Week 9 Booms and Busts: Detroit's offense bottoms out

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/9265/" data-ylk="slk:Matthew Stafford">Matthew Stafford</a> was on his backside for much of Sunday’s blowout loss at Minnesota. (AP/Bruce Kluckhohn)
Matthew Stafford was on his backside for much of Sunday’s blowout loss at Minnesota. (AP/Bruce Kluckhohn)

David Bowie’s Hall of Fame anthology is stocked with a ton of great songs. Starman. Ziggy Stardust. Heroes. Modern Love. Space Oddity.

But for frustrated Lions fans, every jukebox code punches up Panic in Detroit.

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The Lions offense was a pile of rubbish in Sunday’s 24-9 loss at Minnesota. Detroit settled for three field goals and a putrid 209 total yards. Matthew Stafford managed a scant 5.5 YPA, gave up a gift touchdown on an ill-advised, ad-libbed pitchout, and was sacked 10 times; under pressure all day. Somehow, the Vikings only had 283 yards of offense on the other side, but this game was lopsided from the opening snap.

Let’s be careful not to overstate the Golden Tate trade. He’s a useful piece — but not peak Jerry Rice or Randy Moss. Heck, Tate’s been to just one Pro Bowl in his career. No one in the Detroit huddle was coated with glory Sunday.

Kerryon Johnson managed just 37 yards on his 12 carries. Theo Riddick did secure 7-of-8 targets, but they collected a paltry 36 yards. Although Riddick is essentially stepping into the Tate role, he gives you a modest floor and a very low upside. Marvin Jones (66 yards) was the dean of the offense; an ordinary day on eight looks. Kenny Golladay was targeted just four times (3-46-0).

The NFL shows us outlier performances every week, so we’d like to write off this Lions catastrophe and move along. But where are the easy games? The nasty Bears defense — currently ranked No. 1 in the DVOA ratings — is waiting for next week and Week 12. Buffalo (fourth) and Arizona (ninth) might be mediocre teams, but their defenses are well-regarded. The surging Minnesota defense visits Detroit in Week 16.

Everything is not Hunky Dory here.

Do you trust Matt Patricia and his magic pencil? When does Jim Bob Cooter run out of public goodwill? Who is the hidden player who’s going to spark or fix this offense? What changes can be made? Do you trust Matthew Stafford to push you into the fantasy playoffs, or at least drive you deep into that tournament?

• Relative value is a key component to understanding the handcuff market. I see four distinctly different times to consider them (or not consider them), and we’re about to enter Phase 3. (This is a discussion we need to revisit after watching Spencer Ware gain 81 yards on six touches Sunday, and Malcolm Brown score on a swanky 18-yard touchdown catch.)

The worst time to buy handcuffs is generally all summer. We don’t always know who the handcuff is, and we should be shooting for players who are more immediately useful or valuable. If a running back fits as a lottery ticket in the summer, fine, but I’m not chasing the insurance racket then.

A great time to get in on handcuffs is in late October, before the rush. You’re buying in at the bottom of the bucket, usually adding these guys for low cost or even no cost. And by the middle of the year, we have a much sharper definition as to what backfields we like and who the reserves of note are in those backfields.

The third phase for handcuff season is right about now, when “wait a minute, get those handcuffs” becomes the cut-and-paste item on every scribe’s keyboard. Most teams have already taken their bye, which helps significantly. You’ll need a strategy to win these guys in FAAB bidding — since the angle is more obvious and commonly discussed — but at least it shouldn’t be a crazy cost. You’re now buying from the middle of the bucket.

The fourth phase is the phase no one enjoys — when a star gets hurt and the backup is the obvious get. That’s the fire-alarm phase, the “top of the bucket” pricing, the all-in shove. Sometimes there’s no avoiding this, but the best fantasy owners will shrewdly address their rosters before this day arrives.

As always, the key is to try to get in early if possible, and connect dots before things become obvious.

Ryan Fitzpatrick had a representative start at Carolina — some big throws, some air-mail jobs, some hits, some misses. A 6.1 YPA is hard to stomach, and he also had a couple of interceptions, but mix in four touchdowns (ah, TD deodorant) and it was a strong fantasy day.

Fitzpatrick couldn’t get going with Mike Evans (one measly catch on 10 targets) or DeSean Jackson (2-32-0, four targets), but that was probably more fluke than anything; both of those wideouts clicked with Fitzpatrick earlier in the year. There’s no quarterback controversy at the moment, with Fitzpatrick already confirmed to start Week 10 against Washington.

Mark Ingram has a role with the Saints, but anyone who hoped he’d be the 1B to Alvin Kamara’s 1A needs to recalibrate that stance. Ingram had a season-low 10 touches in the win over the Rams (while Kamara had 23 touches); he hasn’t scored since his Oct. 8 debut; and he’s averaging just 3.6 YPC and 15.5 receiving yards per game. The intersection of the RB2/RB3 tiers is a mess on a weekly basis, with plenty of options who have some starting intrigue but don’t offer a sturdy floor. That’s Ingram’s domain until further notice.

• The Bears scored twice on defense, which skews the snap counts and possession flow. Trey Burton owners didn’t mind a late touchdown in a blowout game, but Jordan Howard owners (even with two touchdowns) wanted more work, and Tarik Cohen finished with just seven touches.

Cohen’s put the ball on the ground three times in his last 39 touches, and while just one of those fumbles was lost, no team is sympathetic to a fumbling issue. The Bears were wise to limit Cohen’s involvement in a blowout game, but better ball security is critical for him to keep his RB2 card.

• I’ve seen a variety of takes on the Duke Johnson breakout game; some are believers, some are skeptics. Count me in the believer camp. Johnson’s breakout game came from the scheme of new coordinator Freddie Kitchens, the former running-backs coach. If there’s anyone in Cleveland who understood how misused Johnson was for two months, it’s probably Kitchens. Johnson had 74 grabs just a year ago, but was down to 20 through eight games this year and had a season-low in snaps last week. Those coaching brooms could not come fast enough.

Apparently Johnson runs a lot faster without Hue Jackson and Todd Haley on his back. And next week Johnson takes aim at an Atlanta defense that can’t seem to stop any quality pass-catching back. I concede that Johnson’s floor can’t be too high, given his lack of involvement in the running game, but he’s an easy ticket for me to punch in Week 10, given the juicy dram. After that, we re-evaluate. It’s a week-to-week league for so many things, anyway.

• Normally I’d take the Maurice Harris spike (10 catches, 124 yards) as random noise and move along. But given that Alex Smith has yet to click with anyone in the Washington passing game — and so many options are hurt — Harris becomes worth at least a mild FAAB swing. Tampa Bay’s defense, waiting for Week 10, is the cherry atop the sundae.

• I don’t blame anyone who wants to ignore the Buffalo offense — watching those guys is like staring at the sun. But it’s interesting to see Chris Ivory consistently outplay LeSean McCoy. It’s been posited that Ivory might fit Buffalo’s blocking scheme — okay, lack of blocking — better than McCoy does; Ivory hits the hole quickly and plows ahead, while McCoy does too much lateral dancing.

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