Tuesday, November 15, 2011

WEEK 10 T & R

I was 9-5 on Sunday, 9-7 overall this week.  Though I saw the Seattle game as an upset possibility, I just couldn’t believe the Ravens defense would let that game slip away.  And while I made a case for a Minnesota upset on Monday, it was, well, wrong!  It was bugly (bad and ugly) and Minnesota did what I thought Seattle would do against Baltimore, get in their own way…over…and over…and over.

When the season ends, the Oakland Raiders’ fans might miss Al Davis, but they won’t be upset he wasn’t around to stop Hue Jackson from acquiring Carson Palmer.  It took three games, but Palmer has begun to look like the Palmer of old, and certainly the pre-elbow concerns Palmer that couldn’t get any mustard on the ball.  Denarius Moore made the leap from hopeful Raiders draft steal to bona fide professional receiver with a finger tips bomb grab and two scores.  Michael Bush continues to show why the Raiders have kept faith in him, but the true kudos go to the Raiders offensive line.  They’ve given up just 11 sacks on the season.  They’ve pushed the line of scrimmage forward and opened up gaps such that their rushers are averaging 4.97 yards per attempt.  Just two years ago, that was 4.1 yards per touch.  Meanwhile, San Diego once again finds themselves as a team full of talent fighting injuries that has disappointed again.  The Chargers offensive line is now in tatters, and Philip Rivers is struggling to get any of their usually efficient downfield passing attack going because he has no time.  This is going to make San Diego running backs less helpful down the fantasy stretch with teams like Chicago, Jacksonville and Baltimore forthcoming.

Mike Smith is certainly in the conversation now but not the way he wished to be.  I have to agree with what Eric Mangini said on ESPN: First Take on Monday.  It might have been a gutsy decision, but if you actually succeed in gaining that one yard, you don’t ensure victory.  This isn’t a drive that is stalling on the Saints 43 yard line putting a field goal try in question.  This is on your own 29 yard line and does nothing but ensure the Saints as the winning team if you fail.  Robert Meachem did come through with 69 yards and a touchdown as I had predicted though he had just two catches.  Don’t expect that he’s going to ever compete for time with Marques Colston or Jimmy Graham, and Devery Henderson will occasionally take some targets away too.  The Saints biggest Achilles heel is still running the football, and that could make a difference down the stretch against weaker run defenses like Detroit and Carolina who are much more easily beaten on the ground.

I still believe Andy Dalton is rookie of the year, and that Cam Newton’s numbers, while impressive, come with a surrounding cast that Dalton could only pray for.  However, the Steelers veteran defense made the plays when they had to.  Pittsburgh can thank the incredible maturation and play of one William Gay, who I admit to losing faith in after last year.  Gay was involved in not just the game clinching interception, but caused the first pick as well with a solid defensive play, deflecting the ball to Lawrence Timmons.  The Cincinnati defense is also for real.  They’re fast and make plays and it’s clear this team is not far away from being a playoff contender, if they aren’t right now.  A.J. Green left this game early, and that is a crucial cog in this wheel.  Keep an eye on his status forthcoming, because he really is a difference maker if the Bengals are going to compete in December. 

Colt McCoy completed 20-of-27 passes for 218 yards but zero touchdowns, and the game can be summed up by red zone inefficiency, particularly by Cleveland.  Penalties and lack of execution led to four Phil Dawson field goals but that wasn’t enough.  Greg Little finally had the kind of game that you want to see from a developing receiver. Although it still isn’t resulting in touchdowns, he caught a 52-yard bomb from McCoy and finished with six receptions for 84 yards on six targets.  This is a solid WR3 for your fantasy team now, and could be on the rise soon.  As for the Rams, Steven Jackson put up his third straight 100-yard performance, yet was unable to find pay dirt, and Sam Bradford was mediocre, with a 6.1 YPA.  To be fair, a lot of this falls on the Rams offensive line, which has allowed a league high 32 sacks.  For this reason alone, when you’re the Rams and you find yourself set up deep in Cleveland territory in the fourth quarter, you have got to feed Jackson the ball and find a way to take the onus off of Bradford.  The fact that they got only three points after being set up at the Cleveland 27 with nine or so minutes to go, made it possible for even Cleveland to drive down the field to win the game.  Most teams would have scored the touchdown. 

One of the two early season surprises, the Buffalo Bills are being dealt a dose of reality in the NFL.  Seven wins does not an NFL season make, nor does an early 4-1 start.  Ryan Fitzpatrick has now posted two incredibly shaky performances on the heels of signing one heck of a contract.  His last two games have seen him average 153 yards passing, while tossing just two scores against five interceptions.  Bigger news was that the Bills lost safety George Wilson early in Sunday's game and that all but put the Bills defense on the back burner.  Fred Jackson averaged 8.8 per carry on 13 tries, but down 21-0 early in the second quarter, the Bills seemed to abandon the running game altogether.  A healthy Tony Romo tore the Wilson-less Bills secondary apart to the tune of three touchdowns.  Romo connected with former Rams burnout Laurent Robinson twice, giving Robinson four touchdowns in his last 12 receptions.  Miles Austin isn't likely to return until Week 12 or Week 13, so keep Robinson in your lineup as the Cowboys schedule includes the likes of Miami, Washington and Arizona the next three weeks.  Meanwhile, DeMarco Murray is putting his stamp on a ROTY bid.  Considering Murray wasn't even second string not too long ago, he's now delivered three 100 yards performances in four games, as well as two touchdowns.  More importantly, the Cowboys have won all three games he's started and received 20 carries or more.  He's averaging a sick 6.7 yards per carry, and his addition to the starting lineup has elevated this offense to an elite level.  They have a running threat that can take it the distance every time, a feeling you didn't get anymore with Felix Jones.  Linebacker Sean Lee did play on Sunday and managed four tackles. 

If you're really a Colts fan hoping for Andrew Luck, guess what?  You've separated yourselves from the rest of the pack and your goal is in sight.  Maurice Jones-Drew delivered 114 yards on the ground (and 23 receiving yards) with a score to pace the Jaguars to a 17-3 win.  Jarett Dillard (Jarett who?) caught his first touchdown pass, just his eighth reception of the year.  The Colts offense remained inept, even after the Jaguars lost cornerback Rashean Mathis early in the second quarter with a torn ACL.  He'll miss the rest of the season.  TE Jacob Tamme starred for Indianapolis in the place of the injured Dallas Clark, if you can say "star" and six receptions for 75 yards in the same sentence.  Curtis Painter made it to the fourth quarter but was again replaced by Dan Orlovsky.  Painter may not get many more shots at this, and whether Orlovsky is a positive for the offense has yet to be seen.  He last started a game back in 2008 for Detroit, and completed 56 percent of his passes and had an 8:8 touchdown/interception ratio in 10 games.

Matt Cassel managed only 3.3 yards per attempt, as he was harassed and hit all day long, mostly by rookie sensation Von Miller, who had 1.5 sacks, seven tackles, two tackles for loss, and four other QB hits.  Still the question has to be asked how you lose a game where the opposing quarterback only threw eight times and completed just two?  Tim Tebow managed one touchdown toss to Eric Decker, but supplied just 113 yards of total offense.  Yet Tebow is 3-1, and the question will continue to be thrown out there: can Tebow running an offense as unconventional as Denver's will become with him at the helm continue to win football games?  So far, the answer is yes.

John Beck or Rex Grossman?  Rex Grossman or John Beck?  And does it matter?  Probably not.  Those of you who were in love with Roy Helu this week watched Shanahan pull a “Shana”nigan giving Ryan Torain 11 carries to Helu’s six.  I’m sure some of you have a six-shooter near your computer with five empty chambers because every time you have to play a Washington running back, it’s like playing Russian Roulette with your team. The only positive note for the Redskins was rookie wide receiver Leonard Hankerson, who posted eight catches and for 106 yards…and then got hurt.  So before you go to the waiver wire, you might want to check if he’s able to play with his newly strained hip.  Matt Moore wasn’t quite as good as he was last week though he did complete 20 of his 29 attempts.  However, Reggie Bush was solid again for the second straight week.  He delivered over ten fantasy points again, this time scoring twice in the red zone.  For the record, Daniel Thomas is running again, and when at full strength again, likely will regain the starting nod.  Another thing to note, and it is shocking, but the Dolphins scored more than 20 points just once in their first seven games and that was in their first loss of the season.  In their last two victories they’ve scored 59 points.

Hearing that DeSean Jackson was being deactivated for this week’s game after he slept through a meeting didn’t make me feel any more warm and fuzzy about this game, but it certainly didn’t make me believe Arizona could waltz into Philadelphia and find any way to come out with a victory.  After all, John Skelton was still the QB, and though he wasn’t awful last week, the Philadelphia pressure defense would give him more than he could handle, wouldn’t they?  Turns out that was a big no, and he was better than Michael Vick, who continued his regression back to his days when he was behind center for the Falcons.  Vick’s 32.5 passer rating was his worst of the year, and he added another injury as well, some broken ribs.  Larry Fitzgerald put up the kind of gaudy numbers we’re used to seeing regularly, with a 146 yards receiving and two touchdowns, making him the best fantasy receiver of the week.  It makes me believe he’d like to see Skelton under center again.  Beanie Wells appears to be still struggling on that knee, as he managed just 2.7 yard per carry against what has been a porous Philadelphia front.  Where the Eagles go from here nobody knows.  Jackson has apologized publicly, which is a start, but it’s clear this team has some major chemistry issues that might have been fixed had there been an off season.

See the intro to the Buffalo-Dallas game to get my take on the Lions.  There’s no doubt Matthew Stafford is having big problems delivering an accurate pass with his broken finger.  Stafford’s two interceptions in the Lions’ first two drives of the second half went back for touchdowns and neither of the passes were even close to his targets.  Charles Tillman, who has struggled over the last year or so, shut down Calvin Johnson, holding the prodigious receiver to 81 yards and no scores.  The Bears defense also forced three fumbles, recovering two, leaving Jay Cutler little to do.  Earl Bennett continues to be his favorite target not named Matt Forte, and though the Bears continued to be hapless in third down conversions, Robbie Gould was able to pick them up from almost everywhere in Lions territory.  The Lions now find themselves in a tie for second place, and have to find some answers to their offensive woes early in games.  Perhaps newly added Kevin Smith, who was out of football until this past Sunday, can be a spark to help add some balance.  Remember Smith had eight touchdowns and 4.1 yards per carry his rookie year in 2008.  He got four carries for 19 yards on Sunday as well as two receptions for 10 yards.

We knew at some point the stinker game would come.  It had to.  Cam Newton had been almost too good to be true, and by no means does this game void any others.  Newton spread the ball around, gave Greg Olsen 11 targets and Steve Smith eight, but was unable to exact the big play as he had in the past.  He also added 55 yards rushing, in addition to his 219 passing yards.  The sad part is the season continues to be an oddity for Carolina runners.  Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams had twelve combined carries for the game.  Not only is that bordering on ridiculous considering what the two are being paid (Williams signing bonus alone was 16 million this summer and Stewart is owed 1.31 million this year) but considering how bad Carolina’s defense has been you’d think Ron Rivera would want to employ any strategy that might lead to winning time of possession.  The two have been relatively absent, and one has to wonder if this is part of the reason they’ve won just two games.   To be fair, the Tennessee defense was a big part of the story here, causing two turnovers, registering five sacks and eight QB hits.  Meanwhile Chris Johnson hit Carolina where they are weakest, in stopping the run, putting up his first genuinely strong performance for the year: 130 yards and touchdown to go along with 44 receiving yards.   It’s hard to put too much stock in that kind of performance against Carolina, but should Johnson repeat it against the Falcons next week, then we’ll be able to announce CJ2K is back.

It’s a tradition on most Jewish holidays to take time to remember and commemorate things that are past as well as to celebrate.  This game feels like Jewish holiday for the Texans. Right after a resounding win at Tampa Bay where they dominated just about all facets of the game the announcement came Monday that quarterback Matt Schaub is lost for the season.  This means Matt Leinart will now take over under center, and without standout wide receiver Andre Johnson helping Leinart’s limited field of vision and play recognition, the news is about as bad as it comes.  Leinart has never managed to throw more touchdowns than interceptions, and as a starter never completed better than 57 percent of his passes overall.  If there is a silver lining it is in the Houston running game.  Neither Arian Foster or Ben Tate could be stopped this past Sunday, with Foster adding 102 receiving yards and a second touchdown.  They’ll continue to dominate the Texans landscape in the near future.  For Tampa Bay, Kregg Lumpkin led all receivers with five grabs and Josh Freeman tossed another three interceptions, giving him 13 for the season.  Remember, he is playing with a bad thumb, but this is a problem that has pervaded and defined a lot of the Tampa Bay season now.  Freeman has just three games without being picked off, and has only three games where he threw more touchdowns than interceptions.  LeGarrette Blount’s less than stellar season continued, with 3.4 yards per carry on 10 carries, but he’s likely still suffering through his knee issue.  Tampa Bay gets Green Bay next week, meaning this three game skid is likely to hit four.

The Seahawks are at it once again.  Just a few weeks after upsetting the New York Giants in front of the Meadowlands crowd, Seattle gave their home fans one to remember with a rather decisive pounding of the Ravens.  They held Ray Rice to under 100 total yards of offense, and Joe Flacco attempted a career-high 52 passes.  How sad is it that Flacco completed 29 of those for only 255 yards while Tarvaris Jackson completed 17 passes of 27 attempts for 217 yards?  Twenty-five more attempts by Flacco equated to only 38 more yards.  Jackson was sacked just once, and hit only a handful of other times, while delivering an unexciting yet efficient performance.  Marshawn Lynch followed his offensive line for his biggest output of the year, 109 yards rushing and another 58 receiving for a 167 total yards and a touchdown.  Lynch becomes a back worth getting as four of the next seven games come against subpar rushing defenses in Philly, Washington, and St. Louis twice.  Then there’s Arizona, whose rushing defense is in the middle of the pack. The Ravens have now allowed over 100 yards to a single rusher in their past two losses, and both of those teams were pretty one-dimensional teams that had to run to win.  Baltimore gets to lick their wounds for only a short time as division contender Cincinnati visits M&T Bank Stadium this coming weekend.

The 49ers continue to play tough defense while running the ball well.  Kendall Hunter replaced the injured Frank Gore and delivered 40 yards on six carries, including a 17 yard touchdown run.  Eli Manning threw two interceptions, one of which was not fault, as Mario Manningham cut off his route while in man-to-man coverage, leaving Manning’s pass to go easily undisturbed into the hands of Carlos Rogers.  That fourth quarter pick proved to be very costly as the next play Hunter delivered his TD.   Hunter owners shouldn’t get too excited as San Francisco has Arizona and Baltimore the next two weeks before getting St. Louis.  By that time, it’s possible Gore will return.  Delanie Walker is now third on the team in targets and fourth in yards.  He’s become and Alex Smith favorite, particularly in key situations.

Rob Gronkowski continued his monster season, and was the best tight end of the week with 113 yards and two scores. Deion Branch also delivered 68 yards and a touchdown, and Chad Ochocinco had his first big play for the Patriots though it didn’t result in a touchdown for him.  Known for their secondary, the Jets defensive backs were scorched for 17 passing first downs.  And just when they seemed to have things in check, Danny Woodhead would appear for a solid run to keep the Jets honest.  Mark Sanchez had a chance to prove he belonged in the conversation with the NFL’s best quarterbacks, but failed to take advantage of the worst ranked pass defense in the league.  Instead LB Rob Ninkovich made Sanchez’s night miserable, including returning an interception for a touchdown.  Sanchez also called a timeout at the end of the first half that left Tom Brady 1:20 on the clock after Jets took the lead.  This was enough time for Brady to engineer the Patriots first touchdown drive and a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.  All of this resulted in Rex Ryan actually venting that Sanchez isn’t an elite quarterback.  How Sanchez responds to that will be evident quickly in the forthcoming games against Denver and division rival Buffalo.  Believe it or not, I had Sanchez in my top five this week, and he finished sixth in fantasy points with 19.

Well, I have to eat crow on this one.  I still believe that had Minnesota gotten out of its own way early, they might have had a chance, and certainly could have covered the spread.  After all, they pressured Aaron Rodgers all first half, and though they were credited for only two sacks, they hit and hurried Rodgers and had six tackles for losses.  Yet Rodgers would not be outdone, and four touchdown passes and 250 yards later, he was sitting on the bench in the fourth quarter, still the best fantasy quarterback of the week.  However, I’d give the ball to the Green Bay defense in this one.  This was the same defense Christian Ponder picked apart just three short weeks ago.  Ponder was rushed to no end, while trying to get any rhythm with his wideouts.  The Vikings have to be looking for a right tackle come draft time as Phil Loadholt showed me once again how big of a liability he is in the pass rush.  He gave up at least two sacks by himself, and the only reason this game wasn’t a shutout was because of Randall Cobb’s muffed punt return.  Adrian Peterson had his fair share of runs, but the Packers defense smothered him, and made him nothing to worry about.  The secondary played young and rejuvenated, particularly Charles Woodson.  All this means is that even when the Packers manage just 90 total yards rushing, they can still blow an opponent out.  That’s bad news for Green Bay foes, and Rodgers is not showing any sign of slowing down, nor having any problem distributing the ball.  Ten different receivers caught passes for the Packers on Monday.  Next up are the Buccaneers for the Pack, while the Vikings draw the Oakland Raiders.  These are two teams couldn’t be headed any further in opposite directions.