What to care/not care about from Week 11: Rams find counterpunch with Gurley, power running

So much happens on any given Sunday in the NFL. It’s hard to keep track of it all. More importantly, it’s quite a lot to decide what we should value as signal and what we should just ignore as noise. In this space, I’ll go through all that we learned this week and give you the five things I care about coming out of Week 11, along with five things I can’t muster up the emotional energy to care for. Good news for you: We’re going to do this exercise in emotional turmoil every Sunday of the regular season.

5 Things I care about 

The Rams find a counterpunch 

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It’s strange considering they were smoked coming off their bye but the Rams look like they have effectively found a counterpunch. After the league looked like they caught up with Sean McVay’s offense, he finally reversed course. 

Behind a beefier set of offensive linemen, the Rams lined up and played power football Sunday night against the Bears. Long known for their zone stretch running scheme, this version of the Rams sent man-on-man and went right at the Chicago defense. It wasn’t flashy but it resulted in one of Todd Gurley’s better fantasy outings of the season. The Pro Bowl back took his 25 carries for 97 yards and a score. He also caught all three of his targets for 36 yards. Malcolm Brown also popped in a red-zone touchdown. 

What we saw from the Rams in Week 11 wasn’t too dissimilar from their run with C.J. Anderson to close 2018. The physical running was similar, as was the more downhill-blocking approach. We know Gurley is somewhat physically compromised, or at least he’s a lesser version of the mythical back he was the previous two seasons. Perhaps asking him to head to the corner store and just smash north-south with power is the task more conducive to his success. Week 11 was an encouraging sign, at least.

We can give Sean McVay credit for adjusting his approach in the running game. We must still acknowledge he’s searching for answers in the passing game. However, it’s worth noting that once the run game got going, Goff hit two big would-be scoring plays down the field that ended up with big asterisks. One would have been a touchdown had Cooper Kupp not fumbled inside the five-yard line and the second was a classic play-action bootleg to Josh Reynolds, called back due to an illegal formation. Goff ended the night with 9.6 yards per attempt.

Play action and a power run game were winning ingredients for the Rams in Week 11. We’ll see if they remain such successful attributes that they’ll bring about wins against tougher teams than the Mitchell Trubisky-led Bears. Los Angeles is hardly out of the water. For now, we can feel encouraged that it might have found a formula to ease Goff and Gurley back on track and get the Rams through the rest of 2019.

Todd Gurley looked comfortable running north-south on the Chicago Bears defense. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
Todd Gurley looked comfortable running north-south on the Chicago Bears defense. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

Lamar Jackson removes Deshaun Watson from the MVP race

Lamar Jackson is right behind Russell Wilson in the MVP race right now. Unless Dak Prescott starts stacking signature moments, it’s going to be those two alone until the end.

The Ravens quarterback put together another dominant outing in Week 11. He dropped four touchdowns through the air, completed 71 percent of his throws and added 86 more yards on nine carries. He’s the truth. Why anyone would continue to doubt him, much less want to admit that worry publicly when he’s the most fun player in football right now is beyond me.

Jackson and the Ravens dropped a 41-7 hammer on Houston this week, effectively removing Deshaun Watson from the MVP conversation and throwing the Texans status as the top team in the AFC South into doubt. It was a brutal day for Houston.

It’s impossible to put anyone behind Wilson other than Jackson right now and no one should blink if you want to vote for the Ravens dominant quarterback. No one can stop him. He’s the most dazzling force in football. If Wilson slips even a bit the final six weeks of the season, Jackson will do with the MVP race what so many hopeless defenders have watched him do this season — he’ll run away with it. 

Tony Pollard and Gus Edwards score TDs

We can make all the pickup-pleas we want but let’s be real: What moves the needle for the masses is who does well in the box score. Tony Pollard and Gus Edwards have long been one of the top-three running back stashes in fantasy football. If you don’t already have them, they’ll be much harder to acquire after this week.

Gus Edwards ripped off a handful of long runs against the Texans, totaling 112 yards and a score on eight carries. He revealed several truths. The difference between Edwards and Mark Ingram in this Ravens backfield might be negligible. Honestly, he looked just as explosive as Ingram on his touches this week. We know Edwards can produce with volume after his run late last week. It’s also clear the Houston run defense isn’t a group to fear now that injuries are mounting. 

It’s far hotter of a take but Tony Pollard looks like he has the juice to rival Ezekiel Elliott at this point of the season. He’s fresh — and that matters. The rookie is also a strong pass catcher and found the end zone through the air against the Lions. 

After both of these backs made noise in the box score, they’ll be on the radar of every fantasy player. It’s just another reminder of the dangers of not stashing these players. You want them already on your bench the week everyone wants to chase them when a starter goes down. That didn’t happen this week but the masses were reminded they exist in Week 11. 

D.J. Chark is all that matters

You could dissect plenty of factors in the quest for discovering who would be Nick Foles’ guy. At times, he’s leaned on the slot receiver. In others, he was quite willing to uncork the deep ball. 

Here’s the reality: Foles was always going to find the best assets and lean on them. Foles has shown throughout his career he needs the right ecosystem to succeed and Jacksonville suddenly looks like a far better-than-expected ecosystem for one big reason: They have a No. 1 receiver.

D.J. Chark has been one of the most surprising stars of the 2019 NFL season. Coming into Sunday, he ranked sixth among wide receivers in yards gained on go routes. He has the speed but has been even more dangerous as a tight-window and boundary wideout. Let’s not forget Foles brought Chark into our lives with a Week 1 touchdown before the quarterback’s early exit. 

In his first start in months, Foles leaned heavily on Chark. He fed the 6-foot-4 receiver with 15 targets, seven more than anyone else on the team. Chark scored twice, once in the first quarter and again as the Jaguars went down the field in garbage time. His eight catches tied a season-high and his 104 yards was the first time he cleared 80 since October 6. 

D.J. Chark remains the best asset in the Jacksonville passing game because Nick Foles knows he’s the clear top player. No need to debate any further.

Dak Prescott elevates his options

Amari Cooper has truly blossomed into peak form this year. While you could criticize him for his individual consistency in every other season of his career, he’s been the poster boy for steady excellence in 2019. 

Week 11 was the first time he disappeared. It’s due to mounting injuries but it’s still what happened. Cooper went 3-38 on eight targets against the Lions while playing 56% of the snaps. Unless you played him in fantasy, you probably didn’t notice. You can thank Dak Prescott for that. 

Some have said that Prescott goes as Amari Cooper goes. That would be wrong.

Prescott is the engine of the Cowboys offense; join us in 2019.

It used to be Ezekiel Elliott. Closing 2018, you could say Cooper was becoming that player. Not anymore.

The mark of an MVP-level quarterback is a player who can thrive when you tie one hand behind his back. Cooper being a non-factor and Elliott averaging 2.8 yards per carry would count. Nevertheless, Prescott racked up 444 yards (9.7 YPA) and three scores. He was the tide that raised all boats, taking veteran receiver Randall Cobb and breakout youngster, Michael Gallup, for over 100 yards each. That’s what great quarterbacks do. Dak Prescott looks more like one every week. 

5 Things I don’t care about

Bears’ “rock-bottom” talk

After yet another disastrous outing, Mitchell Trubisky appeared to be benched late in the fourth quarter against the Rams. Yes, the Bears PR put out a tweet that declared him questionable with a hip injury, but it’s hard to buy that, all things considered. Either way, seeing Chase Daniel go out and merely run down the clock in the final moments of a loss seems like it couldn’t get much worse. Don’t be so sure.

The Bears have six more weeks left in the regular season. They still have to get to the end of this ride. Chicago will now have to either conclude 2019 with a quarterback no one legitimately believes in under center or a veteran that’s not even close to their long-term plan.

In fact, the Bears have no plan at quarterback. They just have a problem that will lead to more uncomfortable questions creeping throughout the organization.

A moment late in the fourth quarter said it all. Matt Nagy likely giving words of encouragement to his young passer but could be compared to other ominous scenes we’ve seen on our screens:

Nagy declared his faith in Trubisky to get this coaching job with the Bears. He probably believed it or thought it true that the clay was good enough for him to cover up the rest. At times this year, he’s publicly reiterated that faith even when his actions showed us it had long been eroded. It’s to the point that Nagy’s brain has seemingly been in a pretzel all year. 

Trubisky’s play, if he remains out there, will only lead to questions about the future for the Bears head coach. If he doesn’t immediately find success with Daniel, Nagy won’t look much better. The rest of the offensive players will continue to suffer, as Allen Robinson and David Montgomery showed us.

Oh yes, it can get much worse for the Bears. Week 11 is not rock-bottom. 

What Kyle Allen did before November

It’s hard to perform much worse than Kyle Allen did in Week 11. After a gritty performance in Lambeau Field last week that inspired praise and reinvigorated hope he could be the Panthers’ future, Allen reminded us of his fatal flaws against the Falcons. 

As the protection has deteriorated, so has Allen’s play. He doesn’t just struggle under pressure. Allen unforgivably drops his eyes when heat approaches and far too often tanks the future of a play. That was all too apparent against on Sunday. 

Allen had four interceptions, got dropped for five sacks and completely failed to move the offense. It was an unimaginably poor performance, especially against a defense that for most of the season had been a disaster. The offensive line was a problem, no question, but you cannot be a starting quarterback in the NFL and completely wither at home like that, no matter what. 

Not only would it be wild for the Panthers to go forward into 2020 or beyond with Kyle Allen as the starting quarterback, but this type of outing also inspires panic for the rest of this season. If you have fantasy investment in the Carolina offense, you’re worried about the floor Sunday’s outing revealed. 

Allen has proven to be a capable backup quarterback, someone the team can count on to get them through a stretch and keep the ship afloat. Eventually, fate evens out for these replacement players. That’s what Allen is and that’s fine ... as long as the team understands that.

What’s absolutely clear is that if the Panthers let go of Cam Newton this offseason, they’ll be walking straight into quarterback wilderness. 

Nelson Agholor’s “drop”

A few things need to be said on the failed Nelson Agholor catch to end the Eagles loss to New England. For starters, it’s brutal to chart that as a drop. When a receiver has to contort their body and go behind their shoulders to snare a pass, it’s not a drop. Perhaps he could have tracked the throw better and Agholor hardly deserves any benefit of the doubt in that department, but that was far from a cataclysmic mistake. 

Blaming Agholor for the loss also runs away from the truth of that final drive. Carson Wentz was way too inaccurate to close that game for a quarterback of his pedigree. He was a bit too low, high, or outside on several throws. 

The Eagles have plenty of problems. Their running game didn’t come through with Miles Sanders leading the way. For god’s sake, they’re running out Jordan Matthews on what feels like his 30th stint with the team since 2014. Right tackle Lane Johnson went out with an injury in the middle of this loss. However, the Eagles certainly would have liked to see Wentz come through in that getable moment, all conditions aside. 

Problems are mounting for the Eagles offense and solutions are nowhere in sight. Wentz has played well on-balance this year but if they’re going to compete for the playoffs and continue to be soil worth growing fantasy success in, they’ll need a bit more than this 5.4 YPA outing. 

Threats to Alvin Kamara’s workload

Alvin Kamara is back. Since the Saints have come off their bye week, it’s been clear that Kamara is the unquestioned workhorse in the backfield.

Despite facing a tough matchup, Kamara totaled 122 yards from scrimmage against the Buccaneers. He averaged 5.8 yards per carry against the stout Tampa front and caught all 10 of his targets in the passing game. What’s more important, he’s been running well ahead of Latavius Murray. Kamara has out-touched his backup, 35-19, over the last two weeks. Murray got most of his ground work in Week 11 with the game well in-hand during the second half.

Kamara hasn’t been the league-winning RB1 fantasy managers drafted him to be but the best could be yet to come. The Saints are a great, but small-ball, offense. That suits his skills. Kamara is also thriving, leading all backs (90-plus carries) coming into this game with a 31% broken tackle rate, per Sports Info Solutions. He should smash down the stretch.

Brian Hill doesn’t say sorry

Atlanta Falcons running back and popular fantasy sleeper Brian Hill took to Twitter to give his thoughts on his performance: 

The Falcons current staring running back didn’t apologize.

Good.

No one should be asking for one. Hill doesn’t owe you anything. You took the risk to play him, you own that decision. Frankly, it was the right one. The Panthers came into this week ranked dead last in run defense by Football Outsiders. It looks like they fixed that for one week while forgetting how to do everything else. It’s a tough break that didn’t work out but no one needs to apologize to you. Especially when Hill’s team won.

Players apologizing to the fantasy managers who started them is not necessary. But we can be glad they’re engaging with us. We should even like it when someone like Hill goes a little heel with the endeavor. As for Hill, don’t go dropping him yet. He led the Falcons backfield by far with 15 carries. A high-scoring endeavor could be ahead next week against the Bucs in Atlanta and no one knows how much time Devonta Freeman will miss.

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