Monday, September 12, 2011

THE MONDAY MORNING AFTER

Do you know this man?  It's Ben Tate, and you better.

COLTS/TEXANS
The Colts may be in trouble, and it’s not necessarily just Kerry Collins that they need to worry about.  Certainly a 16/31/197/1/0 performance isn’t awe-inspiring but the fact that Houston averaged 4.1 yards per carry, and nine yards per pass is not something that bodes well for Indy.  Though pass defenses have been riddled for more yardage than ever in the last few years, no defense of the past decade has allowed that many yards-per-attempt, the worst being the 2008 Lions secondary which conceded 8.8 YPA.  At this point Reggie Wayne’s value appears pretty safe, but all bets are off for just about anyone else Indianapolis, including Dallas Clark.  Assuming Collins can improve to his career number of a 56% completion rate, assuming three more completions per game, there’s not a lot of chaff to go around, particularly if Austin Collie’s health improves.  Ben Tate proved he’s the real deal, so Arian Foster might reconsider tweeting MRI results that are anything but positive.  If Derrick Ward was considered Foster’s backup going into this Sunday, one of my routinely late round picks Tate just took the job from him.  The carries breakdown was 22/12 in Tate’s favor, and he delivered nearly five yards per carry.


PITTSBURGH/BALTIMORE
It’s one game, but it’s clear that Bryant McKinnie may have been one of the most crucial off-season acquisitions for the Baltimore Ravens.  Line play is crucial in any game, but particularly in the AFC North, the ground and pound division.  McKinnie simply man-handled James Harrison, who didn’t show up until late in the fourth quarter with his first QB hit.  Harrison finished with nine tackles and a knee bruise, but put absolutely no pressure on the QB.  The Steelers have ignored their lines too long, and I’m not sure what Peter King saw that made him so gaga about Aaron Smith this year.  The underrated Smith had all of one tackle and seemed to make no difference on a front three that was constantly pushed around.  Larry Foote looked overmatched and undersized every time he found himself in a position to make a tackle.  Both Harrison and Lamar Woodley signed major contracts prior to the season totaling a possible $111.5 million, and the Steelers just locked up Troy Polamalu for over $30 million; costly contracts for a defense that just got pushed around by their key AFC North rival.  Polamalu was actually outrun by TE Ed Dickson on post route for a TD.  Now, I’m not one to say panic after one week, as no team wants to be playing their best football right now, but there’s no doubt in my mind the Steelers need the two-a-days reinstated.  This was a team simply not as ready as the Ravens.  Lastly, Ben Roethlisberger proves he’s still not a great fantasy quarterback to own, though no one should expect five turnovers regularly.  Today, he was sloppy and inefficient, as was the Steelers play-calling.  Roethlisberger may like the offense that made him have one of the highest YPA averages in the league at over eight yards per, but it’s clear  Pittsburgh doesn’t yet have a competent enough possession receiver to replace the quickly aging Hines Ward.  While Mike Wallace is going to be the leading receiver on this team, he’s a big play threat, not chain-mover.  Someone is going to have to step up, and based on Antonio Brown’s nine targets, you’d think it’d be him.  But only two catches makes me believe if Sanders can heal that foot he’ll become Ward’s heir apparent for possession reasons.  For the Ravens, Lee Evans is still Lee Evans.  He’ll be just as useless here as he was in Buffalo.


DETROIT/TAMPA BAY
Matthew Stafford is the real deal.  He may be the best value QB for his draft position this year if he can continue this pace.  Problem is, he’s a health nightmare.  By the third quarter Stafford had twisted his own knee/ankle trying to avoid a sack and was hobbled the rest of the game.  Health aside, he’s got the ability to see the field well, can put mustard on the ball or put touch on it, and has enough support from his line to hold a pretty tough Tampa Bay defense from registering a single sack.  Jahvid Best showed he may be more of a strong PPR play, as 3.4 yards per carry does not inspire, though it’s hardly as disappointing as LeGarrette Blount’s five carries for 15 yards. Tampa Bay managed only 16 carries, and they were in the lead until late in the second quarter.  The Buccaneers attempted just six second half carries, with only one by Blount.  Not sure what Raheem Morris’ game plan was going into this game, but my gut feeling is Josh Freeman is not a QB you make the decisive player in any game.  He’s a solid game manager who can make some plays with his athletic ability, but against a Detroit unit that yielded 4.5 yards per carry, making them ninth worst in the league last year, you have to believe 16 carries was not the way to go, even with Detroit’s secondary issues.


PHILADELPHIA/ST. LOUIS
Steven Jackson is a great runner….when he can actually run.  After breaking a 47-yard TD charge in the first quarter, Jackson wasn’t heard from again, having strained his quad.  Who knows how long this puts him on the bench, but Cadillac Williams sure showed he’s ready to fill in if necessary.  You have to give Jackson credit for always 100 percent rushing effort, but you almost wish he’d take a little bit off the gas to spare his health.  He’s a guy I’ll never invest a high draft pick in for the injury factor alone.  DeSean Jackson is still as dangerous as ever, and also as annoying as ever.  Because of his natural athletic ability, he’ll always make his share of big plays, but he also will drop his share as well, as he did today.  Sam Bradford handled the Philadelphia pressure well all things considered.  He has very little help outside, leaving him to dump off short completions to the likes of Williams.  Williams was targeted 10 times before Bradford left after striking a finger on a helmet, which makes PPR owners salivate at the idea of Jackson’s return.  At least Bradford’s X-rays were negative.  Amendola left with what looked like a broken arm based on the way he was holding his wrist, but there’s been no report on him as of this writing.  He’s the only sure-handed guy we’ve seen on this team and losing him would be a bigger loss than people might think.  Don’t expect LeSean McCoy to see so many Mack-Truck-sized holes in the future like he did today.  Philly travels to Atlanta for Michael Vick’s homecoming week and then hosts the Giants in Week 3.  As for Vick, well, you aren’t surprised are you? 


CAROLINA/ARIZONA
Pick up Cam Newton right away.  I drafted him in one league on a flier and can’t believe how fortunate I am.  Arizona might not have the best secondary in the world, but Newton’s second touchdown pass to Steve Smith was the stuff that shows his talent.  If you’ve got De’Angelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart, you have to welcome Newton’s ability to throw the ball downfield.  However, it might mean less carries between the two of them.  It meant only 19 attempts Sunday, 12 of which fell to Williams.  With Newton showing what he did, Brandon LaFell becomes a relevant WR2, and should be considered in deeper leagues.  Kevin Kolb was incredibly efficient, and not just to Larry Fitzgerald, who saw seven balls thrown his way.  While the press foam at Cam Newton’s debut, Early Doucet’s three receptions for 103 yards and a score should open some eyes.  I wouldn’t anoint Doucet to WR2 status yet, but he’s a guy to put on watch status.  He was a supposed to add some receiver depth to Arizona after he was taken in the third round in 2008.  It was a slow learning curve until the 2009 post-season where he grabbed 14 balls in two games and scored twice.  It seemed to be an harbinger of good things to come, but 2010 saw injuries mount and after sport hernia surgery, he was lost for the year with a hip injury in December.  Keep an eye on the targets as Andre Roberts is still the starter opposite Fitzgerald for now.  Beanie Wells managed 90 yards and a touchdown and caught all four passes thrown to him meaning Ryan Williams’ injury may be the thing that keeps Wells from being declared a bust after all.



ATLANTA/CHICAGO        
Bet you that Matt Ryan wishes he was in the end zone when he put the ball to the ground to regain his balance and instead lost it to the Bears for a defensive score.  The same play haunted Calvin Johnson and a few others last year after a reception in the end zone and the refs simply ruled those incomplete.  No such luck for Ryan.  For all the Bears defense did right on Sunday, they have to be disturbed by the fact it took Michael Turner just 10 carries to reach 100 yards.  The difference was that the Falcons had no ability to finish drives, finishing 0-for-2 in the red zone.  Again, with the rushing talent Atlanta has, why Matt Ryan is attempting nearly 50 passes is beyond me?  Julio Jones’ five receptions on six targets for 71 yards solidifies him as an improvement over Michael Jenkins, but few expected Tony Gonzalez to lead all receivers with 72 yards.   Matt Forte continues to be a PPR beast, though as a Bears fan I’d be concerned at the loss of Roy Williams to injury when Forte leads all receivers.  The numbers don’t support such a lopsided outcome, but a few crucial Falcons’ turnovers at key times really made the difference here.


SEATTLE/SAN FRANCISCO
The battle of the quarterback-less teams was just that, whereas Ted Ginn, Jr. starred by returning both a kickoff and punt for a score.  Special teams always are a difference maker in the NFL, whether it’s simply the field position difference or points, but you can bet that any team that gets two touchdowns from its Special Teams units is not going to lose many ball games.  However, if neither Alex Smith or Tarvaris Jackson improves as true field threats, I fear neither team’s running game with be worth much going forward.  Frank Gore managed 59 yards or 2.9 per carry, while his counter-part Marshawn Lynch gained 33 yards on 13 carries.  Jackson threw the ball better than Smith, who passed for a meager 124 yards on 15-of-20 completions.  But Jackson’s three turnovers are just too many for a pro-level quarterback to heap on his defense, even if they are facing an anemic 49ers’ offense.


MINNESOTA/SAN DIEGO
Sadly, it’s time to say it like it is for Donovan McNabb.  It’s time to join Brett Favre in retirement.  While McNabb still has good mobility for his 34 years, he posted a 7-for-15 line, and a pathetic 2.6 per attempt average.  Losing Sidney Rice leaves the young and potent Percy Harvin to face double-teams, all the while having to return kicks for the team as well.  There’s just not enough athletes on this team in the receiving game to assist the running game.  The Vikings defense will keep the team in a lot of games, as well as Adrian Peterson’s legs.  But it won’t be long until either Christian Ponder or Joe Webb will find themselves using playing time to develop for next year.  In the meantime, Mike Tolbert has put Ryan Mathews owners on watch.  Mathews and Tolbert split carries, with Mathews doing a better job on the ground.  However, whereas it was expected Mathews would catch more balls out of the backfield, Philip Rivers relied on the Tolbert for nine receptions, 58 yards and two scores through the air.  San Diego still has what appears to be a Special Teams nightmare on their hands, but they’ve got too many offensive weapons to be kept in check for four quarters.



CINCINNATI/CLEVELAND
Bruce Gradkowski seems to be the modern day Frank Reich, salvaging another victory with a late touchdown pass to a very open A.J. Green.  However, he’s proven over time he’s not really meant to be a starting quarterback.  Andy Dalton didn’t look good, but he didn’t look putrid either. On the other hand, perhaps the loss of Eric Steinbach to the Browns’ offensive line is a bigger deal than was expected.  Peyton Hillis found limited running room, managing just 57 yards on 17 carries, though he added six receptions for 80 yards.  I expect we’ll be seeing more of Montario Hardesty soon if health allows.  Hillis is a tough physical runner a la the mold of old fullback Mike Alstott, but he just doesn’t have the big play speed to strike a lot of fear into defensive coordinators.   Cedric Benson shows that he still runs well against the Brownies.  In the seven games against Cleveland since Benson joined the Bengals, he’s played in five, managed 576 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns on 127 carries.  He’s in your starting lineup when facing Cleveland, period.  Colt McCoy’s numbers wreak of inexperience – 19/40/213/2/1.  The Browns couldn’t do much through the air or on the ground, and it just goes to show that even if you have a stud, Pro Bowl left tackle by the name of Joe Thomas, the loss of your blocking partner can cause some major issues in the interior of your line.



BUFFALO/KANSAS CITY
I’ll say it right now; Ryan Fitzpatrick is worth starting as a fantasy QB in most situations as long as Chan Gailey is running the offense.  The journeyman quarterback was originally on my list of Top Five QBs for the week, but I admit I lacked the courage to stick with that pick.  While he managed just 208 yards, he tossed 4 TDs, yielding an 8.3 YPA average. Roscoe Parrish owners will be disappointed at the arrival of TE Scott Chandler, who caught all five of his passes, two of them for touchdowns.  Maybe Matt Cassel has a bruised rib but that doesn’t explain Jamaal Charles’ lack of explosiveness Sunday, though he still managed 5.6 yards per carry for his 10 touches.  However, his five catches yielded just 9 yards, something that’s going to have to change if this team is to make any noise in the AFC West.


TENNESSEE/JACKSONVILLE
Does Jack Del Rio know something we all don’t about Luke McCown?  Well, McCown was efficient if not boring throwing for 175 yards on 17-for-24 throwing; his 7.3 YPA was just dangerous enough to allow Maurice Jones-Drew to garner 97 yards and a score rushing, though Jones-Drew didn’t catch a single pass.  Not only that, he wasn’t targeted once.  One has to wonder if MJD’s missing two games last year has Del Rio thinking he’d like to ride the little horse a bit less this year.  However, the bigger question mark from this game is Chris Johnson, who after holding out for a big contract, appeared like he was in off-season shape after carrying for 24 yards on nine carries.  Whether this was an offensive line issue or just a bad first game only time will tell, but the Titans, already expected to be a weaker team this year as they await Jake Locker’s arrival, certainly deserved better from veteran Matt Hasselbeck than his final toss for an interception that was nowhere close to Kenny Britt.   Off-season acquisition Barrett Ruud had a phenomenal game with 14 tackles.