Now that the fantasy playoffs are underway, every tackle, sack and interception counts. That's why Reading the Defense is here to recap what happened with some of the major IDP players who could help lead you to a fantasy championship. Let's get to it.
Frostee Rucker, DL, Arizona Cardinals: With the Cardinals suffering so many injuries on the defensive side of the ball, someone was going to have to step things up. Enter Rucker, who had his best game of the season with three tackles and a pair of sacks. Hopefully the former USC standout is getting healthy from the calf injury that hampered him earlier this season. With the Rams on tap on Thursday night, Rucker will need to get after the quarterback again in order to help Arizona keep its perch atop the NFC West.
Craig Robertson, LB, Cleveland Browns: Robertson stepped in for the injured Karlos Dansby (knee) and has played quite well over the past month. That still couldn't have prepared anyone for Robertson's monster day on Sunday against the Colts. The fourth-year linebacker racked up double-digit tackles for just the third time in his career along with scoring his first career touchdown while recovering his first fumble of 2014. He'll be hard-pressed to continue this string versus the Bengals in Week 15, however he did grab his sole interception of the season when the two teams met in Week 10.
Justin Gilbert, DB, Cleveland Browns: It was a good day for Browns IDP options, including Gilbert who picked up his first career interception and touchdown on the same play. Gilbert has been fighting to move up the depth chart after being stuck behind Buster Skrine all season. Cleveland has high hopes for the young corner in the future, but an injury to K'Waun Williams could speed up the timeline for Gilbert to see snaps as the nickel corner for the remainder of the regular season and fantasy playoffs.
Marcell Dareus, DL, Buffalo Bills: On paper, the matchup against the Broncos didn't look like it would be a good one. But considering how effective the Bills defense was at shutting down Peyton Manning and company, you would have hoped that Dareus would have provided a little more than just three tackles. Oh well. At this point, the only bright spot remaining on the schedule comes in Week 16 against the Oakland Raiders. Either you look for another option, or you gut it out with Dareus and hope for the best.
Julius Peppers, LB, Green Bay Packers: Peppers looked like he had found the fountain of youth in the early part of the season, but over the past couple of weeks the veteran hasn't offered much. Like many of his Packers defensive teammates, Peppers wasn't a factor in the second half of the win over the Atlanta Falcons. Fantasy managers can't expect Peppers to be the sack master that he was earlier in his career, but the current four-game sack drought isn't what you were in for either.
Earl Thomas, DB, Seattle Seahawks: Statistically it hasn't been a great season for Thomas, but there was hope that one of the leading Legionnaires of Boom had turned a corner after a big Week 11. Yet even on a day when the defense as a whole stood strong against the Philadelphia Eagles offense, Thomas didn't provide much. His three fantasy points were bolstered by a fumble recovery but his single tackle didn't provide anything for fantasy enthusiasts to get excited about.
» The season is over for Vontaze Burfict. The Bengals placed the linebacker on season-ending injured reserve after his recovery from knee surgery took longer than anticipated. It was a frustrating year for the third-year linebacker who was limited to just five games in 2014 after having back-to-back big seasons. Vincent Rey will continue to play in Burfict's spot, but Rey hasn't had anywhere near the production.
» Some good news for the Buccaneers defense about defensive lineman Gerald McCoy. The injury that was feared to be a dislocated kneecap has turned out to be just a bruise. Even after suffering the injury on Sunday, McCoy returned to the field. That would seem to bode well for his status in Week 15. McCoy has been a top 25 fantasy defensive lineman thanks to his 8.5 sacks. A matchup this week against the Panthers could give him a chance for more fantasy production.
» Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson hopes to be back in action after missing two games with turf toe. Wilkerson will try to practice this week with a special shoe to protect his injured foot. The fourth-year player has been one of the bright spots for the Jets and fantasy enthusiasts alike. His return would be a welcome sight.
» Browns safety Tashaun Gipson isn't likely to play Sunday against the Bengals because of a knee injury he sustained in Week 13 against the Falcons. However Gipson is optimistic that he can return by Week 16. It's certainly not a guaranteed, but for the NFL's leader in interceptions, it's worth waiting and hoping that Gipson can get back on the field.