In a week that saw early injury alter the outcomes of several games, the JABO blog still had a pretty solid day in picking the top five fantasy players in each category. Of course, we also miffed on a bunch of predictions, including the one involving Arian Foster, who I said would have a good dose of pass opportunities, but never foresaw the Titans rolling over the way they did on the ground game. Foster was a beast, and admittedly, I'm feeling a little sheepish (baaa!) I said this past week I thought DeMarco Murray looked like a rising star that was ready to break one and he wasted no time against the Rams in showing what he could do by posting 253 rushing yards, a Cowboy record and ninth best single game tally in league history. Those who drafted Felix Jones just witnessed his value get cut in half.
BALTIMORE @ JACKSONVILLE
Admittedly, when I wrote the previews last week I placed Baltimore right up there among the top defenses of the week. And they played well. But prior to Monday’s game, I told a friend of mine that I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jacksonville not only cover, but win the game. Joe Flacco just hasn’t been getting it done, and was an abysmal 7-for-17 in the first half. He finished 21-for-38 in the game, but if I’m the Ravens, I have to be worried that Flacco’s first game of the season might have been his best. They took apart an unprepared Steelers defense in Week 1 and looked as formidable as any team in the league. Since them, Flacco has thrown three touchdowns against a depleted St. Louis defense, and has had zero touchdowns against both the Jets and Houston. He managed one late against Jacksonville, but the game was just about out of reach at 9-0. This blogger pointed out Ray Rice’s inefficiency this year on grass, and he delivered 3.5 yards per carry Monday night on the Everbank Stadium surface. The Jacksonville defense has now played six straight quarters of solid football. They shut out the Steelers in the second half and kept the Ravens scoreless almost the entire game. If Blaine Gabbert can develop into a more effective passer such as to complete a few more big plays a game, the Jaguars have enough rushing offense to pose a real threat to the AFC South.
INDIANAPOLIS @ NEW ORLEANS
What a difference one play makes. If Curtis Painter completes his first pass to Pierre Garçon, the Colts lead 7-0, and the game might have taken a different path. Instead, a miscue by offensive linemen Joe Reitz, Center Jeff Saturday and Painter led to a botched snap, and Drew Brees wasted no time taking the Saints down and delivering Marques Colston the first of his two touchdown grabs. Three notes in this game – still impressed by Curtis Painter. He’s picked up the Colts offense in a few weeks, made some incredibly tough throws, and sans that first pass which maybe could have been thrown a little deeper, looks in command of this offense. He still has things to learn, but Painter looks like he’s got a future as an NFL starter. When you consider he has little protection up front, had his starting runner Joseph Addai for just one series, and saw himself leading a team down 21-0 at the start of the second quarter, you can't make too many fair observations. Rookie Delone Carter, besides a early fumble, turned in a respectable performance. Second note is that the Saints trust Darren Sproles a lot more than San Diego did. He was second in carries to Mark Ingram with 12, had six receptions and two touchdowns. For his size, Sproles was effective running the football, didn’t go down after one or two hits and appears to be getting better every week. Third, the Indianapolis secondary is pretty bad. Veteran Antoine Bethea completely missed Pierre Thomas on an early screen play and ended up grabbing his facemask. Cornerback Kevin Thomas was absolutely schooled by Lance Moore on an out route, where Moore juked while catching the ball, and simply ran by him. Simple mistakes like these made smaller gains larger ones, and kept the Saints momentum rolling forward in the first half. The Saints punted once all game, and that was on their final drive of the fourth quarter.
GREEN BAY @ MINNESOTA
Ninety-eight yards stood between Christian Ponder and a legendary moment. With 5:26 left in the fourth quarter, the Vikings trailed by just six, and had the ball on their own two yard line. However, they could only move the ball 34 yards, and after being forced to punt, James Starks went to work sealing the game. Perhaps the biggest surprise wasn’t that Adrian Peterson got so many carries with Ponder making his first start, but that he could run up 175 yards on a top five Packers unit that was yielding 75.8 yards per game. The Vikings line allowed a couple of sacks, but for the most part protected Ponder, and though his numbers weren’t pretty, he played well and provided an offensive spark. It’s even more damning evidence against Donovan McNabb that this team was one big play away from beating the NFL's best team this deep into the fourth quarter.
PITTSBURGH @ ARIZONA
Some might have asked why this blog would rank Ben Roethlisberger so high and not have done so for Rashard Mendenhall, particularly after Mendenhall had his best rushing game of the season. Easy, the Steelers offensive line isn’t healthy. Maurkice Pouncey played on Sunday, but is battling an elbow issue. The Steelers lost tackle Jonathan Scott and Willie Colon. These players weren’t strong as it was. Now second year man Chris Scott and Max Starks are handling Roethlisberger’s blind side and rookie Marcus Gilbert is playing right tackle. The big difference for the Steelers is the unmatched speed of Mike Wallace. Rarely in the league, if ever, has this kind of speed been matched with such great hands. He recorded his sixth straight game with a catch over 40 yards. He slightly tweaked his hamstring, so he’ll be limited in practice this week, and the Steelers lost Hines Ward to an ankle injury. The Cardinals may have lost Beanie Wells for the next game with a sprained knee, and as has been the fear for Wells’ owners, the injury bug has struck Wells again. Questions are likely to arise again as to whether he can carry a team for an entire season.
ST. LOUIS @ DALLAS
There wasn’t much doubt that Dallas would take this game, particularly after getting the news A.J. Feeley would be under center. Ironically, Feeley’s only interception came on an attempt to the Rams newest member, WR Brandon Lloyd. Lloyd appeared to cut short a route and Feeley didn’t notice in time and fired one right to CB Michael Jenkins. Tony Romo wasn’t pretty, but he didn’t need to be as DeMarco Murray launched himself to player-of-the-week status with a 253-yard rushing performance that started on his first carry and didn’t stop until 60 minutes later. If you heard his interview Monday on Jim Rome, you also witnessed a star player in the post game as well. Murray was nothing but class, and should give a few lessons to Terrell Owens, DeSean Jackson, Santonio Holmes and many others. Jason Witten caught his third touchdown in as many games. The lone highlight for St. Louis was Steven Jackson, who finally looked healthy on his 40 yard TD scamper.
KANSAS CITY @ OAKLAND
This game changed the moment Darren McFadden left the game. The loss of Jason Campbell was crushing enough (and perhaps surprising to the Raider faithful how much it mattered), but the air left the Raiders tires the moment number 20 left the field. It’s hard to make a case for why Kyle Boller is on an NFL roster right now. He was so ineffective that he posted one of the lowest ratings I’ve ever seen for a game, that of 22.3. His long balls were short, his short balls weren’t thrown hard enough. It was as if Boller has never left the college speed of the game, except that he’s not a youngster. Boller is 30 years old. He’s way to experienced to still look like a deer in headlights facing a team like the Chiefs in a divison matchup. Matt Cassel looks like he’s returned to health as he threw the ball better than he had in awhile, but he still ended up with two interceptions.
WASHINGTON @ CAROLINA
As if the Redskins weren’t fighting the injury bug enough, they added Tim Hightower to their IR candidates, Santana Moss to the 'out' list for several weeks, and London Fletcher with a hamstring pull to the questionable list. Everyone’s favorite coach Mike Shanahan ran Ryan Torain all of two times for negative five yards. Roy Helu fared only marginally better. John Beck seemed to do his best work in the no-huddle, but he rarely got help from his receivers, who seemed to drop everything they could. Cam Newton continues to prove that with him under center Steve Smith will continue to put up sick numbers. And by the way, Newton has been a Top Five quarterback five of seven weeks.
DENVER @ MIAMI
So what if Tim Tebow’s release takes more time to wind up than an ancient Roman catapult, when it came to crunch time, and that was with about 5:23 left, the Broncos QB delivered all that was necessary to send the Dolphins to 0-7. Up to that point, Tebow had completed just four passes, had managed only two drives of longer than five plays, had netted just 158 yards of total offense and had lost a fumble. All appeared lost. Was it divine intervention? The Broncos final two drives totaled 136 yards, and resulted in 15 points to send the game into overtime. One Matt Moore fumble later, the game was over. The Dolphins employed a no-huddle offense in an attempt to get more from their scoring unit, but it didn’t help. Daniel Thomas wasn’t completely healthy for this game, as he’s been nursing a sore hamstring.
CHICAGO @ TAMPA BAY (@ WEMBLEY STADIUM)
I never thought I’d say this, but I’m now buying what Matt Forte is selling. If you’re a defensive coordinator, and you’re defending the Bears, who are you worried about besides Forte? Maybe Devin Hester or Johnny Knox, and even that’s a maybe. So even though coordinators have been planning for and trying to stop Forte as top priority to beating the Bears he is still putting up offense in droves. Forte had 25 carries for 145 yards and a touchdown, a blueprint for success for any Bears win. He added two catches for 38 yards. The Buccaneers' biggest concern, besides the fact Chicago ran all over them, is that Josh Freeman continues to turn the ball over. Freeman added four interceptions to his tally, giving him 10 for the year in just seven games. Some might make the case that he lost Earnest Graham in the first quarter, and Tampa Bay’s ability to run the football was severely compromised by Kregg Lumpkin. Lumpkin was picked up in 2008 by Green Bay as an undrafted free agent out of Georgia, mostly due to his injury history. He had a terrific pre-season in 2008, leading the Packers with 38 carries for 153 yards and touchdown, but by October he was out for the season with a hamstring injury. Lumpkin now is the only running back on Tampa Bay’s roster besides injured LeGarrette Blount.
SAN DIEGO @ NEW YORK JETS
I wrote earlier this week how Philip Rivers had handled the football this year like it had a case of herpes and he didn’t want it anywhere near he or his team. Well, Rivers continued his turnover-laden ways with two more interceptions, both in the second half, sealing the Chargers doom. Vincent Jackson never got off of Darrelle Revis Island, and the San Diego running game was surprisingly ineffective, managing just 96 total yards on the ground. Antonio Gates saw the field for the first time in four weeks and had plenty of action; seven targets, five catches, 50 yards and a touchdown. We can all welcome Plaxico Burress back to the league. Three touchdown passes for the day, and suddenly he is relevant again. It certainly didn’t hurt that Shonn Greene contributed his first 100-yard game by a Jets runner this year. For many fantasy owners, seven weeks was too long to wait.
HOUSTON @ TENNESSEE
As I mentioned above, I find it hard to believe anyone saw coming what Arian Foster did to the Titans defense in their own stadium. Foster outgained the entire Tennessee offense. Problem for Tennessee is it didn’t stop with Foster. Ben Tate added 100 yards of his own on just 15 carries. Meanwhile, the Titan offense since losing Kenny Britt seems to have sunk back. In their three wins the Titans offense averaged over 24 points per game. In their losses, and they’re coming off two straight, they’ve averaged just 12. Damian Williams has done his best to step up, but no Tennessee receiver has had more than six receptions and none has surpassed 100 yards. Jared Cook was the closest with two receptions for 93 yards against Cleveland.
ATLANTA @ DETROIT
With all of the talk coming after the game, a lot of people have forgotten the fact that Matty Ryan got up from his injury; Matthew Stafford didn't. Ironically enough, Detroit got decent performances from fill-in runners Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams, both of whom averaged better than 4.9 yards per touch. Why there wasn’t more running from Detroit only Jim Schwartz and company knows. Roddy White got his red zone target and made the most of it with a fingertip grab that was a thing of beauty. Other than that, he was once again a victim of efficient running by Michael Turner and another 6.4 yards per attempt average by Matt Ryan, who ended up playing through a sprained ankle. Don’t look now but Detroit has lost two straight and could be in real trouble if Stafford can’t go next week against a rejuvenated Broncos team.
SEATTLE @ CLEVELAND
Marshawn Lynch went down and with him went the Seattle offense. How Pete Carroll still holds an NFL coaching job is beyond me. This is the guy that left the USC program in shambles and not a moment too soon, and his first act as new coach of the Seattle Seahawks was to trade for Charlie Whitehurst. Well Whitehurst got the start on Sunday and was able to post 12 completions on 30 attempts for 97 yards. His quarterback rating of 35 was bad until you compare it to Kyle Boller’s. However his 3.2 yards per attempt average almost makes them pray they had Kyle Boller. I mean, did anyone think Seattle would actually be praying for Tarvaris Jackson to return? Before being hurt, Jackson had posted his two best QB ratings of 96.3 and 86.6 against Atlanta and New York respectively, and the offense seemed to be finding some rhythm. Now they’re back to having numbers like this – Leon Washington's four catches were best for the team for Week 7, though Sidney Rice led in yardage with 38. Washington also led in rushing with seven attempts for 39 yards. Defensively, Seattle did its job, blocking two kicks and ranking in the top five for the week. Montario Hardesty got his first start and managed just 95 yards on 33 carries. Hard to believe a Cleveland back could get 33 carries in this game which totaled nine points while Seattle’s back Washington got all of seven. At least we know Phil Dawson is tough. He kicked two 50-plus yard field goals with a thigh bruise that saw him limping after the game. You go Phil!