2022 Week 7: Lessons Learned – KC Backfield Mystery

by Al Scherer · Matchups Start/Sit

When there is so much going on, what should fantasy gamers and sports fans focus on? This is the question I will answer for you in this series of articles entitled, “Lessons Learned.” Here are the lessons we learned in Week 7 of the NFL season.

1) Isiah Pacheco was named Kansas City’s starting RB. It Didn’t Matter.

Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs surprised many in the NFL and fantasy world this week, naming seventh-round rookie Isiah Pacheco as their starting running back. Thus, supplanting 2020 first-rounder Clyde Edwards-Helaire. After fantasy managers spent the following days getting Pacheco onto rosters and starting lineups, on Sunday, despite the Chiefs putting up 44 points, Pacheco laid an egg: eight rushes for 43 yards, no scores, and no targets.

Isiah Pacheco Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

Let’s face it. Week 7 confirmed what we’ve deep down known all along. Kansas City’s starting running back doesn’t matter. Patrick Mahomes‘ Chiefs have been, are, and will forever be a passing team. Their 38.7 Pass Plays per Game is No. 6 in the NFL, and they throw 61-percent of the team even when they are winning. They only run when they get bored. And sometimes, just for fun, they’ll hand it to Mecole Hardman or Travis Kelce. Outside of Best Ball scoring, Kansas City’s meager running back touch counts and uncertain red zone usage mean that we can never start a Kansas City RB with confidence.

Teams with great passing games throw as much as they can. They don’t need running backs. Their offensive lines and schemes are built for passing. What’s true for Kansas City is true for Buffalo, Cincinnati, Los Angeles and now maybe even Miami. None of those teams are top-half of the league in rushing attempts.

Action: Fantasy football doesn’t have to be difficult. Next year, except for the rare Austin Ekeler who earns an unusually-high volume pass catcher, cross off the running backs on the best quarterbacks’ teams.

2) Tom Brady & Aaron Rodgers Showing Their Age

With a combined age of over 84 years between them, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have finally started to show their age.

After Sunday, per Pro Football Reference, Rodgers now sports career lows with a 40.5 QBR, 9.8 Yards per Completion and 228.1 Yards per Game. Facing the Commanders Sunday, who came in giving up the No. 5 most Passing TDs per Game, Rodgers failed to reach 200 yards.

Sure, Green Bay has no receiving corps beyond modest Allen Lazard who doesn’t offer target separation and can’t overcome the 58.8-percent (No. 92) Catchable Target Rate Rodgers is giving him. Having said that, if a lukewarm receiving corps means you can’t pass in today’s NFL, someone forgot to tell Patrick Mahomes.

Brady managed to do Rodgers one better on Sunday. His Bucs put up all of three points Sunday in losing to Carolina. Carolina was a team that had just sent their best player off to San Francisco. Sure, Brady put up 290 passing yards, but it took him 50 drop backs to do it. This was also with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin on the field. Per Pro Football Reference, Brady’s 53.2 QBR and 6.6 Yards per Attempt are career lows.

Action: Father Time is undefeated. Both Bays – Green and Tampa – have losing records, aging QBs, and aging teams. It’s time to get off their passing games if there’s value left to be had.

3) Is Justin Herbert OK?

Through four weeks, Justin Herbert was putting up his typical numbers – 307 Passing Yards per Game at 8.1 Air Yards per Attempt with 2.3 TDs and 0.5 picks a game. Though he suffered a serious rib cartilage fracture in Week 2, his output through Week 4 looked fine.

In the last three games, he has posted a very un-Herbert-like 233 passing yards per game with three total TDs and two picks. On Sunday, with both Keenan Allen and Mike Williams on the field against Seattle, and one of the league’s worst defenses, Herbert didn’t reach 300 yards despite 51 attempts. He’s now had three consecutive sub-300-yard games for the first time in his career.

In 2021, according to PFF, Justin Herbert was the No. 2 Deep Ball Passer with a 108.1 Passer Rating on those throws. After this Sunday, Herbert is not throwing downfield. He ranks No. 30 with just 6.4 Intended Air Yards per Attempt. Per Player Profiler, his Deep Ball Catchable Pass Rate, No. 8 in 2021, is now No. 23. He’s averaging just 4.8 Air Yards per Attempt the last 3 weeks.

Sunday, he had several balls batted down at the line by the Seahawks. Is the injury causing him to drop down and throw sidearm? Is he avoiding throwing downfield? Does he have the zip for tight windows or deep throws? What fantasy owners have been seeing recently looks like a quarterback trying to gut it out through an injury that’s still affecting his play.

Action: There’s little folks can do who drafted Herbert. If he is hurt, hopefully he’ll recover and return to his old self soon enough.

4) Indianapolis is Going About it the Wrong Way

After back-to-back winning and top-10 scoring seasons, the Colts entered 2022 thinking Matt Ryan would get them over the top. (Editor’s Note: This article was written before the news of Matt Ryan’s benching.)

While some teams without great passing attacks like Atlanta, Tennessee, and the Giants have found they can successfully counter the proliferation of nickel defenses, and the smaller defensive backs and 2-deep zones that come with them, by running the ball aggressively and consistently. The Colts have opted to go the other way.

Instead of leaning on their First-Team All-Pro running back Jonathan Taylor and their top-10 offensive line, they’ve chosen instead to hitch their wagon to their new 37-year-old signal caller. This is a signal caller who is now six years in decline across many passing metrics.

Indianapolis, top-10 in rushing attempts and scores the last two years, is now bottom-3 in rushing yards and scores. In Sunday’s 9-point loss to the Titans, the Colts handed the ball to Taylor 10 times. Ryan dropped back to throw 47 times. Now, after Week 7, Ryan is No. 2 in Pass Attempts despite being outside the top-20 in QBR and the top-30 in Fantasy Points per Dropback.

In his last three years in Atlanta, Ryan finished No. 11, No. 3, and No. 1 in Pass Attempts while posting a QBR at least 10 spots worse each year. Other than Michael Pittman, who has benefitted from the volume, the Colts and fantasy teams aren’t winning with this new Colts strategy.

Action: Turn attention to dynasty for Indianapolis but be patient. If the Colts release Ryan before next year, he’d cost $18 million against the can, so that’s out. The Colts could get relief by trading him, but they’d have to find someone willing to do the same thing they did. Can they maybe pass their QB discards on to Washington again?

5) Tampa Bay is no longer a Run Defense to Fear

For the last several years, Tampa Bay has been a stone wall defense against the run. They always rank bottom-3 in Rushing Attempts Against and Rushing Yards Allowed. Fantasy managers considered benching even solid running backs when the Buccaneers were on the schedule.

But that isn’t the case anymore. Tampa now sits smack dab in the middle of the pack after giving up 173 rushing yards in a stunning loss to the Christian McCaffrey-less, two-touchdown underdog Carolina Panthers. These Panthers came into the week last in rush attempts and bottom six in both rushing yards and scores even with McCaffrey.

Maybe Tampa’s fall has been affected by Ndamukong Suh’s retirement. However, Suh was an aging player and in decline. Tampa tried to replace him up the middle with Akiem Hicks but, as was the case last year in Chicago, Hicks has been injured.

Action: If a McCaffrey-less bunch of Panthers led by D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard can average 7.5 Yards per Carry against the Bucs, there’s no reason to bench running backs against Tampa anymore.

6) We Hate Running Back Injuries but Must Plan for Them

On his third carry Sunday, Breece Hall busted off a 62-yard touchdown run, showing all the traits of our dynasty No. 1 running back. Just two carries later, Hall tore his ACL, and his season is over. While we certainly hate tragedies like this, in the game of fantasy football, team managers have no choice but to look forward, take actions for what has already happened, and plan ahead for what might. At RB, that means stashing our rosters with top backup RBs.

With NFL teams mostly running 11-personnel now, when a starting running back is injured, there’s a chance for a talented replacement to step right into a heavy workload. That’s why guys like Eno Benjamin and Deon Jackson become at least temporary fantasy starters. It’s why we stocked our rosters with upside backups who exhibit bell-cow potential like Alexander Mattison, Tony Pollard, Jamaal Williams, and Rachaad White. And it’s why we stash Zamir White and Jaylen Warren. And these guys don’t even have to be backups to our starters. When an injury happens, a new RB1 or RB2 can come out of nowhere. And it happens every year.

Action: Look at the top starting RBs in your league. Is there a clear backup who has lead-back traits? If so, is he rostered? If not, add him now even if you don’t own the starter.

Follow @al_scherer