Tuesday, October 4, 2011

WEEK 4 T&R (Thoughts and Revelations)

Call me old-fashioned, but in this year that’s being dubbed the ‘Year of the Quarterback,’ I’m feeling a bit of nostalgia for the great running back.  I may not be the only one after this week where it seemed some coaches forgot that among their star-studded aerial cast they employ a top runner, meant for running out the clock when you’re holding giant leads.  Other teams continue to shock us, and after a quarter of the season, I have a feeling we’re not done being surprised.

Just goes to show that in this case you can’t judge a book by its first few pages.  Curtis Painter wasn’t a savior, but he wasn’t a hindrance.  There were plays he and his receivers weren’t on the same page.  There were moments he read the defense perfectly and found the open receiver.  His 13-of-30 line is ugly until you read the 281 yards and two scoring plays over 50 yards to Pierre Garcon.  Garcon has been Painter’s favorite target so far, and vaulted himself to the top fantasy receiver in Week 4 in standard scoring leagues.  Even though Garcon drops far too many passes, he has become fantasy relevant in this offense again.  The biggest problem for the Colts are injuries, and perhaps this defense, predicated on speed not size, is just not able to function in today’s NFL.  It seems every year the Colts injury list is one of the largest.  Even with the perennially injured Bob Sanders no longer on their list, the Colts still seem to amass a list that each year that few equal.  Last night they added Eric Foster to that list, along with OL Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana.  Ryan Diem was already inactive, Ernie Sims was out, and Dwight Freeney and Antoine Bethea are both fighting injuries. 

For Tampa Bay, Preston Parker has become fantasy relevant, as he leads the Bucs with 223 yards on 16 receptions and added his a score last night.  Arrelious Benn might have had one too if he hadn't stepped out of bounds.  That kind of mistake is a game-killer, and Benn is fortunate that Tampa Bay pulled that one out because lately sportswriters have been just dying for some fresh meat to scapegoat (see Romo, Tony).  Josh Freeman threw his first pre-fourth quarter  touchdown, and the Bucs, though not pretty, again find a way to play four quarters of football and add a victory.

Wow, UGGGG-LY.  What happened to the vaunted offensive lines these two teams were supposed to have, with running games to match?  Both teams managed under three yards per carry; there was one offensive touchdown scored; there was combined offensive yardage totals of 417.  The Jets managed 150 of those.   There were 16 penalties for 115 yards, a quarter of the total yards.  Both Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez looked woefully lost amid of sea of swarming defenses.  If this was the test of Mark Sanchez being handed the keys and told to drive, the end result was a five car pileup.  Baltimore gets a week to think about things.  The Jets have to travel to Gillette stadium to face their division rival.  Well, at least Sanchez gets to face the worst defense in the league after facing one of the best.  There's some consolation there right?  Right?

Bad break that the 'Fins lost Chad Henne right as the game started.  Matt Moore didn't play badly, but he couldn't get the Dolphins in the end zone and tossed a costly fourth quarter interception.  The last weekend injury report I saw had Thomas as questionable, but apparently Daniel Thomas went from Questionable to Out over the weekend, doing no favors to the Miami offense on this one.  Those of you who panicked at the news Ryan Mathews was going to see more touches and sold Mike Tolbert were rewarded by Tolbert scoring the only Chargers' rushing TD of the game.  Imagine the game Vincent Jackson could have had if healthy, and Philip Rivers numbers are probably a greater reflection of San Diego's beat up receivers, than Rivers himself, but I expected a better outing than what we got.

Last year I drafted Wes Welker as the third receiver off the board.  He was very good, but this is what I was thinking I'd get from him.  He's definitely back to 100 percent speed-wise, and that makes the nifty and shifty Welker virtually unstoppable.  The best you can do is limit his receptions and tackle him quickly.  However, the Raiders held Tom Brady under 300-yards and to only two touchdowns.  Bad news is the Raiders gave up 183 rushing yards to the likes of Steven Ridley and BenJarvus Green-Ellis.  Ridley got into the game after Danny Woodhead left with what has been diagnosed as a sprained ankle, and could have some good value going forward if Woodhead is unable to return.  The problem is that as with any Bill Belichick offense, his choice of weapon varies.  So Ridley might be worth grabbing, but choose the matchups wisely.

Jason Campbell played a very good game except for two costly mistakes, the biggest of which was his indecision in throwing the ball out of the end zone. Instead, his half-hearted toss landed right in the hands of Patrick Chung.  The Pats did a good job containing Darren McFadden, which wasn't shocking, but Darius Heyward-Bey catching four balls for 115 yards was.  The Raiders are quietly becoming a very good offense, and will stay so as long as the offensive line keeps Campbell upright.

No doubt the pick of the week for elimination pools, Aaron Rodgers was masterful in picking apart the Denver secondary while hardly using Jermichael Finley, much to the chagrin of his owners.  For the season, it's no surprise to see Greg Jennings in the Top Ten.  However, Eric Decker is now ranked sixth of all wide receivers in standard scoring leagues after adding another two scores in the second quarter.  Brandon Lloyd put up over 100 yards receiving, his first time doing so this season, but still failed to find the end zone.  Perhaps the most shocking performance of note was Willis McGahee, dropping 103 yards on Green Bay on only 15 carries. It was his first 100-yard game since 2009.  Knowshon Moreno may find himself once again relegated a few series per game and special situation duty if he doesn't get healthy soon.

I'll tell you who is happy Sidney Rice has returned to the field besides Tarvaris Jackson -- Mike Williams, that's who.  Williams, who had all of five catches the first three weeks, added three catches for 36 yards and his first touchdown of the year.  Jackson, who was eschewed for Donovan McNabb in Minnesota, tore apart the Atlanta defense for his best game as a pro.  He finished 25/38/319/3/2, using a hurry-up offense and completed 65.8 percent of his throws to the tune of an 8.4 yard per pass average.  Seattle's rush defense held Michael Turner to just 2.9 yards per carry, but he found the end zone twice.  Roddy White continues his disappointing fantasy season, being outscored by the likes of A.J. Green, Devery Henderson and an injured Kenny Britt.  Atlanta got a win they had to have before they face Green Bay this coming Sunday evening.

Simple events can change games, and sometimes they really have a huge effect.  The one that altered the Giants fate, henceforth dubbed the 'Victor Cruz', was big.  All I could think about when Victor Cruz got up after leaving the ball on the ground was, doesn’t this guy remember Plaxico Burress?  The rule that was invoked Sunday seemed all but lost in 2001 when Burress, after making a catch over the middle, got up and spiked the football in celebration.  The problem was no one had touched him and the play was ruled a fumble which was alertly recovered by the Jaguars defense.  Though the rule might have been interpreted correctly as written this time around, no one thought this was a good call.  In turn, the Giants scored the go-ahead touchdown on the next play, and salvation was Cruz's.  Chris 'Beanie' Wells was in my top five last week because this Giant line is in tatters, and he delivered huge, with a three touchdown performance.  He pretty much removed any memory of Tim Hightower among the Cardinals faithful and should send rookie Ryan Williams the nicest 'stay sick' basket he can find.

Where I differ from the fantasy experts in my opinion is that it is harder for them to go out on a limb.  I couldn't see Rashard Mendenhall being a second round fantasy pick this year.  He wasn't a guy I even wanted in my top ten of running backs because I was so certain that the Steelers had done nothing to fix their offensive line woes.  Mendenhall's 2010 line of 324 carries for 1273 yards and 13 TD didn't look pretty when you compared him to the likes of most other backs in the league.  While his yardage total placed him seventh overall implying that he was given ample opportunity, Mendenhall’s 3.9 ypc ranked 34th just behind Ray Rice with his 4.0 yards per carry.  Mendenhall scored his second touchdown of the year this past Sunday, but injured himself in the process.  However, yardage wise, Mendenhall is managing barely three yards per attempt.  To give you an idea of how bad it is, Ryan Grant has played one less game, is splitting carries with James Starks, has 26 less carries and has only 16 less yards than Mendenhall.  I don't think this reflects Mendenhall's talent necessarily, but he hasn't looked nearly as decisive as Isaac Redman, who may get a chance to prove his 4.9 yards per carry running behind the same line (perhaps not against the same defensive packages) is no fluke.  Regardless, Pittsburgh is not showing the swagger that a veteran team should, and at 2-2 shouldn't be panicking like they are.  Meanwhile, watching Andre Johnson voluntarily fall to the turf because of a leg injury during the game made all of Houston collectively gasp.  He had a minor surgery today, which they say is just being used to remove scar tissue and should return him to the field in three weeks.  Simply put, not good news for Matt Schaub.  Though Johnson missed three games last year and has fought through injury before, the Houston team is not nearly the same without him.  The closest receiver in terms of yards and receptions to Johnson this year is tight end Owen Daniels.

Darren Sproles continues to play an integral part in the New Orleans offensive game-planning.  Sproles is third on the team in rushing yards, just two yards behind Pierre Thomas but with just over half the carries.  He leads the team in receptions, is third in receiving yards, and is tied with two others for second best in scoring behind the team's kicker John Kasay.  Though his size has always been a concern, he's been a key acquisition for this team and could be a difference maker if he can stay healthy. Marques Colston was cleared to play and had one reception, but was targeted just three times.  The Saints have an evolving offense right now, with Robert Meachem, and more importantly, Jimmy Graham, stepping into the new roles as the reliables on this team.  Mark Ingram is still a work in progress, but should improve further as the season progresses.  Meanwhile, Jacksonville's removal of David Garrard from the starting job has left the Jags season to be a trial by fire.  Jack Del Rio's staunch faith in Luke McCown waivered just three weeks in and now the season will be Blaine Gabbert's to learn from.  The good news is the Jacksonville defense kept New Orleans out of the end zone, forced two turnovers and kept the game was close most of the way.  They're now the 12th ranked unit in the league.

I just can't figure out what Philadelphia was thinking.  LeSean McCoy had four carries by the time the Eagles led 23-3 at the 9:30 mark of the third quarter.  After that point McCoy added just four more carries.  None of them went well, but really?  Only four carries?  One of the best all around running backs didn't touch the ball most of the game.  He did get nine targets and six receptions, scoring a touchdown on a quick shuttle pass from inside the red zone.  But still, he had eight carries.  It just makes you wonder how Andy Reid and his crew game-planned this one.  Clearly, they didn't plan for a big lead.

If you own anyone on the St. Louis Rams fantasy wise you're in trouble.  This team is its own worst enemy, committing penalty after penalty in crucial situations.  I watched this game closely, and it seemed like every time this team had a third and short or some momentum going, someone on the line committed a false start, or committed a holding penalty so that the down became third and unmanageable.  I went back and looked at the play and play and five crucial times did momentum swing because of untimely penalties.  Three of them turned third and short into third and very long, including two false starts on consecutive third down plays that turned third and six to third and 16.  The other two occurred in the red zone.  St. Louis scored in spite of one, and the other resulted in second and 15 instead of second and 10, and Sam Bradford was sacked on two straight downs, knocking the Rams out of field goal range.  This offensive line is worse than the Steelers, and that's really saying something.  Even so, Bradford is certainly spreading the ball around and attempted eight passes to Steve Jackson, with only four completions.  No one else scares defenses.  On the flip side, there is no shock to Ryan Torain being able to run.  There is shock if he lasts more than three games without getting injured.  For his career, Torain averages 4.8 yards per carry.  He's never managed more than 10 games in a season, and missed all of 2009.  Yet in the four games where he's managed 20 carries or more, he's failed to reach 100 yards just once.  So proceed cautiously in who you drop for him.

Adrian Peterson got his carries, and Kansas City kept him from having any impact.  This will be every defense's strategy going forward as long as Donovan McNabb, whose quarterback rating is 80.9 for the year, stands behind center.  Visanthe Shiancoe led the team in receptions, something you would expect if he was Antonio Gates.  TE Kevin Rudolph was second in yardage.  He's a rookie.  The fact that McNabb can only find receivers in short routes and generally in the middle of the field, as his 6.1 yard per attempt indicates, tells you that of all the quarterbacks under fire right now, McNabb should be closest to the flame.  Dwayne Bowe got his first touchdown of the year which is good news, but the Chiefs have never been high on Bowe's work ethic.  ESPN analyst Cris Carter mentioned that the Chiefs, unlike other teams, didn't work out together during the lockout.  Those things alone could explain Bowe's slow start, except that conditioning is not something you should have had to do post lock out.  It makes me wonder what kind of leadership effect Matt Cassel has on this team, and whether the key offensive players take him seriously.

I cannot figure out how Tony Romo takes so much heat.  He built a 27-3 lead, using his only decent wide receiver Dez Bryant for two touchdown strikes early.  Where was the running game during this lead?  Early third quarter, former Cowboy Linebacker Bobby Carpenter, who actually bit on the play-action initially, slips back and out, probably out of position and makes an outstanding leap to pull Romo's pass out of the air.  Next series, the Cowboys, now up 17, begin running the football and with some success.  They cross midfield, and on a third and two, Romo spots Laurent Robinson getting CB Chris Houston to turn his back as Robinson fakes out and turns inside for a slant.  But Houston places his arm on Robinson's outside shoulder, and uses it to spin back into the play and outmaneuvers Robinson to the ball.  Robinson fails to not only get the position he initially won, but then fails to knock the ball away.  Romo released this pass on the initial break, when Robinson had fooled Houston.  There's a point where a QB has to trust his receivers, and Robinson, as he proved in St. Louis, isn't exactly that guy yet.  No one is blaming Robinson, nor are they blaming the Dallas secondary, which allowed Calvin Johnson to come down with a Matthew Stafford toss between three of them.  Three defenders couldn't stop that play.  No on is saying anything about that.  With 4:22 left, the Dallas offense tries to throw deep to Jason Witten, and Romo's third interception is the result.  This one is disastrous.  It shouldn't have been thrown, but perhaps the play shouldn't have been called.  Considering the momentum swing, why aren't you trying to run out the clock?  Why isn't the offensive coordinator taking heat for that?  Why isn't Jason Garrett?  For nearly three quarters the Dallas defense played well, but they also choked this one away.  Where's the blame on them?  And more importantly, where are Romo's teammates when he needs them?  The problem with this team isn't Tony Romo.  It's the Cowboys locker room and the mentality of this team, who should be backing up their quarterback, not remaining silent.

The Titans have been one of the surprise stories of the season, especially when you consider Chris Johnson hasn't really figured in on any of the victories.  He showed up in this game, posting his first 100-yard rushing tally, but I have to tell you, he looks slow.  Johnson doesn't have the explosive gear shift he used to and certainly hasn't found a second gear.  Considering the weapons at his disposal, Colt McCoy is developing into a decent NFL quarterback.  It's the running game that's letting him down.  McCoy completed 40 of 61 passes on Sunday for 351 yards, an abysmal 5.7 yards per attempt, but when did you ever want a second year starter to carry the weight of a game on his shoulders.  Sixty pass attempts?  That's more plays than some teams get an entire game, and this seems to be a case of a coaching staff wanting the game to fit the personnel rather than using their personnel to fit the game.  Peyton Hillis should be carrying the ball a lot more than 10 times each game, and when 61 plays out of 83 are pass plays, and your best receiver is Mohamed Massaquoi, something's just not right.  Ben Watson is the fantasy TE to own while Cleveland continues this way, as he appears to be outplaying Evan Moore and now leads the team in targets.

Yet another game where a lead was blown, and the time of possession was a key factor.  Buffalo had only two fourth quarter drives and the longest one barely lasted two and one half minutes.  Fred Jackson touched the ball once during those two drives and had a long pass throw his way.  One thing is for certain, the Bengals defense isn't easily scored upon, and the reason the Bengals sit at 2-2 is they've been stingy.  They're now the best defense in the NFL, and no one can say they've had as soft schedule, as the 49ers and Bills are a collective 6-2.  Andy Dalton has been given time to throw, and he appears to be a quick learner.  The Bengals were down 17-3 at half, and Dalton led all four of the team's second half possessions to some sort of points.  For a rookie, that's impressive, even if it is against a pretty mediocre Bills defense.

Cam Newton continues to plague Carolina Panthers' fantasy owners as he steals touchdowns away from the running tandem of Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, as well as passing touchdowns from his receivers.  For the year, Newton has five passing touchdowns against five interceptions, but he's added four rushing touchdowns.  Neither Stewart nor Williams have scored to date, and I wouldn't expect too much change.  Sure, Stewart and Williams will find the end zone eventually, but we're a quarter way through the season, and on three possessions where Carolina needed less than two yards to break the goal line, Newton ran it in all three times.