Week 10 Fantasy Booms and Busts: Cleveland's backfield joins the party

Nick Chubb had a fantastic fantasy day against Atlanta in Week 10. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
Nick Chubb had a fantastic fantasy day against Atlanta in Week 10. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

The NFL has become a pinball arcade in 2018. Passing is easy, scoring is easier. Most of the major rule changes favor the offensive game.

With all that in mind, offensive coaching has never been more important than it is right now. Sean McVay, Andy Reid, even Matt Nagy — these guys are crushing the league. And for the first time in a while, the Browns have some men in headsets — and some men in helmets — we can get behind.

Start with Cleveland’s 28-16 victory over the Falcons on Sunday; a clean, decisive win over a contending opponent. The Browns controlled the outcome from start to finish, winning all over the field. Baker Mayfield threw almost as many touchdown passes (three) as incompletions (four).

Taking nothing away from Mayfield — who is only the future of the Browns franchise — it’s the Cleveland backfield that has fantasy owners most excited. Rookie Nick Chubb racked up 209 total yards and two touchdowns Sunday — one of them a franchise record 92-yard jaunt — while Duke Johnson scored for the second straight week. Offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens has found a skeleton key where past coaches were locked out.

Maybe Kitchens knew all along what the Browns had in the backfield. He was, after all, the team’s running backs coach before the promotion two games ago. But the previous regime was hesitant to let Chubb on the field (in part because Carlos Hyde was still around). Chubb never had more than three touches in any of his first six games, and one of those games was a 105-yard, two-touchdown party at Oakland. Chubb had just two receptions under the previous staff; he’s already caught four passes in two Kitchens games. We get it: no one will confuse Chubb with Marshall Faulk or Alvin Kamara, but any path to relevance helps.

Chubb was the RB13 in the Kitchens debut, grabbing 90 total yards and score. He’s the No. 1 back in Week 10, with two games still to come. He’s forced his way into the RB1 cutline going forward.

The Johnson freeze-out earlier in the year was especially puzzling, because Hue Jackson and Friends had familiarity with the player. Johnson, after all, caught 127 balls the previous two seasons. He averaged a scant five touches per game with Todd Haley as the offensive coordinator, never getting past six in any week. He’s seen 17 touches the last two weeks; not a monstrous upgrade, but enough to put up fantasy points. Most of it has come through the air, where Johnson has 13 grabs (on 13 targets) for 109 yards and three touchdowns.

Maybe it’s not a swanky cheat code, but it’s a cheat code just the same.

The Browns have a Week 11 bye, and we’ll miss them. Chubb is an obvious priority in any format, and I’d keep my hands on Johnson for PPR use. The schedule has some hits and misses to finish (at Cincinnati, at Houston, Carolina, at Denver, Cincinnati), but at least the at-Baltimore draw is safely tucked in Week 17. Throw the Kitchens Sink at your opponents in the fantasy playoffs.

• It was fun to see Buffalo play with a lead for once, so its tremendous defense could flex its muscle. Buffalo entered the week ranked 32nd in offensive DVOA and second in defensive DVOA. And to show you how much offenses control what’s important today, Buffalo also ranked dead last in overall team efficiency.

Sunday, we saw how nasty the Bills defense can be when it’s actually not sold down the river by its offense. Matt Barkley doesn’t have to be a long-term answer, he’s merely someone who saves us from having to see Nathan Peterman again. And maybe some lightbulbs are going off for Zay Jones, who had a snappy 8-93-1 line on 11 targets. He was a high choice (37th overall) in the 2017 draft; his quarterbacks have been so bad, it’s hard to say how much of Jones’s disappointing production is directly his fault.

The entire AFC East rests in Week 11, along with Cleveland and San Francisco. After that, the Bills play Jacksonville, at Miami, the Jets again, and the Dolphins. There are some gettable opponents there.

• Maybe winning ugly is an unfair tag to put on the Washington Redskins. What do the Redskins do, exactly? Win blandly? Is that more fair?

But there are no style points in the NFC East standings. Washington outlasted Tampa Bay, 16-3, and now holds a two-game lead in its division. Mind you, the Redskins didn’t have much fantasy juice here. Alex Smith took aim at the horrible Bucs secondary and had all of 178 yards. Adrian Peterson, working behind a makeshift offensive line, stumbled to 19-68-0. Josh Doctson had 4-46-1 on five targets; it’s his second score in two games. Maurice Harris snagged all five of his looks (5-52-0).

When’s the last time a likely playoff team was so punchless for fantasy purposes? Washington had just 286 yards of offense in Week 10, but just win, baby.

Ryan Fitzpatrick made some regrettable NFL history in Sunday’s loss to Washington (AP/Chris O’Meara)
Ryan Fitzpatrick made some regrettable NFL history in Sunday’s loss to Washington (AP/Chris O’Meara)

• On the other side of Washington’s wonky win was Tampa Bay’s soul-crushing loss. The Bucs somehow found a way to post 501 yards of offense and score just three points; that’s a new record in futility. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 406 but couldn’t get Tampa Bay into the end zone. It’s just the third time in NFL history a quarterback has thrown for four bills without his offense punching in a score (Matthew Stafford did it last year; Joe Montana did it in 1986. Hey, it’s classy company.)

Lose the turnover battle, 4-0, you’re probably going to get beat. Tampa also missed two field goals. That’s the walk of shame for the Bucs in Week 10. Maybe switching back to Dirk Koetter’s play calling wasn’t such a hot idea; Todd Monken was doing just fine.

So why can’t I quit this offense? Because there’s fantasy production to be had, and we just want the numbers, dammit. The Bucs still lead the NFL in passing yardage, and their 23 touchdown passes rank third. Of course, there are 19 interceptions to contend with. By contrast, Drew Brees has one interception. Aaron Rodgers sits at two.

This week should tell us a lot about what the Buccaneers plan to do with quarterback Jameis Winston. Fitzpatrick made enough errors Sunday (two picks, one fumble; all seemingly his fault) that there’s an alley for Winston to come back and start. And maybe the team needs to figure out what it wants to do with Winston after this year. But if the team already knows it doesn’t want Winston back, that’s when starting him makes zero sense — after all, an injury would automatically vest the fifth year of Winston’s contract.

Tampa Bay probably doesn’t want to play this out in public, as much as it can be avoided. But I suspect whomever starts Week 11 at the Giants will be the team’s starter for the rest of the way. And for whatever flaws Fitzpatrick and Winston have, I am still interested in this offense. The depth of the target tree is fantastic (albeit fantasy frustrating at times). The defense is a joke, forcing regular shootouts (just don’t tell Alex Smith that). The division in general is a high-scoring one. We can still have some fun at this carnival.

Quick Hitters

• Looks like Davante Adams (two touchdowns Sunday) is ready to graduate to 2019’s first round. Adams led the NFL in receiving touchdowns from 2016-2017, and still slipped into Round 2 for the summer. Not enough yardage, I guess. But remember Aaron Rodgers missed nine games last year — and Adams kept spiking anyway.

Adams is all over the key cumulative leaderboards — at the wideout position he’s fifth targets; fifth in catches; ninth in receiving yards; second in receiving touchdowns. But what really gets me juiced is the consistency. Adams has a touchdown in seven of nine starts this year, astounding reliability at a position that’s haunted by variance. And he went for 81 yards and 133 yards on the two days he didn’t visit the end zone.

• In a league of easy chunk plays, it’s frustrating to watch the Patriots play offense. It’s a smart and efficient team most of the time, but the splash plays rarely arrive. Rob Gronkowski probably won’t be close to 100 percent at any time in 2018, and that’s enough to take New England off the primary Super Bowl contender list. Josh Gordon has been passable, not really electric. James White is a heck of a support guy, but he shouldn’t be your signature man. And heck, the quarterback is starting to look 41 years old.

• Dallas played its best game in some time at Philadelphia, springing an upset as a 7.5-point underdog. Maybe Jason Garrett’s decision to stop clapping on camera — how can The Clapper stop clapping? — has provided a sneaky soothing effect. Amari Cooper has 143 yards and a touchdown through two Dallas games; they’ve quickly gotten him up to speed. Conversely, Golden Tate hardly played in his Eagles debut (2-19-0, limited snaps).

• What if I told you Eric Ebron would be his team’s No. 3 tight end in Week 10 — by way of snaps. And what if I told you Ebron would score three touchdowns anyway, all in the first half, even one of them on a rushing attempt?

Crazy game we play. Crazy stats we chase.

The Colts still have plenty of flaws on defense, but Frank Reich looks like a home run hire for the head job and the offensive designer. Andrew Luck is in sharp form again. The Colts still have a chance to reel in Houston — talk about winning ugly — in the AFC South. And I’m still likely to rank Jack Doyle over Ebron again next week.

• If Jordan Howard can’t do better than 11-19-0 in a blowout win over a Lions defense that can’t stop the run, when can we ever trust him? I still think Howard might have 2-3 strong games left in him, but predicting when they’ll come looks like a fool’s errand.

To be fair, Detroit couldn’t stop the pass, either, especially with cover ace Darius Slay on the sidelines. But Howard’s fantasy have reason to be frustrated. He’s dropped down to RB3 territory, the click-and-hope category.