simplify things, with the power run and play-action passes. That’s not the way coming into the season they wanted to play with Cook and Tavon Austin. Maybe they can be that this season, but they are not that yet. I thought Cook would be a superstar the way he looked early on, but it hasn’t been cultivated yet. There’s a very obvious next step he needs to take to get to that level.”

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