In this space, I’ll go through all that we learned from the Week 11 action and give you five things I care about along with five things I can’t muster up the emotional energy to care for.
Good news for you: We’re going to do this exercise in emotional turmoil every Sunday of the regular season.
5 Things I care about
The Chargers get explosive
The national media had been dying to see Justin Herbert broken free from the short-area offense Joe Lombardi had designed around him so far in 2021.
That isn’t exactly what happened in Week 11 ... for the most part.
Herbert’s 5.8 average depth of target against the Steelers was actually a bit shy of his 2021 season mark. That might surprise you given LA's offensive numbers in this game but the key difference this week was that the Chargers were timely with their explosives.
Many of their low-aDOT throws went to Austin Ekeler, who was simply dynamic after the catch. You can throw short when you get your guys into space; that’s not what the Chargers had been doing. This was a team trying to nickel and dime opponents down the field. Getting Ekeler in space and letting him cook is totally different.
Five different Chargers collected at least one catch of 15-plus yards. Mike Williams caught the long dart from Herbert that sealed the game, while Keenan Allen hammered the Steelers multiple times for downfield passes over the middle.
The Chargers don’t have to change their bones on offense. It’s not as if the structure of the old Saints’ offenses, where Lombardi grew his roots, doesn’t brew efficient offenses. They just can’t be in a spot where they aren’t allowing their best players — and specifically Herbert — to show off their special traits.
Justin Herbert is ready to enter the star tier of quarterbacks, if he’s not there already. Too often his own coach’s offensive design had gotten in the way. What we saw Sunday was a near-perfect display of how the two schools can be blended together. That mix brings the best out of the ultra-talented Herbert.
The Chiefs defense is better
I was incredibly skeptical the Chiefs could get their defense on track considering their lack of talent in the linebacker room and the absence of young players ready to come off the bench.
A few developments along the defensive line have changed that view.
The trade for Melvin Ingram was an inspired move that frankly should have been made in the offseason. He’s given them a legitimate outside pass-rushing threat to go along with Frank Clark, who finally looks healthy and in game-ready mode after a murky offseason. Most importantly, the boost outside has allowed Chris Jones to move back into a full-time interior rusher role. That’s where he belongs, where he's one of the best in the NFL at creating inside disruption.
The Chiefs dropped Dak Prescott five times and Jones spearheaded the effort with 3.5 of his own. We never needed the Chiefs to be an elite, high-stop-percentage defense. They just need to create some chaos and flip fields to get Patrick Mahomes and co. in good positions.
Suddenly, Kansas City is looking like that type of unit. It’s time to adjust our projections when teams go against KC.
Jonathan Taylor is unreal
Jonathan Taylor didn’t just take over the game, he took over the league and the entire enterprise of fantasy football in Week 11.
The Colts' back, despite some fretting a tough matchup, amassed over 50 fantasy points and scored five times on 35 touches. The Colts’ shocking domination of the Bills was difficult to see coming but Taylor putting on such a special performance was stunning — but certainly no shock.
Christian McCaffrey’s insane role as a rusher/receiver is still a near fantasy cheat code but it’s tough to imagine taking anyone other than Jonathan Taylor at the 1.01 pick if we were redrafting today. Beyond that, Taylor might be developing into one of the top offensive weapons in the NFL. He’s the Colts’ best big-play threat and provides more explosive runs than any other back in the NFL.
Just simply looking at pure talent, he is building a case to be considered the best back in the league.
Not only does he sustain drives but he does what some of the best runners (think Derrick Henry and Nick Chubb) in the game do on the regular: Flip the field for his team. He might even be better as a receiver than both of those players. Taylor is just an unbelievable talent.
Brandon Aiyuk is right there with Deebo and Kittle
The 49ers’ offense was able to pull off yet another hyper-efficient passing day. Jimmy Garoppolo completed 15 passes last week against the Rams and just 16 against the Jaguars in Week 11.
This result against Jacksonville was a reminder that despite all the pain from early in the season and being the one left out in Week 10, Brandon Aiyuk is right there in the pecking order with Deebo Samuel and George Kittle.
Aiyuk paced the team with seven targets (catching all of them) and collected 85 yards and a touchdown. He made big plays, tough catches and everything in between. No other pass-catcher cleared 35 yards and Kittle was the only other guy to catch more than one pass. Aiyuk is a player you’re considering as a WR3 or flex every single week, especially with several soft matchups on the docket.
Antonio Gibson inhales serious volume (again)
After 24 carries in a winning effort last week, Antonio Gibson drew 19 in yet another victory against Carolina. He hasn’t enjoyed any stretch this season where he’s earned this much work in back-to-back games.
That's good news for Gibson especially if Washington is competitive going forward.
Players like J.D. McKissic and Jaret Patterson each had seven carries but Gibson was the clear lead back. This is what we expected coming into the season. We can point to the bye week as a clear start to this trend — now, it’s just about monitoring whether it holds up.
5 Things I don’t care about
Cowboys WRs sans Michael Gallup
The Cowboys were already without Amari Cooper — who was on the shelf due to COVID protocols — when they lost CeeDee Lamb to a concussion at half-time. Thank goodness Michael Gallup (10 targets) is back in action because it’s unlikely Lamb will clear the concussion protocol in time to play on Thanksgiving and Cooper has already been ruled out.
Beyond Gallup, we should pass on chasing any of these Dallas wide receivers. Both Cedrick Wilson and Noah Brown spent most of their day failing to bail out an already erratic Dak Prescott in Week 11.
Troy Aikman said as the team entered the fourth quarter that this passing game was too under siege and needed to try and play physical, smashmouth football. Well, when you’re down 19-6 it’s a little too late for that. That's exactly what they should do next week though, especially given all the wide receiver injuries.
Dallas has been inclined to play physical football and establish the run at times this year. Kellen Moore has been flexible and I’d bet he bends back that way next week. The Raiders have been obliterated by running backs all year and just gave up 123 yards and two scores on 30 carries to Joe Mixon in Week 11.
We could see a line like that for Ezekiel Elliott on Thanksgiving with a dash of Tony Pollard for seasoning. Dak Prescott threw the ball 43 times in this Week 11 loss. I’d project him close to 30 next week.
Elijah Moore restrictions
Elijah Moore is verifiably, absolutely, without a doubt good at the game of football. The evidence had been piling up lately but the dam broke on Sunday.
The rookie receiver went for 141 yards and scored a touchdown on his eight catches. He earned 11 targets and will finish Week 11 as a top-10 fantasy receiver. Moore has racked up 18 catches for 284 yards and scored four touchdowns over his last three games.
The breakout is real.
Moore draws matchups with the Texans, Eagles, Saints, Dolphins, Jaguars and Bucs to round out the season. He could tear up some of those matchups down the stretch.
The Jets should be playing him on almost every passing down at this point. Week 11 was a good sign as he ran a route on 84 percent of the dropbacks. There is no logical reason to limit his assignment in favor of lesser veterans. The rotation New York has insisted on employing with their wide receiver room needs to come to an end.
The Jets have a possible star on their hands. Let him shine.
The Panthers’ loss
Cam Newton’s home return to Carolina didn’t come with a victory but we’re not too concerned about that (Panthers’ fans not included). Cam Newton’s presence absolutely salvaged the team’s offense from the clutches of humiliation.
The Panthers scored 21 points. Carolina had cleared 20 points just once from Weeks 5 to 9. They had finished below 10 points in two of those five games prior to signing Newton.
With 26.2 fantasy points as an individual, Newton looks like he’ll moonwalk to a fringe top-five finish on the week. He took his 10 carries for 46 yards and a touchdown and completed 77.8 percent of his passes. You weren’t seeing that kind of juice or efficiency at any point during the last few months for the Panthers.
Carolina’s main players in DJ Moore and Christian McCaffrey both scored a touchdown. CMC registered his standard 17 touches. Even Robby Anderson caught five balls, a feat he hadn’t accomplished since Week 4. Newton might not save the Panthers in the NFC Wild Card race but there’s no question he saved fantasy gamers from a possible disaster scenario surrounding their Panthers’ players.
The Titans backfield
There were an absurd amount of D’Onta Foreman questions tossed around in fantasy circles this morning. Did you want to start someone from this backfield? I can’t imagine why.
Sure, Foreman may have looked like the prettiest of some ugly options in Tennessee’s backfield at times but there was no indication he was suddenly going to pull away. The Titans aren’t just going to make a player like Adrian Peterson completely irrelevant. More crucially, the Titans simply do not have an identity on offense right now. Their previous little winning streak had masked the fact that they hadn’t come up with answers to who they’d become post-Derrick Henry.
Suddenly turning to Foreman as the RB1 wasn’t going to be where they discovered it.
Sometimes you need to ignore matchups, especially when exploiting said matchup completely hinged on the ultra-volatile temptress known as “game script.” Certain situations just become dead zones on a team within a fantasy season and it certainly looks like the Tennessee backfield is turning into an all-out fade. Until something changes, just remove these backs from the pool of options.
Hating the Steelers
When discussions crop up around AFC contenders, it feels like the consensus wants to just “yada-yada” over including the Pittsburgh Steelers. I can’t understand why.
Perhaps it’s because they’re boring. Maybe we’ve all started to fantasize what good young players like Najee Harris, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool and Pat Freiermuth would look like with a superior quarterback at the helm.
Well, stop it. Actually exist in the moment.
At 5-3-1 the Steelers are second in the AFC North and certainly on the fringes of the Wild Card race. Sunday night wasn’t perfect but it was an ideal reminder that for as limiting as Ben Roethlisberger is, he can keep this talented offense afloat. He had to do it tonight while paired with a stunningly undermanned defense that couldn’t stop anything Justin Herbert threw at them. When both units are at least performing at their respective baselines, the Steelers are a more-than-competent team.
Even in a loss, a limited Steelers squad trading explosive plays with the Chargers just reminded us that Pittsburgh is the embodiment of a football cliche. They’ve got grit, they make you play in the mud with them and darn it if they just don’t know how to get the job done.
For that reason, they’re going to be there right to the end, especially as so many faux AFC contenders fail to establish themselves. Get used to it.