The long ball will need to be Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald’s friend in Week 15 if he plans on having success against Cleveland Browns standout corner Joe Haden.
Haden got burned two Thursdays ago on a late pass to Antonio Brown, who turned it up field for a 79-yard touchdown to help win the game for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Prior to that catch, Haden had limited receivers to two catches for 21 yards on two targets.
A week earlier, Haden was targeted four times against Baltimore and allowed no catches. In Week 12, Cincinnati’s A.J. Green caught three balls for 110 yards, Haden giving up a long of 51 to Green during the final minute of the game. Green also had gains of 35 and 24 yards against the Browns.
So the moral of the story: You better hope Fitzgerald breaks a big one to be a decent producer for you in fantasy football.
Outside of the 51-yarder to Green and the 79-yarder to Brown, Haden had not given up a pass longer than 41 yards this season, according to Pro Football Focus. Green was also on the receiving end of that play, his only catch of their Week 1 game that went for one of the three scores Haden’s allowed this season.
As for consistent production, receivers have pretty much just been able to get long-ball bulk over the last five weeks. Haden gave up 79 of his 94 yards on the catch to Brown last week. He gave up no yards in Week 13. He gave up 125 yards in Week 12 against Cincinnati with the late 51-yard play and another 35-yard catch. He allowed 73 yards against Jacksonville with a long of 28 and 48 yards against St. Louis with a long of 24. In that time, Haden’s been targeted 31 times and given up 17 catches.
Fitzgerald’s 6-3 frame and ability to go up and grab any ball certainly puts him in the category to be able to get a long ball from QB John Skelton. And having Skelton, who’s willing to push the ball down field more than Kevin Kolb, will be a benefit for Fitzgerald today. But the numbers do say that Fitzgerald’s likely success will come from a long ball as opposed to consistent production.
The Browns do have the second-ranked pass defense thanks to being thrown on a league-low 27.6 times per game thanks to their 31st-ranked rush defense (150.9 yards per game). So this could be a game where Beanie Wells gets going again.
You would hope the run game would open up room for Fitzgerald, but Haden knows he is taking on one of the game’s best for the first time in the NFL, and for the most part of 60 minutes per game this season he has not backed down from his responsibilities.
Fitzgerald is coming off a 7-for-149-1 TD game with a long of 53 in there against the 49ers. His other longs of the season include 73, 47, 66, 42 and 41. You have to lower your expectations against Haden, but you can’t sit a receiver like Fitzgerald.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter