Fri Sep 17 4:27pm ET
By STEPHEN WHYNO
AP Sports Writer
Defense was supposed to be the biggest reason to believe Washington could repeat as NFC East champions, and it still might turn out to be.
But through the first two weeks of the season, the unit led by reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young has not lived up to lofty expectations. Quarterback Taylor Heinicke showed Thursday night he could run the offense and led a comeback victory against the New York Giants, and yet the defensive struggles are the biggest question facing Washington going into a brief break before visiting the Buffalo Bills.
Washington allowed New York to score 29 points and gain 391 yards a week after the Chargers put up 20 and 424. That's a far cry from last season, when this unit ranked second in the NFL.
''We just have to do better,'' defensive tackle Jonathan Allen said. ''It's not like the issues are we're just not good enough. We obviously have the talent. We just got to focus on the little things, and honestly, thank God our offense was there to save us time and time again.''
Allen sacked Daniel Jones twice, and beyond that Washington did not get the kind of pressure the front has to for the defense to control play. Young did not buy into that perception, saying: ''I feel like we were getting there. We just got to clean up the zone reads.''
The defense has a lot to clean up quickly with Buffalo's Josh Allen, New Orleans' Jameis Winston and Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes the next three QBs on the schedule. Coach Ron Rivera, who played linebacker, believes Washington's defensive problems are all correctable and stem from a lack of discipline.
''It's something that's very frustrating for us as coaches,'' Rivera said of mistakes made that were part of the game plan. ''The players, they're trusting their teammates to do their job and we've got be disciplined enough to do the things we're supposed to.''
Fortunately for Washington, the offense, which put up 407 yards against New York, none more important than the 40 in the final two minutes - aided by a Giants penalty - to set up Dustin Hopkins' game-winning 43-yard field goal.
''We knew we just needed to get a field goal and we practiced that situation a lot in practice,'' Heinicke said. ''I thought the guys were ready for it to come to fruition.''
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Along with mental mistakes, one of the problems on defense seems to be a lack of effective communication. Once that gets sorted out and the pass rush breaks through, Washington might finally start to see the potential of the talent on that side of the ball.
''We all have to be on the same page,'' Rivera said. ''Some of that communication is verbal, and some of it is really just understanding what I'm reading and seeing.''
Heinicke was 34 of 46 for 336 yards, two touchdowns and an interception and looked like Washington's starter for the foreseeable future. He shouldn't have to look over his shoulder at Kyle Allen, and there's reason to believe Heinicke might still start in eight weeks or so if original No. 1 quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is back from a right hip injury.
Rivera said Washington would take it one game at a time but also praised Heinicke for showing growth and maturity.
''He works extremely hard at it,'' Rivera said. ''There is a lot of confidence, and you see the swagger and right now his teammates see it. They recognize it, and they're feeding off of it.''
Critics of Hopkins and any free agent kickers hoping for a vacancy. Sure, he missed his first field goal attempt at the buzzer, but he made two others and validated Rivera for his trust.
''If he's successful, we're successful,'' Rivera said. ''Was it a tough miss originally? Yeah, but there was a chance to redeem himself. He got it, and he made it.''
Washington remains relatively healthy, outside Fitzpatrick and wide receiver Curtis Samuel, who will miss at least the Bills game on IR with a lingering groin injury.
Heinicke targeted Terry McLaurin 14 times against the Giants, notable because Fitzpatrick did not throw the way of Washington's top receiver once in the quarter and a half before getting injured in the season opener. McLaurin made 11 catches for 107 yards and a touchdown.
A mini-bye week, which Rivera would have preferred later in the season, before visiting Buffalo on Sept. 26.
Baltimore Ravens running back Latavius Murray (ankle) and wide receiver Sammy Watkins (thigh) didn't practice again on Friday and are unlikely to be available in Week 7 against the Cincinnati Bengals. Watkins is set to miss his second straight game. With Murray likely sidelined, the Ravens will likely split the running back touches between veterans Devonta Freeman and Le'Veon Bell, with Ty'Son Williams serving as the No. 3. Freeman and Bell both found the end zone last week, but they will be low-ceiling RB3/flex options in deeper leagues against Cincy. First-round rookie receiver Rashod Bateman caught four of six targets for 29 yards in his season debut in Week 6 and should slowly see his role increase behind Marquise Brown, especially now that Watkins is injured.
New England Patriots wide receiver Nelson Agholor has struggled to do much damage since the season opener. In fact, Agholor has three receptions or less in every game since Week 1. He'll get a Jets defense that ranks 23rd in pass DVOA so far in 2021. Despite a favorable matchup, it's unlikely that Agholor succeeds here. He was expected to be the deep threat for this offense, but quarterback Mac Jones rarely takes deep shots. Agholor should be on the bench for this game even with a plus matchup.
The Athletic's Kevin Fishbain expects Chicago Bears rookie running back Khalil Herbert, not Damien Williams, to be the first one off the bench to spell David Montgomery (knee) when he returns from his injury. Herbert has been great in the last two games and has shown plenty of versatility in the backfield. Williams, who remains on the COVID-19 list, could play more of a niche role as a pass-catcher on third downs once this backfield is completely healthy. With both Montgomery and Williams out in Week 6 against the Green Bay Packers, Herbert had 19 carries for 97 yards and a touchdown and added two catches for 15 yards. There's a chance Williams won't be cleared by Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which would make Herbert at least an RB3/flex option for fantasy managers again.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said that wide receiver Antonio Brown (ankle) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (lung, ribs) are out for the Week 7 game against the Chicago Bears. Neither player has practiced all week. The Bucs will also be without linebacker Lavonte David (ankle) and cornerback Richard Sherman (hamstring). With Brown out, Mike Davis and Chris Godwin will have higher ceilings against Chicago, with Tyler Johnson likely stepping into the No. 3 receiver role for quarterback Tom Brady. Gronk will miss his fourth straight game. O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate will continue to split the tight end snaps in his absence. Howard had six catches for 49 yards and his first touchdown in Week 6 and is the better touchdown-dependent TE2 bye-week filler this weekend.
New York Giants tight end Evan Engram (calf), who missed practice on Thursday, will return to practice on Friday, according to head coach Joe Judge. Engram apparently suffered a setback on Thursday, but it doesn't appear to be too serious, and he should have a decent chance at playing on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. The 27-year-old has only 14 catches on 21 targets for 127 yards and no touchdowns through four games this year, but he could be one of the top targets against Carolina with wide receivers Kenny Golladay (knee) and Kadarius Toney (ankle) likely out and with Sterling Shepard (hamstring) suffering a setback on Thursday. With bye weeks hitting fantasy managers hard in Week 8, Engram has low-end TE1 appeal as a streamer if he's active.
New England Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson has seen an increased role in the offense over the last two weeks. The loss of James White (hip) has opened up more chances for Stevenson. Sadly, he hasn't seen much success on the ground with only 23 yards in each of the last two games. Luckily for Stevenson, he'll get a favorable matchup against the New York Jets in Week 7. A defense that has struggled to stop any back all season long. There isn't much upside here because Damien Harris is healthy and should get a bulk of the carries. Stevenson should be viewed as a deep league desperation option here.
New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones has only produced two multi-touchdown games through the first six games of the season. The rookie quarterback has not exceeded 275 passing yards in a single game since the season opener. Despite that, Jones will get an excellent matchup against the New York Jets in Week 7. A defense that ranks 23rd in pass DVOA so far in 2021. There isn't a ton of fantasy value here, but Jones could have some streaming appeal for QB needy fantasy managers in Week 7.
Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown (illness) said on his Twitter account that his body continues to reject any food he eats as he tries to get past a bout of food poisoning that had him questionable to play last Monday night in Week 6. Brown didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday and could draw another questionable tag in Week 7 against the Kansas City Chiefs. It's been a rough week for the 24-year-old, and he looked to be under the weather in the first half of Monday's game before exploding for seven catches on nine targets for 91 yards in the second half. We ultimately expect him to play this Sunday in an excellent matchup against the Chiefs. As long as Brown is active, he needs to remain in all fantasy lineups.
New England Patriots running back Damien Harris is coming off his best rushing performance of the season. Last week, Harris rushed for 101 yards on 18 carries and found the end zone for the second straight week. The hope is that he'll be able to carry that momentum into the Week 7 matchup with the New York Jets. A defense that has allowed the most fantasy points to running backs this season. Fantasy managers should feel comfortable with Harris as a RB2 for this week.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown (ankle) didn't appear to be practicing Friday during the portion open to the media. Brown, who has been dealing with a sprained ankle, wasn't able to practice Wednesday and Thursday- and appears to be trending towards another absence to close out the week. Brown should be considered doubtful for Sunday's game against the Bears at this point. If officially ruled out, fellow wideouts Chris Godwin and Mike Evans could see more targets headed their way.
New York Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard (hamstring) was downgraded from a full to limited participant Thursday, and he has reportedly endured a setback with his hamstring issue. Giants beat writer Ralph Vacchiano noted that head coach Joe Judge didn't seem so sure about Shepard's practice status for Friday's session after expressing optimism about fellow pass-catchers Evan Engram (calf) and Darius Slayton (hamstring). Of course, nothing is official until the Giants release their practice report later, but it sure sounds like Shepard could find himself on the wrong side of questionable heading into the game against the Panthers. With Saquon Barkley (ankle), Kenny Golladay (knee), and Kadarius Toney (ankle) all heading towards absences, the Giants' entire offense could be an easy fade for fantasy purposes. However, Engram and Slayton could both see increased volume in Week 7.
Philadelphia Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert (illness) appeared to be practicing during the portion available to media viewing at Friday's session. Goedert didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday but was activated off of the reserve/COVID-19 list, suggesting that he would be on track for Sunday if he could return to practice in some capacity. That appears to be the case regardless of the designation heading into a favorable matchup against a Raiders defense that has allowed the sixth-most fantasy points per game to tight ends. Goedert could be headed for elite-level usage sans Zach Ertz and look like a strong play in Week 7.
Seattle Seahawks running back DeeJay Dallas has been playing sparingly through his first season and a half, but he could see some major snaps in Week 7 against the New Orleans Saints. Chris Carson (neck) and Alex Collins (groin) are both dealing with injuries. Carson was placed on Injured Reserve, and Collins failed to practice on Thursday. Dallas played 34 percent of the snaps in the team's Week 6 game, and his nine total touches, including five receptions, were second only to Collins. The matchup against the Saints isn't the best, as they've allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs this year, but he could still see solid value in PPR formats due to his work in the receiving game if Collins is unable to play.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett has been a volatile asset in fantasy with an extremely high ceiling thanks to his connection with quarterback Russell Wilson, but he doesn't have that same outlook in Week 7 against the New Orleans Saints. With Geno Smith under center in Week 6, Lockett caught two of his seven targets for 21 yards, and he just wasn't getting those deep shots that he would often get with Russ. The offense is going to be funnelled to teammate D.K. Metcalf and the running backs, which will leave Lockett's fantasy managers hoping that he breaks one big play down the field. He has flex value with the rest of the stars that are on bye weeks or the injured list, but don't count on a big week out of him.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver D.K. Metcalf was the team's top target last week, and he figures to maintain that spot in Week 7 against the New Orleans Saints. Metcalf caught six of his seven targets a week ago, and he was turned into somewhat of a possession receiver rather than a downfield threat with Geno Smith at quarterback. With his size and athleticism, he can fill that role, and he'll have a size advantage over all of the Saints defensive backs. With the Seattle running backs dealing with injuries, we could see a heavier emphasis on passing the ball, which would lead to more opportunities for Metcalf. He's not quite in the WR1 category this week, but he's still a solid WR2 or flex option for your fantasy lineups.
Seattle Seahawks kicker Jason Myers was a top-10 kicker a season ago, but he's trending in the wrong direction heading into Week 7 against the New Orleans Saints. Myers is the No. 22 kicker in fantasy heading into Week 7, and his offense is struggling to maintain their productivity due to injuries. With a beaten up running game, quarterback Geno Smith will be forced to throw the ball more, and that just doesn't seem to be the way the Seahawks want to win games. The Saints have yet to allow an opponent to score 30 or more points this year, but this Seattle unit without Russell Wilson(finger) is unlikely to change that. There are several fantasy viable kickers on byes this week, but Myers doesn't seem like a viable fill-in option.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith was serviceable against a tough Pittsburgh Steelers defense last week, and his matchup isn't much easier in Week 7 against the New Orleans Saints. Through five games, the Saints have allowed just five passing touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks, and they've given up the 11th-fewest passing yards. In his first start in four years, Smith threw for only 209 yards in a losing effort, and he was rarely pushing the ball down the field. His offensive line should have a decent chance of keeping him upright, as the Saints are second-to-last in sacks with eight, but he needs to do a better job of keeping the offense on schedule. This is not one of the weeks to be starting Smith unless you have no other options.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski (ribs) wasn't practicing during the portion of Friday's session open to the media. Gronkowski, who hasn't practiced yet this week, seems trending towards another absence this Sunday against Chicago. With O.J. Howard (ankle) back on the practice field- it's looking like he and Cameron Brate will handle the tight end duties once again. Howard seems to be building some chemistry with Tom Brady, as he is coming off a game where he hauled in six passes for 49 yards and a touchdown.
Head coach Brian Flores spoke to reporters Friday morning, expressing confidence in Tua Tagovailoa as his starting signal-caller amid trade rumors that have swirled this week. Tagovailoa was involved in some reports suggesting a three-team deal involving the Texans and star quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has been on the trade block. Flores seemed to dismiss those reports, stating that the team is pleased with their current quarterback situation. Tagovailoa had his best game of the year last week, completing 33 of 47 passes for 329 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, adding 22 yards on the ground. The vote of confidence from the organization could serve him well heading into a favorable matchup against a poor Falcons defense.
Carolina Panthers tight end Ian Thomas and tight end Tommy Tremble will take on the Giants in Week 7. Both players split the playing time relatively evenly last week, as Thomas played 54 percent of the snaps compared to Tremble's 51 percent. The Giants have allowed four touchdowns to the position, so one of these two could find the end zone in Week 7. Given that the Panthers have shown some creativity with Tremble at the goal-line, he looks like the slightly better bet of the two to produce a decent line.