Living up to their reputation, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been good against the run. Through their first four games, the Steelers allowed less than 96 rushing yards per game. That said, they also have allowed opponents more than 50 yards per game on rushes up the middle, so there's a bit of a vulnerability that might tempt fantasy competitors to start Chris Johnson in Week 6, especially when you realize that the Tennessee Titans have gained almost as many yards by rushing up the middle as they have by rushing left or right. Through their first five games, the Titans have attained 327 total rushing yards in the following manner: 120 yards on rushes to the left, 100 on rushes up the middle, 109 on rushes to the right and minus-2 yards on rushes that didn't have a clear direction.
While the Titans have gained approximately one-third of their rushing yards on runs up the middle, the Steelers' weakest area, more than 40 percent of their rushing attempts were slotted into this zone, making this their least effective running zone. Bottom line: Ignore this opportunity, because it's fool's gold. Averaging less than 66 rushing yards per game as a team obviously isn't a recipe for success, and you must factor in that Johnson doesn't get all of those yards.
Put Chris Johnson on your bench and solicit whatever offers you can get for him. It's never fun to trade a dollar for 50 cents, but in this case, failing to do so may result in you getting even less than the half dollar Johnson is currently worth.
Most Targets, Week 5
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 only 10 fantasy points this weekend, you need to know whether 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.
You'll see all the players who received seven or more targets in Week 5, what their average number of targets is per game and how many of them were on plays that began in the red zone, but here are some of the top storylines from Week 5.
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 & 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.
The lackluster stat lines from T.Y. Hilton and Donnie Avery in Week 4 were disappointing. Against the Green Bay Packers, who have one of the worst pass defenses in the league, more should have been accomplished. That said, Reggie Wayne's 19 total targets, including three in the red zone, are unsustainable. Eventually opposing defenses will have a better game plan for stopping Wayne, and someone else will have to step up.
Meanwhile, Marques Colston, despite being banged up, receives a huge bump in value while Jimmy Graham and Lance Moore are out. Like Wayne, such an incredibly high number of opportunities are unsustainable, but ride him if you have him. Also getting a bump in value is Devery Henderson, who should be a weekly start while Graham and Moore are out.
There were six red zone targets for the Denver Broncos this weekend, and again, none of them were to Demaryius Thomas. The third-year receiver remains at three red zone targets for the year, while Eric Decker, who has 10 for the year, received three on Sunday alone.
Much was made of the tempo that the New England Patriots ran their offense at this past Sunday versus the Broncos. The biggest beneficiaries of this strategic move were Stevan Ridley and Wes Welker. Look for the Patriots to capitalize on their mismatches by employing a similar game plan going forward. Also look for an increase in time stoppages caused by defensive "injuries" as opposing teams try to slow that tempo down.
Big plays and up close
There were 15 NFL players who totaled three or more rushes that gained 10 or more yards each. They were: Ahmad Bradshaw (8), Alfred Morris (6), Jamaal Charles (5), Ryan Mathews (5), Arian Foster (4), Frank Gore (4), Brandon Bolden (3), Donald Brown (3), Matt Forte (3), Kendall Hunter (3), Steven Jackson (3), Marshawn Lynch (3), Adrian Peterson (3), Stevan Ridley (3) and Aaron Rodgers (3).
Meanwhile, only three players were given at least two carries inside their opponents' 5-yard line: Frank Gore (3), Brandon Bolden (2) and Daniel Thomas (2).
While I think he's the most talented running back on the Patriots, I am very concerned that Ridley's production is in danger of being throttled down. He has now fumbled in both of his past two games, and he also lost a fumble in last year's playoffs. Couple that with the Patriots' willingness to use Bolden, Shane Vereen and Tom Brady from in close, and there are some serious danger signs. I'm not selling just yet, but I'm starting to put some thought into it.
Those who waited on Ryan Mathews were rewarded, as he finally claimed the role as every-down back for the San Diego Chargers. Norv Turner offenses have been very fantasy-friendly over the years when he has used one workhorse back. Look for Mathews to live up to his preseason hype from this point forward.
The Patriots have rushed for 388 yards on rushes to the left alone, which is more yardage than their upcoming opponent, the Seattle Seahawks, have allowed in total. This game will be a good barometer to measure whether the Patriots' offense is historically good or just very, very good. Based on how they manhandled the Broncos, I'd bet on the former, and would be open to starting both Ridley and Bolden this week.
The Washington Redskins' running game versus the Minnesota Vikings' run defense is strength versus strength. For the season, the Redskins have been effective running the ball left, right and up the middle, with runs to the left being their most productive area. Meanwhile, the Vikings have allowed just 393 rushing yards, but almost 55 percent of those yards were attained when their opponents rushed to the left. In general, it's a good idea to shy away from using a borderline No. 2 running back against a top-10 rush defense, but I'm recommending starting Alfred Morris based on these numbers, as the Redskins' strength is also the Vikings' least productive zone in an otherwise strong defense.
Until next week, thanks for reading.
Note: Statistical information used within this column was compiled by ESPN Stats & Information.