Wednesday, September 19, 2012

NFL WEEK 2- T&R (thoughts and revelations)

You're now thinking to yourself, what the heck, except you're using much more profane expressions.  You watched the games incredulously, as if you were had your own anesthesiologist hitting you up with morphine, helpless to do anything but give a senseless grin.  After all, the league is in chaos right now, and survivor pools have been shattered.  If you were in a survival pool, and actually survived, you were fortunate enough to choose Houston.  Congrats, from all us dead New England pickers. 

If you’re an Eagles fan, are you willing to live so dangerously so often?  If you’re a Cleveland fan, does this game give you hope, even though you’re still 0-2.  If you’re a Redskins fan, or better yet an RGIII owner, is there a better time to sell high, or is he the real deal for the rest of the year?

There were two disastrous fumbles by two runners in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter by the leading team that should have resulted in defeats.  Instead, somehow both St. Louis and Arizona were let off the hook.  Crazier still, New Orleans is the only 0-2 remaining the NFC, while Arizona is 2-0.

When the Cardinals Ryan Williams coughed up the football in the final minutes of the Arizona/New England game, we were all thinking, same old Cardinals.  Then a funny thing happened on their way to 2-0.  Normally dependable, ice-in-his-veins, Stephen "Goes-in-ski" went slightly "Goes-wide-ski" and went back to being just regular Gostkowski.  And the entire NFL world fell silent.  Meanwhile, Williams who had probably been thinking about hanging out with Giants running back David Wilson to ponder whether they'd get even another carry this season, exhaled and swore never to drink again on Saturday evening.  The Cardinals, winners of seven of their last nine before this game, went into Gillette Stadium in Foxboro and knocked off the Patriots.  And they didn't do it by beating the Patriots.  Something more uncharacteristic happened.  The Patriots beat themselves.  From a week ago where this Patriot’s team appeared ready to trounce NFL nation, Week 2 brought not only special teams concerns, but also worries with the offensive line.  That makes Stevan Ridley owners, giddy just a week ago, nervous as they should be.   In addition, the Patriots, who targeted Wes Welker 11 times on the day, only did so once in the first half.  He wasn't a starter in this game, and only after the loss of Aaron Hernandez, did he receive 10 more looks.  On the one hand, it suggests that Welker wasn't a thorough part of the initial game plan.  On the next, it means with Hernandez gone, he will have to be.  Are the Patriots avoiding Welker after his missed week of practice at training camp as some kind of punishment?  Or worse, are they looking to groom Julian Edelman and simply move on?  It's hard to imagine the Patriots leading receiver the past few years is being benched to make a point.  However, remember how quickly Randy Moss found the front door.  Now, Welker isn’t a case like Moss, but according to Mike Reiss'
ESPN Blog Welker continues to tow the team line, letting on nothing about his contract or the fact he seems to have been demoted.  Larry Fitzgerald had all of one reception.  Beanie Wells had 14 carries for 44 yards.  He did get a reception, which for Wells is a big deal because he has never had more than 12 receptions in a year.  I wouldn't expect it to become a pattern but if Ken Whisenhunt does put Williams in his doghouse, perhaps they'll use him more in that regards.  I've been a Wells promoter this year, and to be fair, he hasn't produced.  He'll next face an Eagles defense that shut down Trent Richardson and kept Ray Rice at bay.  The Cardinals are 2-0 with arguably one of the toughest schedules so far.  But after this week they get Miami, St. Louis, Buffalo and Minnesota.  If Wells doesn't start putting up numbers soon, I'll admit defeat.

There hasn't been anyone who wasn’t questioning how Jamaal Charles had six carries for three yards.  Then word broke from Romeo Crennel that Charles was suffering some knee pain.  Having gone through two ACL surgeries myself, I can tell you knees are tricky things, and this generic idea that such a surgery will heal the same for each football player is just not true.  What this will mean to Charles in the long run depends on if it's simply working out some of the scar tissue or he's had another issue inside with the new ligament.  Regardless, Peyton Hillis' fumble as he attempted to reach across the goal line won't exactly make Brian Daboll feel great about Hillis’ instincts when they return to that scenario.  In lieu of a running game, Dwayne Bowe made his presence felt, with 15 targets and eight catches, but most of his targets came late in the game when they Chiefs were already out of it.  Jon Baldwin received six targets, catching three for 62 yards, two of which were over 25 yards, but received none until the second half.  One of my sleeper picks, Tony Meoaki received just four targets and just one catch.  A lot of this is simply boiling down to Matt Cassel, who is not playing particularly well. 

Is the Cincinnati secondary that was touted as being pretty talented going to make every quarterback look like an all-pro, or is the fact Brandon Weeden is 28 years old a sign he'll make this kind of mature turnaround?  Weeden looked nothing like the rookie in Week1 who tossed four interceptions.  Instead, Weeden actually made Mohamed Massaquoi look like a relevant receiver.  He also threw two touchdown passes, and kept his poise in the pocket.  Trent Richardson showed why he was a number one pick, as his touchdown reception involved him fighting through four would-be tacklers on his way to the end zone.  Where Cleveland failed again was special teams.  Adam Jones showed his potential as a return man, as Cincinnati's first touch of the football resulted in his 81 return for a touchdown.   Where the Browns failed further was penalties, taking 10 for 103 yards.  In terms of position players, Richardson is the real deal, and looked healthy this game.  As for players like Massaquoi and Greg Little, who caught his first touchdown of the year, it will depend on Weeden.  He faces the Bills next week, sporting a defense that has given up 568 passing yards in two games.  The Bengals’ BenJarvus Green-Ellis fell back to earth with a rather pedestrian 3.6 yards per carry, but did give you over 100 total yards from scrimmage as he added three catches for 30 more yards.  Andy Dalton has a favorable 3:2 TD to interception ratio, and comes up against a Redskins defense that lost both Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker for the season.  Without CB Joe Haden in the defensive backfield, Dalton managed three touchdown strikes to three different receivers.  Jermaine Gresham had five targets Sunday and has 13 on the year, but the arrival of speedy slot man Andrew Hawkins may see Gresham’s usefulness as a downfield weapon diminish.


Michael Vick understands that there’s a time and a place for things, and for him, those things seem to happen on the final drive of the game.  The question is, will his fans understand the same thing?  For the second straight week the Eagles offense committed four turnovers, and for the second straight week Vick found a way to push the Eagles to victory in the closing minutes.  Vick has six interceptions and has fumbled the ball three times, losing one.  How long can Philadelphia continue to pull together victories and continue to turn the ball over?  There are only 71 teams since 1970 that have made the playoffs with a give/take ratio of minus three or worse, or the same total the Eagles have right now.  That number drops to 61 teams at minus four and to 47 teams with a minus 5 or worse.  Brent Celek was Vick’s hero on Sunday, torching the Baltimore secondary for 157 yards.  Jeremy Maclin caught a touchdown, but his hip pointer is now listed as a contusion.  He is questionable for this weekend.  Baltimore, who still looks every much the contender does now have its worries.  Ed Reed was fighting a hamstring issue, and Bernard Pollard left the game with rib injury which he says happened while sacking Vick late in the first quarter.  Reed played the entire game, but Pollard is one of the more active run-stopping safeties in the league.  He ranks fourth on the Ravens right now with 10 tackles and has a sack, three passes defensed and an interception.  He's questionable for next week.


Donnie Avery is having a career resurrection whilst becoming a constant target for the Andrew Luck.  He was targeted five times in the first half alone, and finished with nine receptions and 111 yards.  Avery also rushed the ball twice for seven yards.  Avery's not a big guy (listed at 5'11") but the knock on him has simply been staying healthy.  He has good speed and soft hands, and is now the Colts second man on the depth chart at wide receiver.  He makes a good complement to Reggie Wayne, and with Luck as his sniper, I'd invest in him.  Not only will he have a career year, but I'm expecting near 70 grabs this season and 7-8 touchdowns.   I am not giving up on Donald Brown as Minnesota's front seven are a tough group to run against (they finished ranked 11th last year).  Brown has Jacksonville this week, a much better matchup.  As for Minnesota, a breakdown of their play-calling makes it clear that there's only three players worth owning fantasy wise: Adrian Peterson (duh), Percy Harvin (double duh) and now Christian Ponder.  Ponder has faced Jacksonville and Indianapolis, albeit subpar defenses perhaps, but has completed nearly 76 percent of his passes, throw two TDs and has zero interceptions.  He's also averaging a whopping 8.31 yards per attempt.  In two QB leagues, he's worth adding, though not necessarily starting this week as he faces San Francisco.   


This week, the Oakland defense has little excuse.  Reggie Bush simply ran roughshod all over the Raiders to the tune of 172 rushing yards on 26 carries, a 6.6 yards per carry average.  These weren't easy touchdowns either – Bush's first touchdown was simply magical, as he side-stepped, broke two tackles, then avoided the Raiders diving safety to get to the end zone.  This is the Bush I expected to see this year, and though one can't expect this kind of output often, his numbers give you an idea that he has become this team's workhorse, and more importantly, that Joe Philbin recognizes him as such.  Brian Hartline was indeed Ryan Tannehill's favorite target, and though he didn't score, he pulled in nine receptions for 111 yards.  As for the Raiders, I can't tell which is more concerning; the fact that Mike Goodson, not Darren McFadden was able to break a screen pass for a touchdown, or that Carson Palmer continues to look a step behind the eight ball.  In the second quarter, Palmer rolled to his right and had a wide open McFadden for a screen touchdown.  But Palmer delayed for some reason, casting his eyes deeper into the end zone until he ran out of room.  He then fired it to McFadden too late, and the ball bounced off McFadden's chest as he headed out of bound.  The Raiders settled for a field goal.  It's the type of play that has typified Palmer in this short season.  In the Week 1 matchup with the Chargers, Palmer simply missed a wide open receiver streaking down the right side of the field.  The Raiders have multiple problems, including a lack of consistent receivers. However, I contend that while Palmer was the right guy to get to finish last season, letting go of Jason Campbell, and possibly the firing of Hue Jackson, will come back to haunt this team.


Ahmad Bradshaw owners who handcuffed him with rookie RB David Wilson are being left hung out to dry.  Wilson's career started with a lost fumble on his first carry in the Giants Week 1 loss to Dallas.  In Week 2, Wilson was targeted by Eli Manning for his first pass reception short over the middle, and the ball went right through his hands.  Wilson saw two more rushing plays after that and then was replaced by Andre Brown.  Brown, who has been cut no less than five times from different teams, made the most of his opportunity, not only scoring the go-ahead touchdown, but recovering a Manning fumble late in the third quarter to preserve a field goal, that kept the Giants comeback on track.  To say Wilson's professional career has started inauspiciously would be a little euphemistic, especially when you realize Tom Coughlin has little patience for simple mistakes.  Wilson's fantasy value in the near term has certainly taken a hit, even with Ahmad Bradshaw's injury.  Brown appears to now be next in line on the depth chart, and Wilson could see a series here or there.  As for Tampa Bay, Doug Martin was given 20 carries gaining 60 yards and a touchdown, but the Tampa Bay offensive line clearly had problems with New York's front seven.  Wide receiver Arrelious Benn, their second round pick from 2010, saw his first action of the season but only as a punt returner.  Even with the addition of safety Mark Barron, the Tampa Bay secondary was a second half disaster, yielding two scores of over 30 yards each.


Think the Saints are feeling the pressure already?  Call me crazy, but wasn't Drew Brees' first quarter interception that was subsequently returned for a touchdown the kind of throw he'd have never made last year?  Wouldn't he have realized he was in his own end zone and just tossed it out of bounds?  It just seems that pressure is starting to infiltrate this team in a lot of ways.  Darren Sproles had his first big day this season, 13 catches, 128 yards.  Yet it just seems that if he could ever stay healthy enough, Pierre Thomas should be entrenched as the RB.  He put up nine carries and 110 yards on Sunday, a ridiculous 12 yards per carry average.  Do you know that in Pierre Thomas' career he has carried the ball 20 times only twice, and yet he has four 100-yard games?  In all but one season, Thomas has averaged 4.8 yards per carry or better.  However, Thomas has only played an entire 16 game season once.  Another note, Marques Colston has all of nine fantasy points in standard scoring leagues through two games.  However, none of the Saints receivers sans Jimmy Graham have been consistent so far so it's a little early to panic.  And one note on Carolina – notice how Jonathan Stewart's touchdown came on pass play outside the 10-yard line.  DeAngelo Williams came on a run from the three, but I consider that an anomaly, and attribute it to the fact it was Williams 27-yard scamper that got Carolina into scoring position in the first place.  Mike Tolbert  got a two yard plunge for a touchdown, and had only one other touch for the game.  I believe Tolbert's plunge represents a stronger percentage of what you can expect inside the 10 from Carolina as we move forward.  Also, Stewart was held out of practice Tuesday.


The Jacksonville lines provided little support in either direction, and Houston simply ran to their hearts content over the Jaguars.   It's the blueprint Gary Kubiak would probably use every game if he could.  Run the ball with success, protect Matt Schaub from third and longs and make it so he can keep his passes short and mid-range.  Schaub had 29 completions of his 35 attempts for just 195 yards.  Andre Johnson had just three receptions for 21 yards.  I don't think Arian Foster owners need to worry too much about Ben Tate absorbing some of Foster's carries. Kubiak just wants to reassert the fact he has two solid RBs and give defensive coordinators one more nightmare to worry about.  As for Jacksonville, this game was just a huge step back.  It'd be easy to blame QB Blaine Gabbert, but the Jags were missing offensive lineman Ebon Britton and remember, they lost the heart of their defense, LB Daryl Smith.  The Jags aren't especially deep, and Houston got to Gabbert three times, and hurried him a bunch, often the result of long third down situations created by penalties and pressure.  Gabbert left at the end of the fourth quarter and is said to have suffered a glute problem of some sort.  He's expected to return to the field Sunday.

This time they would not be denied.  Whereas Week 1 ended in a disappointing last second loss to the Lions, this week Jeff Fisher’s team wouldn’t back down.  Sam Bradford completed 26 of 35 passes, 15 of which found their way to WR danny Amendola’s hands.  Steven Jackson was having a fine game, then suddenly was on the bench.  The initial thought was it was because of a penalty he drew for spiking the ball.  However, word came that he was injured and rookie Darryl Richardson popped in as if nothing had changed.  Problem is, Richardson is a rookie, and with less than four minutes remaining, he coughed up what should have been a game-changing fumble that Washington recovered.  For Robert Griffin III, Sunday was simply a way for him to restate that he has arrived for fantasy owners.  However, without Pierre Garcon, he spread the ball around even more, the biggest play of which came from Leonard Hankerson.  You might remember Hankerson, the rookie who took forever to crack the starting lineup in 2011.  He did so finally in November and had eight catches and 106 yards, only to injure himself for the rest of the season.  Hankerson had only two catches in this game, but one was a 68-yard bomb for at touchdown.  Monitor how he’s used from this point forward, as Josh Morgan’s fourth quarter unsportsmanlike gaff is likely to cost him time.  Depending on how quickly Garcon makes the field again, Hankerson could gain importance as the season wears on. 


I said it was a scare game, not a horrific game.  I have been watching football in some way or another for about 30 years or more.  Never have I witnessed a team like Dallas, who can so convincingly show you they're a Super Bowl contender one week, then completely baffle you the next.  Sure, the Dallas faithful and many of my cronies in Los Angeles will immediately return to Tony Romo bashing.  But this was a far greater case of one team just enacting its will over another team.  You’ve seen the highlights of a few of the hits, but more importantly, the Cowboys had 112 yards in the first quarter and 184 over the final three.  Based on the Seahawk’s improvements last year, DeMarco Murray had to know his road was going to be tough, and it was.  Bigger question still was where did Dez Bryant go?  Three catches for 17 yards was all Bryant could muster.  I would chalk it up to an off day and see how he fares against Tampa Bay next weekend.


For an entire half, the Jets and Steelers looked like they were going to be locked in another iconic struggle.  However, the Steelers defense seemed to pick things up in the second half, and they grounded Mark Sanchez.  After Santonio Holmes’ first quarter touchdown grab, he didn’t catch another ball.  Shonn Greene continues to remind us that he’s nowhere close to a fantasy relevant running back, and not only managed 2.1 yards per carry, but received no targets.  After taking a shot to the head, Greene ceded to Bilal Powell.  Powell, in his second year out of Louisville, put up a respectable nine carries for 33 yards.  Even against the Bills, Gang Green failed to do better than 3.5 yards per carry from Greene.  Thus, I’m not leaping on Powell as a filler for my lineup anytime soon.  The same goes for Steelers running backs.  This line just isn’t getting the job done, and when you consider that the Bills tore apart the Jets defensive line, you can see that the Steelers have a long way to go, even with Rashard Mendenhall’s imminent return.  The Steelers were nearly unstoppable on third down, converting 8-of-15.  Of their 18 first downs, 13 came through the air.  It’s true, the Steelers, of all teams are no longer a running football team.

Even without starting TE Antonio Gates, QB Philip Rivers is started to look like his old gunslinger self.  Not that Tennessee’s defense is anything special this year.  In fact, they’ve now been torched two straight weeks.  Rivers found former Panther TE Dante Rosario for three scores, and while the Chargers registered zero sacks on the mobile Jake Locker, they spoiled WR Kenny Britt’s return from a suspension by holding him to one catch.  They also prevented Chris Johnson from gaining any traction on the ground.  So that’s two weeks in a row shutting down marquee runners.  The Titans were just 1-for-9 on third down, and the concerns that Tennessee just doesn’t have a go-to guy in clutch situations seems to be coming to fruition.  Britt may become that receiver, but Locker’s wildness and lack of consistency is going to make this a tough year in Tennessee, even if he and Locker do find some chemistry. Ryan Mathews should return this week for San Diego, giving them a much needed lift in the running game, which managed its first rushing scores of the year in the fourth quarter off the feet of Jackie Battle.  Battle may continue to see some looks inside the red zone, but I don’t expect a whole lot more right now.

This was the Sunday night game that I in my bleary-eyed state overlooked last weekend.  Detroit settled for field goals.  San Francisco got touchdowns.  By the time Detroit QB Matthew Stafford hit his TE Brandon Pettigrew for a nine yard touchdown, the game was out of reach.  The 49ers stifled Matt Stafford, forcing him into uncomfortable situations all evening long.  Calvin Johnson still managed eight grabs for 94 yards, but was kept out of the end zone.  What I’ve seen from WR Titus Young is disappointing for a second-year player.  He tends to quit on his routes, or simply finds himself out of position.  This doesn’t bode well, as Jim Schwartz strikes me as a perfectionist of sorts.  Kevin Smith couldn’t get more than 70 all-purpose yards.  Keep in mind, Mikel LeShoure returns from suspension, and should start eating into Smith’s numbers as soon as this Sunday.  As for San Francisco, It seems that Jim Harbaugh is content with Kendall Hunter as Frank Gore’s backup because second round pick LaMichael James was inactive this past week.  Michael Crabtree led all San Francisco receivers again, but when it came time for the end zone, Vernon Davis was again offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s choice.


It seemed obvious to me that Peyton Manning would have some limitations this year.  After all, he himself had come forward pre-season and declared himself not quite 100 percent.  Cut to this past Monday night where Manning was picked off in three straight series, setting Atlanta on a path to victory.  While this may scare the Denver faithful, they have to understand that Manning is still figuring out just what he can and can’t do.  It’s actually beneficial as he’ll work with it, remember it, and unlike some players like Jake Plummer and even Jay Cutler, will use it to improve himself and his play calling.  Atlanta’s Roddy White led all Atlanta receivers with 102 yards and touchdown.  Michael Turner found pay dirt for the first time, something fantasy owners will be pleased to see, until they look closer and see that he managed only 42 yards on 17 carries.  For the season, Turner’s averaging 2.6 yards per carry, and it remains to be seen if this is a function of his offensive line, the fact he’s played two decent defenses (assuming KC’s defense isn’t as bad as it looked this weekend) or just Turner himself.  Turner did get the full skew of carries his direction.  As for Atlanta’s rush defense, Jamaal Charles ripped off 87 yards against them in Week1 and now Willis McGahee tore them up for 113 yards and two scores.  Two guys who have a history of knee issues have had pretty decent success against them.  Atlanta’s defense may be a good target if you’re holding an opposing running back.