Week 8 TNF and Injury News

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We made it past “bye-nado” or “bye-pocalypse” or whatever nickname we had to use to cope with so many teams out in Week 7. But, with another week behind us, there’s another week ahead. We’ll be heavily scrutinizing practice reports and injury updates as we get closer to the weekend. But, before digging into the news around the league, let’s look at tonight’s game and how Arizona can remain undefeated.

TNF Preview: Cardinals 8-0?

A day may come when injuries or COVID-19 don’t overshadow Thursday Night Football. But it is not this day.

It’s difficult to quantify how large of a loss Davante Adams is to Aaron Rodgers. Well, maybe it’s not. So far, Adams accounts for 43.5% of Rodgers’ passing yards and one-third of his touchdowns. The duo has tried to connect on 19 of 57 (33.3%) third-down attempts, and 27.5% of the red-zone targets go Adams’ way. Tacking on Allen Lazard’s absence wipes out over half of the passing game. We can guess how the team responds, but it’s tough to expect much with a few days to prepare.

Let’s assume Marquez Valdes-Scantling plays. Without Adams in the lineup, Valdes-Scantling has shifted the perimeter with just three targets from the slot. Allen Lazard has picked up the slot reps, but Randall Cobb can fill in on the interior. Since Green Bay has frequently used 1-1 personnel (61.0%), the remaining receivers have some appeal. But I remain skeptical.

When Adams missed Weeks 3 and 4 in 2020, the offense shifted to 2-1 personnel on 35.0% of their plays. Valdes-Scantling earned the most targets (12) and ran the most routes (65), but he wasn’t alone. Robert Tonyan (11), Jamaal Williams (9), and Aaron Jones (8) were right behind Valdes-Scantling. Even Allen Lazard and Darrius Shepherd (rotational slot receiver) got theirs (4 and 7). And, coincidentally, the interior is where offenses have found the most consistent production against Arizona.

Give credit to Vance Joseph as Arizona’s defense is second overall in EPA per dropback allowed. They’ve allowed nine passing touchdowns all season (tied for eighth-best in the league). However, seven of their nine touchdowns have come from the slot. Donovan Peoples-Jones had a career day against the Cardinals but went 4-44-1 from the inside alone. Robert Woods found the paint for the first time all season on a 5-48-1 stat line. Both Adam Thielen (4-16-1) and K.J. Osborn (6-91-1) got in the endzone from the interior. If the Packers expect to move the ball, this might be their best bet. But it might not matter.

The Packers are already near or below average in pressure and blitz rate. Plus, they’re 27th in adjusted fantasy points allowed to enemy quarterbacks. On paper, there’s not much Green Bay’s defense offers that could slow Kyler Murray down. And, I don’t mean his rushing.

For Murray’s first two seasons, he was nearly unstoppable as a rusher. He was second in rushing yards amongst all quarterbacks both seasons with a 0.27 EPA per rush. As a result, Arizona was 23rd and 16th in neutral pass rate, capping the upside of receivers not named Larry Fitzgerald or DeAndre Hopkins. There’s been a shift this season.

The added personnel has boosted Murray’s pass rate over expectation to 16th while the Cardinals have maintained a quick pace. Incorporating new talents like A.J. Green and Rondale Moore have come at Hopkins’ expense, but the Packers’ defense has offered little resistance.

Alpha receivers have teed off on Green Bay’s perimeter corners over the last month with big games from Ja’Marr Chase (10-159-1), Terry McLaurin (12-122-1) on a bum ankle, and Diontae Johnson (14-92-1). They’ve even been beat in the slot (Deebo Samuel, 9-52-0). The Packers are already in a tough spot with missing personnel. However, the Cardinals won’t take it easy as they’re likely to cruise to 8-0.

Points of Interest in TNF

For Green Bay, I’m most interested in what their offense does. Not just target shares or red-zone utilization, but their macro approach to being without their star talent. It’s more or less the backbone of their offense.

Since Matt LaFleur took over in 2019, Green Bay has been about efficiency. The Packers have been top-12 in yards per drive (12th, 2nd, and 9th) and points per drive (8th, 1st, and 9th) in three straight seasons. However, they’ve been below league average in plays per game (19th, 24th, and 26th) and neutral pace (18th, 32nd, and 28th). All the while, Adams and Lazard have accounted for 42.2% of Rodgers’ yards. So, now what?

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A quick-passing scheme would be conducive to Rodgers’ avoiding Arizona’s pass rush. But Rodgers hovers at the league average in average time to throw. Short passes would likely churn out more first downs. But Rodgers is ninth in yards per attempt. Even expecting him to use his running backs or tight-ends more falls somewhat flat as Green Bay is 17th and 23rd in targets to either position. The answers may seem clear to us, but a short week may not have been enough time to implement such a shift in the Packers’ game plan.

My interest in Arizona’s offense, at least for this week, is their backfield. Of course, Murray will take center stage. However, during an island game, we’ll get to watch how both Edmonds and Conner get deployed in a game Arizona should control.

Edmonds has out-snapped Conner 60.0% to 43.0% over the last month. But touch counts matter, along with when/where each carries the ball. Edmonds has had a slight edge on early-down touches (34 to 26). However, once inside the 20-yard line, Conner has nearly doubled Edmonds’ opportunity share. Conner’s six touchdowns (to Edmonds’ zero) are why there’s just a three-point differential between their seasonal totals in PPR scoring.

The projected game script favors Conner. However, last week, Edmonds earned more touches than Conner for the first time since Week 4. Along with Edmonds’ consistent usage in the passing game, both will be fun (read: nerve-wracking for fantasy managers) to watch tonight.

Injury Slants

I may have jinxed it, but the injury outlook to start Week 8 isn’t as dire. It seems like more players are returning to work (or taking veteran rest days) than nursing injuries. But maybe I’m mistaken. Or, possibly, I need some of these players back to help out my teams. Let’s dig in.

Now that’s a welcome sight. Saquon Barkley returned to practice for the first time since Week 5. Along with Barkley, the rest of the Giants’ pass-catching squad got in some light work ahead of their Monday night matchup against Kansas City. Evan Engram wasn’t spotted, sparking trade rumors, but reports indicated he was with the trainers. There’s no certainty anyone’s status given the extra day of practice, but a promising start to the week nonetheless. San Francisco is having a similar start to their week.

Trey Lance got back to work after suffering a knee sprain in Week 5, and his return couldn’t have better timing. Their last loss came in near-monsoon conditions, but the 49ers are on a four-game losing streak. Lance hasn’t necessarily put the team on his back, but his rushing adds a dynamic element to the offense Jimmy Garoppolo doesn’t have. Deebo Samuel reportedly didn’t practice, but Kyle Shanahan expects Samuel to make the trip to Chicago. Let’s check in with the Browns.

The injury list is long, but there are some positive takeaways. Baker Mayfield’s limited workout is the first bright spot. After multiple stories surfaced detailing the litany of upper-body injuries, Mayfield practiced with the intent of playing against Pittsburgh on Sunday.

Nick Chubb is doing all he can to get back, but his status is still uncertain. Jarvis Landry’s DNP was due to his awkward takedown late in last Thursday’s game. Kevin Stefanski was hopeful Landry could get in a limited practice this week with a chance to suit up on Sunday while Donovan Peoples-Jones worked out on the side. Cleveland is still waiting to get more personnel back, but they’re in a better spot than at the start of Week 7. We could say the same about Tampa Bay.

I mentioned last week that Rob Gronkowski’s lengthy absence had spawned some questions for Bruce Arians and his decision to keep the star tight-end off IR. At least Gronkowski is back at practice now. After missing the last month, he’ll start in Week 8 against the Saints. Meanwhile, Antonio Brown was spotted with a crutch. His injury was deemed minor after Week 6, but the team has reversed its earlier assessment, and Brown’s sprain could be “more long-term.” Luckily, Tampa’s bye is in Week 9, which will give him a longer window to recover as the Buccaneers gear up for the second half of their season. Houston appears to be doing the same.

Tyrod Taylor has been out since injuring his hamstring in Week 2. How Houston approaches this will be interesting. Davis Mills hasn’t been a complete disaster, but neither should perform well against the Rams’ pass rush in Week 8. They travel to Miami in Week 9, and their bye is in Week 10. But David Culley has insisted Taylor will be their starter. Let’s hope he doesn’t reaggravate the injury adding to the Texans’ lost season. Washington may be bracing itself for a similar outcome.

Terry McLaurin opened Week 7 with the same issue, played 92% of the team’s snaps, and led Washington in targets. Without a reported setback, he should be available for Week 8, and the rest are wildcards. Dyami Brown missed last week, Curtis Samuel is yet to play an entire game, and Logan Thomas had the same workout routine last week without any update on his return. Washington’s bye is in Week 9, so there is some optimism for the team to get some rest (and maybe some players back) during the second half of their season. Tennessee has to manage their injuries, too.

Seeing Julio Jones and A.J. Brown on the injury report would scare most folks. Luckily, reports noted the receiver duo (along with Taylor Lewan) were given a much-needed (and much-deserved) day off. They’re all expected to travel to Indianapolis to face the Colts, who may be getting back one of their offensive stars just in time.

T.Y. Hilton missed Week 7 with the same quad issue that cut his Week 6 return short. The lingering issue is a sure cause for concern, but Frank Reich expressed optimism. According to Reich, Hilton was close to playing last week and has made good progress. There’s a chance he returns this week for the team’s third divisional game and a rematch against the Titans. Philadelphia likely doesn’t have the same level of confidence for their currently injured players.

Miles Sanders’ absence isn’t a surprise. Last we saw, he was on a cart headed to the locker room with a sprained ankle and considered week-to-week. DeVonta Smith’s DNP is a surprise, as a headache sidelined the Eagles’ primary wide receiver. Still, there’s no concern for his Week 8 status. Smith doesn’t have a college track record of migraines, but the only question is if Nick Sirianni will suggest water and Advil or fertilizer and sunlight. Regardless, Smith should be in the Eagles’ (and your) lineup on Sunday for their contest against Detroit.