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Sometimes it's offensive strategy that affects player performance more than we know. Take Torrey Smith for example. While the popular storyline for Sunday night's game was Smith's ability to overcome personal adversity, the stats show something very interesting: the Baltimore Ravens were extremely effective when using play-action to support passing plays thrown to Smith.
Smith was targeted nine times and finished with six catches for 126 yards and two scores, an obviously impressive stat line. Of those nine targets, five came on plays which featured play-action before the pass was thrown. His performance on those five targets was sensational, as he had four catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns. Check out the difference:
No play-action: Four targets, two catches for 26 yards.
Play-action: Five targets, four catches, 100 yards and two touchdowns.
That's an amazing difference.
The uninformed observer might be looking at Steve Johnson for Week 4 as a WR1 option based on how poor the Patriots' defense looked Sunday. Don't be one of those people. Through the first three weeks, Johnson has only two catches from the six targets he has on plays that featured play-action. So expecting Johnson to plug and play like Smith did is an unrealistic expectation.
Receiving yardage is the most variable form of yardage, which makes sense because so much of it is dependent on where the quarterback elects to throw the ball. Because of this, variations in the number of times a player is targeted by his quarterback can greatly change a player's value. So while your receiver may have scored 10 fantasy points last weekend, you need to know if it's reasonable to expect that he can repeat that type of performance on a routine basis. If he had one target that he turned into a 40-yard touchdown, you need to realize that he was one quarterback decision away from posting a goose egg. Conversely, if your wideout had 12 targets and finished with 108 yards receiving, his prospects for consistent fantasy production are significantly greater.
Below, you'll see all the players who received seven or more targets in Week 3, what their average number of targets is per game for the season and how many of them were on plays that began in the red zone (RZ).
Note: Targets are not an official NFL statistic. Based on the methodology that stat services use, the number of targets listed may be different than target values listed elsewhere. ESPN Stats and Information's philosophy is to count a target when the analyst thinks the pass was actually intended for the player. Therefore if a quarterback is obviously throwing a ball away, the analyst will not record a target for that pass. This gives a truer representation of what a target is, a pass thrown to a particular player with the intent for that player to catch the ball, and therefore should be more helpful to the fantasy community.
• For those of you who haven't been exposed to Jordan Cameron yet, he's a tight end for the Cleveland Browns. Despite not really having much of a collegiate career (16 catches in three years at USC), Cameron was drafted in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL draft. He had five catches Sunday, one fewer than his total for 2011. That being said, Brad Childress, the Browns' offensive coordinator, has been known to sprinkle some attention on his tight ends, so those of you in very deep leagues may want to pay attention.
• Dennis Pitta is owned in less than half of ESPN.com leagues, but that number should jump to 99 percent immediately. He's receiving consistent targets and being featured in the red zone; there's nothing not to like.
• While his rushing totals have been inconsistent, seeing Trent Richardson this involved in the passing game is a very nice sign. I remain very high on Richardson and still would not be surprised to see him finish in the top 10 among running backs by season's end.
• Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks are not known for their durability, so if you own one of them you should be investing a roster spot in Ramses Barden immediately. The New York Giants have a prolific passing attack and Barden displayed that he can fill in quite well if asked to do so.
• While Brandon Lloyd and Tom Brady still haven't connected on a long bomb as their fantasy owners would have liked, the targets that Lloyd is getting are making great use of Lloyd's body-control skills. A great number of these targets have been back-shoulder timing throws that have required Lloyd to execute double toe taps while falling out of bounds. Lloyd and Brady are definitely on the same page and an explosion of fantasy points is coming.
• Through three weeks, Dez Bryant has zero red zone targets. Tony Romo has one catch in that area. Sure, Romo's catch was a fluke, but that still doesn't help Bryant gain fantasy value. Those expecting Bryant to start receiving more red zone targets because of his size should realize that Bryant is only one inch taller than Kevin Ogletree, the same height as Miles Austin and four inches shorter than Jason Witten.
• It's kind of puzzling as to why the San Diego Chargers are primarily using Robert Meachem on shorter routes. He was most productive with the New Orleans Saints on downfield passes, but that area belongs to Malcom Floyd in San Diego. Look for Meachem to continue to put up mediocre stat lines as a result.
• Because of his Hail Mary-inflated stat line, Titus Young had a really good day for the Detroit Lions on Sunday. While Young seemed to be beginning to overtake Nate Burleson at the end of last season, he appears to have regressed this year. Through three weeks, Young has been targeted only 15 times to Burleson's 24. The changing of the guard is not yet complete for the Lions.
There were only nine players who totaled three or more rushes that gained 10 or more yards each in Week 3: Jamaal Charles (4), Andre Brown (3), Michael Bush (3), Tashard Choice (3), Robert Griffin III (3), Chris Johnson (3), Andrew Luck (3), Alfred Morris (3) and Ryan Williams (3).
Meanwhile, the nine players with at least two carries inside their opponent's 5-yard line were Adrian Peterson (4), Andre Brown (3), Darren McFadden (3), Ryan Fitzpatrick (3), Shonn Greene (3), Cam Newton (2), Daniel Thomas (2), Doug Martin (2) and Lance Ball (2). Of this group, only Brown, Newton and Thomas converted at least one of these carries into a touchdown.
You tell me how to view this: Chris Johnson's three big-play rushes went for 11, 11 and 13 yards respectively. That's a total of 35 yards on those three carries. That means on his other 11 carries, he lost an average of one yard per carry.
Of all the players with more than two rushes that went for 10 yards or more, only Charles and Johnson were the clear No. 1 back on their teams at the beginning of the season.
Don't be surprised if you start to see a lot more of Bilal Powell over Shonn Greene, even if the New York Jets are publicly backing Greene. Greene has only six games since the start of the 2010 season in which he averaged more than five yards per carry. For a starting running back, that's way below the norm. For reference, Willis McGahee has 11 such games during the same time frame.
• Based on how poor the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' passing defense has been, owners may be tempted to inflate Robert Griffin's value this week. While I am moving closer to viewing Griffin as a viable starter most weeks, expecting large passing totals this week may be premature. More than 67 percent of the passing yardage allowed by the Buccaneers has been when their opponents passed to the right, meanwhile only 27 percent of the Washington Redskins passing yardage has come when throwing in that direction.
• You know that school of thought that places the tight end as the quarterback's safety valve by having him run a short route over the middle? Someone should introduce that concept to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Through three games, the Jaguars have only 16 yards passing on attempts that go over the middle. That being said, only one team gives up a greater percentage of passing yardage over the middle than their opponents this week, the Cincinnati Bengals, do. This combination makes Marcedes Lewis a sneaky play.
• No team throws more to one direction that the New England Patriots do. Through their first three games, more than 72 percent of their passing yardage has come on throws to the left. Their opponents this Sunday, the Bills, give up more than 56 percent of their passing yardage allowed on throws to the right (second highest in the league), so something has to give. Perhaps this is the path that Rob Gronkowski needs to get back on track, as the Patriots' tight ends have accumulated more than 43 percent of the team's yardage on passes thrown to the right.
Until next week, thanks for reading.
Note: Statistical information used within this column was compiled by ESPN Stats and Information.