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TRAPS & TRENDS: Week 5

There’s nothing like a committee backfield to frustrate the heck out of fantasy owners. In the aftermath of the Week 4 Sunday NFL games, we have four backfields possibly undergoing changes just in time for Week 5. Senior FantasySharks.com writer Matt Wilson gives us his take on each one, and urges fantasy owners to be cautious with Mitch Trubisky following his stunning Week 4 performance.

We’re just four weeks into the regular season, but…

1. Is there a new Papa Bear in the Chicago backfield?

The Dudes: Jordan Howard & Tarik Cohen

The Damage: Heading into Week 4 action, Jordan Howard had owned the Chicago Bears’ backfield despite some very lackluster performances and just one touchdown scored on the season. Howard had out-touched Tarik Cohen 63 to 21, outgained him 281 to 134 and outscored him one to zip. To the frustration of Howard owners, the diminutive-but-quick Cohen unexpectedly took command of the Bears’ backfield during the team’s 48-10 blowout victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. On the afternoon, he amassed a season-best 13-53-0 rushing line and a season-best 7-121-1 receiving line on eight targets. When the dust cleared, Cohen, after averaging seven touches per contest, had out-touched Howard 20 to 11 and outgained him 174 to 25. Even though game script favored a run-heavy approach in the second half, Cohen out-carried an ineffective Howard (2.3 yards per carry) 13 to 11. Is the abrupt increase in Cohen’s workload a signal that Chicago’s backfield has gone timeshare?

The Diagnosis: TREND

It sure looks that way. While I suspect the usage of Cohen and Howard in the Tampa Bay game was a product of the matchup against a defense that held its own against the run but struggled mightily versus the pass, it goes without saying that the Bears would be stupid not to continue using Cohen in an expanded role. He lists at just 5-foot-6, 181 pounds, so don’t expect Chicago to give him heavy rushing loads each week. By the way, don’t get hung up on Cohen’s size. Darren Sproles (Eagles) is 5-foot-6, 190 pounds, and he has made a career as a change-of-pace guy. Matchups clearly will play a huge role for the Bears’ usage of Cohen and Howard. Against tougher run defenses (“Cohen games”), I expect to Cohen to top Howard in touches and see a lot of usage as a receiver. Versus softer run defenses (“Howard games”), Howard should receive a healthy share of mostly early-down touches, assuming he’s effective. Cohen, however, obviously will remain involved as a receiver, so, barring injuries, heavy workloads will be few and far between for Howard. After Chicago’s Week 5 bye, the team draws a road matchup against the Miami Dolphins, who are stingy against the run at home, which looks like a Cohen game.

 

2. Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll hates your fantasy team. Really.

The Dudes: Mike Davis, Chris Carson & Rashaad Penny

The Damage: Chris Carson, coming off a career-best performance in Week 3 with 32 carries for 101 yards and one touchdown, and two catches for 22 yards on two targets during his team’s home win over the Dallas Cowboys, was a surprise late-afternoon inactive due to a hip injury. Everybody reasonably assumed that Rashad Penny would draw the start in a cushy matchup against an Arizona Cardinals that had surrendered the second-most rushing yards in the NFL. Penny carried nine times for a career-high 49 yards against Arizona, but Mike Davis, who had touched the ball just five times heading into Week 4, drew the start instead. Averaging a nice 4.3 yards per carry, Davis amassed 101 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries, and caught all four of his targets for 23 yards. Davis handled 25 of 34 Seattle backfield touches, and his outing was far and away the most effective one by a Seahawks running back on the season. Will Davis retain the starting gig even when Carson returns healthy and even with rookie first-rounder Penny in the mix?

The Diagnosis: TOSSUP

If Carson returns healthy for Week 5, most folks expect Davis to slide back into his little-used No. 3 tailback role. As things stand now, I’m not totally convinced that will happen, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Davis drew another start over Carson (3.9 yards per carry) and rookie designated franchise tailback of the future Penny (3.2 yards per carry). In case you’re wondering, Penny, averaging nine combo touches per contest, has been struggling with ball security after there were concerns about his conditioning. I’m assuming the fantasy universe will have a better read on the Davis/Carson/Penny situation later in the week before you consider spending a waiver pick on Davis.

 

3. Is there somebody “Jonesing” for the No. 1 tailback gig in Titletown?

The Dudes: Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams & Ty Montgomery

The Damage: Operating behind starter Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery on the depth chart for the second week in a row, Jones outproduced them both during the Green Bay Packers’ Week 3 win over the visiting Buffalo Bills. Jones, receiving his first touch late in the first quarter, carried 11 times for 65 yards and one touchdown, and reeled in his lone target for 17 yards. Williams, who has started since Week 1, toted the rock 11 times for just 27 yards and wasn’t targeted while Ty Montgomery compiled a 5-18-0 rushing line and a 2-56-0 receiving line. Montgomery is averaging just seven combo touches per game in a limited role, so it comes down to Jones and Williams. Despite Jones’ recent success, will Green Bay continue to use him in a timeshare?

The Diagnosis: TREND

I suspect the Packers backfield will remain a committee regardless of whoever starts. Jones is quickly gaining ground on Williams and should have a sizeable timeshare role going forward with the slightly heavier workload of the two. What’s the difference between Jones and Williams? Jones (6.3 yards per carry) is the more explosive runner of the two but isn’t known for his receiving chops. Although Williams (3.4 yards per carry) lacks true big-play ability, he’s the better receiver and blocker. The production gap between the two this past Sunday was glaring, and Green Bay simply can’t afford to limit Jones’ role because of the struggling Williams’ receiving and blocking prowess. Jones looks like an intriguing flex play in Week 5 versus a Detroit Lions defense that has surrendered a league-high number of rushing yards.

About Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson has played NFL fantasy football since 1994 and has been a featured columnist at FantasySharks.com since 2008. His 18 combined years of professional writing experience includes a five-year stint as a contributing writer/editor at KFFL.com. He has been a featured contributor to The Fantasy Football Guide since 2008 and has been published regularly in the award-winning USA Today Sports Fantasy Football preview. Matt is a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and holds a degree in journalism from Northern Illinois.