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I watched this game live through the perspective of a guy who played Drew Brees (31-44 for 326 yards, 0 TD/3 INT) in the FantasyPros experts’ weekly challenge for FanDuel. It seems like this is my luck in that challenge every other week – I have a great team otherwise, led by a big name quarterback who has the worst game of his entire career. If you’d like to know which elite QB is going to score less than 10 fantasy points in a week, I’ll let you know who my FanDuel QB is that week.
I didn’t start this off to complain about my luck. More so to make a point. It was 13–6 Lions at halftime. The Saints had two FGs to account for their scoring. I was mildly pissed at the half because Brees looked terrible, but I comforted myself knowing that no matter what, Brees seems to always find a way to 300+ yards and 2 TDs. It happens quick, so buckle up. After the third quarter, the Lions led 19–6. The Saints still with two field goals. Brees looked even worse. I’m also preoccupied with watching Brandin Cooks get ignored again.
Of course, the Saints finally score a TD early fourth quarter…a nice TD run by John Kuhn. &%$%%^#!#&# my Drew Brees luck.
I bet on the Lions +6.0…so I was watching that develop. I had the Drew Brees FanDuel ‘thing’. I was mad for Brandin Cooks. You know what all that did? Distracted me away from the real story…probably not by mistake either. The Lions went into New Orleans and smacked the Saints around and made Drew Brees look like an idiot. I’ve been so sure the Lions are a ‘lucky’ division leader and was so preoccupied with other storylines…I looked right past the obvious – admitting the Lions are good.
After the game was over, during the live watch, I looked at the box score postgame. No running game. Mediocre Golden Tate (8-145-1/10 targets) as a big stat producer. Theo Riddick (4-2-0, 5-15-1/6 targets) with a bunch of touches and no yards. How is all this possible? I missed the obvious right in front of my face. It’s been there the whole time. The Lions have a surprisingly, sneaky good defense that is performing at an increasingly high level since Week 2.
The Lions defense allowed 35 points on opening day to the Colts, and they have been holding a lot of opponents down ever since. Look at the points in each game they’ve allowed starting from Week 2: 16-34-17-23-28-17-20-16-19-13-13 (19.6 per game). In 8 of their last 11 games, they’ve held opponents to 20 points or fewer. They are allowing just 16.3 PPG over their past six games. The Lions do not rank highly in any specific defensive category…except they keep winning and holding teams under 20 points. Their schedule has been soft, Osweiler-Bradford-Bortles-Bradford the four games before this one. However, how do I explain holding Drew Brees to 13 points, and making him look terrible in the process (while missing their best LB most of the season, DeAndre Levy, and missing his fill-in starter Tahir Whitehead for this game?)? In Week 7, they held the Redskins to 17 points. It’s time to take the Lions’ defense seriously (I’m talking to me).
A third-string starting ILB for this game. Ezekiel Ansah doesn’t have a sack this season. And yet this defense is rolling, and getting better and just humiliated one of the top offenses in the NFL…on the road/at New Orleans.
I thought the Lions would not win the NFC North, but I was wrong. They’ll be 9–4 after a win over the Bears next week, and then one more win in the next three games at NYG, at Dallas (and Dallas may not care about this game), or Week 17 hosting Green Bay, ought to clinch it. Green Bay would have to win out and defeat Detroit Week 17 and thus hold the tiebreaker. The Lions have everything going for them, including a surprisingly good defense.
The Saints are a massive disappointment again. Had they won this game, they somewhat had their playoff destiny in their hands, and maybe a shot at the NFC South. They still have some playoff/division life, but it would take a miracle. Most likely, Sean Payton is on his way to a third straight losing season. Long gone is the innovative offense of the 2009 Super Bowl champs. Gone is the vaunted home field (3–4 at home this season). Sean Payton has been head-scratching for years, and the team keeps getting worse. However, I’m sure he’ll get a contract extension a la Jeff Fisher. That’s how things work in the NFL.
— Brandin Cooks (7-73-0 on 9 targets) did not have any real ‘grease’ applied to his ‘squeaky wheel’. In fact, I believe Cooks was further insulted – on purpose in this game. We have a problem, those of us who own him, with Cooks going forward.
What did everyone (but me) say this week? “Oh, you know Cooks is going to going to get a bunch of targets this game because the Saints want to show him the love!”
Why was that said?
I get why. It was a logical thought…Brandin Cooks is really good. The team knows it. They’ll want to smooth things over just like any corporation would do, but especially in pro football with the egos, etc. It all made perfect sense to believe Cooks would have a big day coming off his zero target game of the prior week.
So what are you to conclude now that none of that happened?
Isn’t the opposite true?
If they didn’t push the ball to Cooks this week…isn’t that a message?
You’re damn right it’s a message.
Cooks saw his first pass target with 0:42 left in the second quarter…ending a 94-minute drought since his last target. Drink that tidbit in for a moment. Is that how you treat your star players? What if Antonio Brown or Julio Jones went a whole game without a target, and then there was all this buzz about it all week, and then he didn’t see a target again until right before halftime the following week? Cooks’s first target here wasn’t even a quality one. He might as well have been Travaris Cadet…the situation called for all passing in a hurry-up offense, and oh by the way Cooks got a target.
Cooks saw two junk targets in the hurry-up with under a minute left until halftime. He saw two more targets in the third quarter, and then five in the fourth quarter…three of them late when the game was out of hand and the Saints were back to an all-passing comeback effort. Cooks is like a fourth WR entering the game in obvious passing situations…more than he is the team’s valued #1 WR.
I suspected that when Sean Payton was a flippant, arrogant jackass during his press conferences and media discussions on it – that he was going to show Cooks ‘who was boss’. Did Drew Brees rush to help Cooks save face? Nope. Either Brandin Cooks is the biggest jerk in the world and they hate him (which I do not believe) or the club/clique of Payton-Brees are the arrogant asses…and that I can believe. Either way – something is wrong with Brandin Cooks + Saints coaches (of which I consider Brees as one). If Sean Payton remains head coach, and he probably got an extension a while ago but no announcement was made like with Jeff Fisher, then I believe things will get worse for Cooks…which may lead to a trade of Cooks in the offseason.
Remember, Sean Payton and Drew Brees were also too smart for/didn’t need Jimmy Graham either. Since trading Graham the Saints are 12–16.
Number trends that I shared on my ‘6 Things…‘ Monday article for FantasyPros this week:
Since opening day, Cooks’s last 11 games, he’s averaging 4.7 catches (6.8 targets) 60.5 yards and has 4 TDs (a pace for 6 in a season). In those 11 games, Cooks has just ONE 100+ yard game, and that came from a 90-yard catch-and-run TD. Cooks has been under 75 yards receiving in 9 of his last 11 games. These are not WR1 numbers. They are WR3 numbers. They are ‘We don’t really care about you (Cooks). You’re not our #1 WR’ numbers. He’s not a valued target like other ‘top guys’ are for their teams.
Brandin Cooks is a WR3 for the rest of the season. Matchup is not a factor because it’s the play-calling and not Cooks ‘not getting open’.
*You want to know how I’m right about all this? I wrote this article before re-watching this game a second time…one more time just watching the Lions defense only. Ignoring everything else. I’m adding this note after watch #3 – the very first offensive series for the Saints…two plays to Ingram…leading to 3rd & 1. The Saints then go to an empty backfield, five-wide set. Brandin Cooks came out of the game on a 3rd & 1, in a five-receiver set. Two TEs, no Brandin Cooks…that’s how valuable he is to the Saints.
If you can trade Cooks hot in a redraft after this better output game this week – go for it. He’s a WR2 for some, and I’d trade him for a slick WR2 you like better. In dynasty, trade at your own risk. He stays in New Orleans, he’s dead/a WR3 with hope. He gets traded to the Packers…and he’s the best WR in fantasy, possibly.
— You wonder why Michael Thomas (4-42-0/5 targets) had a crappy fantasy game? Teams have adjusted to him, at least the Lions did this week – smartly so. The Lions didn’t give Cooks attention because they figured out Cooks is not the main target threat anymore. The Lions put Darius Slay on Thomas a bunch, so ‘good-bye’ Thomas because he can’t handle legit coverage.
I so hope Cooks gets traded and Michael Thomas gets exposed for the fraud he is in 2017. He’s a ‘C’ WR prospect getting WR1 targets and accolades because teams try to stop Brandin Cooks and don’t care about Thomas. Once a team throws top coverage at Thomas…he’s done.
— Dwayne Washington (7-21-0, 2-19-0/2 targets) was inching his way to becoming relevant. In the first half, Washington was in a lot and taking most of the carries and more targets than usual. He’s so good. You could see the ‘almost’ happening. It pains me every time he gets the ball because ‘almost’…
Of course, just as Washington was playing some of his best ball of 2016, and getting a lot of work, someone landed on his leg, and off limping he went. Never to return. He’s hurting my heart.
It was nice to see Zach Zenner (9-40-0) come in and run the ball nicely for a team that hasn’t run the ball well all year…except for a few times when Zenner got rolling (and then gets pulled out of the game quickly).
Oh, to dream of a Zenner-Washington backfield…
Zach Zenner may matter this week if Dwayne Washington is out. He may be the shock 100+ yard rusher of the season next week versus the Bears.
— IDP Tavon Wilson (4 tackles, 1 PD) has been a fave of IDP analyst JWolfe for weeks. I keep overlooking him and not giving Wilson the credit due. I’m ready to step up on him more. 6.8 tackles per game the last five games, and 0.67 PDs per game the last three games…two INTs the last three games. He has 5.5 tackles per game this season.
I forgot that Wilson was a former second-round pick (#48 overall) of the New England Patriots in 2012. He played right away as a rookie for the Patriots and had a solid four-year career at Illinois prior to that. The future looked bright after his NFL rookie season, and then he started to fade away his final three years with the Pats. Did you know he had 4 INTs as a rookie for New England? He has two picks this season.
I’ve been late to the party, but I’m here now.
— When I re-watched this game an extra time just to watch the Lions defense…nothing jumped out at me. They were solid, but not spectacular. The one guy that stood out – damn, is DT Kerry Hyder (3 tackles, 2 QB hits) playing some good football.
Our computer scouting models had a good grade on him out of Texas Tech, but then he bounced around…and I just forgot about him. He’s had a very nice season for the Lions. I don’t think anyone had ‘Kerry Hyder‘ as the answer to the question ‘who will lead the Lions in sacks in the 2016 season?‘ He has a team-high 7.0 sacks, 2.5 ahead of Devin Taylor (1 tackle, 1.0 sack) and 7.0 ahead of Ezekiel Ansah (2 tackles).