Lamar Jackson struggled through one of the worst games of his career Sunday against the Browns, as he scored just 11.4 Fantasy points despite pulling out the 16-10 win over the Browns. He struggled to move the ball through the air -- as did Baker Mayfield on the other side -- and, at least for one week, his rushing abilities weren't enough to make up for that for Fantasy.
And he wasn't alone among star quarterbacks in struggling, either in Week 12 or in the past few weeks. It's been an issue for many of the biggest stars at the position, and when we're looking at the biggest questions coming out of Week 12's NFL action from a Fantasy perspective, that's where we've got to start:
What's wrong with the QBs?
In Week 11, we saw the likes of Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Dak Prescott, Matt Ryan, Joe Burrow, and Derek Carr struggle to even put up 10 Fantasy points, an ugly sight to say the least. But Week 12's quarterback group might have been even worse. While not quite as many high-end quarterbacks hit that 10-or-under mark, only eight managed to score 20 this week, the lowest total of the season pending Monday Night Football. If either Taylor Heinicke or Russell Wilson fails to do it tonight, this will be just the second time all season fewer than 10 quarterbacks hit 20 -- for some context, 17 did it in Week 5 alone.
This is a continuation of a trend I highlighted last week, as quarterback play has been down league-wide for more than a month now, with the slide really beginning in Week 8:
NFL QB stats (all)
For some context, that's like dropping from 2020 Drew Brees to 2020 Gardner Minshew in yards per attempt; from 2020 Kyler Murray in passer rating to 2020 Tua Tagovailoa. When we're talking about literally thousands of attempts spread between 30-plus players, these are pretty massive drops for the middle of the season.
I don't have a good explanation for why this is happening, to be honest. On the whole, we've seen teams be a bit less willing to take shots down the field with the total share of passes traveling at least 21 yards down the field dropping from 11.2% in the first seven weeks to 9.4% since; intended air yards per pass attempt has also fallen from 8.1 to 7.4 in those corresponding time frames. So, teams are being less aggressive in the passing game than they were earlier in the season, though you would think that would lead to a drop in interception rate, and we've seen the opposite. We saw similar trends on a smaller scale with Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen scuffling a bit when teams started playing more two high safeties at all times to take away the big play.
The thing is, though, it's not like that's a defensive philosophy teams have been unaware of. And there wasn't a mid-season rule change. This kind of mid-season change happening league-wide doesn't just happen. And it's not like the quality of players at the position has taken a hit. We've actually seen quarterbacks we thought were stars simply struggle -- Mahomes, Prescott, Josh Allen, Matthew Stafford, Lamar Jackson, Tom Brady and more have all taken steps of varying sizes. These guys just haven't been themselves for one reason or another.
The why is, I suppose, a question for smarter people than myself to answer. But this is obviously already having a big impact on Fantasy outcomes -- and not just at quarterback, as wide receiver production is down alongside with it, obviously. The question for us to answer is how do you navigate this?
One thought I had was that this should make rushing quarterbacks even more valuable, though that wasn't exactly the case in Week 12, as Cam Newton, Jalen Hurts, Jackson, and Ryan Tannehill all flopped, while Aaron Rodgers, Dak Prescott, and Matthew Stafford combined for 2 rushing yards but finished in three of the top-five spots. Of course, one week is far too small a sample size to judge, and the theory remains sound -- if throwing the ball is more difficult, players who have other ways to provide value should be less impacted.
But that goes back to the original question: If throwing is more difficult, why is that the case? And, more importantly: Is that likely to continue to be the case moving forward? I don't have a particularly compelling answer for either question right now, so I'm going to have to assume things will get better, following that decade's long trend of passing getting easier in the NFL. If that doesn't happen, there will be a lot to figure out this offseason.
What's wrong with the Rams offense?
Matthew Stafford. We can talk about the absence of Robert Woods over the past two games and how their general lack of depth leaves them susceptible to big drop offs, but the biggest issue is that Matthew Stafford is just playing poorly right now. He was able to salvage a good Fantasy game Sunday, but this offense largely struggled outside of two big plays, and it was largely Stafford's fault. I don't want to be too harsh, given reports Sunday that he is dealing with arm, elbow, ankle, and back issues, but if he's out there, he has to perform, given how much Fantasy players have invested in this offense.
Cooper Kupp remains a must-start in all formats, obviously, but Odell Beckham remains a boom-or-bust WR3 until he shows he can do more like Sunday (five catches, 81 yards, and a touchdown, on 10 targets). Darrell Henderson has suddenly become pretty pedestrian of late -- 55 or fewer rushing yards and 73 or fewer total yards in four of the last five -- though he salvaged his game Sunday with a receiving touchdown, and as long as he's healthy his role makes him a must-start Fantasy RB as well, albeit one who ends up more in the RB2 range of the ranks more often than we might have expected after his hot start. And it'll be especially hard to go away from this offense against the Jaguars in Week 13, though they haven't been the pushovers we thought they were of late.
Should we be worried about Jamar Chase's recent slide?
That's always a tough question because it depends on what your expectations were. If you expected Chase to continue to be one of the three most productive wide receivers in the NFL, you should be worried, because that isn't going to happen. He was never going to keep that kind of pace up. However, he's averaging just 38 yards per game over the past four on 4.9 yards per target, and that's not going to keep happening. Even the nine targets over the past two games look a little better when you realize Joe Burrow has thrown just 54 passes in that span. Maybe Chase is more like a WR2 who relies on big plays than a weekly top-12 guy, but given how few wide receivers are producing consistently right now, even that might be underselling him.
Is Marquise Brown still a must-start?
Brown had just 51 yards Sunday, his third game in the past five with 51 or fewer yards, a span that perfectly lines up with Rashod Bateman's debut. So, the 2021 first-rounder has ruined Brown's value for Fantasy; case closed, right? Not even close. Brown had eight catches on 10 targets in Week 12, bringing his total over the past five games to 54, 173-target pace over a 16-game season. Bateman hasn't been the issue at all -- unless you think Bateman is the reason Brown is averaging just 5.9 yards per target in that span. We saw an even worse span from Brown last season when he averaged just 3.2 yards per target on 17 over a four-game span from Weeks 8 through 11, and then he closed out his season with 534 yards over his next eight games (including playoffs), for 9.4 yards per target. We've seen Brown pull out of worse slumps. Efficiency is a fickle thing, especially for a big-play guy like Brown, but you don't want to go away from him right before he hits the big plays. And they are coming.
Time to panic about the Browns offense?
Well past time, in fact. They've scored 14 points or fewer in five of their past six games after Sunday's 10-point outing. Baker Mayfield clearly isn't healthy and they've got nobody who can consistently get open against man coverage, something announcer Chris Collinsworth harped on multiple times during Sunday night's broadcast. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for just 59 yards in Hunt's first game back from a calf injury, and while they won't have any games that bad again, things have looked rough in Cleveland of late. And losing left tackle Jack Conklin to a knee injury Sunday surely won't help. This just isn't as good a situation as last year, when so much went right for the Browns offense. As much has gone wrong this season.