Bears vs. Saints WR/CB Matchups: Marshon Lattimore to Shadow Allen Robinson
Quinn Harris/Getty Images. Pictured: Allen Robinson and Marshon Lattimore
Wide receiver-cornerback showdowns might be the most important individual matchups in football.
In this piece, I leverage snap data from Pro Football Focus (PFF) to project Wild Card Weekend WR/CB matchups for the Bears-Saints game.
For more, see the FantasyLabs Matchups page, where we provide basic and advanced data — including fantasy and red-zone performance — for each offensive skill-position player based on his matchup.
As we get more clarity during the week on the injury status of receivers and corners, I will update my WR/CB projections.
Saints (-10) vs. Bears (47.5 O/U)
- Kickoff: 4:40 p.m. ET on Sunday
- TV: CBS/Prime
Saints Wide Receivers
UPDATE (Sat. 1/9): WRs Michael Thomas (ankle, IR) & Deonte Harris (neck, IR) have both returned to practice and are expected to play.
The Saints right now have three key wide receivers on injured reserve.
- Michael Thomas: Ankle
- Deonte Harris: Neck
- Tre’Quan Smith: Ankle
With these players sidelined, the Saints last week rolled with Emmanuel Sanders, Marquez Callaway and Lil’Jordan Humphrey as the primary receivers in three-wide sets.
In his 14 games this year, Sanders has exhibited rather stark per-game splits with and without Thomas.
- Without Michael Thomas (7 games): 7.7 targets | 5.7 receptions | 73 yards
- With Michael Thomas (7 games): 4 targets | 3 receptions | 30.7 yards
If Thomas is out, Sanders will function as the clear No. 1 receiver for the Saints, and Callaway, Humphrey and also Juwan Johnson, Austin Carr and even Tommylee Lewis will serve in supplementary roles.
But there’s some optimism that Thomas and also Harris will play this week. Saints head coach Sean Payton indicated that both players are close to returning in an interview with Zach Strief and Bobby Hebert on WWL Radio last week.
Sean Payton says "when the time comes, hopefully it's sooner than later, there's a handful of players that we're excited to get back in this lineup."
Mentions Pro Bowl and All-Pro type players, so he's referring to Michael Thomas and Deonte Harris.
— Amie Just (@Amie_Just) December 29, 2020
Although he has played just seven games this year, Thomas is still one of the league’s best receivers. A two-time All-Pro, Thomas led the league with 125 and 149 receptions in the 2018-19 seasons.
Harris is more of a return man than a receiver: Last year, he earned his All-Pro designation thanks to his punt-return prowess. But this year he has also pitched in as a receiver, putting up 7.4 yards per target with an 80% catch rate as a low-risk option near the line of scrimmage.
If Thomas and Harris both return — and right I’m now I’m tentatively projecting them as in — I expect Thomas and Sanders to play most on the perimeter with Harris in the slot.
UPDATE (Sat. 1/9): CB Buster Skrine (concussion) is out while CB Jaylon Johnson (shoulder) is questionable after practicing on a limited basis all week.
With Johnson back, he will resume his place at right corner and matchup most with Thomas.
The Bears have a good defense, but they are better against the run than the pass.
- Bears Run Defense: 70.8 PFF grade (6th) | -22.5% DVOA (4th)
- Bears Pass Defense: 65.2 PFF grade (13th) | 3.4% DVOA (13th)
And they are without two starting corners in Jaylon Johnson (shoulder) and Buster Skrine (concussion). Not ideal.
Johnson has been out for three weeks. Skrine, a month. And neither one has managed even a limited practice while sidelined. So barring dramatic improvement this week, the Bears will be without them on Sunday.
And that makes them extremely vulnerable.
No. 1 cornerback Kyle Fuller is a strong player: He was an All-Pro selection in 2018 with a league-high seven interceptions and 21 passes defensed, and this year he has allowed just 6.0 yards per target with a 55.3% catch rate.
But he almost never shadows opposing No. 1 receivers. Over the past three years, in only one game have the Bears had him follow a receiver across the field — last week against Davante Adams and the Packers.
But the Packers have pretty much only Adams at wide receiver, whereas the Saints have both Thomas and Sanders.
Maybe the Bears will have Fuller shadow Thomas, but almost everything we’ve seen since 2018 suggests they’ll play him at his regular left corner spot, where he’ll line up most against Sanders.
And that means Thomas and Harris will have A-plus matchups on the other side and in the slot against backups Kindle Vildor and Duke Shelley.
Vildor is a fifth-round rookie with a 49.8 PFF coverage grade and three games of starting experience in the NFL. Shelley is the character in a bad Victorian novel.
They are both exploitable.
Bears Wide Receivers
UPDATE (Sat. 1/9): WR Darnell Mooney (ankle) is technically questionable, but he hasn’t practiced all week. I’m tentatively projecting him out.
Over the past two years, Allen Robinson is No. 2 in the league with 305 targets and No. 4 with 200 receptions and 2,397 yards receiving.
It feels as if Robinson has the worst quarterback luck of all time …
In case you ever feel sorry for yourself, here's a list of Allen Robinson's No. 1 QBs since his sophomore breakout at Penn State.
– 2012: Matt McGloin
– 2013: Christian Hackenburg
– 2014-16: Blake Bortles
– 2017: Torn ACL
– 2018-19: Mitchell Trubisky
– 2020: Nick Foles (so far)
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) November 2, 2020
… but with his sheer target volume, he can overcome a lot.
But after Robinson, the Bears might be thin at receiver this weekend.
No. 2 receiver and surprise breakout rookie Darnell Mooney (ankle) suffered an injury in the fourth quarter last week after hitting career highs with 13 targets, 11 receptions and 93 yards receiving against the Packers.
If Mooney is out, the Bears will use backup Javon Wims opposite Robinson on the perimeter, and he leaves a lot to be desired. For his career, he has 4.8 yards per target and a 50% catch rate.
In the slot, Anthony Miller is an underwhelming presence. After two potential-filled seasons in 2018-19, Miller seemed poise to break out in his third season, but instead he has regressed.
- 2018-19 (31 games): 7.8 yards per target | 5.5 targets per game
- 2020 (16 games): 6.4 yards per target | 4.8 targets per game
Over the past month, Miller has lost much of his middle-of-the-field work to rookie tight end Cole Kmet.
- Cole Kmet (4 games): 15-112-0, 23 targets | 18% target share | 91% snap rate
- Anthony Miller (4 games): 7-52-0, 8 targets | 6% target share | 44% snap rate
If Mooney in fact misses this weekend, perhaps we’ll see a reemergence from Miller, but that seems unlikely.
UPDATE (Sat. 1/9): CB Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (COVID-19) has been activated from the reserve list and will play this weekend. No. 4 CB Patrick Robinson (hamstring, IR) is also tentatively expected to play.
The Saints go back and forth with how they use No. 1 cornerback Marshon Lattimore. Sometimes, they put him at right corner. Other times, they use him in shadow coverage.
For the past three weeks, he has shadowed, so I expect he’ll man up Allen Robinson this week.
Lattimore is something of a conundrum, as is the entire Saints pass defense. The Saints are No. 3 with a -14.7% pass-defense DVOA, but they have allowed a middle-of-the-road 2,689 yards to opposing wide receivers, and they are No. 19 with a 58.4 PFF coverage grade.
What’s going on here?
The fact is that the Saints are good at rushing the passer. They are No. 3 with an 8.5% adjusted sack rate and No. 4 with a 25.6% pressure rate. But they are inconsistent when it comes to defending passes that are thrown, and the posterchild for that inconsistency is Lattimore.
In 2017, Lattimore was the Defensive Rookie of the Year and looked like a surefire future All-Pro with zero touchdowns allowed and five interceptions, but in 2018 he regressed to 10.0 yards per target as quarterbacks learned to exploit his overaggressive and tendency to jump routes.
And since then he has been a veritable mixed-bag defender. In some games, he is entirely locked in and playing as well as any corner in the league. In other games, he gives up 120-plus yards and a touchdown and seems totally lost.
His PFF coverage grades tell the story of his career.
- 2017: 87.9
- 2018: 75.8
- 2019: 65.7
- 2020: 53.7
Over the past two years, he has allowed 8.1 yards per target and a 10:3 TD:INT ratio.
Anecdotally, he seems to get up for big games, but it’s impossible to know which version of Lattimore will show up in his matchup with Robinson.
Opposite Lattimore is Janoris Jenkins, a steady veteran who joined the team near the end of last year. In his 16 total games with the Saints, Jenkins has allowed 7.3 yards per target.
The best starting corner for the Saints is probably Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. You know, the guy who got sucker punched IN THE HELMET by Wims in Week 8.
What the hell is Javon Wims thinking here with a punch to the head?pic.twitter.com/bEWViPgjQ7
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) November 1, 2020
Gardner-Johnson (COVID-19) is technically on the reserve list, but he’s expected to be activated in time for the game. This year, he has held receivers in his coverage to 5.7 yards per target.
If Gardner-Johnson can’t go, veteran Patrick Robinson (hamstring, IR) will probably take his place in the slot. Robinson has been out for the past month, but he returned to practice last week and is likely to return to action this weekend.
Wide Receiver Upgrades & Downgrades
- Michael Thomas: Small downgrade
- Emmanuel Sanders: Moderate downgrade
- Deonte Harris: Large upgrade
- Allen Robinson: No change
- Anthony Miller: Moderate downgrade
- Javon Wims: No change
Saints & Bears WR/CB Injuries
- Saints WR Michael Thomas (ankle, IR) & Deonte Harris (neck, IR) are projected IN.
- Saints WRs Tre’Quan Smith (ankle, IR) is projected OUT.
- Bears WR Darnell Mooney (ankle) is tentatively projected OUT.
- Saints CBs Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (COVID-19) & Patrick Robinson (hamstring, IR) are respectively IN & projected IN.
- Bears CB Jaylon Johnson (shoulder) is tentatively projected IN.
- Bears CB Buster Skrine (concussion) is OUT.
Bears-Saints WR/CB Matrix
Pos = left, right or slot WR or CB
Projected shadow matchups are CAPITALIZED
WR Exp = Wide Receiver Expectation: I rank from 3 to -3 how much I think we should adjust expectations for wide receivers based on matchups. 3: Large upgrade. 2: Medium upgrade. 1: Small upgrade. 0: No change. -1: Small downgrade. -2: Medium downgrade. -3: Large downgrade.
Thanks to Scott Barrett for providing me with some of PFF’s historical data.
Matthew Freedman is 966-750-36 (56.3%) overall betting on the NFL. You can follow him in our free app.
The Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs, Freedman is commonly called the Oracle & the Labyrinthian.