Fantasy Takeaways, Week 9: Dez's disappearing act

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Brandon Funston
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Dez Bryant was mostly an bystander for Dallas' fantasy feeding frenzy in Cleveland on Sunday.
Dez Bryant was mostly a bystander for Dallas’ fantasy feeding frenzy in Cleveland on Sunday.

1. Dallas drubs Cleveland with little help from Dez Bryant

After returning from a knee injury in Week 8 against Philly to haul in four catches for 113 yards and a TD, Dez Bryant was a massive disappointment in his follow-up effort on Sunday in a seemingly sweetheart matchup against Cleveland, finishing with just one catch for 19 yards.

So what happened?

Well, first off, you have to give some credit to Browns top cover corner Joe Haden, who has played well this season when he’s been healthy enough to be on the field — he was largely responsible for Brandon Marshall’s bummer performance last week (4/68/0).

But I think the biggest issue for Dez comes from within the Dallas organization. Blessed with a great offensive line and a dynamic rookie RB talent in Ezekiel Elliott, it’s no surprise that the Cowboys lead the league in RB rush attempts per game. And you have to expect that Dallas is going to continue to lean as heavily on the run as the opposition will let it – it did just that against Cleveland as Cowboys backs Elliott and backup Alfred Morris combined for 35 carries against a Browns team that entered the game allowing 4.7 YPC to the RB position.

With an early lead in hand against Cleveland, rookie Dak Prescott could have thrown the ball half as much as he did on Sunday (and he only threw it 27 times) and the result (a Dallas victory) still would have been the same. Don’t expect the game plan to change drastically next week against a Pittsburgh team that entered the week allowing the third-most fantasy PPG to the RB position (though it did slam the door shut on Baltimore’s backfield on Sunday).

Another part of the problem for Bryant is that Prescott has shown through his actions, and his words, that he does not plan to force the ball to Bryant — said Prescott after Bryant caught only one of his passes for 8 yards in the season opener, “I’m going to continue to run our offense. If Dez is the read, Dez is the read.” It just so happens that against Cleveland, the aerial options that could attack the underbelly of the defense were the main reads, with TE Jason Witten (8/134/1) and slot man Cole Beasley (6/56/1) leading the way. The short and intermediate passes seem to be Prescott’s wheel house, as he’s connected with Beasley on a whopping 83 percent of his intended targets, and is hooking up with Witten at a rate of 69 percent. Bryant, meanwhile, is wallowing at a 39 percent clip. And in his two 100-yard games, he was targeted a total of 26 times, netting a combined 11 catches. Frankly, there’s just not a need in this offensive environment to dial up Bryant’s number a dozen or more times very often.

Looking at Dallas’ schedule, there doesn’t appear to be too many likely track meets (if any) ahead. The run-first formula with Prescott taking roughly 25-30 shots downfield in the passing game is going to remain prominent, and will likely to continue to trip up Dez’s fantasy value on a fairly regular basis.

2. Brandon Marshall’s slump continues in Miami

Bryant isn’t the only premium fantasy wideout to leave his owners wanting on Sunday. Brandon Marshall mustered just six catches for 45 yards against a Dolphins defense that was allowing the ninth-most fantasy PPG to the WR position coming into the week. For Marshall, it marked the fifth time in eight contests that he finished with 7.0 fantasy points or less — last season, he had one such effort in 16 games.

You have to wonder how much the loss of receiver Eric Decker is hurting Marshall’s game, as he’s now the clear-and-present go-to guy in the passing game. Marshall is automatically drawing the opposition’s top corner (Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson, Jimmy Smith, Joe Haden, etc) and getting additional attention, as well.

Marshall’s stretch run looks a bit problematic as, after the team’s Week 11 bye, he’ll face New England twice (Bill Belichick is very capable of devising a plan that takes Marshall out of the equation) and Indianapolis (read: shutdown corner Vontae Davis). Last year’s consistency king has relinquished his crown and he’s going to have a hard time earning it back in the season’s second half given the parts in place around him in the Jets’ passing game.

3. Baltimore backfield a jumbled mess once again

The first thing fantasy owners should do at the beginning of a new week is circle the team that gets to face Cleveland next — after all, it’s the defense that keeps on giving. In Week 10, Baltimore is the lucky recipient of a date with the Browns, which means game-on for receivers Mike Wallace (95-yard TD catch on Sunday) and Steve Smith Sr., who looked like his usual explosive, fiery self against Pittsburgh on Sunday, even if his numbers didn’t quite show it (4/47/0). But can we trust anyone in the Baltimore backfield after Terrance West and rookie Kenneth Dixon could summon just a combined 34 rushing yards on 27 carries against a Pittsburgh defense that was yielding 4.8 YPC to the RB position prior to this contest.

After head coach John Harbaugh suggested during the Week 8 bye that the rookie Dixon was in line for a workload upgrade, Dixon handled a season-high 11 touches against the Steelers, but netted just 13 yards. West was no better in his platoon leader role, turning 16 touches into 27 total yards. This came on the heels of a 8 carry, 10-yard performance for West against the Jets in Week 7.

Fact is that the Baltimore backfield is among the most anemic in fantasy, averaging a meager 13.1 fantasy PPG. Even in an ideal matchup like it will see in Week 10 against Cleveland, it’s hard to trust West or Dixon, given that they are now splitting the workload pie (and it’s a very small pie) almost equally — and let’s not forget that it was West and Justin Forsett that split 29 touches against Cleveland back in Week 2, and the duo could manage just 10.3 combined fantasy points.